Sunday, September 25, 2011

Fall in the San Juans - plein air, pastel

I'd hoped to get this posted yesterday, but didn't have time.  Yesterday, the PAP4C (Plein Air Painters of the Four Corners) had a paint-out at Andrews Lake, which you may remember from previous blog posts.

(NOTE:  this post is very image was a full day)  

Hillside Aspens 
12x16 inches
pastel on black Artagain
The weather was absolutely perfect - mild and sunny, with no wind or chance of rain, and no insects.  Aspen are coming into fall color rapidly along Hwy 550 in the higher elevations.  It is what early fall in the San Juans is all about.  At the lake itself, there are no aspen, and I originally thought about painting the lake because it is so attractive.  However, when fellow pastelist Jan and Mary Ellen arrived, they wanted to paint fall colors, which sounded more appealing, so I decided to follow them back down the highway.

I ended up pulling off before they did, at a huge slope of yellow and green aspen right at a large pullout, and while I was originally planning on painting that stand (in photo below), as I climbed up a small hill and looked to the east, I knew immediately I had my painting.  Aside from the brilliant yellow stand of distal aspen, the pale gray Leadville limestone pushing up through the dried grasses was the perfect lead-in and clinched the deal.

And, in an unusual moment of foresight, I actually thought to take a few photos of the painting in-progress.  I always enjoy it when artists post their painting in its stages, so I thought I'd do the same.  They aren't that amazing, but painting on black is different than using a lighter surface as far as approach goes, and maybe some will find it interesting.

Initial block-in:  I used a NuPastel in bottle green to sketch in the horizon contour and basic shapes of the main elements.  A light gray NuPastel was used to suggest the initial rocks, with a few strokes of earth colors to define some planes and edges, and then I jumped right in with the color.  

The surface looks gray because it is in full sun and there is the shadow from the top of the easel (stood for this painting, using my French easel).

Sky was put in to help anchor the painting and values.  From that point, I work sort of randomly across the paper, going back and forth with different colors, working on different elements, usually just a few strokes before picking up another color.  I find this keeps things from getting too mechanical and maintains the degree of disorder and contained chaos that nature presents.

The finished painting at the end of the plein air session, with final detail added.  This is the largest size (12x16") that I've used on location so far, and it took me about 2 1/2 hrs. to complete.  After the critique session suggestions, I made some minor adjustments back in the studio that you can see by comparing this to the top painting.  
There were a total of seven of us at the paint-out, and at 1:00 PM, the critique session was held at the small dock at Andrews Lake.  Here is the group photo of everyone's work, a few of which weren't finished:

Media, from top L to bottom R:
oil, w/c, pastel, pastel, oil, w/c, oil (almost out of the picture)

After the paint-out critique wrapped up, Wayne (who had come along to hike the Crater Lake trail while I painted) suggested we drive to Silverton, which is about 8 miles away, to get something to eat and check out the fall colors.  It turned out to be better than we hoped, with aspen firing off in full color throughout the Silverton area.  Here are a few photos, and it's probably easy to see why artists and photographers are just wild about aspen in the fall:

The aspen stand I almost painted, south of Andrews Lake
Quaking color 
Aspen quartet outside of Silverton
A stand of orange aspen frame part of Anvil Mtn. west of Silverton along Hwy 550

Beautiful brilliant yellow aspen stand just south of Silverton, flanked by spruce

Looking skyward - aspen along Hwy 550 south of Coal Bank Pass
Trunks and shadows and complimentary colors
Leaf still life on boulder


  1. Gorgeous colors! Next to spring - my favorite season!

  2. Beautiful style and wonderful depth! Must be nice to live around such inspiring landscapes!

  3. Helen - I totally agree with you about fall :)

    Thanks so much, Gwen. I am so happy to be living in southern CO - the landscape is beautiful most of the year, and I'm glad I can paint it!

  4. Wonderful art and photos - you are an awesome blogger!!

  5. Beautiful! It feels like Fall here, but the leaves are still mostly green.

    I especially like your Leaf Still Life on Boulder photo.

  6. Thanks so much, Casey - I'm glad you enjoyed the photos as well. I try to make my blog interesting to read, so your comment makes me smile!

    Thanks LeAnn. Interestingly, few of the deciduous trees in town (mostly cottonwoods) have turned color yet - the higher the elevation, the earlier the colors change, it seems.


Your thoughtful comments add value to this blog - thank you so much for taking the time to leave them!

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