Friday, October 28, 2011

Riverside fall colors and a pair of pears

Along The River Shore
9x12 inches - pastel on Wallis paper
© S.Johnson
Today's painting done along a section of the Animas that I've painted along four times now, although only   one of the other paintings has made it onto the blog...

It's the final hurrah for fall colors here in southern CO.  The storm that passed through the past couple of days did much to accelerate the leaf departure from the trees, both along the river and along our street.  Having been cooped up inside for the past 2 days due to the storm, I was grateful that it was sunny in the mid-50's so that we could get outside and paint!  Today, Pat and I were joined by Rosemary, another pastelist, who paints with the Friday plein air group.

I've done paintings on Wallis that I was quite happy with, but this isn't really one of them.  I have decided that I just find the surface to be too aggressive, and I don't find the ability to add many layers to be desirable.  In fact, it adds significantly to the painting time because of the need for an underpainting and it really chews up the pastels, resulting in lots of smearing when I try to lightly scumble another color on top.  This is good to know, and since Wallis is pretty $, once my existing pieces are used up, I won't buy it again, unless I have some breakthrough moment with it.

Yesterday, I started a studio painting from one of the fall color reference photos I took recently, but it was a grind right out of the blocks, and while I know the scene has merit as a painting, I'll probably revisit it with oils.

There are these delicious red D'Anjou pears in the house now, so I decided to do another mini 10-minute challenge painting before they are all gone, which will be soon:

Pear Pair
6x4 inches - pastel on Artagain

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Riverside Rocks and a 10-minute challenge

Riverside Rocks
12x9 inches - pastel on Artagain
© S.Johnson
A studio piece, based on one of the photos taken from Baker's Bridge the other day.  I was really into these rocks with all their fissures and interesting textural things going on, and then of course, there was the amazing green water and reflections with the yellow cottonwoods.

The reflections on this were a bit tricky; the brown central area is actually a section of shallow water, but I don't know if it reads  properly or not.  I think I could finesse it a bit more.  And the photo did odd things to the greens used in the water, esp. the darker reflections in shadow - they are a darker turquoise and not the more saturated green in this photo.

I think the best part about doing this in my studio was that I had access to all of my pastels!  No having to make do with what was in my plein air box.   And, I was finally able to use some of these beautiful dark turquoise greens I bought a while back.

And, here is yesterday's painting, done as a warm-up for the painting above.  It's this week's DailyPaintworks challenge - a revisiting of the Ten Minute Challenge from earlier in the year.  You basically choose an object (and this is an apple, believe it or not) and divide your canvas into small sections and paint the object several times in 10-minute intervals.  Even with a 3x3" size per square, it's not as easy as you might think.  I did a pear last time, and it was a lot easier than this Gala apple.

Apple Octet
6x9 inches

It's really funny having a partner around who isn't an artist and is totally comfortable being honest about  the paintings:  "the first one looks like an onion, and the 4th looks like a smashed pumpkin, and some look like they are rotting..."  Seriously, Wayne's comments make me laugh, and I know what someone will be getting in his Christmas stocking this year...

I tried to select accurate colors for everything prior to starting the painting, but you can see I sort of hosed it with the shadow colors on the first set of four.  By the 8th one, I was starting to get a bit better, and they are starting to look more like apples.   I just set the apple on a piece of Strathmore paper and rotated it under my studio lamp for each mini painting to get the differing shadows.

This is a great exercise, and I would encourage anyone who paints to try it, especially if you are trying to loosen up in your work.  Thanks so much for the challenge, Carol!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Animas River, rocks and reflections SOLD

River Rocks and Fall Reflections
12x9 inches - pastel on Artagain
© S.Johnson
Yesterday's painting, done along the east side of the Animas about 1/4 of a mile up river from our location on Friday, and a new location for me.  We went there at Pat's suggestion, and while both of us were initially drawn to this amazing pair of cottonwoods on the opposite side of the river in backlit fall light, I found couldn't make the composition work, so I moved downstream a bit, and when I saw this big boulder its coterie of smaller rocks, and the reflection, my first thought was: "fun!", so I was compelled to paint it.

Care to guess what the most difficult part of this painting was?  Hint:  not the water or reflections, which I find pretty easy to paint.  It was actually the grouping of rocks in front of the boulder.  As I set about to block them in, I was thinking:  "must avoid cloning rocks", but that's exactly what started to happen.  Basically, the left brain came in and tried to over-ride operations for this part of the painting...and sort of succeeded.

The light faded before I had time to address this on location, so I tinkered with them in the studio this morning.  An improvement, but could be better.  Another thing to work on...

We are supposed to have a system move through tomorrow that will bring rain and much colder temps for a couple of days, so my plein air bender is coming to a close.  So, it will be back to the studio for a bit.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Near Baker's Bridge - plein air, pastel

From yesterday's paint out...

By Baker's Bridge
12x12 inches - pastel on Artagain
© S.Johnson
On Facebook, local photographer Kathy Myrick posted a link to some photos she's taken recently of fall colors along the Animas, including some at Baker's Bridge, a historical marker for the Durango area.  I'd only driven down the road that crosses this section of the Animas River, which is about 13 mi. north of town, maybe twice.  

And had totally forgotten about how scenic it is until I saw her photos.  So, yesterday afternoon, that's where Pat and I headed to paint.  The bridge itself crosses a very short gorge in the river, with the water being the most unbelievable shade of green, and I couldn't believe I've never thought to paint here before! It has reflections, rocks, trees and painting potential up the ying-yang, so I'll definitely be back.

I also secured some photos to use for studio paintings later, and here are a couple from the area:

View from the bridge looking up river

Wide-angle view from my painting location looking south and downstream

A willow and its reflection in a small pond near the river

Friday, October 21, 2011

Animas River fall colors - plein air, pastel

Since coming back from Moab:  1) the riverside cottonwoods have come into full color; 2) I've felt even more energized to do plein air painting since the season here will end soon.

I haven't painted every day, but here are two paintings from the three outings this week.  As much as my enthusiasm for painting from photos has diminished, I did take many photos as well that I can use later when the color is gone and it's too cold to go outside.
Riverside Trio
9x12 - pastel on Artagain
© S.Johnson
Behind our local shopping mall is access to the paved multi-use trail, and a small dirt foot path leads directly to the river nearby.  I'd taken photos on Sunday during a long walk Wayne and I took along the trail, and decided to come back and paint these three cottonwoods.  The three tiers of slopes are separated by a road (top) and a singletrack path (lower) on the east side of the river.

River Boulder and Bridge Shadows
12x12 inches - pastel on Pastelmat
© S.Johnson
Today's painting, done a bit further down river at a small park.  Local pastelist Pat Smiley  and I were finally able to plan to paint together, and we had a great time.  Back in July, she had given me this piece of Pastelmat to try, as I'd never used it before.  I used it for a painting not long after that which didn't work.  I brushed the painting off and used rubbing alcohol to stain the rest into the paper to try again.

For some reason, it suddenly worked better for me, perhaps because the surface was darker?  I don't know, but I found the amount of tooth it had to be probably perfect for me.  A sanded paper like Wallis is probably too much, and this surface was nice in that it allowed more layers than my usual sanded Artagain does and worked really well with the light touch I am used to.

It's funny...I'm not sure how well this painting reads to anyone but myself and Pat, since we were both there.  The two large shadows - the upper one from a bridge, and the one across the water from a large cottonwood - were two of the things that attracted me to this scene, along with the boulder and lone yellow sapling.

I'm not super happy with the water reflections in this one - they were very cool, but difficult to render because of all the reflected yellows and browns from the trees.  Plus, this paper handles differently than the Artagain which I'm used to doing water reflections on.

Pat and I have planned to go out for at least the next two days in a row, so more fall colors to come!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

PleinAir Moab - Part II

Readers will be relieved that this second installment is not nearly as long as the first....

Thursday, Oct 13:

Today was one of those days where I opted to ignore my gut feeling, which was to not return to the Onion Creek area to paint.  But, having looked over the photos I took, and having done a couple of thumbnail sketches based on the third photo in the previous post, I was really drawn to the view, and compared to the Fisher Towers painting, this composition was really straightforward:  a sand and scrub foreground; red sandstone mesa with shadows; distal LaSal mountains.  Really, how hard could that be?

So, after collecting the Civic with its new battery just after 9:00 AM, I headed back out Hwy 128 to the pull off where I'd taken the photo on Monday afternoon.   I'm not sure why I thought this would work; the light in the morning was completely different, with both the cliffs and LaSals in shadow, which was not nearly as interesting as the late afternoon light I'd seen on Monday.

However, since I'd already driven the 20 miles to the location, I was determined to try and make it work.  I thought that perhaps by the time I'd gotten the drawing done and all the foreground finished, the light would be better, and if I'd been there all day, that probably would have been true.

I decided to go with the 16x20" panel, again.  Unfortunately, because of the wiping and washing off of the Tuesday painting, the surface of the paper just wasn't interested in holding the pastel.  To make matters worse, the corrugated texture of the Coroplast was coming through when I painted, and after about 30 min, I came to the painful conclusion that this was just not going to work, ever.  So, I packed up and headed back towards Moab.

About 5 miles from the Hwy 191-128 junction is a fabulous side canyon called Negro Bill Canyon.  I'd stopped there on Monday to assess it for painting potential, but the light wasn't good in the late afternoon - much of everything was in shadow.  But, I decided that since it was on the way, perhaps I'd try a quickie 9x12" piece along the stream that runs through the canyon year-round.

I clipped on the backpacking straps to the easel and headed up the very scenic trail, looking for a good (read:  simple composition and preferably in the shade) location to paint.  I probably hiked 1/2 mile down the trail before settling on this really attractive section of the stream where the water cascaded over some terraced rocks with some fun shadows going on.  For this painting, I thought I'd try some of the Wallis sanded paper I brought along.

Again, I'm not sure what I was thinking, since I'm used to painting on smooth black paper with essentially no tooth, and here I'm using a white sanded paper that has a pretty aggressive surface.  I think I was there for maybe 10 min. before realizing this was a complete bust.

Realizing that painting wasn't in the cards today, I went back to the hostel and got the 3 paintings I had completed finished and framed.  Later, I dropped off the two paintings into the gallery, and got something to eat.  While sitting in the cafe, I saw Andre walk by, and I flagged him down.  He joined me for dinner, and as the quick-draw event was winding down, we decided to head over to the reception to check it out, and there were a few really outstanding paintings that were a treat to see, including the eventual winner, painted by Doug Braithwaite, which was incredible!  Be sure and have a look at his website to check out his outstanding work.

Friday, Oct 14:

Today was the "no pressure" day, as it were - my painting was dropped off for the competition, and I decided that I would spend the day hiking and maybe painting, before the reception and awards that started at 7PM.

I went back down Kane Creek Rd, and hiked up Hunter Canyon.  It was glorious, and photos will follow.

On the way back, I decided to paint an area along the road of this remarkable cliff face that kept grabbing my attention each time I drove past - this arch in progress:

Remodeling Process
9x12 inches - pastel on Wallis
For this painting, I used the piece of Wallis from the earlier days' failed painting.  Using a black Nupastel, I scrubbed over the entire surface and turned it black with an alcohol wash - now, I was back in my comfort zone with my black paper security blanket!   To make things even better, I got to paint this entirely in the shade of the huge canyon wall behind me, and I decided to sit to paint it.

There was so much amazing stuff going on with this cliff wall - the geometric curves of the arch and its shadows; the debris pile under it; the horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines...and all the colors!  I got it about 85% finished at the site, and did the finishing work from memory today.  Painted almost entirely using NuPastels with just a few softies, I was impressed with how fun they were to work with on the Wallis.  I'm glad I thought to bring my entire 90-pc. set along.

At the awards reception that night, I had the chance to meet Colorado pastelists Mike Ray and Norbert Nagel.  Norbert's pastel took 2nd place in the pastel/dry media category, and was one of my favorite pastel pieces in the show.

It was quite fun to see over 100 paintings by artists in a variety of styles and media all in one place.

Saturday, Oct 15:

Final day of the event, and paintings were on display for sale and silent auction throughout the day.

I attended the judges talk in the morning, which was interesting.  Terry Ludwig, one of the judges, CO pastel artist and manufacturer of soft pastels, was kind enough to offer critiques and suggestions for those that were interested.

I got to talking with Norbert and Mike, and they were planning on heading out in the afternoon to paint, along with Terry and another CO artist, Mark, who works in oils.  They asked if I'd be interested in coming along, and I said "absolutely!".  We couldn't pick up our paintings from the show until 6PM, so  what else was there to do?

It ended up being just Norbert, Mark and myself out, and we settled on painting at Kane Springs Campground.

Sandstone Sentinel
16x12 inches - Strathmore Artagain
© S.Johnson
I had a great time painting this, and the subtleties of the shadow colors were amazing.  It came together easily and I decided to get a little bolder with the colors, and I couldn't resist going with a turquoise sky, which I always like.  I was originally going to scumble over that bright yellow on the foreground rocks, but when Norbert came over to have a look, he thought I should leave it, so I did.  I finished it up in the studio today, mostly from memory.  I find that even though I sometimes take a photo of the location I was painting from, I don't like using it.

Mark and Norbert painting in the shade of a cottonwood

My in-progress painting
We wrapped up our paintings around 5PM, and headed back to the MARC to wait until we could collect them.  It was when I was walking out with my gallery paintings that Lowrey came up and told me she loved my painting.  She had debated about bidding on it in the show, but having only come on her bicycle, transporting it would have been difficult.  I told her I'd be happy to sell it to her unframed (unfortunately, my silver plein air frame, which looked fantastic with the painting, got chipped during the drive up...), and she decided that would be great!

And, so ended my PleinAir Moab trip - I hope you enjoyed the report :)

Here are some photos taken from my hike up Hunter Canyon and the surrounding area on Thursday:

An amazing balanced rock in Hunter Cyn

Desert Varnish on the canyon walls

A pair of damselflies taking a rest...she is just dangling there!

Hunter Arch

Reflections in Hunter Cyn

Enduring art from a bygone era

Monday, October 17, 2011

PleinAir Moab - Part I

Back from my 6-day plein air painting adventure in Moab, UT!  Actually, I got back late Saturday night, but yesterday was spent catching up around here and because I managed to completely forget to take photos of the paintings done during the week, I couldn't just zap them up on the blog, and all had to be taken out of their frames anyway.

Where to start?  Well, it was truly an adventure, with ups and downs and more activity crammed into each day than I am used to.  I've decided to break it up into two separate posts of 3 days each so as to not overwhelm readers.  This post is long enough as it is, but hopefully, it will be sort of entertaining to read...if not, you can see the photos and move on.

Overall, the experience was great, and I'll probably go back next year, having learned a lot about what to do, what not to do, what to expect and where to focus my efforts painting.  Thus, the level of chaos should be reduced significantly.  The two highlights of the trip for me were: 1) meeting other artists and making new connections; 2) having my favorite painting strike a chord - not with the judges or other artists - but with a resident of Moab who loved it enough to give it a new home.   Honestly, that is what made the expense and effort and moments of frustration worth it.  

Here's the painting, posted first even though it wasn't the first one completed.  It was the painting I chose to enter in the competition:

Quiet Reflections in Hunter Canyon
16x12 inches - pastel on Artagain
© 2011, S.Johnson
Monday, Oct 10

After arriving in town and securing my lodging and getting several of my panels stamped for the event at the MARC, I headed to locations recommended by some folks on an outdoor forum I read that is Utah-based.  Kane Creek Rd, which heads south out of Moab and passes the portal (where the Colorado River crosses from one canyon, past Moab, and down another canyon) was recommended, and after a couple of brief stops, I found one of the recommended locations - Hunter Canyon.  The canyon is about 2 miles in length, and includes a perennial spring and an arch.  

Due to the time of year and the relative width of the canyon, much of it was in shade.  After about 1/4 mile along the path and a creek crossing, a section of the canyon was in sun.  As I looked back along the path, I saw this lone shrub sitting atop a slab of fallen sandstone.  It was backlit, and had a glorious reflection in the pool in front.  The distal canyon wall and scrub oak were in shadow.  I knew instantly that I had my first painting, and I quickly snapped a photo to use in planning the composition of the painting via thumbnail sketches.

About 30' away was this reflection, forming the most beautiful abstract design:

This isn't the sort of image that I feel would translate well into a painting, so I had no intention to paint it.  I love it as a photo.  Regular readers know my love of water and reflections, so this was right up my alley, so to speak.  I shot a few more photos of possible painting subjects, some of which may end up as studio pieces and/or plein air paintings for next year.  Hunter Cyn was now officially my favorite painting location in Moab!

After this, I headed back up the road towards town and drove out Hwy 128, which follows the Colorado through a larger canyon for about 15 miles as it heads east of Moab and towards the Fisher Towers (a planned destination for possible sunset photos that evening, and possible painting subject.  I saw a handful of artists painting at pull-outs along the highway in the main section of the canyon.  

As the highway continues east, it opens up to Professor Valley and the highway diverges from the Colorado such that it is no longer visible.  At the time I was heading out, it was around 4PM, and the light to the south was ideal for painting, and the LaSals come into view past the turn-off to Castle Rock.  The recent storm that went through the region left a significant amount of snow on their peaks, which added to the beauty of this "big picture" scene:

A bit further east, I noticed a small creek and several bright cottonwoods right off the side of the road...and two painters busy painting away!  I pulled off, and not wanting to bother them, I walked a couple hundred yards up the creek bed.  A small cluster of young cottonwoods on the edge of the wash were backlit against the shadowed slopes of the wash and some mesas, near and far, in the background.  Seemed like a great location to get a quick painting done:

Arroyo Shadows
9x12 inches - pastel on Artagain
One thing I discovered quickly is that, despite my efforts to select a palette appropriate to the southern Utah landscape, it always seemed to fall short.  Not quite cool and gray enough was the recurrent theme of the trip.   That being said, the practice pieces I did were still a big help.  After talking with other artists, and pastelists in particular, I discovered that everyone struggled with the same issue (including Terry Ludwig, who was one of the judges...apparently, even he didn't have the right colors!).  We further concluded that this landscape was indeed a big challenge to paint.  

So, this first small painting didn't turn out quite to my expectations and there are things that bug me about it, but it was worth the effort (and the photos of all these paintings suffer from the same problem of being too bright and contrasty.  Ugh).  And, it was here that I met fellow artists Bill and Andre who were painting nearby.  Andre lives in La Honda, CA, and Bill lives near my old stomping grounds in Sedona, AZ.  

Tuesday, Oct 11:

After a rather wretched nights' sleep, I got up with the intent to spend the day painting along Hwy 128. The primary reason for this was that the first of the three quick-draw events was being held at the Red Cliffs Resort & Winery along the same highway and I thought I might like to try and enter that.  I also discovered that the quick-draw events were 3 hours in length and not 90 minutes that I originally thought.  

I also thought that the general location along Professor Valley and the Onion Creek area would be good to do a large painting - 16x20 - of a big picture scene.  Having planned for only one of these sized paintings, I had my single panel and no back-up paper of this size along.  Mistake #1.  Mistake #2 was deviating from my normal procedure which is to paint with the paper taped to a board.  Because I wasn't sure how to handle the whole stamping process, I created panels to paint on...something I never do, which in this case, was paper taped with framer's tape to the boards, with a few swipes of a glue stick where it would actually hold.  Turns out, it didn't work well for me, but thankfully, I discovered that some gesso painted on the back of the paper worked great for a stamp location and that you could finish your framing after the stamp was verified by a volunteer at the check-in table.  

Mistake #3 was spending far too much time deciding on the "perfect" location for this "perfect" painting and then realizing about 1 1/2 hrs. into it that you bit off more than you could chew and that while the composition and concept were good, the execution was clearly heading south.  The view was of the Fisher Towers as seen from Onion Creek.  Light was excellent, but the complexity of the scene was a challenge and the pastels were mocking me with their shortcomings.  Wind kicking up wasn't helping at all.  And, I never even took a photo of this scene.

So, I decided to scrap the painting, and walked down to the creek and in one of those "why did I do that?" moments, proceeded to first brush off the pastel and then wash it off with creek water from my hand.  Since parts of the paper were adhered to the panel with a glue stick, and to what was essentially a corrugated surface, I was to find out 2 days later this forever doomed the paper and subsequent painting attempt on it.  

Not to be completely discouraged by these failed efforts, I headed back, turned down this intriguing dirt road that led off of the main highway

and beyond an impressively huge ranch to a remote location that had a view that I immediately loved.  It was about 1 1/2 hrs. until the quick draw event at the Red Cliffs began, but nonetheless, I set up the easel and began what would be Failed Painting #2.  Despite using my viewfinder, it just seemed I couldn't get the basic drawing to work.   At that point, I think my right brain just shut off for the day, and I shot two photos for a later studio piece, because there was no way in hell I was driving another 44 miles RT to try it from location again, and so I headed off to Red Cliffs for the quick-draw.

By the time I got there, folks were already setting up and getting their paintings underway.  I walked around, looking for a view that would grab me, decided I really wasn't "feeling the love" for anything, and headed back into town.   Since painting was done for me for the day, I decided to take a drive down the west side of the Colorado River south and west of Moab, known as Potash Rd.  I only drove about 6 miles, and while I saw no locations conducive for painting, I did stop to take some photos of beautiful Datura flowers (also known as "moonflowers"), before heading back to my room for some much-needed sleep.

Datura in full bloom

Datura flower spiral, unfurling

Wed, Oct 12:

Following a solid night's sleep, I got up and headed off by mid-morning to my original chosen location, Hunter Canyon, for at least one and possibly two paintings.  I felt good and excited to paint, and thanks to the spiffy backpack conversion kit for my French easel (thanks again, Dan, for telling me about it!), bringing the easel the 1/4 mile down the trail to the location was easy.

When I arrived, everything was still completely in shade.  This was fine, as I was able to get the sandstone slab, bush, pool and its edge drawn in and the background (which was in shade the entire time) completed.   Having completed about 1/2 of the painting at this point, I realized that: a) I was sort of cold from standing in the shade not moving; b) I was hungry.  So, I sat in the sun about 20 feet away on a large rock and ate and enjoyed the warm sun.

It was about this time that a breeze decided to kick up in the canyon, and while I knew my easel wasn't going to be disturbed by this, it didn't occur to me how unsecured both my panel was to the easel and the paper was to the panel, since I'd removed 3/4 of the tape for the painting process and had planned to re-tape it after I was finished.  By the time I figured that the breeze could be a problem, it was too late:  I watched as a gust came up and the paper and Coroplast separated from each other and the easel and landed face-down into the pool of water!  

I guess I could have gotten either really mad or completely discouraged by the fact that my painting was suddenly ruined after about 1 1/2 hrs. of work, but after assessing that it was indeed ruined, I just shrugged, walked back to my car, grabbed my pad of Artagain (that I thankfully had the foresight to bring along), whipped out my trusty piece of sandpaper from my apron pocket, dried off the Coroplast (which thankfully had the stamp on it), and started again.  

Using the original painting as a guide, I was able to quickly re-draw everything, and decided to sit while I did this.  By the time I was finished with the background, the light was at its "magical moment", and I set about to paint in the window of time while the plant, reflections and sandstone were in the sun.  I had to wait a few times for the breeze to settle so I could paint the reflection, but I managed to get it 90% completed.  I ended up sitting on the sand for the entire painting.

Feeling energized from a successful painting rising up from the setback, I decided I'd try another one on my way back, this time from the Kane Springs campground a few miles back towards town.  The sandstone cliff walls in shadow and the foreground field and mid-ground trees had a relatively simple design, so I was able to get this about 80% completed before it got too late and the sun went behind the cliffs:

Late Afternoon in Kane Springs Camp
11x14 inches
The photo of this has the same issue with the overly contrast-y shadow colors on the rocks.  Even p.p. adjustments couldn't make it look like the actual painting.  While I was painting, another pastel artist and local Moab resident, Victoria Fugit, came up and introduced herself and we had a delightful chat.  Later, the campground host came up and told me she felt I captured the feeling of the rocks, their shadows, and the area very well, which was encouraging to hear!

Here's a photo I took from the same area on Monday, earlier in the day, of this most magnificent cottonwood at one of the campsites, off to the right of where I did my painting.  The Colorado river lies just on the other side of the row of tamarisk:

After what turned out to be a productive day, the fun times weren't over yet:  after driving back into town and pulling into the McDonald's parking lot to call Wayne, I went to start the car afterwards, and much to my dismay, during my 10-minute conversation, it decided not to start.   This is the time my sister would say:  "I hear circus music!"  Indeed, it was playing loudly in my head.  I drove Wayne's Civic because it's a reliable car, so what are the odds it would decide to have issues on this trip?  Murphy is laughing somewhere, I know.

To make a long story short, despite having to walk back to the hostel in the dark about a mile, thanks to Wayne doing some internet searches and calls, there happened to be a repair place with a tow truck that was just down from the place I was staying.   The car was towed there that night.

It turned out to be a dead battery, so I really couldn't blame the little car, and while this all sounds like a bit of a nightmare, indeed it could have been so much worse!  I shudder to think what I would have done had the battery decided to go out when I was way down on the remote Onion Springs road the day before, where there was little traffic and no cell phone coverage 27 miles outside of Moab.  That I only had to walk a mile back to the place I was staying and the issue was minor was a blessing.  

Thus ends Part I of my PleinAir Moab adventure...

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Utah cottonwood color - pastel

12 x 12 inches
pastel on Artagain
© S Johnson
A studio piece that took far longer than it should have to finish (and subsequently, feels a bit over-worked).   It didn't quite meet my pre-painting expectations, but I got a lot out of painting it nonetheless.

From a photo taken about 25 miles south of Moab along Hwy 191 last year, at a rest stop situated next to one of those tickey-tacky tourist stops:  Hole N''The Rock.  Not to be confused with the road of the same name in the Escalante-Grand Staircase NM (also in UT), it started out as a house built into the large outcropping of Navajo sandstone by a Mormon pioneer close to a century ago.  That in itself is kind of interesting, but if you click on the link, what immediately assaults your aesthetic sense is the huge white lettering on the side of the rock.

Really?  Why?

At any rate, this beautiful Fremont cottonwood showing off its range of leaf color, was mercifully well out of view of the whole [hole?] view of all that.  Cottonwoods have these wonderful organic shapes to their trunks and branches, never orderly or predictable, and that is what draws me to them as photography and painting subjects time and time again.

Only one more day to get any painting in before I leave for Moab!  Thanks to expedient handling and shipping of an order placed on Monday, my two display easels from Dick Blick arrived yesterday, allowing me to leave on Monday instead of Tuesday.  Weather is supposed to be sunny and warm and dry during the event, which after the very winter-like storm that has been hitting our area for the better part of the week, is a relief.

Photos taken yesterday along a drive up Hwy 550 to go check out the snow and fall color situation:

Aspen stand in full color in a fleeting moment of sunlight

Engineer Mountain as seen from the highway near Andrews Lake (~9,900')

Hermosa Cliffs closer to town (~8,000')

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Another landscape near Moab - pastel, 9x12

Towards Hidden Valley
9x12 inches - pastel on Artagain
© 2011, S.Johnson
Based on a photo taken during our late October trip to Moab last year, this was another good piece to test drive some new palette colors, including the peachy Mt Visions for the sand and cliff highlights and the pale lavender used for the sky.  Purple sky?  Hey, why not.

Hidden Valley is aptly named; it's not at all visible from HWY 191 that leads into Moab, but it's almost adjacent to the town to the south.  This view is where we turned around and headed back - the Colorado River is behind you here, though not visible from this point.  I suspect that salt tectonics produced this valley, or graben, as the erosion pattern is vastly different on both sides of the valley, and the rock itself appears different.  I always notice this sort of thing when hiking through southern Utah, and find it fascinating (as only a geology geek will).

This was a timed painting - 100 minutes total.  I then showed it to Wayne, who pointed out some minor things that bugged him, so I fixed those in about a minute.

Weather is still really crummy here and predicted to be so for a couple more days, so more Utah paintings to come!

I may have posted these last year, but it's been so long that even those that saw them won't remember, but here are a few photos from the Hidden Valley hike:

Trail through Hidden Valley - the town of Moab is to the right (north)
Approaching the end of Hidden Valley - the Colorado River is off in the distance

Desert Varnish on the large sandstone fin (Wingate or Navajo?) seen in the painting (middle of the trio)

Tilted sandstone, I'm guessing Entrada formation (underlying white is probably Navajo sandstone)
on the opposite side

La Sal Mountains as seen to the east through Hidden Valley on the way back to the trailhead

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Southern Utah in fall, pastel, 9x12

Fall Light in Canyonlands
9x12 inches - pastel on Artagain
© 2011, S.Johnson
Today's paint out with the Four Corners group was canceled due to rain, so it was a studio day instead.   Based on a photo taken last October during our trip to Canyonlands, it depicts a scene I absolutely love:  backlit fall color trees against shadowed canyon walls, in this case - cottonwoods.  Next to aspen, they are my favorite tree, and I really enjoy painting them.

Unfortunately, this didn't photograph very well; in real life, the slopes and cliffs of the canyon walls aren't as contrasty.  After looking at the photo, I went back down to make adjustments and realized that it was the'll just have to take my word that it does look much better in person.

I leave for Moab in a week.  Our planned trip to go tomorrow is canceled because of - bad weather.  I'm disappointed, as I'd intended for this week's trip to be a scouting trip to secure locations to paint ahead of time.  Ah's not the first time lousy weather has caused plans to change, so I'll just have to go with the flow.

Test sheet of pastels on scrap of Artagain

Revised plein air set - 175 pieces of pastel goodness
NuPastel, Sennelier, Mt Vision, Unison, Richeson Handmade and Ludwig 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Plein air and studio pastels - practice for Moab

Ranch Near Lavender Canyon
pastel on black Artagain - 9x12 inches
© S.Johnson
A quick studio piece started on Saturday, based on a photo taken last October on our first trip to Canyonlands.  The area east of Canyonlands NP was homesteaded back in the mid 1800's, and as you drive along the road leading to the park, most of the ranch properties are still there and inhabited, including this one.  

In preparation for Plein Air Moab, I'm completely revamping my plein air pastel set to switch from a summer Rocky Mountain palette to a "fall in Utah canyon country" set, which is - not surprisingly - quite different.  Pastels that don't work on the black paper are getting put back in the large studio trays and I'm revisiting others I haven't used much in the past, which is kind of cool.

I spent a good part of yesterday preparing my panels and frames for the event, which turned out to be somewhat time-consuming.  I'll post photos later.

Anyway, here's a plein air done on Saturday afternoon, further down La Plata Canyon Rd.  It is right across from the parking lot where the PAP4C met on Tuesday to do the group critique.  I saw this small cabin tucked between aspen coming into fall color, and knew I had to paint it:

Canyon Cabin
pastel on Artagain - 12x9 inches
© S.Johnson
It's not going to go down as a favorite PA piece, but the effort was satisfactory nonetheless.  I got most of it finished in 70 minutes on location, and did some minor tweaking back home.

So, both radically different landscape paintings here, both as part of getting ready for Moab.  Today will be another studio Utah piece, and tomorrow is another trip with the Four Corners group.  Then, Wed, Wayne and I go to Moab for an overnight trip and two solid days of hiking (and, for me, casing for locations to paint the following week).

Should be a busy few days!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fall Colors along the San Juan Skyway

Yesterday was a great day.  No painting - instead, it was 13 hours of driving, exploring, photographing and just simply enjoying the amazing fall colors in our area along the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway loop drive.  There have been, of course, numerous photos posted here taken along the section of the Byway between Durango and Silverton, of fall colors, Engineer Mountain and such.

Fall leaf season in the San Juans is short and fleeting, and amongst photographers, artists, locals and tourists, there exists a sense of urgency to try and experience as much as one can before the aspen, oak and cottonwood give up their colorful photosynthesizing units to the earth and we settle for several months of the spruce and pine forests to tide us over until the greens of spring return.

We opted to do the drive counter-clockwise, heading up Hwy 550 towards Silverton and returning through Dolores and Mancos, and thanks to some tips from fellow Durango Photography Club member Kathy, we now had some new places to check out along the Dallas Divide-Mt Sneffels area.

Hopefully, no one is tiring of the fall color theme here on the blog...because I'll probably run with it until the season is spent.

Here is a selection of photos from the trip yesterday, including some non-fall color surprises:

Morning sun lights up the beautiful stands of aspen in full color along the southern slope of the mountains near Red Mountain Pass, approaching Ironton Park

Two horses graze in a meadow against the backlit foliage of large narrowleaf cottonwoods along East Dallas Road.  This FS road, which passes by (or through) Ralph Lauren's huge ranch property, leads to the Uncompahgre National Forest and the base of the Sneffels Wilderness Area.  

 Towering aspen along the road are backlit by the mid-morning sun

A hillside wedge of bright yellow aspen surrounded by the patchwork of scrub oak in a variety of fall colors

A view of the Sneffels range from the NFS land, and one of the countless split rail style fences found throughout.  Note the clouds in this photo...

A view from a pullout near the Dallas Divide showing the Sneffels range and patches of color
Note the rapid cloud build-up from the previous photo

A view of the amazing Last Dollar Ranch from Last Dollar road
This property has been featured in ads for Budweiser and Marlboro [ugh], and with its stunning views, it's easy to see why.  Unfortunately, shooting into the sun, it was impossible to avoid some lens flare, even with the lens hood

Split-rail fence bordering the Last Dollar property 
Despite the fact that this road leads to the Telluride Airport, it was unclear from our map whether the road remained passenger car friendly, so we opted to turn around a few miles up the road

Entering Telluride, with the famous ski area colored by aspen
Clouds covered the sky by the time we got to town, just showing how rapidly the weather can change in the high country 

One of the Wilsons (Peak or Mountain...I can never tell which is which) of the San Miguel range south of Telluride.  Yes, it is receiving a dusting of snow at over 14,000'

Meanwhile, about 60 miles south and an hour and a half later...beautiful backlit aspen along Hillside Road, another FS road that is east of Dolores

Late afternoon aspen and shadows across Hillside Road

Beautiful old aspen trunks and shadows

Wow - what an unexpected surprise!  
While driving towards Dolores, we spotted this youngish bull moose out in a meadow not far off the road.  Moose aren't common in Colorado, and the only other time I've seen one was about 34 years ago in the Tetons

Another photo, because he's just so cool.  I quickly popped on my telephoto lens and followed him along the roadside fence as he trotted back and forth through the meadow.  How exciting that moose have been introduced this far south into CO and what a treat to see and photograph him!

This most amazing cumulonimbus cloud over Mesa Verde on the way to Mancos
We stopped so I could take photos, but this one shot out of the window of the car as we drove along turned out better

The same cloud, about 16 minutes later, as seen from Mancos
The cliffs of Mesa Verde are seen to the left
A great way to spend a fall day in southern CO, I must say!

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