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


  1. You pretty much already know what I think, but I enjoyed seeing the paintings and photos. I definitely agree with Norbert's opinion, I really like the yellow.

  2. Love reading these posts about your experiences there. I am impressed with how you kept on going even when things weren't going so well!
    The Sandstone Sentinel is wonderful - love how you pushed the color. Amazing photos, as always!
    I'm glad you got so much out of your trip - and thanks for sharing that experience with us!

  3. Hey Dan - thanks as always, and I'm glad the consensus was to keep the Unison mustard yellow! It was the warmest color of that value I had and was the only way to maintain any degree of aerial perspective.

    Hi Debbie - I'm glad you found the posts enjoyable to read...I know they were quite long, and I always worry about boring readers. But, it would have been impossible to cram all that into a few paragraphs and have it mean anything. So, I appreciate your comments! And, one of the things I did want to emphasize in these posts is that even when the painting days don't go well, it's important to move on and keep at it.

  4. Sandstone Sentinel is very striking, too.

    I can see that these plein air competitions require a ton of preparation, and then the work begins!

  5. Casey - thanks! Lots of preparation, indeed! Given this was the first time I've ever done anything like this, my planning was actually not bad.

    LeAnn, the whole area is full of fun rock formations, and then there is Arches NP, just a few miles away, with even more!

    Darla - thank you so much!

  6. Looks like you had a very fulfilling art and nature experience, and great connection with new artist friends. Can't get any better than that. Great pastels and photos!

  7. Thanks so much, Liz. "Fulfilling" is a really good descriptive for the week, actually. Becoming so immersed in that landscape for that time, and I miss it a bit :).


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

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