Saturday, November 5, 2011

Arches and Towers of Stone

It was love at first sight...

Corona Arch
12x16 inches - pastel on black construction paper
© S.Johnson
We got back from our two-day trip to Moab in the evening, and I spent the rest of the night processing the photos from the trip (which Wayne refers to as the "Post Game Wrap-Up:  brought to you by Nikon").  We squeezed it in between the two storms that went through the region, today's of which has left about 3" of snow in town.  I wish I could say I was excited about the first snow of the season here in town, but I'm not.

Anyway, our trip was great, as expected.  It's just hard to go wrong with any hikes in the area, and I we had sort of planned the areas we wanted to hike, based on what I did and didn't get a chance to do when I was in town for the plein air event.  On Thursday, we drove out Hwy 128 to hike Fisher Towers, which is about 24 miles east of Moab.  I hadn't made it quite that far east when I was out for the plein air event.

Yesterday, temperatures were about 20 degrees warmer and no wind was predicted until later in the afternoon.  Having spent a lot of time exploring Kane Creek Rd during my last visit, I suggested we drive down Hwy 279, which follows the Colorado south and west of Moab, and specifically go hike the trail to Corona Arch, which is also short (~3 mi RT).  Actually, it's a two-fer, since it is right next to Bowtie Arch.

Most people are familiar with the arches in Arches NP, of which there are many.  Delicate Arch is arguably the most well-known arch in the country, having achieved iconic status as the symbol on Utah's license plate.  It is well-deserving of awe as possibly the only free-standing arch in the world, as is Landscape Arch, which is one of the longest spanning arches in the world.

The arches outside the park don't get nearly the attention or the visitors that those inside the park do, which is actually perfectly fine by me.   The hike to Corona and Bowtie arches was by far one of the most scenic hikes we've done in the area, and then there are the arches themselves.  You round the corner of the slickrock bench, and there they are: sculpted over millions of years out of the petrified sand dunes of Navajo sandstone.  No other type of sandstone produces arches quite like Navajo.

After taking several photos of the arches from various perspectives, I knew I had to paint Corona at least. I've not had that same urge with the other arches I've seen and photographed.  I also was thinking that I really need to get a lightweight plein air set up that will fit in a backpack so I can paint this baby on location, because, really - how cool would that be?  There is one set of metal stairs and a cable with Moki steps (areas cut into the sandstone for climbing up a steep sandstone face), but that's it as far as difficulty goes (in other words:  not a problem).

So, after doing several small color studies for more abstract landscapes (none of which were worth posting), I decided to whip this out from one of my photos.  After using a piece of the el-cheapo construction paper I bought a few months ago for some color testing, I realized it worked pretty darn good when used without sanding the surface.  As is always the case, some pastels work better than others, but for the most part, I got it to do what I wanted.  The sky was the main issue.

This would turn out even better in oils, where I could finesse the temperatures and values better.  It sort of has a graphic feel to it, which I like.

Some photos from Thursday, the first day of the trip:

The Colorado along Rocky Rapids on Hwy 128

One of the Fisher Towers, as seen along the trail....

...and a close-up of the same tower a bit later with a climber peep standing on the top!  

This extreme example of a balanced rock along the trail, that I named "Striking Cobra rock"
Some of the towers along the trail 
The Colorado River as seen at the end of the Fisher Towers trail - view is to the north
The view to the south at the end of the trail - looking down to Onion Creek Canyon

Fisher Towers as seen from the trailhead in afternoon light

Half moon rising over The Titan - the tallest sandstone spire in the world at 900'
View is from Hwy 128 


  1. Cheap stock or not, the painting works!

    I don't think I would ever run out of inspiration to paint out there.

  2. Thanks, Dan. It was sort of a quickie, but good practice for a future location painting. I agree, there is so much variety in the area it would be hard to run out of things to paint. If you needed a forest/mountain fix, the LaSals are 30 min. away. The biggest problem for me is just getting overwhelmed with choices.

    Thanks LeAnn. I wasn't able to shoot during ideal light, but they give you an idea of how amazing this area is.

  3. Lovely painting Sonya! The colours are vibrant and have a wonderful warmth to them. The Rocky Rapids look as though they'd make for a great painting too!

  4. Hi Vanessa - thanks so much for your visit and comments :). The warm and vibrant colors of the arch and surrounding rock, and how it contrasted with the distal shaded cliff wall, was one of the things that attracted me to the view.

    It's funny you say that the Rocky Rapids would make a good painting...I took several photos of that area (it is a boat put-in location) to possibly paint. Or, maybe do on location at a future visit.

  5. Pretty pastel painting Sonya, of the Corona Arch. I love painting landscapes too and especially how the light changes.

  6. Thanks for your comment, Richard. The changing light and shadows definitely keeps things interesting when painting landscapes, doesn't it?

  7. Great painting and post, Sonya. You make me so homesick for the southwest.

    (Don Gray...not anonymous!)

  8. Beautiful rendering of the light catching the underside of that graceful, virtually flying arch.
    I got an Artbox set-up recently for a trip to Maine. It's the lightest plein air gear I've found. Fits in a backpack. Sometimes you might need ballast when the wind blows but I really like it.

  9. Hi Don - thank you as always for your supportive comments. Boy, do I understand the homesickness feeling; I had it the entire time I lived in CT. I hope you can make it back down to the Colorado Plateau region again.

    Hi Shirley, thanks so much for stopping by - I appreciate it! The reflected light on the underside of the arch was amazing; that's probably my favorite part of this painting, in fact. Thank you for the info on the Artbox easel; I will definitely look into that.

  10. The paper looks like it absorbed the pastel, and I find the effect very fascinating. Your image is just beautiful!

    It makes me wonder if sanding a sheet of black Canson or something would produce a similar effect.

    As always, the landscape photos you take are admirable, and especially the subjects are out of this world!

  11. Hi Casey - I ended up doing quite a bit of blending on this piece, particularly for the foreground and distal cliffs, which is probably why it looks that way. The paper surface is quite smooth, but has enough tooth that most of the pastels covered it wonderfully.

    I can't remember if I tried sanding Canson or not, although I know of at least one artist who does. I've tried it with the Strathmore charcoal paper I have, and maybe because of the laid finish, it doesn't work so well. Ditto sanding 140# watercolor paper. The sanding of course works superbly on the black Artagain I typically use.

    Thank you for your generous comments about the painting and the photos. The particular geology of this region makes for some of the most unique and fascinating landscapes in the country, for sure!

  12. Corona Arch is beautiful and it does have a sort of graphic punch to it. I especially like the paler shades of orange on the underside, lovely!

  13. The arch painting is lovely Sonya. Such inspiration in all of the photos. I was a long time coming to digital photography but now it is so wonderful to be able to see roughly what you have before you leave an area.

    And that guy up on the tower would never be me. Yikes. I'm not sure I could even watch.

  14. Hi Diane - thanks so much for your comments. I also loved the orange glow from the underside of the arch; it adds some "drama", I think :).

    Hi Ruth - I totally agree about how amazing digital photography is. It has really revolutionized photography and made it much more user-friendly for artists, too. And, I have to agree with you about the climber...I can handle heights and exposure to a degree, but that looks downright terrifying.


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

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