Friday, November 9, 2012

Back from a blogging and painting break

Because sometimes a break from everything is in order.  I've been caught up in non-art creative ventures that have taken my attention away from painting for a while.  It happens during this time of the year, as I transition from eight months of exhilarating outdoor painting to the doldrums of the studio.

Our area is expecting its first snow of the season tomorrow and Saturday.  So, probably no more plein air work for me this year.

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about what I want to do this winter, and one thing is returning to oils and working on my drawing skills.  I'm also going to spend more time reading and studying the paintings and drawings of the Old Masters; library books on drawings by Picasso and Michelangelo are sitting on my night stand and I look forward to working my way through them.

In the meantime, here are two paintings done in the past two weeks.  The first is a plein air from the 4CPAP paint-out in Simone Canyon, in New Mexico.   I ended up going with the purple sky here because I forgot to bring my box of sky colors along.

Roadside Cottonwoods - 12x12"
pastel on black cardstock

The second is a studio piece, from a photo taken during our Escalante trip.   The afternoon of the quick-draw event, after I'd dropped my painting off, we drove west of Escalante, to the town of Cannonville, and then headed south along the road that leads to Kodachrome Basin State Park.  This is a view of the Kodachrome area further down the Cottonwood Wash road:

Cloud Over Kodachrome Basin - 12x16
pastel on dark gray Mi Tientes
While at the Escalante Canyons Plein Air event, I was delighted to meet a local area pastelist whose work I've enjoyed since I first discovered it in the past couple of years - Scotty Mitchell .  A few of her paintings are featured in the book Painters of Utah's Canyons and Deserts, which is one of my favorite coffee table art books.  Talking shop with another pastelist is always interesting, because we all use such different techniques and materials, so of course, I had to ask her what surface she uses for her paintings.  Turns out, she works exclusively on the dark gray Mi Tientes.  Between the chat I had with her, and the studio painting I did - Wash Wall Shadows - on Canson, I was inspired to try this paper again.

I like it, especially this dark gray.  So much so that I ordered a 10-pack of 19x25" sheets from ASW.

Anyway, that's all I've got for now.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fall Colors, and studio skies - pastel landscapes

The Green Shed - 12x12"
 pastel on black cardstock
Saturday afternoon's painting, from one of my favorite locations along the river, which of course, isn't visible in this piece.  Each year at this time, I'm reminded of what a fleeting season fall is, or at least as it pertains to fall color and painting.  

The cottonwoods, both narrow leaf, and Fremont, are rapidly fading and dumping their leaves, and I am sort of bummed I wasn't able to make the most of this season.  But, it was peaking in the high country when we were in Escalante, and here in town when we were in Moab, so I can at least bandy that around as an excuse, right?

I had plans to go up to Baker's Bridge and paint there, which I did last year around this time, but I think the window for that is shut; tomorrow, the 4C group has a paint-out in northern NM, and after that, the temperatures are supposed to drop precipitously as the storm hitting CA moves east to our region.  By the time things warm up again, no color will likely remain anywhere in our area.

Here's a small piece I did during the 4CPAP's recent outing the Wildflower Ranch in La Plata Canyon a couple of weeks ago.  This paint-out fell between the Escalante and Moab trips, and was the only painting I got done that week. The larger morning piece, of aspen, I worked on for about two hours before deciding I didn't like the direction it was going, and became bored with it.  I know from experience that it's best to just quit and move on, rather than keep pounding away at it, hoping I can make it work.  This was done after lunch, about 1/2 mile down the road on this property, and the first "keeper" painting I've done of the La Plata river.

Cottonwood Shadows Across the La Plata
8x6", pastel on black paper
And, finally - two studio pieces, small, both done for this week's DailyPaintworks challenge - "The Sky's the Challenge". 

Both reminded me that painting skies/clouds is always a challenge, and that I find it increasingly difficult to work from photographs, probably because it is so easy to overwork the clouds.  You just don't that as an option when painting them in real time.

Burr Trail Sunset - 9x12"
pastel on Strathmore 400-series paper

Monsoon on the Mesa - 6x12"
pastel on black cardstock

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Another plein air from Moab - along Hwy 128

Road to Professor Creek - 9x18"
pastel on UArt #600 paper, toned with gray acrylic wash
Another Moab area plein air landscape - the last one I did during my week there.  It was done last Saturday afternoon, with the 4CPAP group.  One of our members, Carolyn, who lives in Moab, arranged a weekend paint-out that happened to coincide with PleinAir Moab.

I have waited a year to do this painting.  At last years' PleinAir Moab, I took a photo of this same view, in the afternoon light, and had thought I might do it as a studio piece, because I was completely captivated by the view - plus, there's The Road.   This location is about 20 miles east of the Hwy 191 junction with Hwy 128, in an area known as Professor Valley.  I discovered last year that this dirt road, which dead-ends after less than 3 miles, takes one to some incredibly scenic views of Professor Creek.  Incredibly, no one, especially painters, seems to know about this place (although Deb from our 4C group now does)!   As a plein air painter, there is much to be gained by taking the road less traveled...I will be back for more next year.

At any rate, I'm glad I waited to do this piece on location; photos just don't do any justice to what you see as you stand there, taking it all in.  Also, the storm that swamped the entire region on Friday provided a gift:  the snow on the La Sals, which is like icing on the cake.  And, the lingering clouds obscuring part of the mountain let me have some fun with edges again.  

I had been reviewing the photos I took last year prior to this year's trip, experimenting with various crops, to help me decide what locations to return to, and determined this worked beautifully as a 1:2 format.   It's on a non-standard size, something I'd not use for a plein air competition because it would require matting.  

Anyway, I got most of it finished in the two hour window I had available, and was finally able to finish it up today.  I actually had Wayne drop me off here while he went and explored nearby Castle Valley and further east along Hwy 128 past the Fisher Towers.  It probably made for a curious sight for drivers to see a painter standing there, essentially in the middle of nowhere, with no vehicle or form of transportation nearby.   

Monday, October 15, 2012

Back from PleinAir Moab...and with another ribbon

Back yesterday shortly after noon, as I decided that it was too far out of the way to paint at Dead Horse State Park after almost a solid week of painting.

Anyway, aside from last Friday being pretty much a total wash due to rain throughout the day from the storm passing through the region, it was another productive and fun trip.

Something different happened on this trip, unexpected, which was spending four sessions over four days working on a single painting:

Late Afternoon Glow on the Monocline - 12x24", diptych
pastel on black cardstock

The finished painting on location, after the sun had
set behind the cliffs and the clouds had moved on
Part of the reason for this was because I ended up reworking the sky twice, the La Sal mountains once, and it wasn't until Wednesday late afternoon that the sky gave me what I wanted, and I was able to take the painting to the  level I had envisioned.  On the previous days, there were no clouds, which made for a bland sky.   Last year, during our early November trip, we had stopped by this location, which is along the road to Ken's Lake a few miles east of town, in the late afternoon.  I was struck by the intense glow of the light on this monocline (it may be an anticline in this salt valley, but I did not have access to the geology book to confirm this), and the mountains were in shadow due to an impending storm system.  So, the seed for this as a painting was planted almost a year ago.

Anyway, it ended up being a labor of love, I guess.  While I think it has far more impact as the two-part painting, I think each half stands on its own, which is always a nice thing.  Honestly, I wasn't sure how the whole diptych thing would go over with the judges, one of whom was Lorenzo Chavez, who is well-known amongst all pastelists.  Had PA Moab not been back-to-back with Escalante, I would have tried to sign up for one of his two workshops given at the event; both sold out quickly.  I've long admired his work, and I have heard that he is a wonderful instructor.  I framed it without a spacer or mat, just as you see above, on black foamboard, in the mahogany plein air frame I have (and non-glare glass).

I'm pleased that it had enough going for it to win a ribbon out of the ~30 dry media entries, especially as it was competing against a handful of pastelists who have won awards at this show in the past and have been painting far longer than I have.

I didn't get as many paintings done on this trip as I did in Escalante, partially because the diptych tied up a couple of hours during the afternoon over those four days.

Here are two, with adjustments and finishing touches done today:

Along Lower Courthouse Wash - 12x12"
This was Sunday's painting, the first day I was in Moab.  Courthouse Wash is located within Arches NP, but this section is accessed from a trail that starts outside the park.  We hiked it during our spring trip, and I knew I wanted to hike up and paint a section.  This is about 1.50 to 1.75 miles up the trail, and I loved the contrast between the Navajo Sandstone cliff with its beautiful desert varnish facade and the sunlit cottonwoods in the wash.  Desert varnish is an interesting thing; I actually find it more difficult to paint than water.

Here's a picture of my new hiking plein air set-up at this location:

- New, larger backpack purchased from Walmart recently ($29 - a great deal!)
- folding table in green plastic, which I just carry
- folding stool from Walmart, round III, so far so good with no tears.  It secures to the outside of the backpack sideways under the two clips of the lid of the pack
- 12x18 piece of foamboard as painting surface; this now allows me to bring papers up to 12x16 on these longer hikes
- a second piece of slightly shorter foamboard with a piece of foil taped to it; the foil side goes on top of the painting, and large clips secure it in place so it is protected from smearing or damage in my backpack
- two of my three pastel boxes; the third is a smaller Rembrandt box that carries all my sky colors.  I bungee cord the three boxes together and they go in my backpack.
- a small viewfinder by Guerilla, sits on the edge of the box.  It was part of the pack we got for the show!  I have larger handmade viewfinders that I keep in my portable bag, but this one will be a permanent part of the backpack gear.

Steelbender Trail Morning - 12x12"
This was Tuesday morning's painting, done in a hidden valley area just north of Ken's Lake.  Wayne was on his way in the RV to camp at Ken's Lake, so I didn't want to go far.  Fellow 4C painter Carolyn Daily, who lives in Moab, had taken me to this area on Sunday afternoon after I finished my Courthouse Wash painting.  This trail is used by mtn. bikers, dirt bikes, and Jeeps (and at least one trail runner who went by while I was painting).

Had I not finished the diptych, or ruined it, this would have been the other painting I'd have put in the show.

I have four other paintings, in various stages of completeness, that I did on the trip.  I'll post some or all as I bring them to completion...along with those from the Escalante Canyons trip.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Off to PleinAir Moab for 8 days

I'm leaving shortly for Moab, for 8 days of painting around the area.  In addition to participating in the official PleinAir Moab event, the 4CPAP group is having its second paint-out of the month in Moab as well, Friday-Sunday.  So, I'll be painting in Dead Horse State Park on Sunday morning, and then heading home later that afternoon.

Even when I have computer or internet access on these travels, I seldom get online.  So, I'll see everyone next Monday, hopefully with a small army of new paintings.

Have a great week and weekend, everyone, and enjoy the beautiful fall season!


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Two more plein air pastels from Escalante Canyons Art Festival

Not posted in the order painted...

Storm Over Escalante Canyon - 12x16", plein air
pastel on gray Artagain paper
This piece was done (and still not quite finished) in two afternoon sessions.  I'd intended to head back out for a third session to finish it up completely on location, but time and weather/light conditions didn't permit that.  So, after dragging it around on my easel for the better part of a week, it's now finished!

It was started Wed early evening, less than an hour before sunset.  The location is along the road to the Escalante State Park/Campground, where we spent the first two nights in Escalante.  It is about 2 miles west of town, so this view is to the east.  The late afternoon light lit up the beautiful sandstone cliffs and canyon walls, and I knew I had to paint it as we drove back from picking up my Quick Draw entry.

I jumped right back in the car when we got back to our campsite, drove to this location by a cattle ranch, and quickly established the main composition and the basic colors of the rock  and foreground while the light was still good.  I had to stop when the sun went down behind the distal plateau behind me, and the light had completely disappeared.  

I returned around 4PM the next afternoon, and was in luck that the stormy skies that had provided the contrast for the original view were staging an encore, albeit a bit different.  So, I worked quickly to capture the ever-changing clouds.

One thing I love about painting skies such as these, are the edges.  Hard, soft, lost and found - these clouds had them all.   

Buttes Near Harris Wash - 9x12", plein air
pastel on toned UArt #600
An "unofficial" piece done (not stamped) on Friday, along the trail leading to the Zebra slot canyon.  We loved this hike when we did it back in May, and I wanted to do a painting somewhere along the trail, or in the washes.  These stunning striped buttes, of Jurassic period Navajo sandstone, are a stand-out feature along the hike, and these are about 2 miles into the hike.  When I found a large juniper to provide shade right near the trail with this view, it was a no-brainer.  I spent about an hour or so working on this while Wayne explored Harris Wash downstream.

I even had him take a picture of me at the scene after he got back:

Two more pictures from that hike:

Forming cumulonimbus anvil looking north from where I painted

Clouds against sandstone - Halfway Hollow wash on the hike back

Monday, October 1, 2012

Escalante Canyons Art Plein Air Festival - part I

We got back yesterday late afternoon from the 9-day trip of camping, hiking and painting, and I'm in the process of getting caught up on things.  In short, the trip was awesome and the event was great.  New friends and connections made, both fellow painters and locals who love and support this event in their small home town of Escalante, UT.

Statistics for the trip:

Total paintings done on trip:  11
Counties painted in:  3
National Park paintings: 2
Paintings sold:  3
Awards: 1

I'll have to split up this into a few posts, simply because most of the paintings need a bit more work before I consider them "finished".  Two of the paintings sold the night of the awards reception, and I never got photos of them.

However, I can share the two paintings that are finished and photographed:  the entry for the main competition and the painting from Wednesday's quick-draw event:

Passing To the North - 16x12" - SOLD
pastel on black Strathmore paper

Honorable Mention - pastel/WC/mixed media division
This painting, done last Monday afternoon, was my entry for the main competition, whereupon I took advantage of the storm system moving through the area and also took a gamble that it would spare me while I painted.  

It is actually painted at the same location (campsite) as the stormy painting I did from our May trip:  "Gathering Storm Over Duffrey Mesa", about 5 miles east of the town of Boulder, UT, along the Burr Trail.

Conditions of strong wind gusts and spatters of rain earlier as the storm advanced from the west made it impossible to paint in another location by the Boulder Mail Trail, and I was feeling a bit restless that I'd not been able to paint all day after we got back to our campsite.  Later, I walked up to the hill, saw the dark sky against the pale sandstone slopes, and knew I had a painting in that, so I ran down and grabbed my gear.

I had to literally hold my easel while I painted as the wind continued to blow, figuring I could get hit with rain at any moment.  Amazingly, the rain kept to the north, which the title reflects.

By the time I'd finished the painting, that particular wave had passed to the east:

I knew when I finished this that I had my painting for the competition, which was both a thrill and a relief.   I had actually brought along a 12x24" paper, figuring I'd find a great place to have a staged painting of that size, but that never happened...but, I did find a spot for one of next year's paintings that I'm already excited to paint.

What was surprising, and delightful, were the number of people that came up to me after the awards ceremony and told me how much they loved this painting, the sky, and that they'd voted for it as the People's Choice award.   So, this storm, rather than being a damper, ended up being a gift.

Here is the painting from Wed's quick-draw event, which we actually had pretty much all day to complete (9-5, I believe):

Corner of 200 North - 11x14"
pastel on black Strathmore
We had to stay within a mile of the park where the main festival was going on, and it was suggested to do one of the many historic buildings in town.  I knew I was painting this house before I'd even seen it in person, thanks to a virtual drive around town via Google Street View.  If you are planning on painting an area but aren't familiar with it, Google is your friend!

I decided to have fun with color for this painting, and I decided to use one of the beautiful violet Ludwigs that normally just sits, unused, in my main pastel box.   Since I don't draw buildings often, I spent probably an inordinate amount of time just drawing the building and double-checking the angles and perspective.  That's important, along with accurate values.  Of course, by the time I'd finished the painting, the neat morning shadows were all gone thanks to the overcast skies you see.

But, I have to say, I am really happy with how this painting turned out, although I may adjust the values under the porch a bit - I didn't darken them enough during my final adjustment on location.

I'll post the other paintings in batches as I bring them up to completion; thankfully, most just need a bit of tweaking or filling in of small areas.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

More Escalante, UT studio works on new papers

Fifty-Mile Cliffs - 9x9"
pastel on toned UArt #600
© S.Johnson
I spent a good portion of yesterday morning "processing" some of the larger sheets of various papers I have been accumulating, and getting them ready for possible inclusion for the Escalante Plein Air festival.

I had planned to take a piece of acrylic-toned UArt #400 paper that I had toned with a thick wash of sienna acrylic out yesterday to paint, but ran out of time.  Instead, I decided to experiment with smaller studio pieces.

For some reason, when Blick sent me the paper order with the incorrect surface of UArt, they also sent the incorrect size:  27x21", I think.  I ordered 18x24", which I can trim down into smaller sizes I use on location.  Anyway, to get some 9x12" and 12x16" pieces, I was left with an odd size:  this 9x9.  But, hey - it's a square, and a workable size.   I toned it with a dark warm gray acrylic wash.

I had earlier selected out this photo from our May trip, near our campsite off Hole-in-the-Rock road (HITR), of afternoon light on the Fifty-Mile Cliffs.  These cliffs, which run parallel and south of the HITR road, look most appealing to me in the late afternoon as distal bluish silhouettes.  I could easily go back out and paint at the exact location on this upcoming trip.

I painted this as if it were on location:  quickly, no fussing with details.   It handled so much better than the #400 or Wallis, in terms of not having an overly aggressive surface; it may even be the Goldilocks of the sanded pastel paper continuum, at least for me.  I'm betting I'll also dig the #800 surface.

Next, two small and quick studies on Artagain paper, from trimmings, surface prepared with #400 wet-dry sandpaper:

Wash Study - 6x3"
Artagain "Moonstone"
Verdict:  love it.  Turquoise skies look great on this paper.

Boulder, UT study - 3x6"
Artagain "Gothic Gray"
Another winner (the paper, not the painting).

I could easily paint this same view - overlooking the small town of Boulder, UT, south from Hwy 24 - on this trip.  I got to use several of the new MV pastels I ordered, including the two dark greens and those sandstone colors in this study.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Revisiting Escalante & Mi-Tientes in the studio

Despite the radio silence, I've been busy.  Some painting, but I've also been preoccupied with transforming our spare bedroom into a dedicated studio - my "girl cave", as it were.  Photos of that in a later post.

Anyway, with the Escalante Canyons Plein Air Festival starting this Friday, I've been wanting to do some paintings of the area as practice.  I put in an order for some Mt. Vision pastels as an accompaniment for my Utah canyon plein air set, and those arrived last week - exciting!

From Wed, at fellow 4C member Jane Mercer's studio, when rain canceled our plans to paint at Baker's Bridge:

Wash Wall Shadows - 10x20"
pastel on Mi-Tientes
© S.Johnson
As much as I love my smooth, black papers, they have their limitations, so I'm trying to expand my repertoire with surfaces.   I previously haven't had much luck using Mi-Tientes, but had this piece, in a medium value tan, and decided it would be good to practice on.   Also, some of the most masterful pastels I've seen have been done on this lowly, old-school paper.  Specifically, I wanted to see how the Unisons in my sky set handled on this paper; on the black paper, they just sheet off.  

They worked like a dream on the Canson.   Perhaps it's because my painting and pastel handling skills have improved, but I am thinking I need to give this paper another shot.  I learned many-a things with this painting, about what works (layering), what doesn't (dark over light - I can do that on my black paper).  This is possibly the first painting I've done on Mi-Tientes that I didn't want to immediately toss in the trash, so that's a plus.

I also ordered some 800# UArt, which may turn out to be my sanded paper of choice.  I do know that Wallis and 400# UArt are just too aggressive for my current painting technique, so we'll see how the finer grits of the UArt go.  Unfortunately, Blick sent me the #600 instead (but are shipping out replacement sheets), so I may try that on my next plein air painting, slated for Horse Gulch, tomorrow afternoon.  

Oh yeah - here's a small study I did last week with Connie, who paints with the Friday group:

Smelter Rapid Study - 6x8", plein air
pastel on black cardstock
Connie said she has struggled painting water and rocks (and thus, doesn't paint them), and wanted to watch me paint.  So, we went down to Santa Rita Park and I gave an informal lesson, which, odd as it sounds, was more about "seeing" than painting.  

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Smelter Mountain

Afternoon Light - 12x12"
pastel on black cardstock
The second of today's plein air paintings, done from the deck off the master bedroom.  The oak-scrub covered slopes of Smelter Mtn. always look fabulous in the late afternoon light, and they are beginning to get the slightest hint of fall color.

The dog park and a tiny sliver of the Animas River give it a bit of scale and context.

The first painting, done of a section of the La Plata river up the canyon of the same name, was a worthwhile effort, but didn't come together as I'd hoped.  I honestly don't mind it when that happens.  It was a complex scene, and with rapidly changing shadows across water, it would probably be a good studio painting.

I wasn't discouraged, but it did prompt me to set up the easel and paint this piece, which I did in less than an hour.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Animas River Valley - plein air landscape

Morning on the Animas River Valley - 12x12"
pastel on black cardstock
Today's painting, with the Friday plein air group.   A new location - the Lion's Den city park.  It's an easily accessible location that overlooks the scenic Animas River Valley, and good practice painting a "big view", something I don't do often.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Chamisa in McElmo Cyn - plein air pastel

Chamisa - 6x8", plein air
pastel on cardstock
This was the second of three paintings from Tuesday's paint-out, but I didn't get around to photographing it until today.

After lunch and critique at Kelly Place, several people stuck around to do a series of quick paintings at a different location.  I was late leaving, so I just drove up the highway a few miles and painted this blooming chamisa (also known as "rabbitbrush") by the side of the road.   I timed this one to be 30 min. or less.

I actually got a third painting almost done - a 12x12" - after this one, at the trailhead to Sand Canyon, but I don't like it enough to post it.  However, it brought my plein air paintings total up to 90 for the year!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Painting in McElmo Canyon - plein air pastel

Behind Kelly Place - 16x12", plein air
Pastel on black Strathmore
Today's 4CPAP paint-out was held at a charming Bed & Breakfast in McElmo Canyon - Kelly Place , which is about 12 miles west of Cortez.  I've seen the sign when we have driven along the highway, either on our way to Bluff, UT, or to hike in Sand Canyon, but have never been to the property before; it is tucked back off the highway about 1/2 mile.

It was definitely one of my favorite locations the group has painted this year, and I'd go back any time and paint there; in fact, Jerene, one of the owners, was  in finding painters willing to teach a class - I told her I'd be interested.  I've thought it would be fun to do a workshop for beginning pastelists or plein air painters, and this would be an ideal venue for that!

Anyway, it didn't take me long to decide on this particular location for my painting - a colorful sandstone cliff with desert scrub and a wash:  in other words, a subject right up my painting alley, so speak.

While I was painting, one of the guests drove by and asked if he could look over my shoulder.  That's never bothered me, and since I was almost finished, I was happy to take a break and chat with him.  It turns out he's purchased works from a pastel artist who lives in Boulder, UT, whose work I am familiar with, and has attended the Maynard Dixon Country plein air invitational in the past, so he's quite knowledgable about plein air painting and many of the top landscape painters.

And, he decided he liked my painting enough to buy it on the spot, which, needless to say, made my day.

I think it's a good sign, too, since I have gone ahead and registered for both the Escalante Canyons Art Festival, which is just over 3 weeks away, and PleinAir Moab (thanks for the nudge, Dan!), which follows closely on its heels a week later.

To say that I'm excited to get back to southern Utah and paint would be a bit of an understatement - it's almost all I've been thinking about for the past few weeks!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Painting the blue moon - plein air pastel painting

Blue Moon Reflection - 12x16"
black Strathmore
© S.Johnson
I have been wanting to paint a moonrise for a while now, and yesterday's blue moon was the perfect opportunity.  I've actually never painted a sunset on location, either, so I guess it's a "two-fer".

Moon + reflections = even neater, so I drove out to Pastorias SWA to paint.  An internet search told me that moonrise in Denver would be at 7:26 PM, so I arrived around 6:30 to the west side of the lake where I've never painted before.  Not knowing exactly where the moon would come up (its azimuth), I didn't worry, and just went with the best composition, and just plugged it into my chosen location when I had it and the reflection as a reference.

I used to think it would be difficult to paint sunsets because the light changes so rapidly.  Actually, I had no problem capturing the colors, even on this larger size paper.  The issue was having to change them while waiting for the moon to actually appear above the horizon!

I got 90% of it done on location, but had to completely re-do the moon in my studio because I didn't have any colors bright enough in my box.  Actually, it's almost an indescribable color, especially when it first comes up over the horizon - it's almost a neon orange-yellow.

Actually, the best time to paint and photograph the moon, unless you are going for a full nocturne painting, is the day before it is full; it looks full, but rises earlier when it is still light out.  If I can plan ahead, I'll try that next time.

Did you know?  A "blue moon" refers to a second full moon in the same month.  It's rare; there won't be another until 2015.  On Sept 29, the next full moon, will be a "harvest moon", which refers to the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox.

Friday, August 31, 2012

More plein air along the Florida River - pastel

Morning Shoreline - 12x12"
pastel on black cardstock
 © S.Johnson
Today, I finally was able to meet up with the informal Friday plein air group to paint.  The location was some private property along the Florida River along Florida Rd/CR 250, about half way to Lemon Lake.

I was worried that I wouldn't be able to find anything I wanted to paint; that was my issue yesterday - I went out in the afternoon, and ended up walking up and down the A.R.T., and then driving out Florida Rd.  Nothing.  Thankfully, I found this shaded spot by the river with the boulders and shoreline and minimal green.

Bummer thing:  I apparently lost my dark blue Senn - the one I used for the ripple shadows above.  Surprisingly, that's the first time I've ever lost a pastel while painting; I guess I should count myself lucky in the 1 1/2 years I've been painting outdoors this is the only loss.  I have 200+ pastels in my plein air boxes, and they are like children:  I know immediately when one is missing.   Part of me wants to drive back out there tomorrow and try to find it...

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Blooming chamisa and dark skies - plein air

Late August in Horse Gulch - 16x12"
pastel on black Strathmore paper
The chamisa in bloom, aka "rabbitbrush", are a sign that late summer is upon us, and fall is right behind.

This is the view along the nearby trail system area known as Horse Gulch, and specifically, along a trail  known as the "Meadow Loop".  It overlooks a sweeping view of sage, grasses and chamisa, and slopes up to a hillside of Gambel oak, pinyon and juniper.

It was in the low 90's when I went up in the mid-afternoon yesterday to start painting, and the sun was intense.  But, the light has a different quality to it - it is around this time that we start to notice that.   I had a bit more work to do on it when I got back, but it was too late to photograph it until this morning.

We are heading up to the Piedra River in a little bit for Wayne to do more fishing and of course I am bringing along my painting gear, though I have no idea what I'll paint today.

Monday, August 27, 2012

A vintage van and orange skies

The Orange VW - 12x12"
pastel on black cardstock
So, a couple of days ago, I was in my computer/office room and my eye caught the orange VW camper van parked across the street.  I'm sure it's probably been there ever since we have lived here.  Why didn't I notice her earlier?

I have no idea, but when I saw her sitting there, in all of her saucy orange glory, I realized she needed to be painted.  Unfortunately, shortly after I had this artistic revelation, and came back outside to scout for the best painting location, a red SUV had parked right in front of her - oh, bother!   I subsequently became preoccupied with painting her.  Yesterday was taken up with a longish hike/trail run in the mountains which wiped me out too much to paint.

This morning, as luck would have it, the SUV was gone.  I walked into the grassy median and painted from there.  I had her all to myself for about 2 1/2 hrs. while I painted.  I also discovered it's not a good idea to paint outside in flip-flops - I have a painful v-shaped sunburn on the top of my right foot.

Anyway, as always, painting man-made objects with two-point perspective challenges one's drawing skills, especially on location.   So, she has some "issues", but was nonetheless fun to paint.  I may have to revisit her as a subject in the future, maybe in oils.

Today aside, I haven't had the motivation to get outside and paint since we got back from our trip.  Overcast skies for a few days was a contributing factor, and I was not inspired to deal with more green and was just in a lull as to what I should paint.

For inspiration, I pulled out my Wolf Khan Pastels, a cherished part of my book collection for 12 years.  I love his work, and his bold, expressionist use of color.  I struggle with color most of the time; I find it hard to break free from the grip of local color, especially as a plein air painter.  I had been enjoying the entries on last weeks' DailyPaintworks challenge to use a pair of compliments in a painting, so this seemed like a good time to play with color in a studio piece, fueled in part by Mr. Khan.

There was a trimming of cardstock laying on the table, so I grabbed it and went through my photos until I found one that worked well with that aspect ratio.

Road and Yellow Sky - 3x12"
It was quick.  It was fun.  And I kinda like it.

Friday, August 24, 2012

More from Conejos - plein air pastels

I was able to photograph and do some minor tweaking to one of the paintings from the trip, and because the storm system still lingers in our region, I haven't been out painting since we got back.  So, here are the other three, because I got nothin' else right now.

Conejos Reflections - 12x9"
pastel on black cardstock

The first painting on the trip, from a short (1.5 mi) hike along the main trail.  I brought along my folding table and camp stool from Walmart - the second one I've owned - to paint.  Unfortunately, as with the first one, one of the legs has torn through the nylon corner, making it uncomfortable to sit on and resulting in a sore back (and groin) for the next 2 days.

Rock Study - 6x6"
pastel on brown cardstock
From camp.  Sarah, who makes a good living as an equine sculptor, had been wanting to try pastel/landscape painting for a while, and I thought this landscape still life would be an excellent subject to start out with.    So, we sat and painted these rocks and willows between rainstorms.  I wish I could have gotten a photo of the golden-colored marmot that made these rocks his home.

Rock slope study - 12x12"
pastel on black cardstock

Another from our campsite, with Sarah, on another day.  Unfinished, and an example of how I got sort of sloppy with my composition.  I always use a viewfinder, but this one got away from me.  It was also a reminder that one needs to take ownership of the view nature presents, and adjust accordingly.

Had I been putting more thought into this, I'd have completely left out the distal mountain (which is the same as in the diptych I posted) and eliminated all but a sliver of the lower slope/road.   The focus was intended to be on the rocky slope with the trees on it; the distal mountains add nothing but clutter.  I just fell into the "lazy" trap of painting what was in front of me...for shame!

I mention this, and post it, because I think as artists, we tend to have the unspoken expectation that all of our paintings should have successful outcomes (that is:  a painting that is fit for selling).  Sometimes, however, there is much to be gained from the paintings that don't work.  A self-critique of "why didn't this work?" is useful; if we're lucky, the same mistake perhaps won't be repeated again.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Painting in the Conejos River valley in southern CO

We returned yesterday evening from a 5-day camping trip - the last trip to the high country for the year - along the Conejos River in southern Colorado.  

Monsoon activity was particularly strong on this trip, with rain every day.  Summer is quickly drawing to a close, as evidenced by the yellowing of the grasses, faded flowers, and much colder temperatures at night at the 10,000' where we camped.  

Despite two solid days of clouds and/or rain, I managed to get in four paintings, including this one, which I started on Sunday and had to wait until yesterday morning to finish.  I'm able to post it now because I took this photo on location before disassembling it from the board to take home; it is rainy and cloudy today, precluding taking photos of the others.

Morning in the Conejos River Valley - 12x24", plein air
diptych, pastel on black cardstock
Honestly, though, this is really the only painting that's probably worth posting.  The others were, of course, worthwhile to do, and helped bring my plein air painting total for the year up to 85.  

This region of the southern San Juans is quite beautiful, especially the river itself.  This view was  a few hundred meters from our campsite area, down into the wide valley itself.  I knew as soon as I walked down Saturday morning and saw the shadows and light here that this would be a painting.  

This painting brings up two questions one might ask in regards to choices made for it:

Q:  Why a diptych?  
A:  Two reasons, really.  First is purely practical - when traveling, I carry standard sized papers, always 12x12", the 8x16" prepared boards, and 12x16".  If I want to do a bigger piece in a panorama format on location, a diptych (or triptych) allows that to happen easily.  Second, there is the possibility that you could end up with two paintings that work on their own, as in this case.  That wasn't my intent here, but it is certainly is a valid method for maximizing one's time at a given location!

Q:  Why the addition of the cattle?
A:  I actually debated about whether to add them or not.  The reality is that there were actually dozens of them present in the valley both times I painted, some only 20 yards from me, so they were not added as a figment of my imagination or to cutesy up the scene.  I did decide to add them, again, for two reasons:  they instantly provide a sense of scale for the viewer, and they add some interest to an area that is a bit empty.  Their small size, number, and simple forms keep them from dominating the composition.  I didn't know until I actually started putting them in whether they would make or break the painting.   The consensus thus far is that it was a good choice to add them.

As attractive as the area was, I took far fewer photos on this trip than I usually do.  Part of that was because it was raining so often, and the other reason is that I am not sure I would use any for reference material for studio paintings - it's just hard to do that when you've painted on location and you know you'll be back next year.

But, here are a few from our 9.5 mile hike on Sunday, between rainfalls:

Conejos Falls along the middle fork of the river

Middle fork of the Conejos 
Fringed Gentian along the river looking upstream

Unusual horned cow - breed unknown

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Painting along the Florida River - 4CPAP

Hidden River Garden - 12x16", plein air
pastel on Strathmore black paper
© S.Johnson 
From today's paint-out with the 4C group at Lemon Lake and the Florida River.

I painted there last year a couple of times, but this time, I wanted to go to a specific location we'd been to two years ago, at the far end of the Transfer Park campground.  In fact, I'd actually taken a photo of this location; the little group of Black-eyed Susans growing in this tiny wedge of earth amazed me, and I wanted to paint them.  I must have deleted the photo, and I obviously never got around to using it as a reference for a painting.

So, imagine my surprise and delight when I get down to the river and see that the flowers have, indeed, returned.

It was nice to paint something that plays to what I feel are my strong suits as a painter:  rocks and water.      And in this case, lots of rocks underwater.  Those were surprisingly easy, probably because I've been painting water all summer; the hardest part of the painting was - you guessed it:  the green foliage of the flowers.  Which probably makes no sense, but I just found it really difficult.

It was also nice to paint larger again and try a different format.  I mean, I love my squares and all, but sometimes, a 3:4 aspect is nice.   Last week, I went into our local art supply store to get some mats for photos, and saw they had my favorite Artagain in stock, so I am back in business with the 12x16"'s on location.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A new blog name and two new paintings

As the four year anniversary for this blog approaches, I realized it was time for a change to reflect the direction my work has taken since September '09.  Back when I started blogging, I wrote in my initial post that I was not sure where my work would head based on my past experience in various media, so it was easy to call it a "daily art journal".  For some reason, that just doesn't seem to fit now.

Since then, it's evolved along with my interests and art and priorities.   I identify as much as a painter as I do a photographer now, and the blog has always been about more than just posting a painting or a couple of photos and calling it a day.

Anyway,  there you go.  I've done up a new banner, which I do periodically anyway.  I'm going to keep tweaking the format to hopefully make it more appealing to readers.

On to the paintings....

Fly Fishing Waters - 9x12", plein air
pastel on black cardstock
This one is from yesterday, on another trip to Cascade creek, and was actually destined for the trashcan because I lost interest in it about 3/4 of the way though, partially because of the greens which I didn't want to deal with, and I was also having difficulty concentrating, probably from a poor night's sleep.  That happens sometimes, and I've found it's very much linked to those periods of "artist block" that I go through.  Having had the same thing happen a few days ago the last time I went out painting, I wasn't terribly surprised when I realized I'd left my game back in the locker room, so to speak.

A digression here regarding the trip:  we got off to a late start, and as is typical, the chance of rain in the mountains was pretty high.  From the parking area, it's about 1.25 miles to get to the section of the creek where I'd planned to paint, so I brought my folding table and stool, rather than my french easel.

Wayne split off to hit the creek and walk upstream, to practice with his brand new fly fishing gear.  I got to the location - one I'd scouted and photographed during our June trip - and already the sky was filling with dark clouds.  Thunder rumbled off in the distance, and it was clearly doing to start raining within a few minutes.  I wasn't enthused about the spot; the water was down, and the green was just not something I felt like dealing with.

So, I gathered up everything and decided to head back down the trail to find Wayne, who told me he'd meet me walking upstream as he fished.  Right before I got back to the junction to the main trail, the wind kicked up suddenly and it started to rain.  I dropped my gear and was putting on my rain jacket when I heard a loud crack - a sound unlike anything I'd ever heard before.  I looked up to see a rather large tree blow down not 15 feet from where I was standing.   Had it fallen towards me, I'm not sure I would have had time to get out of the way.

Worse still was hearing another tree fall about 30 seconds later on the other side of the trail.  I started worrying about a blowdown (a large number of trees blown down in a localized area from a windstorm), because those are a frequent occurrence in Colorado forests, and I've seen plenty of them after the fact on hikes across trails.  It was, needless to say, a disconcerting experience.

At that point, I started running down the trail in the rain, and ran into Wayne coming up to meet me.  We decided to go to the historic cabin near the trailhead and wait out the storm.  Within minutes, it was over, the wind and cloudburst heading south to torment some other hikers.

We went back to the creek, and I settled on this new location to paint.  Wayne, who has been talking of  learning to fly fish during the entire 7 years I have known him, finally purchased all the gear, and this was literally only his second outing using it.  He started right where I was painting and worked upstream.

The title of the painting comes from the fact he caught his first fish with a fly right in front of me.  It was an exciting moment for him, and fun for me to witness.  For those that don't know, the nice thing about fly fishing is that the fish can be released, unharmed.

Oh yes - here's the other painting:

Afternoon Cloud Study - 12x12", plein air
pastel on reclaimed cardstock
Not to be deterred by two back-to-back "failed" paintings, later that afternoon, I decided to wipe down the earlier one and stand on the sidewalk and paint the clouds outside.  Really, when all else fails:  go paint a cloud - it's good for you.  Bonus:  painting 10 feet from the front door.

Then today, as I pulled out my pastel boxes from my backpack, I looked at yesterday's creek painting, and thought:  "what do I have to lose?  Why not sit and finish it with no regard to the outcome?"  I had planned to toss it anyway.  So, I worked through it, with a different frame of mind, and made it happen.  Maybe there's something in this readers can take away for themselves?  I hope so!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Valley of the Gods - plein air, pastel, Utah trip wrap-up

After sitting in my studio for over 2 months, I finally sat down and finished another plein air piece from our Utah trip in May.

Morning Shadows, Valley of the Gods - plein air, 12x24"
diptych, pastel on black cardstock
© S.Johnson
I actually got the majority of this finished on location, and was reminded why I really prefer to finish the piece to completion on location:  I tend to get too fussy back in my studio, and then it takes 2x as long to do the last 25% as it did to do the first 3/4 of the painting.

Anyway, it is done.   I do have another unfinished piece from our campground in Torrey, but I'm not sure I'll finish it, and quite frankly, it can't top this one.

I sat to paint this one.
Photos from our drive on the second-to-last-day of the trip, from Capital Reef down to White Canyon.  We left the gale-force winds and unpleasantly cold temperatures in Torrey, and were rewarded with beautiful, gradually clearing skies and warmer temperatures as we headed east and south:

East along Hwy 24, towards the San Rafael Reef

Factory Butte, Hwy 24

Henry Mountains, along Hwy 95, south of Hanksville

Wash and sandstone canyon

Lake Powell

Approaching White Canyon along Hwy 95

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...