Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Road trip series: Monsoon skies, oil, 6x6

Paintings from today and yesterday evening...

Cumulus Tower Over Black Mesa - #6
oil on wood panel - 6x6
© S.Johnson
A composite of two photos taken moments apart - one for the land and the other for the more dramatic cloud.  If there is one thing that never ceases to amaze me, it's how rapid the build-up of these summer monsoon clouds happens.  When a cumulus cloud is taller than it is wide, it is known as a "cumulus congestus".  Next stage:  cumulonimbus (raincloud).

This view is to the west, approaching Kayenta, around noon.

Cumulus to the South - #5
oil on wood panel - 6x6
© S.Johnson
These clouds are nowhere near those in the above painting; they are building up miles away to the south, probably over Second Mesa and the Hopi reservation.  The landscape itself is different as well; orange sandy dunes lead to a tilted slab of white Navajo sandstone, with more pink dunes and a wide, sweeping plateau.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Road Trip series #4 - grazing horse, oils, 6x6

Here's today's painting from the Hwy 160 leg of the series...

Open Range
6x6 inches - oil on 1/4 Sande board
© S.Johnson
Originally, I was going to stick with posting every other day, and to include up to two paintings.  But, with this particular painting, I thought I'd share a bit about my approach and thought process for it.

First off, here is the craptastic reference photo I used:

Certainly not a showcase of my photography skills, but when you're rolling along at 70mph, the opportunities to photograph things like a grazing horse are a  Anyway, there is something about the Rez horses that I find compelling, and I could do an entire series of them.

Despite my many years doing equine art as mixed media sculpture, I have to admit that I'm not a fan of much 2D equine art.  It can easily run off into the realm of kitsch or cloyingly sentimental, and honestly, I don't ever want to be accused of painting anything like that.

There's nothing cozy or pastoral about this scene, so I felt safe painting it.

As far as composition and design concerns go, I knew I wanted to do a square format.  I experimented with various crops, but decided there was something about having the horse heading out of the picture that spoke to me.  He is uninterested in human presence and is choosing to leave on his terms - not ours.

Since resuming studio work from photos, I've definitely moved away from faithfully following the reference photo.  So, of course, the ugly barbed wire fence and piled-up tumbleweeds were out.  More visible sand and a lead-in through the grasses to the horse was added.  However, sometimes, just by random luck, the photo has neat stuff that I keep.

Notice, for example, the distal mountains and how the line of the ridge almost follows that of the horse's back, and then curves down like his neck?  And that the slopes there all sweep towards the horse?  That repetition of line is a neat thing, and so I consciously kept that.

Anyway, I don't plan on going into such detail with each painting, I promise.  But, since there was a bit more to this painting than just a grazing horse, I thought I'd share a bit of the "behind the scenes" thought that went into it.  Because, well, I love reading about that stuff from other artists!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Road Trip series - #2 & 3, in oils

The series continues through the Navajo Nation, now switching over to oils...

Blue House at Red Mesa - #3
oil on board - 9x12 inches
© S.Johnson
During our drives across Hwy 160, I always see this blue house.  It sits alone, dwarfed by the surrounding desert.  It fascinates me.  A few miles away is the community of Red Mesa, so named for the distinctive geological formation in the distance.  Far off on the right, the top of the Abajo Mountains in Utah are seen.  

Approaching Teec Nos Pos - #2
oil on board - 9x12 inches
© S.Johnson
This is yesterday's painting, and the first time I've used oils since June.  Yeah, a bit rusty with them - can you tell?  I almost wiped this, and probably should have, but decided to just power through it and move on.  Also time to replace some of my brushes - they were not helping the process.

Teec Nos Pos [pronounced 'tees nose pose'] means "circle of cottonwoods" in Navajo , and it's a tiny little community that sits at the junction of Hwy 160 and the end of Hwy 64.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Revisiting the roadtrip: a new series

After mulling over a few different ideas, I think I've finally settled on something to paint while I wait for plein air season to begin in earnest...

Altocumulus Over Sleeping Ute
9x12 inches - pastel on black construction paper
© S.Johnson
A theme for a previous series - the roadtrip - and even the same route - Hwy 160 and 89A.  Even the Grand Canyon.  But, this will also take us further south and off the Colorado Plateau to Phoenix, via Interstate 17.  

The trip was back in early August, and early on, the skies started being interesting, but I had no idea just what an amazing transformation would happen just in the span of a few hours, courtesy of the monsoons.  Maynard Dixon would have loved this day.  

I've decided that for this series, it will be pretty much "anything goes", in terms of media, surface, size, style, etc.   Basically, I want to use this as an opportunity to focus on specific ideas or concepts for each painting, and the common element will simply be that they all are based from references from this trip to Phoenix and back, with a side trip to the Grand Canyon.  I've shared photos and the plein air piece I did from that trip here.  I even tested the waters months ago for this series with this graphite drawing.

For this first piece in the series, it's all about the sky and minimalism.   The view is south of the Sleeping Ute Mtn, located in the southwestern corner of Colorado.  The sweep of the clouds over the mountain, and their movement throughout the sky are what appealed to me here.  Blue seemed too conventional, so the sky is in some fun colors of turquoise and teal/purple-gray.  

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the drive!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Another studio wrap-up - pastel landscape

The stack of unfinished paintings slowly dwindles...

Heading Into Fall
12x16 inches, pastel on Strathmore Artagain
© S.Johnson
Here's a piece that I started in the studio from a photo taken during another plein air painting trip (with another unfinished painting).

The date was August 25 - late summer, and beginning the transition into fall.  It's along the dirt road that runs along Lemon Lake - one of my favorite places to paint.   It was one of those days where clouds came and went throughout the day, and at times, the sky was somewhat overcast, as here.

Another good exercise to simplify-simplify and eliminate unnecessary detail.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Summer plein air - Colorado Trail, pastel

I think I need a drink after this one...

Colorado Trail Shadows
12x12 inches - pastel on Strathmore Artagain
© 2012, S.Johnson
No kidding - I had to really work for this.  Looks deceptively simple, but I realized even when I was painting it back in July (it was the first of the two unfinished plein airs I did that day) that it was going to be tough.

It's a section of the Colorado Trail (CT) as it comes up through a stand of aspen before a really, really steep section starts around the corner, near Molas Lake and maybe 50 yards from Molas creek (where Wayne was trout fishing).

Biggest issue:  trying to mass the aspen leaf foliage in a way that was convincing by balancing busy masses of color with suggestions of leaf detail.  Detail:  I've sort of come to not like that word very much, and I fight with it constantly.  But, it was just everywhere in this scene, just trying to drive me nuts.

Anyway, when I realized that I wasn't going to finish this on location, I shot some photos to act as a guide later.  When I got home and downloaded them, I was stunned by how poor they were as a reference in comparison to what I was seeing while painting on location!   I only really used them for a reminder of where a few things were supposed to go and basic proportions/values, rather than color.

It's a reminder to me of how important it is to try and paint on location when possible, at least sometimes, if your goal is to capture something representational as far as colors and such go.  The photo itself would be just horrid to paint from.  I also realized that I have the tendency to paint the lighter values (like the trail) much darker on location than in the studio - I need an umbrella!

Oh yes - happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Versatile Blogger Award and passing it on

A kind thank-you to LeAnn from Lincoln, NE, for this award last week.  LeAnn wears many hats, including retired judge and still-practicing tax preparer, and does quilting and sewing in her free time.  I used to sew a lot when I was younger, and while I don't any more, I still enjoy reading about others who do.  Please visit her blog Ponderings to see some of her charming and skillful fabric creations!

As a recipient, I'm supposed to list seven random things about myself and then list other blogs to receive this award.

So, here's the first part:

1.  I was in FFA when I was in high school, and was on the poultry judging team.  So, I know how to candle and grade eggs and the qualities that make the best laying hen

2.  I ran track and x-country in high school, and still have my varsity letter these many years later

3.  I know how to weld (both oxy-acetylene torch and arc, though I was much better at arc)

4.  I love to bake artisan breads

5.  I have hiked and backpacked most of the named (and a few un-named) trails and routes in the Grand Canyon, some on multiple occasions

6.   On my 40th birthday (which would be 5 1/2 years ago...eep!), I climbed to the top of Angel's Landing in Zion NP

7.  I'm a huge science nerd, obsessive reader and collector of books, and I like reading about subjects such as quantum mechanics and geology for recreation, as well as everything art


For the second part - passing this award on to other blogs - I had to give this one some thought.  The original instructions were to give the award to 15 blogs, but that seemed like a bit much, so I stuck with 10.

It would be easy to pick blogs based on all the wonderful blogger peeps I feel I have a personal connection with and who also: 1) post regularly, and; 2) have consistently high-quality and interesting content.  But, in the end, I decided I also wanted to include a couple of bloggers who don't even know I exist, and subsequently, they won't know of this award.  

If you read this post and see your blog here, and are so inclined to pass the award on, that is great.  So, in alphabetical order from my blogroll "follow" list, here they are:

1 - - Armand Cabrera's blog.  He occasionally posts his own work, but his blog is weighted heavily towards discussions of artists and paintings of past and sometimes present, as well as practical issues facing working artists today.  

2 -  - fellow pastel artist Dan Michael's blog.  Dan always includes his musings and thoughts on his painting process, which I love, and his rendering of the landscapes of Virginia where he lives are, in a word, masterful.

3 -  - watercolor (mostly) artist Crystal Cook.  In addition to having a magical way rendering light, color and shadow in her medium of choice, regardless of subject, she's a talented writer to boot, and her posts are always a delight to read.

4 - - linocut printmaker, nature observer and sketcher extraordinaire, Sherri Y.  Sherri has a wonderful writing style that always makes me smile or laugh when I read her posts.  Bonus:  she's a fellow Coloradoan.

5 - - artist Don Gray.  Seriously, Don switches back and forth between oils, watercolor, graphite and occasional encaustics and makes it look easy.  Plus, he not only paints in all three of the main genres (figure, still life and landscape), but he also does non-representational work and murals.  Versatile:  this man shows how it's done!

6 - - oil painter Darla McDowell.  I found Darla's blog through the DailyPaintWorks site and her DPW Challenge entries.  She is another artist who moves from still life to landscape and portrait (some human, more animal), while bringing her own personal style to each painting and making them look effortless in the process.

7 - - my friend Liz Hampton-Derivan.  I met Liz when I was in Bisbee two years ago, and was in awe of her mixed-media encaustic paintings, as well as her photography, and she has the ability to take the ordinary and makes it compelling and 100% unique.  She is always exploring new creative paths, which is something I really admire.

8 - - oil painter Stapleton Kearns.  "Stape" devotes much of his posting to the discussion of artists and the elements of paintings that make them work (or not), and I always learn something from each of his posts.  He also does workshops,  paints outdoors in NH in sub-zero temperatures, so he gets a bonus for that.  

9 - - Seth Apter's blog.   I'm not a mixed-media artist, but this is a blog that is worth reading regardless of your medium or painting style.  Seth's blog focuses on surveys of the artist community in a variety of subjects (favorite artist, favorite tool, etc.) that never fails to be informative and interesting.

10 - - pastelist Casey Klahn.  Casey's blog is another of those which, in addition to featuring his very unique style of abstract-expressionism-colorist paintings, also discusses artists and other things art in his blog.  Always a good read.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Summer plein air landscape - wrap-up #2, pastel

The second of the small stack of unfinished plein air paintings now completed...

Daisies Along the Old Road
12x12 - pastel on Strathmore
A plein air from July 22.  This double-track road and stand of aspens can be seen at one of the turns along Hwy 550, near the turn-off to Cascade creek.  I've desired to paint it ever since I first saw it, and in high summer, large patches of daisies (non-native and considered invasive weeds) can be seen in the open areas and meadows.  Personally, I love them.

I will return to this location to paint again.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Summer landscape - wrapping up an old plein air, pastel

I have finally happened upon my next "subjects" to paint:  last summer's unfinished plein air paintings...

Creek Crossing
12x12 inches - pastel on Strathmore Artagain
This painting dates back from July 13, and was the second (unfinished) plein air of that day's trip.  A dirt road leads off of Hwy 550 and drops below the highway to this crossing of Lime Creek.  If you've got a high-clearance vehicle, you can easily cross it, but not in a Civic.

As soon as I saw this view, I knew I had to paint it.  Wayne crossed the creek to fish upstream a bit, and I worked until he came back, getting it probably 75% finished on location.   I'm not sure why I didn't finish it up promptly; I think I was worried about ruining it.  In the interim, I also purchased some additional pastels, including my now indispensable Ludwigs, which I employed here.

I feel a great sense of satisfaction having completed this painting, and am now motivated to try and finish the others that have been patiently sitting on my shelf.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Winter landscape - river shoreline, pastel

Winding down the "winter landscape" series with another river scene (and a plein air)...

Winter Shoreline
12x16 inches - pastel on Strathmore
© 2012, S.Johnson
I had the realization a few days ago that I'm pretty much done with winter now, both the season and probably most of the paintings.  As enjoyable and successful as I think they've been, it's now time for me to move on to something new.

I checked my blog archives, and it was just around this time that I wrapped up my winter painting series last year - for the same reason.

Earlier this week, I also confirmed my suspicions that I'm probably not ever going to be a winter plein air painter:  the PAP4C, of which I am now officially a member, met on Wednesday to paint the Animas around town.  I was actually excited to get outside and try to get some painting done.  Temps in the mid-40's, with no wind.

The paint-outs usually start at 9AM, but it was in the low 20's then, so I waited until 11:00 to head out.  Things were fine at first - I selected a location just north of the library, which is where we met for the critique.   I was less than an hour into the painting when a slight breeze kicked up and some high thin clouds crossed the sun.  I have some thin gloves for painting during colder days, which I've used when the temps were in the mid-50's or so, and they were fine.  However, it didn't take long for the fingers of my right hand to get cold and start going numb; they are the weak link in my ability to be outdoors in low temperatures, particularly if I'm not moving.

At that point, I knew the session was over, as I couldn't concentrate any longer;  it felt like my right brain just turned off.  At the critique session, all whopping 6 of us who showed up were all complaining about the cold.

Anyway, in the spirit of "pictures, or it didn't happen", here's the painting as far as it got, after an hour of painting.  There is a flock of mallards that reside in the area, and if this doesn't end up in the trash, I may play around with adding some in there, just for kicks, because the composition is sort of boring:

Plein air interruptus
12x16 - black construction paper
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