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!


  1. you captured it...relax! of course i am a sucker for anything with a trail in it...but this is very fine!

  2. You did capture it. It is beautiful, Sonya. Your values are always so perfectly rendered. And in a painting that is predominantly green, that is not an easy task. Well done! I would love to be hiking there right now!

  3. Beautiful. I love your greens. I always find green hard to deal with. Yours are soothing, lush.

  4. Cindy - ha! Thanks, and I agree: with all the reference photos I have of trails, I could do an entire (and very large) series. Actually, I've thought of doing that several times. Thanks so much for stopping by!

    Darla, you are so kind! Funny you say that about the greens, because they are my least favorite color to paint and I struggle with them constantly. They are what gave me fits in this painting as well.

    Thanks so much, Liz. I totally agree about the greens; I think they are difficult for many artists, at least those I've had such conversations with.

  5. Hi Sonya,
    I find it so interesting to know which parts of a painting the artist had difficulty with because it seems like it might be obvious. In your piece, it is not. Your painting looks fluid and relaxed to me and I like the amount of detail you decided to put in (and leave out). I especially like the way you treated the furthest part of the trail - it is so inviting. Very nice! Thank you for sharing your paintings and your experience.

  6. You've mastered shadows. Beautiful piece!

  7. Hi Sandy - thanks so much for your comments. I'm glad you found the discussion to be interesting; I like to include it because I also enjoy reading the artist's thought process behind the piece, including anything they may have struggled with. Oh yes - that final curve of the trail was important to get right ;).

    Thanks, LeAnn - shadows are definitely a favorite feature of landscapes for me!

  8. Ahhh - I know exactly what you mean! I think you found the balance though. Well done.

    And, as always, I'm a sucker for those shadows ;-)

  9. Thanks, Debbie! I was satisfied with the end result, and did learn some good things from this painting. The shadows are usually my favorite parts of many of my paintings, including this one :).


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