Friday, March 30, 2012

Early Spring in Bayfield, CO - plein air, pastel

Yesterday's paint-out with the 4CPAP group at LaPlatte lake...

Early Spring Reflections - plein air
12x12 inches  - pastel on black cardstock
© 2012, S.Johnson
It is finally starting to feel like spring here in the Durango area:  temps are up in the 60's, grasses are starting to green up, and it just feels great to be outside.  The Four Corners group met at LaPlatte lake in nearby Bayfield to paint.

Last year at this location, I painted a small stream that ran by the lake.  This is a wider creek that also runs through the property, about 30 feet from that stream.  I was drawn to the reflections from the various groups of trees, all devoid of foliage still, as well as the shore of the creek itself.
On location
The hardest part was dealing with the various layers of middle ground trees with the receding layers of cottonwoods - at the critique, folks had good suggestions for improving the painting, so I reworked it a bit.  Looks better, and I always find it interesting (and a tad frustrating) how things can just "get away" from you while painting, and it's not until you think you're finished, and view the painting on its easel 20 feet away, that those issues become glaring, and you wonder exactly how that happened during the process.

Anyway, here are a few "action" photos of other members painting:

Helen, painting the same creek on the other side of the fence

Stephen, painting a different section of the same creek

Debra, on the other side of the property, also painting the creek

Mary, painting near a corral of friendly horses, just out of view

Tomorrow, I'm going out with the informal Friday plein air group, to a new location (for me) on Florida Mesa.  Plein air season has begun in earnest!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A trip to the Botanical Gardens and Butterfly exhibit

Back from Phoenix.  No painting on this trip - the landscape there didn't inspire at all.  

The highlight of our trip was spending a day at the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix.  Thanks to a recent post on a crafter/photography blog I follow, I learned of the Butterfly Pavillion there, so of course, I had to go for that, as butterflies are quite possibly my favorite subject to photograph.

However, as seems befitting of my luck at such times, the autofocus on my telephoto lens decided this was a perfect time to crap out.   Trying to shoot small, detailed moving objects with manual focus and vision that isn't what it used to be resulted in a large percentage of out of focus and otherwise poor photos.   Now that my less-than-three-year-old Nikkor lens is a glorified paperweight, I'm going to upgrade to a better version.

Some interesting things we learned about the Butterfly Pavillion:  it is classified as a containment exhibit, which means that none of the butterflies, including those indigenous to the region, are raised there.  All come from butterfly farms, and are overnighted to the facility after they emerge from their pupas, in chilled containers.  In fact, a shipment arrived while we were there, and everyone who wanted was able to participate in the release of the butterflies.

They arrive in glassine envelopes, wings folded, usually two per envelope for smaller species.  To release them, the edge of the envelope is torn off, the top and other side opened.  As the sun warms them, they begin to move and will either fly or crawl out to a nearby flower.  Volunteers with synthetic feather dusters go around and pick up those that fly to the ground so they don't get stepped on.

Anyway, until I finish up my latest studio painting, here are some photos of the butterfly exhibit.  I'll post some of the botanical images later.

Male Queen butterfly on unopened yellow columbine

Pair of Julia Heliconians - a tropical longwing - on a bromeliad

Zebra Heliconinan - a tropical butterfly native to southern FL

Common Buckeye - a striking member of the Brushfoot family found throughout much of the southern US

Painted Lady butterfly - one of the most common butterflies in the US

Male Pipevine Swallowtail on petunia
Zebra Heliconinan - top view 

Female Pipevine Swallowtail

Sunday, March 18, 2012

More Organ Rock monocline - landscape painting, oil

Next in the Road Trip series, spread out over two sessions...
[ETA:  photo re-taken on March 19 in natural light to depict more accurate colors]

Shadow Pathways - #11
12x12 inches - oil on wood board
© S.Johnson
This was started almost a week ago, and then sat on my easel while I did other paintings and things.

The clouds were fun to paint; the foreground was easy, and the cliffs of the monocline and its shadows were the challenge.

It will probably be the last post before our trip to Phx on Tuesday; I'm of course bringing my easel and plan to try and paint every day if I can.  Since there are no holiday obligations to attend to for this trip, the painting logistics should be better.  We are hoping to spend a day in the Superstitions hiking, and I'm hoping I can get a painting in there as well.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Canyon of the Ancients - plein air painting and photos

Took advantage of another fantastic day to head out for some hiking and painting...

Overlooking Sand Canyon - plein air
9x12 inches, pastel on black cardstock
 © S.Johnson
West of Cortez is a BLM-managed area known as "Canyon of the Ancients NM".  It has several Anasazi pueblo ruins within the main canyon - Sand Canyon.  A 6.5 mile trail runs along the canyon from north to south, and today, we opted to check out the northern end, as there is a large puebloan ruin site right near the road.  Unfortunately, it's nothing but rubble, having either been excavated and filled back in or not excavated at all.  Not even photo-worthy.

But, the hike was!  I decided to bring along my lightest plein air set-up along, just in case I found something worth painting.  That consists of my pastel box, a piece of foamboard with a 9x12 paper taped to it, and a stadium chair, which I can strap to my daypack.

We hiked a bit over 5 miles, and this view was at about 1.5 miles.  I saw it and knew I had to paint it on the way back.   After hiking another mile and dropping about 600' in elevation to the wide bench, we hung out for a bit and then came back up to this area.  Wayne read a book in the shade while I painted.

The snow-covered mountain there?  That's Sleeping Ute, as seen from the north and much bigger than the painting I did of it last month.

Anyway, aside from some really treacherous areas of mud (I keep forgetting that it is mud season here for a bit longer), the hike was great.  Spring is definitely on the way - here are some photos:

A species of phlox, I believe

Southwestern Orangetip - one of the earliest butterflies of spring
Another sign temps are warming up:  the lizards come out to sun themselves

And, an interesting shot across the canyon along the bench - an exposed section of sandstone, showing an interesting gridded erosion pattern:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Plein Air with 4CPAP - Puebloan ruins in Aztec, NM

Yesterday was a great day to get out and plein air paint; it's starting to feel like spring...

I'm glad I decided to attend the paint-out with our group yesterday, which was held at the Aztec Ruins National Monument, in Aztec, NM.  The temperatures were supposed to be in the high 50's-low 60's, and with no wind.
Walls and Shadows - plein air
16x12 inches - pastel on Strathmore Artagain
© 2012, S.Johnson
The morning's painting - my colorist version.  After walking around for about 10 min, this view grabbed my eye.  I loved the lead-in and composition.  I also decided that, because the local colors are still a bit dreary, that I would draw inspiration from the Chaco/ancient architecture series I did about a year ago, and have fun with color.

My first attempt was chaotic, shall we say.  Values were good, but the color harmony?  Not so, even though I'd spent probably 1 1/2 hrs. on it and was almost finished, I wiped it down.  The ghosted image remained, so I didn't have to re-draw all the lines.  I sat down, pulled out the two "base" colors for the ruins, and finished it up.  At the critique session, everyone really liked it, which was nice to hear, because at times like this, I often write it off.  Suggestions were made for things to tweak on it, which I did, as well as a few things I felt it needed.

Now, I'm pretty happy with it.

The weather was just so amazing and warm in the afternoon that I decided to make the most of it and do another quick painting.  During the critique session, Stephen - the host for the paint-out - was telling us about a unique feature in the Aztec ruins (which, like Chaco, Mesa Verde and Hovenweep - are Anasazi):  layers of green rock in the masonry of some of the walls [though not in the walls were I painted].  He had incorporated that element into his painting, and the idea struck me as so cool that I decided to do my second painting with that in mind:

The Green Line - plein air
12x12 inches - pastel on black cardstock
© 2012, S.Johnson
For this, I went with more or less local colors - earthy neutrals.  I'm really into the the abstract forms these ruins and their shadows form.  I kept the two wood beams and the small window at the bottom, but left out the contemporary added drainage gutter, despite the fact it added a really neat shadow.

Why did these ancient masons decide to add the layers of green rock into their structures?  Of course, no one really knows, but I'd say probably "because they could".   Because it is a way of adding decoration and their own individuality to their community.  The rock apparently had to be brought in from a distance, so perhaps there's some spiritual significance as well.  Either way, it's a neat thing and I'm sure they would be thrilled that people are noticing it 900 years later.

Some photos from the lunch/critique:

Fran and her painting

Karl showing one of his paintings

Deb's painting.  She added clouds as per critique suggestions in the afternoon.  

Monday, March 12, 2012

Two more Road trip series, and a local painting - 6x6 oils

A trio of paintings from the past 2 days....

Above Black Mesa - #9
6x6 inches, oil on 1/4" wood panel
© 2012, S.Johnson
Yesterday's painting, which has a composition that is unconventional, but I was nonetheless drawn to it.  There's no foreground or real focal point - just three basic shapes of different colors and values.  It has an abstract feel to it, which is probably why I like it.

Clouds Over Organ Rock - #8
6x6 inches, oil on 1/4" wood panel
© 2012, S.Johnson
This painting was actually started (and mostly finished) before the large pastel posted a couple of days ago.  However, there were some minor things that bugged me about it, so I did a couple of touch-ups to it when I pulled out my oils again 2 days ago.

Dark Skies Behind Horse Gulch
6x6" oil on 1/4' panel
And this was a quickie I did on Friday afternoon.  Horse Gulch is the amazing trail system a few blocks east of where we live, and the north-facing mesa still had a lot of snow.  This is the view outside my upstairs window, and when I saw the dark, brooding sky behind it in the afternoon sun, I knew I needed to paint it.  I debated about whether to add the rooftops of the houses, but I'm glad I did - they are a part of what defines this as "Durango".

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Southwestern monsoon and rain - pastel painting

Sometimes you need to go big or go home...

Plateau Showers - #7
18x24 inches - pastel on UArt #400 paper
© 2012, S.Johnson
One of those images that I have been excited to paint, and it needed to be big.  I bought a sheet of this UArt, and decided this would be the piece to use it on.  Since I'm not used to using an aggressive sanded surface like this, it was a bit of a challenge, especially for the clouds.  I lost track of how many layers of pastel I piled on there, blended, removed, re-blended.

The location, as we continue west along Hwy 160, is now west of Kayenta, AZ, and approaching what is hands-down my favorite section of the drive:  the Organ Rock monocline.  Those who were following my blog when I did the first Four Corners roadtrip series in late '10 will remember it.

To my mind, there are few things more visually stunning and emblematic of the southwest than a huge cumulonimbus cloud spanning a section of plateau country and an isolated sweep of rain in the distance. Discreet shadows cast by the cloud help define the elements of the land.

Regarding this paper, I can't say I like it.  I know it's really popular with pastelists, and maybe I'll try a finer grit in the future, but I found that it took so much longer to paint this than it should have - I had to use a ton of pastel and the light touch I'm used to using on my smooth black Strathmore just doesn't work so well here.  I found it necessary to finger blend almost everything to eliminate the harsh edges produced by the grit and texture.  However, it's still far better than Colourfix paper, which I cannot stand.

It actually started out as a failed painting from the winter series I was doing in Dec and Jan:

Nope, it's not a really bad abstract painting....
My true wish is that the company that makes GatorGrit wet-dry black sandpaper would produce it for the pastel market - as far as sandpaper goes, I've not found anything that matches it.

Anyway, I am going to switch back to oils for this series now.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Plein Air in Taos, NM - adobe architecture in pastel

A brief intermission from the road trip series for a recap of a trip to Taos...

Taos Adobe Shadows #1 - plein air
12x12 - pastel on black cardstock
© 2012, S.Johnson
This past Sunday, I took advantage of some mild weather and headed down to Taos, NM, to visit my sister.  She moved there last Sept, and this is the first chance I've had to go back since our first trip last June.

With temperatures predicted to be in the high 50's to maybe low 60's, I was excited to do some plein air paintings while down there, and more specifically, some of the architecture - the very distinctive adobe-styled homes Taos is famous for.   Turns out, I didn't need to go far:  the front yard of my sister's house for #1, painted Monday morning.

What really grabbed my eye, aside from the use of bright colors for the trim on these homes, is the way cast shadows look on the adobe facade.  They form these intricate abstract patterns from tall cottonwood trees, unseen.  They also are a challenge to paint, and I think I'd need to paint them on a daily basis for a few weeks to get to the point where I felt competent painting them.  Hopefully, you get the idea, though.

Taos Adobe Shadows #2 - plein air
12x12" - pastel on black cardstock
© 2012, S.Johnson
For #2, I went in the backyard and painted the rear of the neighbor's house yesterday (Thursday) morning.  In fact, you can see part of it in the first painting there on the right.  The shadows change so quickly, so it's important to focus on them once you begin that area of the painting.

My plan, in addition to these architecture paintings, was to head south of town and paint the iconic Taos Gorge on Wednesday.  I was really excited about this, and planned it for the afternoon when it was nice and warm and the light would be better.  However, what I didn't anticipate was the forecast for strong wind gusts that afternoon...the bane of every plein air painter, and cause for ruin for many of my paint-outs.

The wind was so strong along the foothill slope overlooking the gorge that it flung my car door open as soon as I opened it.  Add to that the light-killing altostratus cloud layer spreading throughout the sky, and it was a disappointing bust.

So, instead - here are a few photos from that day:

Late winter grazing in Arroyo Hondo

Taos Gorge...I'll be back!

Mothership cloud over the mountains of Taos
Lenticular clouds, such as this cumulus variety, form from high winds, usually as they pass over mountains, whipping the edges of the cloud into otherworldly shapes

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