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


  1. Love those pastel colors and what a beautiful horse!

  2. Great pastels. And I love the final cloud photo.

  3. That's the way one of our kitties broke her leg - car door in the wind!

    The best thing in these pastel images is your control of color. Well done!

  4. Love the shadows on these!
    They are super challenging because they change so quickly! You did a great job on them.

  5. Thanks so much Helen and Jala for your comments; I'm glad you enjoyed these.

    Thanks Casey; I had to push the colors in the case of the shadows, so I went with value and temperature vs. trying to match local color (impossible anyway).

  6. Thanks, Debbie - you are right, they change so quickly you can't dawdle :). I think I started to figure out the best approach to doing them, though, so I'll remember that for subsequent pieces.

  7. Both paintings are so pretty, Sonya! You achieved a beautiful color harmony, and Debbie is right. The shadows are crazy wonderful!

  8. You are a master at shadows! Beautiful!

  9. Thank you so much Darla and LeAnn for your sweet comments :). I wasn't sure if the shadows would read correctly to anyone else, but I'm glad you both like them!

  10. Sonya, I love your foray into architectural art again. Isn't doing smaller segments of a building fun? You get to select an interesting feature and paint away. I love the colors of these. Dnd shadows on flat surfaces are hard.


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