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.  


  1. Hi LeAnn - agreed. I always enjoy seeing the very different styles and takes of the same area by all our artists. These group paint-outs are always filled with creative energy, too.

  2. Great bunch of work. What a wonderful place for your plein air group to go. I love ruins - around here they are old military forts and not even close to as old as your Aztec ruins, but i find myself drawn to the lines and shadows as well. I really like the composition in your first piece. And very interesting about the green rock!

  3. Thanks Debbie. I thought it might be difficult to paint there (I skipped the Mesa Verde NP paint-out a few weeks ago for that reason, and it was just too damn cold!), but I found it to be far more interesting than I thought.

    I love ruins of all eras, and I know I'd be drawn to paint old military ruins as well. My favorite "ruins" in New England were those amazing rock walls you see everywhere. I was totally fascinated by them. If I still lived in the area, I'd definitely be painting those!


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