Monday, April 30, 2012

Cedar Mesa, UT, part II - shadows in plein air, pastel

Because one painting and a 9.6 mile hike wasn't enough for a day...

Camp Shadows - plein air, 12x12 inches
pastel on brown cardstock
© 2012, S.Johnson

After we returned from the Arch Canyon hike, everyone immediately gets situated in some captain chairs and cold beer is in order.  While sitting in the shade of our friend's camper awning, drinking my beer, I note that the view right in front of me is actually pretty neat!

It's got the distal rise of the sandstone, lots of colorful cottonwoods, sagebrush and dried chamisa.  Oh, and really neat shadows from a huge cottonwood just out of view.  Feeling ambitious, I decided to paint it.  I think most of the effect of the beer had worn off by the time I finished this, but it was just plain fun to paint.  It's loose, pretty quickly done, but does manage to capture the essence of what the view was around our camping area.

I'll post the final painting (and load of photos) tomorrow, and then will come the wave of new plein air pieces I've finished in the past few days.

More Cedar Mesa:

Moon House ruins, in McCloyd Canyon on Cedar Mesa - view is from across the canyon

Moon House ruins 

A view of Sleeping Ute Mtn. from Snow Flats road - a high-clearance road we  drove on day 2

A view of Arch Canyon from above

A view of Comb Ridge to the southeast, and Hwy 95, as seen from the slope 

Localized clouds form over the northern part of the Comb in late afternoon

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Cedar Mesa, UT - part I, plein air in Arch Canyon

A trip that defined why I love painting the landscape of southern Utah...

Arch Canyon Spires - plein air, 12x9 inches,  pastel on cardstock
© 2012, S.Johnson
Done on day three of our trip, when our group of four took a hike/trail ride up Arch Canyon, the mouth of which we camped during our stay in the area.  

I never know whether I'll be in the mood to paint, or find a decent location to sit and paint (must be in the shade) when I bring my plein air gear along on hikes.  But, even for the times I've hauled it along and never brought it out, I've never regretted bringing it...just in case.

This particular painting also pushed the envelope of how far I've hiked to paint:  4.8 miles.  I honestly thought I might be too tired to paint; the temps were in the 80's and hiking through soft sand along a Jeep road can wear one out.   Our friends, riding ahead on their horses, found the perfect location for lunch - a sandstone overhang with abundant shade right next to the creek.  And this view.  I could have easily done 3-4 paintings from the exact location.  

For whatever reason(s), this painting came together in a way I couldn't have anticipated, almost surrealistic in how effortless it was.  It is moments like this that cause me to not worry when I have a painting slump, because they often result in a breakthrough of some type - I feel there was one here, but I'm not sure what, why or how it happened.   There's also something about the effort required to obtain these "immersion" plein air pieces that makes them special to me, and this painting is one of the few I'd have a hard time parting with.  


Some photos from the first day and the Arch Canyon hike:

Our campsite, with Jypsi (Paso Fino) and Indy (pinto Tennessee Walking Horse)
in their portable corral 

Cliffside ruins (Anasazi) a short walk up Arch Canyon

This handsome chap - a Collared lizard - posing for a photo during our hike

Ancient granery along Arch Canyon - telephoto shot...

...another photo to show just how inaccessible and high this granery was

Sarah and Jypsi at our lunch location; I sat in the shaded alcove to the left to paint
A wide-angle view of the spires from the creek bed near the alcove

On the way back:  Jypsi demonstrates her rock-climbing prowess while Todd and Indy look on

A look back up the trail on the afternoon hike back

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Plein Air along the Animas River in Durango - pastel, 16x12

Our trip to Cedar Mesa was absolutely fantastic, and I have paintings and photos to share from that trip.  I've decided to split that into a few contiguous posts just to keep each a manageable size and hopefully not disinterest more readers than I maybe already have...

So, in the meantime, here is yesterday's painting done with the 4CPAP group right here in town:

The Purple Cliffs - 16x12 inches
 pastel on acid-free construction paper
Durango is surrounded by a series of tilted, eroded ridges, known as hogbacks, including this one, known by locals as the "Purple Cliffs".  And purple they are - colorful shales of what I believe is the Morrison formation.   I've been wanting to paint them for probably as long as I've been living here, so I was happy to finally be able to do that.  The cottonwoods are now leafing out in force, and in that beautiful shade of pale green that I enjoy painting.  Also, green + purple = winning combination.

This is the view from the terminus of the Animas River Trail, although I ended up standing on a slope next to the trail to paint.

I got this 90% finished on location, but when the wind started kicking up around noon, blowing my hat off and forcing me to hold the easel while I painted, that's when I usually decide it's time to pack it in.

The two challenges were trying to make the very muddy Animas look not so...unappealing.  The warm temperatures we've been having accelerate mountain snowmelt, and the river is at a seasonal high, and much siltier than normal.  Also, I'm not sure the foreground cliff reads very well; it is in fact probably 20' above the river and not at the shoreline.  Ditto the middle "island", which I decided to keep because it had neat things going on and helped to break up the otherwise solid mass of the river.

At any rate, I'll certainly be back to paint the purple cliffs again, and will at least have a better idea how to handle these issues.  Painting the same location repeatedly is a common practice amongst landscape painters, both past and present, and this subject in particular makes me appreciate why.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Comb Ridge, Utah - pastel

Inspired by tomorrow's trip to Cedar Mesa:  another road painting...

Towards the Comb
10x20 inches - pastel on Canson Mi-Tientes paper
© 2012, S.Johnson
Based on a photo taken last April during our first trip to Cedar Mesa/Butler Wash, this was one of those paintings that arose somewhat spontaneously.  I was preparing some of my 8x16" matboard panels for painting and thought that a 1:2 painting seemed like a good idea.  Going through my photos, this one epitomized the majestic view of the Comb Ridge monocline as seen from Hwy 95 heading west, which made it a logical choice.

Instead of using the prepared board, I thought I might try using the other half of a sheet of rust-colored Canson paper I've had for ages - seriously, I think I've been dragging this sheet around for at least 10 years.  I bought it back when Canson was pretty much the only readily available paper for pastels.

And besides - what better way to resume pastel painting after being in a recent rut than using a surface that has always proved challenging and really never produced a painting worth keeping?  Sounds like a great recipe for failure!

I was reminded again how much I admire pastelists that are able to use this paper to great success, such as Bill Cone and Lorenzo Chavez.  Really, I don't know how they do it.

I suppose this turned out better than it could have/should have, perhaps, given the circumstances.  It allows for more layering than my favorite black Artagain, but the rough texture (smooth side, even) sort of rubs me the wrong way...pun intended.  I am trying to get away from finger blending my pastels, but this just didn't seem to work without blending.

Anyway, with luck and motivation, I'll return from our trip on Tuesday with at least a few paintings and probably more photos of Anasazi cliff dwellings.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Southern Utah landscape in oil - 6x6 inches

Not part of the official road trip series along Hwy 160, but based on a highway snapshot nonetheless...

Against Brooding Skies
6x6 inches - oil on 1/4 wood panel
© 2012, S.Johnson
From a shot taken on the way home from our Moab trip 2 weeks ago.  There is something about pale sandstone rock against darker skies that always appeals to me.

Paint was pretty tacky and difficult to work with, but I was more interested in experimenting with color mixes for this landscape, since I'm contemplating taking my oils along on our upcoming trip to Cedar Mesa/Comb Wash on Friday.

Wayne just purchased a used 24' motorhome, which allows much greater options for taking my plein air painting operations on the road.   The possibilities are exciting!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Another cloudscape in the road trip series - oil, 6x6

When all else fails, there's always a familiar subject to fall back on...
Cumulus to the North - #12
6x6 - oil on wood panel
© 2012, S.Johnson
So, the past week hasn't been a high point as far as painting goes.  Last Tuesday, I went out with the 4C group and painted at a lake near Farmington, NM.  About 4/5 of the way into the painting, I just sort of mentally checked out and couldn't finish it.   Couldn't resolve how to handle some of the elements, didn't have the right colors/values/etc. in my pastel set, and I just lost all desire to finish it.

At the critique, surprisingly, everyone loved it and offered up suggestions on addressing the issues I was having with it.  So, I didn't toss it right away.  Tried working on it the next day, and it ended up in the trash.  I was left with no interest in painting for the next few days, and another winter-type storm rolled in, killing off any possibility of painting outside until today, even if I'd wanted to.

So, last night, I decided I should at least do something, and these 6x6 oils have always proved to be, regardless of outcome, a good way to spend an hour painting.

Cottonwoods are starting to green up along the Animas, so I may head out today and try painting by the river.  Or not.

I've come to recognize that these artistic "lulls", if you will, are just part of the process.  They used to bother me, but now they don't.  I just try to find other creative ways to spend my time if I don't feel like painting.  It's funny how many artists will write on their blogs about these periods, and how it almost feels like they forgot how to paint.  That's sort of how I feel at the moment, and I know it's 100% mental.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Spring Cottonwood in canyon country - pastel

Another in the mini-series of "Spring in Moab"...

Canyon Cottonwood
12x9 inches, pastel on black cardstock
© 2012, S.Johnson

I love the twisted and irregular shapes of the trunks and branches of these large Fremont cottonwoods that are found throughout the southwest in desert washes and canyons, which explains why they always end up in my trip photos and as subjects for paintings.  Can't be helped.

I originally wanted this to be a really loose piece, maybe bordering on abstract, but it went in a different direction.  Trees are always a challenge for the landscape painter on different levels, and this one was no exception.

A few more photos from Moab:

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A spring trip to Moab - pastel landscape

This past Wednesday, we headed to Moab to enjoy spring in the southern Utah canyon country...

Spring in Negro Bill Canyon
12x12 inches, pastel on black cardstock
© 2012, S.Johnson
Early April is a glorious time to be in Moab; the trees in town are blooming, and the cottonwoods and oak that line the canyons are well into greening up for the season.  Weather is warm and dry, and the deerflies and mosquitos are not out yet.

This scenic canyon, located off Hwy 128 and a few miles from Moab, is named after a mixed race cowboy, William Granstaff, who prospected and ran cattle here in the late 1870's.  I hiked the trail to this canyon a short distance while here for Moab Plein Air, but the painting I started never went anywhere.

I actually did bring my plein air gear along on this trip, both my French easel, and my hiking get-up, just because I really wanted to paint on location while we were here.  Despite hiking about 8 miles total on Wednesday in both Negro Bill and Hunter Canyons, paintings didn't happen:  needing to sit to paint definitely limits one's options.  So, I got many photos, and will do a quick mini-series of studio "spring in Moab" paintings, starting with this one.  Best of all, I scouted some brand-new locations for painting at this year's Moab Plein Air, which I am planning on attending.

Wednesday's weather was ideal for hiking - sunny and no wind.  Thursday we'd planned to spend the day on another long hike up Courthouse Wash, which leads into Arches NP.  Thursday morning, however, the sky was overcast and temperatures were actually chilly and not inviting for a hike, so we decided to drive up to Dead Horse State Park and check that out.  Nice views, but not so much in those conditions for taking photos, and it's not a location I'd probably ever choose to paint.

Eventually, the cloud cover broke, and we did do a hike up Courthouse Wash.  Remarkably, we didn't see another soul during our 6-mile hike along this trail.  As is always the case on hikes, I'm constantly assessing the painting potential, including both logistics of getting there with gear, as well as suitability for a successful painting.

As is usually the case, the best photos I save to share here, and others become reference for paintings.  Sometimes, there is cross-over, but not so much in this case:

Beautiful red paintbrush along the trail 

Another fork along Negro Bill

Cottonwood shadows

Slickrock puddle reflections in Hunter Canyon

A view of the meandering Colorado from Dead Horse Point

Wild turkey hens near the Courthouse Wash trailhead

Hiking on Courthouse Wash trail

Sandstone boulder pile

Along the edge of the trail

Monday, April 2, 2012

La Platas from a new perspective, plein air, pastel

Here's Friday's painting, finally finished up in the studio...

La Plata Reflections - plein air
12x16 inches, pastel on black Artagain
© 2012, S.Johnson
This past Friday was the first paint-out for the informal group of plein air painters that I went out with a few times last year.  Alice is the one who manages the email list for the group, and she suggested a location - Pastorias SWA - as a location to paint.

I'd never heard of this area, located on Florida Mesa southeast of town, but Wayne had, and said it had a lake associated with it.  That was pretty much all I needed to hear, and I was sold.  What I didn't realize is what a fantastic view of the La Plata Mountains we'd have.

There was enough of a breeze to break up the reflections on the lake for most of the time we painted, but I did want to put them in, so I waited until they showed up, albeit it briefly, and tried to block them in quickly.  I ended up reworking them quite a bit today when I finally had time to sit down and paint; this painting ran the risk of being over-worked, and while I could keep tinkering with the reflections probably indefinitely, there came a point where I decided to just stop before it got to the point of no return.

There were a total of six at Pastorias, and four of us ended up painting at the same location on the east side of the lake.   In addition to the general camaraderie of painting with a group, I really appreciate that I can get immediate input regarding the in-progress painting, and suggestions.

Here are some pics of our painting "quartet":

my pastel in-progress

Sue's watercolor 
Rosemary's pastel

Alice's watercolor

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