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


  1. Wow! Such gorgeous country!
    Love the painting - especially the sky, and the way the bright green draws you down the path.

    Wonderful photos, too - espcially love the puddle reflections. You are getting me motivated to get outside and paint!

  2. Hi Debbie - I have probably said it before, but the canyon country of southern UT/northern AZ is my favorite landscape, hands-down. It can be hard to paint, but I keep plugging away, and I'll never get sick of painting it!

    Thanks for your comments, as always, and I'm glad you liked the photos, too :). I hope you can get outside and paint soon!

  3. One of these days we are going to meet when you come to Utah. :)) Looks like a fabulous time Sonya. And I love your painting! It looks to have so much movement. I think a lot of it is the clouds and the direction of the big rocks. And wow are those photos awesome! :))

  4. Yes, I agree, Crystal - a meeting is definitely in order at some point! It has been over 30 years since I've been to the greater SLC area (I assume you live around there?) and I'd like to come up there again :). Re the clouds: the ref photo had clouds that appeared to emerge from behind the tallest cliff there, so I tweaked them a bit to emphasize that movement. Clouds are awesome for that sort of thing.

    Thanks as always for your sweet comments!

  5. Aren't you glad spring is here? Even though we had a mild winter for a change, I was glad to see the flowers come up. I see you have turkeys too. Such funny creatures.

  6. Hi Ruth - oh, boy, am I EVER glad spring is here! As much as like painting winter, it is far and away my least favorite season. It makes me so happy to see things blooming and the trees coming to life again.

    Funny about the wild turkeys...I wouldn't have expected them in a desert wash; we used to see them every time we'd go to the north rim of the Grand Canyon, however. And, I saw them frequently in CT.


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