Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Back from southern Utah '12 tour - Days 1 & 2

Wow.  Where to begin?  The trip, aside from some weather issues, was amazing.

I managed to do 9 paintings (10 if you include a diptych I did yesterday as two paintings...) on the trip.  I'd actually hoped to do more, but between lots of hiking and extreme wind conditions that made painting outside a complete deal-breaker, this was as good as it got.  Which was unfortunate, because those were often locations I found amazing areas to paint.

Anyway, the paintings were done, with a few exceptions, pretty much near where we ended up boondock camping.  I did bring my painting gear on 3 hikes, but time became an issue, so that didn't work out.

Most of the paintings weren't finished on location, usually because of time and/or weather restraints.  I'm hardly a purist in terms of what is considered a "plein air" painting, regardless of how much of it was completed on location.  I'm a landscape painter, plain and simple.  Studio or on location - it's the end result that matters, not the process.

Not including the informal evening strolls around the campsites, we hiked about 45 miles, most of it through unassuming canyons in remote wilderness areas, seldom seeing other people.

I ended up with 700 photos, encompassing all of my favorite subjects: wildflowers, butterflies, canyons large and small, and the ever-changing landscape of the Colorado Plateau itself along the loop we drove.

I will break the trip up into segments, to include both paintings, and photos grouped by theme rather than timeline.   This also gives me time to actually bring the rest of the paintings to completion.

Painting from day 1, along a very scenic wash located in the Paria River valley (and site of Old Pareah Townsite - now a ghost town), in the heart of the Grand Staircase National Monument.  It was also the location for a few movies, including the Clint Eastwood classic "The Outlaw Josey Wales".   I suffered through an onslaught of No-see-um bites to paint this, but I was determined to finish despite that:

Afternoon Light Along the Wash - 12x12
plein air
pastel on brown cardstock
Canyon washes and arroyos are one of those subjects I could happily paint my entire life and never get bored of. The way the light was hitting the edges of the white sandstone, and silhouetting the shrubs and small pinyon pine appealed to me immediately.  The variations in the reflected light - both cool and warm - was remarkable and not captured on the photo I took.

And, I thought to take some photos of my various plein air set-ups, so here's the one I used for this painting:

I just hold the piece of foamboard in my lap to paint in this situation.  The small stool - from Walmart - is lightweight and has its own carrying sleeve.  Unfortunately, it's not as durable as I'd have hoped for, and is already starting to split along the sections where the seat edges are...sigh...but, I should be able to repair it with some more durable fabric.

The next morning, I got up and whipped out a quick painting before breakfast, using the same get-up as above.  A small hill of pale white rock had some intriguing shadows cast, along with several small junipers.  The strata of the shadowed cliff in the background made for an interesting contrast.  It's not much to write home about, but I enjoyed the process nonetheless:

Morning in the Paria River Valley - 8.5x11"
plein air
pastel on maroon cardstock

Later, after breakfast, we decided to hike down the Paria River towards the confluence with Hackberry Creek in the canyon of the same name, and I brought my painting gear along.

I had Wayne take a picture of me at the painting location (painting unfinished), which was close to 2 miles down the river:

You can see the 2 boxes of pastels in the daypack there, and while Wayne carried the small folding tray for me, it's really lightweight and easy to carry, and I usually just carry it myself.

Here's what I attempted to paint:

Paria river bend
I may either revisit the original painting or start another later, maybe in this format.  The location piece, maybe 30% finished, was portrait format.  By the time we decided to head back, the shade I'd been sitting in was gone.

Photos from the area and along the road leading back to Hwy 89:

The most colorful example of Chinle formation ("Painted Desert") I've ever seen!
It was really this saturated and colorful, and we were camped about 40' from the base of it.

Folds in the Chinle slopes as the sun sets

sunset across the distal cliffs near the Paria river.  You can see the small
pale slope I painted the next morning in the middle there

along the Paria river wash towards the "box" area

the view to the west

the wash - in morning light

pano of the cliffs and colorful slopes on the drive out

looking north up the Staircase near Hwy 89; domes of white Navajo sandstone are visible in the distance

Next:  Day 3 & 4:  Zion National Park


  1. I've been missing you, Sonya! But I can see that you have been busy, lol. Looks like a wonderfully productive painting trip! Your photographs are stunning, too. Beautiful work!

  2. Of course, my eyes caught that little phrase, "brown card stock!" I think there is more light in this support - what do you think?

    These are first rate pastels. Great ideas and well done. Also, very well blogged!

  3. Darla, you are so sweet to say that! It is funny how the passage of time feels when you are doing so many things: a week can seem like much longer than that. But, you're right - all things considered, it ended up being a productive painting trip despite the weather issues :D.

    Casey, it's funny you mention about the cardstock; I've been revisiting these browns for more and more paintings, and am finding they are working particularly well for higher key paintings such as this one. Some earlier attempts I tried on this very same paper looked..."anemic", for lack of a better term, so I kept using black. I still love painting on black, but I'm enjoying these other colors I've been using, and am glad to be expanding my repertoire.

    And, thank you so much for your generous comments about the paintings and post!

  4. Love hearing about your travels -- and the painted desert shots are absolutely breathtaking! I am sure they will inspire some beautiful work.

  5. Thanks LeAnn - I am glad you enjoy the photos and travel reports; I enjoy sharing this very beautiful country with folks that don't live in the region. I could have easily painted in this location for a few days, but the photos will at least allow me to re-visit at a later date for additional paintings!

  6. I'm so glad you're back Sonya! I missed you! Looks like you had just the best time ever. :) And I am in love with the first painting you posted, it is so beautiful. ALl of them are, but there's something about that one that keeps drawing me back to it. :) And I liked seeing the photo of you and your set up!

  7. Aw, shucks, Crystal - you are so sweet :)! We really did have a great time; Utah is simply an amazing state for its unique landscape. The first painting is definitely one of my favorites from the trip, and I'm glad you like it as well. It was one of those that came together without any struggle. I cherish those times.

  8. It looks like a fantastic trip! Too bad the wind pre-empted some painting sessions but the photos are glorious.

  9. Hi Lisa - thanks! And yes, despite the weather set-backs, it was an amazing trip. We are sort of planning to do it every year now.


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