Saturday, June 30, 2012

Painting in Durango - plein air pastel

It's nice when you don't have to travel far to find something to paint.

Sky From 3rd Ave - 12x12"
pastel on light brown cardstock
© S.Johnson
And, after hiking up Engineer trail this morning, I was feeling too lazy to drive anywhere, so I just walked half-way across our street to the grassy median, and painted from there.  Sitting, of course.

I've sort of been wanting to paint this house for a while, so this seemed like the perfect time, especially since the next 4C paint out is in Silverton, and that's all about the buildings and architecture.  Good practice for that.

Photos from the hike, which was about 8 miles and topped out above timberline at 11,900'.  This is a top-notch hike for wildflowers, and they were stunning this year - surprising, given the lack of rain and light snowpack.

No landscape photos, because about 1/2 mile from the junction to hike up Engineer, a cloud positioned itself right in front of the sun, and proceeded to grow to epic proportions in the windless sky, killing the light.  Disappointing from a photographer's standpoint, but that's the way it goes.

Instead, I bring you a batch of butterflies and paintbrushes:

Coronis Fritillary

Western Paintbrush - while the sun was still out
Rocky Mountain Parnassian
This, and the butterfly below, were stationary on flowers while the sun was behind
the clouds above timberline.  They require the warmth from the sun in order to fly.
Arctic Blue on Sneezeweed
Rosy Paintbrush

West Coast Lady - first of these I've ever seen

Purplish Fritillary

Painted Lady - underside

Milbert's Tortoiseshell

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Blessing of Rain - plein air - donation to American Red Cross

Everyone has heard of the catastrophic Colorado Springs area Waldo fire that has destroyed almost 350 homes and displaced 32,000 others, at least temporarily.   This fire is now officially the most destructive in CO history, and the fire season has just begun!

Blessing Of Rain - 12x12", pastel on dark brown cardstock
plein air
© S.Johnson
This afternoon, pre-monsoon clouds filled the skies, and I decided to drive out to Pastorias SWA on Florida Mesa to paint the clouds.  It was a joyous thing to see rain coming down in the mountains to the north.  

As I painted this, I was thinking of the people that have lost their homes, and how helpless and sad this has made me feel.  I decided that the one thing I could possibly do was donate to the Red Cross.  So, I've decided to donate $100 from the sale of this painting to the Pikes Peak chapter of the American Red Cross.  

Price for the painting is $185 ppd.   I will provide a receipt of the donation to the buyer.

Thank you for looking.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Painting along the Rio Grande, and Treasure Falls in photos

Another long weekend trip in the mountains, this time crossing the Continental Divide.

Destination:  the Rio Grande Reservoir area, located about 25 miles west of Creed, CO.  Friends Sarah and Todd left last Tuesday and secured a primo spot about 30' away from the Rio Grande river, and we met them there on Thursday.

My goal was to do four paintings while there; I ended up completing two and getting maybe half way through a third that I probably won't finish, but may try later as a studio painting.  

The three issues that put a damper on an otherwise great trip were:  1) smoke from the 6-week old Little Sand fire, burning in a canyon near the Piedra river near Pagosa Springs that ranged from minor haze to headache-causing; 2) the massive die-off of spruce and fir due to bark beetles; 3) ants...but not like any ants I've ever dealt with.  These were everywhere, and literally dictated the few places I could paint.  These were large black and red ants, aggressive and territorial.  Stand anywhere near where they were, and within seconds, they were on your shoes, socks, clothing, skin - immediately biting.  Thankfully, no stingers on these, but good grief - it was a major hassle to try and paint!   

On to the paintings.  This first one, done the day we got to the camp, is one I'm quite pleased with.  I loved the view immediately, and that pair of trees - a blue spruce and Douglas fir behind - were the perfect accompaniment to the curving braid of the Rio Grande.

Rio Grande View - 12x12"
pastel on sanded black cardstock
© S.Johnson
The next morning, I decided to do a morning painting to take advantage of the lack of wind to do reflections.  I'm almost out of my 12x18" Artagain, so I've been sticking with the 12x12" or the 8.5x11" (which I managed to forget to bring on this trip), or occasionally, the 8x16" handmade boards with Golden pumice grit.  

Anyway, I can make many things work with a square composition, but this wasn't one of them.   I think you can see the appeal of this:

Side Creek Reflections
I've cropped this to a 16x12" format, and like it much better.  This is an offshoot creek of the Rio Grand that has lots of still water, these fabulous reflections, and surprisingly, many large cutthroat trout.  I enjoyed watching them dash around grabbing whatever insects made landings in the water while I painted.  They have surely tempted many an angler with their size and abundance (I counted 14, most over 8"), but they didn't get that big by biting on flies and lures.

Later in the afternoon, I went back down to the same area I'd painted the first day, this time to capture the view upstream.  This was one of those paintings that fell short of expectations, for various reasons.  The hardest part was trying to paint that whole mid-ground of dead spruce.

Riverside Spruce - 16x8"
pastel on board with Golden pumice ground + black acrylic
© S.Johnson
Some of the few photos I ended up keeping from the trip:

Shooting Star - the first time I've seen this flower in 35 years

Wayne fishing along the Rio Grande above the reservoir
 Series of photos of Treasure Falls, located along Hwy 160, about 3 miles west of Wolf Creek Pass:

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Capturing whitewater - plein air and photos, plus DIY ND filter

Today's painting was apropos to my plan, as promised, photos of moving water taken with an inexpensive, homemade ND filter.

Low Water Riffles - 12x12"
pastel on black cardstock
© S.Johnson
Titled for the fact that our river is at record lows for this time of the year, thanks to a lower than average snowpack.  The result is more river rocks exposed and lots more whitewater.  Made for a somewhat complex and busy painting, but as always, the process was valuable.  New location for this painting - near Rotary Park and north of the downtown area.

Now, on to the photography part of the post.  As much as I enjoyed doing the paintings along Cascade, I was almost more excited to indulge in a photography bender using this ND filter I mentioned, so I carried my tripod, both camera lenses and the streamlined plein air get-up on our Friday hike, specifically so I could take photos of the falls we'd seen the week before.

For those who aren't familiar with this particular piece of equipment, this Wikipedia entry explains it better than I can.  When photographing moving water in normal sunlight conditions, you need an ND filter in order to obtain the soft water effect:
Limestone Steps
1/50 sec @ f/22 - no filter
Limestone Steps, Cascade Creek
0.5 sec @ f/22 + filter

Maybe not everyone likes the soft water effect in photos, but I love it.  Always have.

As you can see, even stopped down to the smallest aperture (like other gauges, the larger the f-stop #, the smaller the aperture; for my 18-70mm lens, f/22 is as small as it gets), the shutter speed is still to fast to produce that effect.

Enter the ND filter.  Why make your own?  Because they can be pricy - most run $50+.  On the outdoor forum I read, someone posted about making one that cost less than $10, and I was all about that.

Here's all you need:

L to R:  cement, step-up ring for your camera lens ($3.47 -,
duct tape, piece of welding mask glass, Shade 5 (~$6.00, from local welding supply shop)
It's shown on this log because I bought the tape and cement on my way out of town, and assembled it in the RV at the campsite.
Here's what the filter looks like before I added the tape.  You can't tell from this photo, but the glass is actually green - it's like looking through a dark pair of Ray Ban wayfarer sunglasses :).  It screws right on to the end of my lens:

Do-it-yourself Neutral Density filter

I used it to shoot Engine Falls on our hike up the trail, but after I'd finished, I discovered a better compositional location, and taking advantage of a cloud covering the sun on the way back, I slipped back up the spur trail and shot this photo without the filter - I won't use it if I don't have to!

Engine Falls
f/22 @ 0.625 sec
Here are some other favorites, all shot on Saturday when it was too cloudy to paint, at various locations along the trail and right where Hwy 550 crosses the creek, and all with the filter, at a variety of shutter speeds (all chosen by the camera's internal meter - I always shoot Aperture Priority for these types of shots):

f/22 @ 0.4 sec

f/22 @ 0.5 sec

f/20 @ 3.6 sec.

f/20 @ 6 seconds
Here's a shot from our campsite late in the afternoon, also without the filter:

Orange lichen and the green pool
f/22 @ 0.4 sec
As someone who appreciates others sharing their "how-to" and "DIY" tips and techniques, I wanted to do the same for anyone reading who might be interested, or knows anyone else that is.  Another thing important to note:  as this is not technically a "neutral" density filter, but a green one, the images will have a strong green tint to them.  Shoot in RAW format, and use any editing software to adjust the hue and temperature as needed, and it's not an issue.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A trio of paintings along Cascade creek - plein air, pastel

Finishing touches and photographs, finally, for the paintings done over the weekend's trip.

Orange Lichen and the Green Pool - 12x12" - plein air
pastel on dark brown cardstock
© S.Johnson
Thursday afternoon's painting, done about 30' from our campsite right along the creek.  There were so many fun things going on here that I had no trouble deciding on this as my first painting.  Some new challenges for painting water as well, such as being able to convey the effect of underwater bubbles and turbulence produced by the little fall of water passing through the channel of boulders.  The foreground pool appealed to my abstract gene, and then there is the river itself.

And the boulder, with its fissures and color variations, including some bright orange lichen, which ultimately inspired the sort of unusual title for this painting.

Embankment Aspen and Shadows - 11x8.5"
pastel on maroon cardstock
© S.Johnson
Another view right from the campsite, looking up and across the creek.  This is aspen country, so it was a given that they had to figure into at least one painting.  This was Friday morning's painting, done before breakfast.  I was reminded again of what a challenge it is to try and depict the massed greens of a forest - in this case, aspen, spruce, fir and probably some ponderosa pine.  

Fallen Rock and Tree - 8.5x11"
pastel on turquoise cardstock
© S.Johnson
Friday afternoon's painting, done a mere 15' from last weekend's painting "Creek Cascade".  Wayne and I had both been fascinated by the fact this full-grown tree was coming right up out of a large slab of limestone.  Strong shadows and patches of rust-colored moss - along with that tangle of roots - made it a fun challenge to paint.  The hardest part was dealing with the shadows, which changed by the minute:  by the time I'd finished the painting, the blue shadows had covered most of the creek.

We had great weather on Thursday and Friday, and because of the long hike we did on Friday, I'd planned to spend Saturday painting some aspen and road views I'd scouted out.  Alas, clouds rolled in early and stayed late, killing the light and dramatic shadows I wanted to paint.  So, I went out with my camera instead and spent a few hours photographing the creek..

...Wait:  hadn't I recently mentioned that I seldom take photos of moving water because they just don't do justice and aren't inspiring to paint from?   That's true.   That wasn't the intent with these photos, as you'll see in tomorrow's post, which I will dedicate just to this subject.

Here are a few flora and fauna photos from the weekend's hikes:

Blue and White Columbine in profile - one can never have enough photos
of this beautiful wildflower

Another native orchid!  Species unidentified
Fritillary species

Common Ringlet

male blue - unidentified species

Common Arctic - they seldom land and are very wary, so this was a luck shot indeed

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Horses in motion - photos

From photos taken while over at our friend Sarah and Todd's place in Bayfield the other night.

You've seen two of their horses - Jypsi and Indy - in earlier posts on our Arch Canyon trip from April.

These are totally different:  no riders, just horses running, unfettered, as they evolved over millions of years ago to do.  Seeing the four of them unrestrained and released from their corral to run around on the property was a reminder of what magnificent and beautiful creatures they are.  They did have some "encouragement" from Todd chasing them, but it was clear they enjoyed the time as much as we did.

It's hard enough to photograph a butterfly fluttering around a flower, but to photograph large animals moving fast was a unique challenge.  I was happy to get as many "keepers" as I did , let alone a couple of print-worthy photos.

I've always liked those photos depicting movement, which is accomplished through both a slower shutter speed and tracking the subject with the camera to blur the background.   Other post-processing has been done to all (cropping, filters, etc.).

Here are a handful of the "keepers" - out of about 80 taken:

The herd:  Brush, Mindy, Indy and Jypsi



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