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:


  1. The illusion of depth in your pastel is fantastic.

    Spectacular photos! And I love the Shooting Star--but then I'm partial to wildflowers--and purple.

  2. Thanks LeAnn - sometimes getting that sense of distance can be a challenge with pastels, but I'm glad it reads well to a viewer. Isn't that Shooting Star such a delightful flower? There were about 5 plants (that I saw, anyway) that were blooming right near our campsite, and that was it.


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