Friday, June 1, 2012

Plein air painting in Zion NP - Day 3 and 4

Zion National Park is certainly one of the crown jewels of the NPS, and painting there was nothing short of sublime.  I could easily spend two weeks painting every day there and not tire of the scenery.

The Watchman - 18x12 inches
plein air
pastel on Strathmore Artagain
The spectacular scenery starts the minute you cross the NPS boundary to Zion:  towering white cliffs and sloping domes of ancient petrified sand dunes known as Navajo sandstone greet you on both sides of the highway.   Wide sandy washes at the base of the cliffs disappear into what appears to be a narrow sliver between adjacent rocks.

After about 10 miles, you come to the Zion tunnel - cut through solid rock and over a mile in length - before the final descent into the valley of the Virgin River and main canyon of the park.  As you head west through the park, you see the Watchman - a huge wedge-shaped formation of Wingate sandstone - to the south, with dramatic shadows and an interesting variety of elements leading up to it.

If you were me, you knew instantly you needed to paint it.

We happened to arrive in the middle of a 3-day heat wave, with temps in the high 90's - about 14 degrees above normal for this time of the year.  Accordingly, I decided to try and avoid painting during the hottest part of the day, so I staged the painting.  In the morning, I spent about 1 1/2 hrs. laying in the drawing and painting the foreground and trees, which wouldn't change much in the afternoon light.

I came back later in the afternoon when the east side was completely in shadow and worked until the sun was just about behind the cliffs.  Happily, I got it about 85% finished.

In the meantime, we decided to spend the hottest part of the day down by the Virgin river, which ran a mere 20 meters behind the campground, so I sat in the shade and painted an intimate view of the Zion area:

River Rock Negotiations - 12x12"
plein air
pastel on brown cardstock
I find it mesmerizing to observe water flow over and around rocks.  This river is quite unlike the Animas, which is much wider, so I got to incorporate essentially the entire width of it, along with these artfully arranged boulders, all their fun colors and the shadows.  

We opted to get an early start the next day in order to do a hike along the East Rim trail before heading northeast towards Bryce Canyon.  One thing that's really great about painting in Zion is that you can easily stage morning and afternoon paintings to take advantage of the light on the canyon walls; I will most certainly do this the next time we come here.  

Photos from the three National Parks - enjoy!

Zion, as seen along the East Rim trail:

Jolley Gulch 


Bryce, as seen from the Navajo and Peekaboo loop trails:


Capitol Reef, from various locations off Hwy 24 going through the park; on this afternoon, the windstorm and cold temperatures were hitting the region - too unpleasant to hike.  The clouds, however, at least provided for great afternoon photos (or, as I like to say:  "helped spruce up the joint")

Next:  up in the high country and down to Escalante


  1. Incredible scenery. Outstanding photos. And I am amazed how you can create the illusion of water movement in your artwork.

  2. Thanks LeAnn. These national parks certainly don't disappoint in the scenery department, that's for sure! I think the trick to painting convincing water is to just sit and watch its movements. I've mentioned this before, but I find it easier to paint river and creek water from life than from a photo; looks less static that way, I think :).

  3. Wow, Sonya! Beautiful paintings! I especially love your composition/perspective on the first one. It really conveys the grandeur of the area. Nicely done! And as always, your photographs are spectacular. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Love the photos from Zion. We took a trip there in 2003. Your photos make me want to get mine out to remind me how beautiful it was. We went to Brice Canyon too. The colors and stratifications are so beautiful.

    I especially like the river rock pastel. You make drawing water look so easy.

  5. Hi Darla - thank you so much! I really enjoyed painting the Watchman, despite the rather inhospitable conditions. I'm glad you enjoyed the photos - they are what I consider the best of all those I took at the parks!

    Thanks so much for stopping by, Ruth. These two parks are really something, aren't they? What is amazing to me is that they really aren't that far apart as the crow flies, yet, the geology is so vastly different in both. It looks like they could be in different continents. I'm glad they reminded you of your trip 9 years ago!


Your thoughtful comments add value to this blog - thank you so much for taking the time to leave them!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...