Friday, August 31, 2012

More plein air along the Florida River - pastel

Morning Shoreline - 12x12"
pastel on black cardstock
 © S.Johnson
Today, I finally was able to meet up with the informal Friday plein air group to paint.  The location was some private property along the Florida River along Florida Rd/CR 250, about half way to Lemon Lake.

I was worried that I wouldn't be able to find anything I wanted to paint; that was my issue yesterday - I went out in the afternoon, and ended up walking up and down the A.R.T., and then driving out Florida Rd.  Nothing.  Thankfully, I found this shaded spot by the river with the boulders and shoreline and minimal green.

Bummer thing:  I apparently lost my dark blue Senn - the one I used for the ripple shadows above.  Surprisingly, that's the first time I've ever lost a pastel while painting; I guess I should count myself lucky in the 1 1/2 years I've been painting outdoors this is the only loss.  I have 200+ pastels in my plein air boxes, and they are like children:  I know immediately when one is missing.   Part of me wants to drive back out there tomorrow and try to find it...

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Blooming chamisa and dark skies - plein air

Late August in Horse Gulch - 16x12"
pastel on black Strathmore paper
The chamisa in bloom, aka "rabbitbrush", are a sign that late summer is upon us, and fall is right behind.

This is the view along the nearby trail system area known as Horse Gulch, and specifically, along a trail  known as the "Meadow Loop".  It overlooks a sweeping view of sage, grasses and chamisa, and slopes up to a hillside of Gambel oak, pinyon and juniper.

It was in the low 90's when I went up in the mid-afternoon yesterday to start painting, and the sun was intense.  But, the light has a different quality to it - it is around this time that we start to notice that.   I had a bit more work to do on it when I got back, but it was too late to photograph it until this morning.

We are heading up to the Piedra River in a little bit for Wayne to do more fishing and of course I am bringing along my painting gear, though I have no idea what I'll paint today.

Monday, August 27, 2012

A vintage van and orange skies

The Orange VW - 12x12"
pastel on black cardstock
So, a couple of days ago, I was in my computer/office room and my eye caught the orange VW camper van parked across the street.  I'm sure it's probably been there ever since we have lived here.  Why didn't I notice her earlier?

I have no idea, but when I saw her sitting there, in all of her saucy orange glory, I realized she needed to be painted.  Unfortunately, shortly after I had this artistic revelation, and came back outside to scout for the best painting location, a red SUV had parked right in front of her - oh, bother!   I subsequently became preoccupied with painting her.  Yesterday was taken up with a longish hike/trail run in the mountains which wiped me out too much to paint.

This morning, as luck would have it, the SUV was gone.  I walked into the grassy median and painted from there.  I had her all to myself for about 2 1/2 hrs. while I painted.  I also discovered it's not a good idea to paint outside in flip-flops - I have a painful v-shaped sunburn on the top of my right foot.

Anyway, as always, painting man-made objects with two-point perspective challenges one's drawing skills, especially on location.   So, she has some "issues", but was nonetheless fun to paint.  I may have to revisit her as a subject in the future, maybe in oils.

Today aside, I haven't had the motivation to get outside and paint since we got back from our trip.  Overcast skies for a few days was a contributing factor, and I was not inspired to deal with more green and was just in a lull as to what I should paint.

For inspiration, I pulled out my Wolf Khan Pastels, a cherished part of my book collection for 12 years.  I love his work, and his bold, expressionist use of color.  I struggle with color most of the time; I find it hard to break free from the grip of local color, especially as a plein air painter.  I had been enjoying the entries on last weeks' DailyPaintworks challenge to use a pair of compliments in a painting, so this seemed like a good time to play with color in a studio piece, fueled in part by Mr. Khan.

There was a trimming of cardstock laying on the table, so I grabbed it and went through my photos until I found one that worked well with that aspect ratio.

Road and Yellow Sky - 3x12"
It was quick.  It was fun.  And I kinda like it.

Friday, August 24, 2012

More from Conejos - plein air pastels

I was able to photograph and do some minor tweaking to one of the paintings from the trip, and because the storm system still lingers in our region, I haven't been out painting since we got back.  So, here are the other three, because I got nothin' else right now.

Conejos Reflections - 12x9"
pastel on black cardstock

The first painting on the trip, from a short (1.5 mi) hike along the main trail.  I brought along my folding table and camp stool from Walmart - the second one I've owned - to paint.  Unfortunately, as with the first one, one of the legs has torn through the nylon corner, making it uncomfortable to sit on and resulting in a sore back (and groin) for the next 2 days.

Rock Study - 6x6"
pastel on brown cardstock
From camp.  Sarah, who makes a good living as an equine sculptor, had been wanting to try pastel/landscape painting for a while, and I thought this landscape still life would be an excellent subject to start out with.    So, we sat and painted these rocks and willows between rainstorms.  I wish I could have gotten a photo of the golden-colored marmot that made these rocks his home.

Rock slope study - 12x12"
pastel on black cardstock

Another from our campsite, with Sarah, on another day.  Unfinished, and an example of how I got sort of sloppy with my composition.  I always use a viewfinder, but this one got away from me.  It was also a reminder that one needs to take ownership of the view nature presents, and adjust accordingly.

Had I been putting more thought into this, I'd have completely left out the distal mountain (which is the same as in the diptych I posted) and eliminated all but a sliver of the lower slope/road.   The focus was intended to be on the rocky slope with the trees on it; the distal mountains add nothing but clutter.  I just fell into the "lazy" trap of painting what was in front of me...for shame!

I mention this, and post it, because I think as artists, we tend to have the unspoken expectation that all of our paintings should have successful outcomes (that is:  a painting that is fit for selling).  Sometimes, however, there is much to be gained from the paintings that don't work.  A self-critique of "why didn't this work?" is useful; if we're lucky, the same mistake perhaps won't be repeated again.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Painting in the Conejos River valley in southern CO

We returned yesterday evening from a 5-day camping trip - the last trip to the high country for the year - along the Conejos River in southern Colorado.  

Monsoon activity was particularly strong on this trip, with rain every day.  Summer is quickly drawing to a close, as evidenced by the yellowing of the grasses, faded flowers, and much colder temperatures at night at the 10,000' where we camped.  

Despite two solid days of clouds and/or rain, I managed to get in four paintings, including this one, which I started on Sunday and had to wait until yesterday morning to finish.  I'm able to post it now because I took this photo on location before disassembling it from the board to take home; it is rainy and cloudy today, precluding taking photos of the others.

Morning in the Conejos River Valley - 12x24", plein air
diptych, pastel on black cardstock
Honestly, though, this is really the only painting that's probably worth posting.  The others were, of course, worthwhile to do, and helped bring my plein air painting total for the year up to 85.  

This region of the southern San Juans is quite beautiful, especially the river itself.  This view was  a few hundred meters from our campsite area, down into the wide valley itself.  I knew as soon as I walked down Saturday morning and saw the shadows and light here that this would be a painting.  

This painting brings up two questions one might ask in regards to choices made for it:

Q:  Why a diptych?  
A:  Two reasons, really.  First is purely practical - when traveling, I carry standard sized papers, always 12x12", the 8x16" prepared boards, and 12x16".  If I want to do a bigger piece in a panorama format on location, a diptych (or triptych) allows that to happen easily.  Second, there is the possibility that you could end up with two paintings that work on their own, as in this case.  That wasn't my intent here, but it is certainly is a valid method for maximizing one's time at a given location!

Q:  Why the addition of the cattle?
A:  I actually debated about whether to add them or not.  The reality is that there were actually dozens of them present in the valley both times I painted, some only 20 yards from me, so they were not added as a figment of my imagination or to cutesy up the scene.  I did decide to add them, again, for two reasons:  they instantly provide a sense of scale for the viewer, and they add some interest to an area that is a bit empty.  Their small size, number, and simple forms keep them from dominating the composition.  I didn't know until I actually started putting them in whether they would make or break the painting.   The consensus thus far is that it was a good choice to add them.

As attractive as the area was, I took far fewer photos on this trip than I usually do.  Part of that was because it was raining so often, and the other reason is that I am not sure I would use any for reference material for studio paintings - it's just hard to do that when you've painted on location and you know you'll be back next year.

But, here are a few from our 9.5 mile hike on Sunday, between rainfalls:

Conejos Falls along the middle fork of the river

Middle fork of the Conejos 
Fringed Gentian along the river looking upstream

Unusual horned cow - breed unknown

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Painting along the Florida River - 4CPAP

Hidden River Garden - 12x16", plein air
pastel on Strathmore black paper
© S.Johnson 
From today's paint-out with the 4C group at Lemon Lake and the Florida River.

I painted there last year a couple of times, but this time, I wanted to go to a specific location we'd been to two years ago, at the far end of the Transfer Park campground.  In fact, I'd actually taken a photo of this location; the little group of Black-eyed Susans growing in this tiny wedge of earth amazed me, and I wanted to paint them.  I must have deleted the photo, and I obviously never got around to using it as a reference for a painting.

So, imagine my surprise and delight when I get down to the river and see that the flowers have, indeed, returned.

It was nice to paint something that plays to what I feel are my strong suits as a painter:  rocks and water.      And in this case, lots of rocks underwater.  Those were surprisingly easy, probably because I've been painting water all summer; the hardest part of the painting was - you guessed it:  the green foliage of the flowers.  Which probably makes no sense, but I just found it really difficult.

It was also nice to paint larger again and try a different format.  I mean, I love my squares and all, but sometimes, a 3:4 aspect is nice.   Last week, I went into our local art supply store to get some mats for photos, and saw they had my favorite Artagain in stock, so I am back in business with the 12x16"'s on location.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A new blog name and two new paintings

As the four year anniversary for this blog approaches, I realized it was time for a change to reflect the direction my work has taken since September '09.  Back when I started blogging, I wrote in my initial post that I was not sure where my work would head based on my past experience in various media, so it was easy to call it a "daily art journal".  For some reason, that just doesn't seem to fit now.

Since then, it's evolved along with my interests and art and priorities.   I identify as much as a painter as I do a photographer now, and the blog has always been about more than just posting a painting or a couple of photos and calling it a day.

Anyway,  there you go.  I've done up a new banner, which I do periodically anyway.  I'm going to keep tweaking the format to hopefully make it more appealing to readers.

On to the paintings....

Fly Fishing Waters - 9x12", plein air
pastel on black cardstock
This one is from yesterday, on another trip to Cascade creek, and was actually destined for the trashcan because I lost interest in it about 3/4 of the way though, partially because of the greens which I didn't want to deal with, and I was also having difficulty concentrating, probably from a poor night's sleep.  That happens sometimes, and I've found it's very much linked to those periods of "artist block" that I go through.  Having had the same thing happen a few days ago the last time I went out painting, I wasn't terribly surprised when I realized I'd left my game back in the locker room, so to speak.

A digression here regarding the trip:  we got off to a late start, and as is typical, the chance of rain in the mountains was pretty high.  From the parking area, it's about 1.25 miles to get to the section of the creek where I'd planned to paint, so I brought my folding table and stool, rather than my french easel.

Wayne split off to hit the creek and walk upstream, to practice with his brand new fly fishing gear.  I got to the location - one I'd scouted and photographed during our June trip - and already the sky was filling with dark clouds.  Thunder rumbled off in the distance, and it was clearly doing to start raining within a few minutes.  I wasn't enthused about the spot; the water was down, and the green was just not something I felt like dealing with.

So, I gathered up everything and decided to head back down the trail to find Wayne, who told me he'd meet me walking upstream as he fished.  Right before I got back to the junction to the main trail, the wind kicked up suddenly and it started to rain.  I dropped my gear and was putting on my rain jacket when I heard a loud crack - a sound unlike anything I'd ever heard before.  I looked up to see a rather large tree blow down not 15 feet from where I was standing.   Had it fallen towards me, I'm not sure I would have had time to get out of the way.

Worse still was hearing another tree fall about 30 seconds later on the other side of the trail.  I started worrying about a blowdown (a large number of trees blown down in a localized area from a windstorm), because those are a frequent occurrence in Colorado forests, and I've seen plenty of them after the fact on hikes across trails.  It was, needless to say, a disconcerting experience.

At that point, I started running down the trail in the rain, and ran into Wayne coming up to meet me.  We decided to go to the historic cabin near the trailhead and wait out the storm.  Within minutes, it was over, the wind and cloudburst heading south to torment some other hikers.

We went back to the creek, and I settled on this new location to paint.  Wayne, who has been talking of  learning to fly fish during the entire 7 years I have known him, finally purchased all the gear, and this was literally only his second outing using it.  He started right where I was painting and worked upstream.

The title of the painting comes from the fact he caught his first fish with a fly right in front of me.  It was an exciting moment for him, and fun for me to witness.  For those that don't know, the nice thing about fly fishing is that the fish can be released, unharmed.

Oh yes - here's the other painting:

Afternoon Cloud Study - 12x12", plein air
pastel on reclaimed cardstock
Not to be deterred by two back-to-back "failed" paintings, later that afternoon, I decided to wipe down the earlier one and stand on the sidewalk and paint the clouds outside.  Really, when all else fails:  go paint a cloud - it's good for you.  Bonus:  painting 10 feet from the front door.

Then today, as I pulled out my pastel boxes from my backpack, I looked at yesterday's creek painting, and thought:  "what do I have to lose?  Why not sit and finish it with no regard to the outcome?"  I had planned to toss it anyway.  So, I worked through it, with a different frame of mind, and made it happen.  Maybe there's something in this readers can take away for themselves?  I hope so!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Valley of the Gods - plein air, pastel, Utah trip wrap-up

After sitting in my studio for over 2 months, I finally sat down and finished another plein air piece from our Utah trip in May.

Morning Shadows, Valley of the Gods - plein air, 12x24"
diptych, pastel on black cardstock
© S.Johnson
I actually got the majority of this finished on location, and was reminded why I really prefer to finish the piece to completion on location:  I tend to get too fussy back in my studio, and then it takes 2x as long to do the last 25% as it did to do the first 3/4 of the painting.

Anyway, it is done.   I do have another unfinished piece from our campground in Torrey, but I'm not sure I'll finish it, and quite frankly, it can't top this one.

I sat to paint this one.
Photos from our drive on the second-to-last-day of the trip, from Capital Reef down to White Canyon.  We left the gale-force winds and unpleasantly cold temperatures in Torrey, and were rewarded with beautiful, gradually clearing skies and warmer temperatures as we headed east and south:

East along Hwy 24, towards the San Rafael Reef

Factory Butte, Hwy 24

Henry Mountains, along Hwy 95, south of Hanksville

Wash and sandstone canyon

Lake Powell

Approaching White Canyon along Hwy 95

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Along the Animas River, and another cloud study - plein air, pastel

Both from yesterday.

Riverside Stata and Cottonwood - 12x12", plein air
pastel on black cardstock
In the morning, local 4CPAP friend Lori and I painted together along the river, right along the A.R.T.  I've been wanting to paint this particular view since last fall when I took the photo below during a walk.  So, I probably will come back in the fall and revisit it.

Hard to believe it's the same location.  Both Lori and I took the same artistic license and left out that distal mountain.

Later in the afternoon, as a large monsoon storm was building to the northwest over the mountains, I set up the easel in our front sidewalk area for a fast cloud study, with the eastern slope of Smelter Mtn:

Sky South of Smelter - 12x12", plein air
pastel on yellow cardstock

Friday, August 3, 2012

Two plein air landscapes - waterfall and clouds, and a studio sunset - pastel

Lime Creek Falls - 16x8", plein air
pastel on black cardstock
Today's painting, from our hike up Lime Creek.  I had this piece and a 6" square piece of paper taped to my board, and decided to try a vertical format for this set of falls, rather than my usual square.

Cumulonimbus to the North - 12x12", plein air
pastel on black cardstock
Yesterday's painting, from Pastorius.  The gray Unisons I used to do most of the cloud weren't really that keen on adhering to the surface, but what can you do?  It's an occasional consequence of working on smooth paper.

Monsoon Sunset - 12x12", studio
pastel on brown cardstock
I haven't done a studio painting in months.  But, on the late afternoon of the full moon, the monsoon clouds were spectacular, so I drove south of town to get reference photos.  This one I just couldn't resist painting, so I started it yesterday after I got home from painting at Pastorius.  

Sunsets are one of those subjects I don't have a problem painting from photos; to be honest, the light changes so rapidly from "wow" to "meh" that I'm not sure how effective it would be.  I do know other painters can do it successfully.

Full moon, taken further up this road after it turns to the left (east) and goes up a hill:

View to the north along the same road:

Thursday, August 2, 2012

More clouds, and juried show news

Painting from yesterday afternoon from the deck off the master bedroom.

Cloud Line - 8x16",  plein air
pastel on 4-ply matboard with Golden pumice + black acrylic
© S.Johnson
I always find it fascinating when clouds form those diagonal bands across the sky, and this one kept that basic shape until I was nearly finished.  It's much as I've painted clouds, both from photos and from life, I always learn something valuable each time I paint them.   And, I still find them a challenge to paint.

On an unrelated note, I am a bit late in sharing this news on my blog, but I found out that I had four of six paintings I submitted accepted to the member's juried show for the Four Corners Plein Air Painters, held at the Gateway Museum in Farmington, NM.

This was a pretty tightly juried show, with over 180 submissions and only 62 pieces chosen.  The juror was Tom Lockhart, an accomplished landscape and plein air painter.

The reception was last Saturday night, and I was delighted and honored when my painting "Afternoon Along the Wash", was awarded second place:

Afternoon Along the Wash

The others accepted were:

Colorado Trail Shadows
Rio Grande Reflections
Gathering Storm Over Duffrey Mesa
I was glad I arrived in time to hear Tom's talk about his selection and jurying process, and the particular elements that appealed to him for those he selected for awards.  He spoke of the importance of good drawing skills, and that the paintings have a strong underlying design and pleasing balance of light and dark values.

I was also pleased to spend some time talking with him individually afterwards, and found him to be very personable and generous with sharing information and advice.   He told me he placed some emphasis on the entrants' overall body of work submitted, saying he has seen many instances [not specifically this show] where a painter would have one good painting out of several marginal pieces.

It was clear that he put a lot of thought into his selections, and based on the quality of the work in the show, his job wasn't an easy one.

Overall, this show and Mr. Lockhart's words helped validate my approach and dedication to my painting efforts, and reinforced much of what I spoke about in this post exactly three months ago.

Now, get out and paint!
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