Wednesday, September 19, 2012

More Escalante, UT studio works on new papers

Fifty-Mile Cliffs - 9x9"
pastel on toned UArt #600
© S.Johnson
I spent a good portion of yesterday morning "processing" some of the larger sheets of various papers I have been accumulating, and getting them ready for possible inclusion for the Escalante Plein Air festival.

I had planned to take a piece of acrylic-toned UArt #400 paper that I had toned with a thick wash of sienna acrylic out yesterday to paint, but ran out of time.  Instead, I decided to experiment with smaller studio pieces.

For some reason, when Blick sent me the paper order with the incorrect surface of UArt, they also sent the incorrect size:  27x21", I think.  I ordered 18x24", which I can trim down into smaller sizes I use on location.  Anyway, to get some 9x12" and 12x16" pieces, I was left with an odd size:  this 9x9.  But, hey - it's a square, and a workable size.   I toned it with a dark warm gray acrylic wash.

I had earlier selected out this photo from our May trip, near our campsite off Hole-in-the-Rock road (HITR), of afternoon light on the Fifty-Mile Cliffs.  These cliffs, which run parallel and south of the HITR road, look most appealing to me in the late afternoon as distal bluish silhouettes.  I could easily go back out and paint at the exact location on this upcoming trip.

I painted this as if it were on location:  quickly, no fussing with details.   It handled so much better than the #400 or Wallis, in terms of not having an overly aggressive surface; it may even be the Goldilocks of the sanded pastel paper continuum, at least for me.  I'm betting I'll also dig the #800 surface.

Next, two small and quick studies on Artagain paper, from trimmings, surface prepared with #400 wet-dry sandpaper:

Wash Study - 6x3"
Artagain "Moonstone"
Verdict:  love it.  Turquoise skies look great on this paper.

Boulder, UT study - 3x6"
Artagain "Gothic Gray"
Another winner (the paper, not the painting).

I could easily paint this same view - overlooking the small town of Boulder, UT, south from Hwy 24 - on this trip.  I got to use several of the new MV pastels I ordered, including the two dark greens and those sandstone colors in this study.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Revisiting Escalante & Mi-Tientes in the studio

Despite the radio silence, I've been busy.  Some painting, but I've also been preoccupied with transforming our spare bedroom into a dedicated studio - my "girl cave", as it were.  Photos of that in a later post.

Anyway, with the Escalante Canyons Plein Air Festival starting this Friday, I've been wanting to do some paintings of the area as practice.  I put in an order for some Mt. Vision pastels as an accompaniment for my Utah canyon plein air set, and those arrived last week - exciting!

From Wed, at fellow 4C member Jane Mercer's studio, when rain canceled our plans to paint at Baker's Bridge:

Wash Wall Shadows - 10x20"
pastel on Mi-Tientes
© S.Johnson
As much as I love my smooth, black papers, they have their limitations, so I'm trying to expand my repertoire with surfaces.   I previously haven't had much luck using Mi-Tientes, but had this piece, in a medium value tan, and decided it would be good to practice on.   Also, some of the most masterful pastels I've seen have been done on this lowly, old-school paper.  Specifically, I wanted to see how the Unisons in my sky set handled on this paper; on the black paper, they just sheet off.  

They worked like a dream on the Canson.   Perhaps it's because my painting and pastel handling skills have improved, but I am thinking I need to give this paper another shot.  I learned many-a things with this painting, about what works (layering), what doesn't (dark over light - I can do that on my black paper).  This is possibly the first painting I've done on Mi-Tientes that I didn't want to immediately toss in the trash, so that's a plus.

I also ordered some 800# UArt, which may turn out to be my sanded paper of choice.  I do know that Wallis and 400# UArt are just too aggressive for my current painting technique, so we'll see how the finer grits of the UArt go.  Unfortunately, Blick sent me the #600 instead (but are shipping out replacement sheets), so I may try that on my next plein air painting, slated for Horse Gulch, tomorrow afternoon.  

Oh yeah - here's a small study I did last week with Connie, who paints with the Friday group:

Smelter Rapid Study - 6x8", plein air
pastel on black cardstock
Connie said she has struggled painting water and rocks (and thus, doesn't paint them), and wanted to watch me paint.  So, we went down to Santa Rita Park and I gave an informal lesson, which, odd as it sounds, was more about "seeing" than painting.  

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Smelter Mountain

Afternoon Light - 12x12"
pastel on black cardstock
The second of today's plein air paintings, done from the deck off the master bedroom.  The oak-scrub covered slopes of Smelter Mtn. always look fabulous in the late afternoon light, and they are beginning to get the slightest hint of fall color.

The dog park and a tiny sliver of the Animas River give it a bit of scale and context.

The first painting, done of a section of the La Plata river up the canyon of the same name, was a worthwhile effort, but didn't come together as I'd hoped.  I honestly don't mind it when that happens.  It was a complex scene, and with rapidly changing shadows across water, it would probably be a good studio painting.

I wasn't discouraged, but it did prompt me to set up the easel and paint this piece, which I did in less than an hour.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Animas River Valley - plein air landscape

Morning on the Animas River Valley - 12x12"
pastel on black cardstock
Today's painting, with the Friday plein air group.   A new location - the Lion's Den city park.  It's an easily accessible location that overlooks the scenic Animas River Valley, and good practice painting a "big view", something I don't do often.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Chamisa in McElmo Cyn - plein air pastel

Chamisa - 6x8", plein air
pastel on cardstock
This was the second of three paintings from Tuesday's paint-out, but I didn't get around to photographing it until today.

After lunch and critique at Kelly Place, several people stuck around to do a series of quick paintings at a different location.  I was late leaving, so I just drove up the highway a few miles and painted this blooming chamisa (also known as "rabbitbrush") by the side of the road.   I timed this one to be 30 min. or less.

I actually got a third painting almost done - a 12x12" - after this one, at the trailhead to Sand Canyon, but I don't like it enough to post it.  However, it brought my plein air paintings total up to 90 for the year!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Painting in McElmo Canyon - plein air pastel

Behind Kelly Place - 16x12", plein air
Pastel on black Strathmore
Today's 4CPAP paint-out was held at a charming Bed & Breakfast in McElmo Canyon - Kelly Place , which is about 12 miles west of Cortez.  I've seen the sign when we have driven along the highway, either on our way to Bluff, UT, or to hike in Sand Canyon, but have never been to the property before; it is tucked back off the highway about 1/2 mile.

It was definitely one of my favorite locations the group has painted this year, and I'd go back any time and paint there; in fact, Jerene, one of the owners, was  in finding painters willing to teach a class - I told her I'd be interested.  I've thought it would be fun to do a workshop for beginning pastelists or plein air painters, and this would be an ideal venue for that!

Anyway, it didn't take me long to decide on this particular location for my painting - a colorful sandstone cliff with desert scrub and a wash:  in other words, a subject right up my painting alley, so speak.

While I was painting, one of the guests drove by and asked if he could look over my shoulder.  That's never bothered me, and since I was almost finished, I was happy to take a break and chat with him.  It turns out he's purchased works from a pastel artist who lives in Boulder, UT, whose work I am familiar with, and has attended the Maynard Dixon Country plein air invitational in the past, so he's quite knowledgable about plein air painting and many of the top landscape painters.

And, he decided he liked my painting enough to buy it on the spot, which, needless to say, made my day.

I think it's a good sign, too, since I have gone ahead and registered for both the Escalante Canyons Art Festival, which is just over 3 weeks away, and PleinAir Moab (thanks for the nudge, Dan!), which follows closely on its heels a week later.

To say that I'm excited to get back to southern Utah and paint would be a bit of an understatement - it's almost all I've been thinking about for the past few weeks!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Painting the blue moon - plein air pastel painting

Blue Moon Reflection - 12x16"
black Strathmore
© S.Johnson
I have been wanting to paint a moonrise for a while now, and yesterday's blue moon was the perfect opportunity.  I've actually never painted a sunset on location, either, so I guess it's a "two-fer".

Moon + reflections = even neater, so I drove out to Pastorias SWA to paint.  An internet search told me that moonrise in Denver would be at 7:26 PM, so I arrived around 6:30 to the west side of the lake where I've never painted before.  Not knowing exactly where the moon would come up (its azimuth), I didn't worry, and just went with the best composition, and just plugged it into my chosen location when I had it and the reflection as a reference.

I used to think it would be difficult to paint sunsets because the light changes so rapidly.  Actually, I had no problem capturing the colors, even on this larger size paper.  The issue was having to change them while waiting for the moon to actually appear above the horizon!

I got 90% of it done on location, but had to completely re-do the moon in my studio because I didn't have any colors bright enough in my box.  Actually, it's almost an indescribable color, especially when it first comes up over the horizon - it's almost a neon orange-yellow.

Actually, the best time to paint and photograph the moon, unless you are going for a full nocturne painting, is the day before it is full; it looks full, but rises earlier when it is still light out.  If I can plan ahead, I'll try that next time.

Did you know?  A "blue moon" refers to a second full moon in the same month.  It's rare; there won't be another until 2015.  On Sept 29, the next full moon, will be a "harvest moon", which refers to the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox.

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