Monday, January 30, 2012

Winter landscape - side creek, pastel

This afternoon's painting, switching to a portrait format, of a small creek, water reflections and shadows...

Along Lightner Creek
16x12 inches - pastel on Strathmore Artagain
© S.Johnson
Lightner Creek is a small drainage that enters the Animas River right near the Hwy 160 bridge passing through town.   This is near a small footbridge that leads to the local dog park in town, and the photo was shot the day after our winter storm 2 weeks ago.

These small streams that have the meandering edges against the snow - I just love them.   Aside from the interesting abstract shape of the stream itself, I liked the balance provided by the horizontal shadows and the vertical winter trees.

This painting came together so effortlessly it was almost eerie, and it was just plain fun to paint.   I realized that it's actually been a while since I've worked on the Artagain - probably almost 2 months - and it does handle better than both the cardstock and the el-cheapo construction paper (and much better than the Somerset Black Velvet!).

I've been busy-busy framing paintings for a guest artist exhibit I was invited to for the month of February.  I'll post more about that later, but I did this painting specifically to go in a silver plein air frame I have, to be on display downstairs when people walk into the building.  I'm hoping it will entice people to make a trip up the stairs to the gallery to see the rest of the paintings (and photos by the gallery owners)!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Winter landscape - an urban nocturne, pastel

And now for something really different:  a bunch of man-made things, after dark...

Snowfall After Sunset
14x11 inches, pastel on black construction paper
© S.Johnson
So, the other night, as I was working on my last post, I looked out of my window, and saw this.  It was just after sunset, and it was still snowing.  The streetlight was casting the most amazing light on the freshly fallen snow and the still-falling snow was catching the light of the street lamp in an almost dreamy glow.

For whatever reason, I found it amazing, and got out my camera to get some quick reference photos.  I've always liked the house across the street (it's two, actually) with its very cool design and double pointed roofs.

Okay, you can tell I don't paint buildings that often, and I usually find telephone poles and lines to be a bit of a visual blight on the landscape.  But, this was different.

I made a few adjustments to the composition, but the fire hydrant, well, it had to stay.  Not sure why, but it needs to be there.  What you won't see, OTOH, are any hidden initials on the house or little curly wisps of smoke coming from the chimneys, although you can tell the neighbor peeps are probably home.  If you have no idea what I'm talking about, it's probably just as well.

And, for giggles and grins, here's the reference photo I used.  Not to showcase how much my house is off from the photo, or how I botched the perspective of the road, but to show that yes, even a really horrible photo (I call these "crapshots") can be used for a painting, so don't be quick to toss out the blurry ones if they otherwise contain information you can use:

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Winter landscape - aspen tree shadows, pastel - SOLD

Departing from the grass and river theme for this piece to bring you a painting featuring my favorite tree...

Aspen Shadows - SOLD
12x12 - pastel on black cardstock
© S.Johnson
Shot from the passenger window during our snowshoeing trip to Haviland Lake on Thursday, I knew instantly had I had paint it:  awesomely cool shadows and it also leans towards abstraction.

I think this might be fun to try in oils, if I can manage to pry the pastels from my hands long enough, that is.

Anyway, it was a fun challenge.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Winter landscape - river boulders, pastel

A pile of rocks, dead grasses, shadows, and some ice...
Boulders and Shadows
12x12 - pastel on black cardstock
© S.Johnson
Taken a few days before we had our recent snow, this is a small inlet off the main river that, facing north, managed to hang on to a surprising amount of snow.

That serpentine shadow running across the ice and disappearing into the shadowed area?  Wayne didn't much care for it, but it is from an unseen tree, and it fascinated me, so I kept it.  This was a good painting to work with lost and found edges - something I find myself enjoying when I look at paintings.

And, there's black in this painting.  Many artists/instructors will say that one should avoid values 8-10 (with 0 = pure white and 10= pure black), but as with all things, there are exceptions.  Shadows within shadowed areas are black.  Judicious use of black also helps define the relative values of the rocks and gives them proper depth.

Here are a few photos from some of my recent "duck hunts" down by the river.  I always say that if you're having a crummy day, just go watch some ducks.  You'll feel better.

Mallard pair
He has just finished a "yoga stretch" with his right foot.  How on earth they can handle standing and sleeping in water that is just a few degrees above freezing is beyond me, but they clearly enjoy cold winters.

Common Goldeneyes taking flight
These are very striking birds, but extremely wary; any approach towards the edge of the river and they take off
Balancing act
Okay, not a duck, but this Canada goose and its mate were both one-legging it on some exposed rocks close to shore
Squadron of Common Goldeneye - two males and several ladies
Taken from well above the river, this is the best in-water photo I could get of them.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Winter landscape series - River Path, pastel

After what seems like an eternity on my easel, I finally have something to show...

River Path
12x12 inches - pastel on black cardstock
© S.Johnson
I expected to finish this last Thursday.  Then, I decided I didn't like the original effort, done on light brown cardstock.  It was well into Thursday, and I was much further along when I decided to bail on this version than what you see in the photo, which was shot at the end of the first session.

I originally took the photo below intending to show it as an in-progress for the finished piece, just for kicks.  Working from memory for the second session, when I finally turned my laptop on to view the reference, the colors I had chosen for the grasses were off.  Wrong temperature, wrong value...just plain wrong.  Plus, I thought the whole thing just looked anemic on the lighter paper.

So, I started again on a piece of black cardstock, and worked from the original painting for the first part, vs. the photo, for the final version - similar to working from a plein air study, I guess.  The final version subsequently resembles the reference photo even less - a good thing.

I probably would have had it finished then on Saturday, but my sister came up to spend the weekend, and of course, nothing got done on it.  The storm that rolled through the region yesterday delayed her departure for a day due to dicey road and driving conditions, so after she left today, I sat down and motored through the rest of it.

So, here we are, 5 days later, and it's finally done!

The primary reason I wanted to have this ready to post on Thursday is so I could share the link to a blog post in a timely fashion by Antonia and Fabio DueAlberi  featuring their interview with me.  Antonia and Fabio are fellow Etsian shop owners, and that is how I came about meeting them online, and discovered their blog.  When they inquired if I would be interested in being featured on their blog, I happily agreed.

Please have a look at their blog, linked above, featuring their wonderful floral and botanical photography.  Their collaborative efforts produce beautiful and unique images that always make me ask:  "How did they do that?"  I certainly couldn't create photos like theirs, which makes me appreciate their work all the more.

Oh yes - here's the link to their interview last Thursday with me.  Thank you again, Antonia & Fabio, for your generosity and support of fellow artists here in the blogosphere!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Winter landscape - snow-lined creek - pastel

Returning to the high country winter-themed paintings...

Winter's Reflections
12x12 inches - pastel on black cardstock
© 2012, S.Johnson
Today's painting is based on a photo taken on my Xmas day snowshoeing trip.  The loop trail I was on crosses this small wooden footbridge and creek that drains from Haviland Lake.  I saw this small section off the trail a bit, with its reflections and other fun details, and plowed through 18" of powdery snow to procure the photo.

I was really drawn to the abstract shape the creek forms.  A few grasses here and there, some trees and the smooth, undulating lines of the snow covering the land - all very cool.  I also like the exposed rocks at the edge of the creek with their little "snow biscuits", as I call them.  I had to adjust them so they didn't look like Sno Balls© , which is not a good look for any self-respecting winter landscape.

Aside from the fact that some of the "white" pastels (which I think are Senns...very soft) had issues adhering to the paper, this painting came together quickly.   Those are fun times in the studio.

Speaking of snowshoeing - here are a few photos taken from our Dec 30 trip to Spud Lake.  Fellow pastelist and PAP4C member Jan and her husband are avid snowshoers and she told me about this trail which is sort of hidden:

Along the trail

Winter grass still life

Aspen leaf with snowmelt drops

Aspen hillside

Pano shot of Spud Lake and the West Needles

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Trip to Cedar Mesa, UT

A brief intermission from the winter and snow scenes in CO to bring you a southern Utah landscape with large rocks and a road...

In The Valley of the Gods
9x18 inches - pastel on construction paper
© 2012, S.Johnson
So, this is the painting that would have been my plein air painting, if the timing had been different.  I started it on Friday and it languished on my easel for a few days.  Unlike the recent snow scenes I've been doing, this one did not come together quickly.

On Thursday morning, we headed out for one of our favorite destinations in southern Utah:  Comb Ridge and Butler Wash.  The plan was to hike to a few ruins and petroglyph sites listed in a guidebook and then find a good location in the early afternoon where I could do a plein air painting.

Alas, it didn't happen.  The guidebook we brought to find the particular ruins (called Double Stack ruin) was so vague in its description of the route that we never found them.   Trying to find such hidden archaelogical treasures is really difficult without a GPS and reliable beta.  So, we spent far longer hiking up Comb Ridge than we'd planned, and by then, it was too late to start any painting.

But, that was a minor setback in the scheme of the trip.  Instead of risking more disappointments from said guidebook, we decided to head west along the highway and check out the BLM area known as Valley of the Gods.  Not to be confused with the Garden of the Gods, which is near Colorado Springs, this area forms what is essentially the southern edge of the Cedar Mesa.  A 17-mile loop drive on a dirt road takes you through the valley and past countless buttes, spires and amazing balanced rock formations.

If these eroded structures look similar to Monument Valley, that's because it is about 25 miles to the southwest.  Probably the same sedimentary rock, but I cannot confirm this.

Anyway, here are a few of the photos from the hike up Butler Wash.

First stop is the Wolfman petroglyph panel* - a short hike takes you to these remarkable examples of rock art.  They can be seen from several hundred feet away:

You would need a ladder to reach these.  Aren't these designs beautiful?  So precise and symmetrical - these were artists who were clearly skilled and took pride in their work.  I've often thought about how fascinating it would be to travel back 1400 years and meet the creators.

Another section with a central animal figure (it looks like an owl to me), a botanical design and maybe a staff of some sort?  

Why I love abstract art:  interpretation is up to the viewer
This makes me smile; I like to think this figure is doing a Happy Dance

Next stop: a side canyon creek in Comb Ridge...frozen solid
  No ruins to be found!

Obligatory abstract image:  detail of ice from creek
Trapped air or crystal formation?  I'm not sure, but I love the patterns created.

*Editorial note:  readers will be disappointed if visiting the Wolfman petroglyph to see that doesn't look quite like the photo - several bullet holes from vandals deface the surrounding rock facade and some of the actual art.  Sad, but true.  I opted to edit them out as best I could, since they are ugly and shouldn't be there to begin with.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Winter landscape - Starting the new year off

First off, a Happy New Year to everyone!  I am a little slow out of the blocks, painting-wise, for 2012, but hopefully, this painting will break my low output for the past month.

I'm not generally prone to making resolutions for the new year, as that sounds a bit too formative and absolute.  So, I tend to think more of goals I'd like to try and achieve throughout the year, based on the direction(s) I'd like to see my art go, and areas that I feel could stand improvement (well, that would be everything, actually).  I have some ideas orbiting around in my head, and one of my goals is to actually make those a reality instead of a mere idea.  We'll see.

In the meantime, here is today's painting.   Another one of those "ordinary" scenes, with snow, blue shadows and yep - dead grasses.  Bonus:  getting to paint ice on the stream.

Shoreline Shadows
12x12 - pastel on black cardstock
© 2012, S.Johnson
I have more of these winter river scenes planned from photos taken last week, and they are dying to get out of my head and onto some paper.

However, due to the amazing weather we've been having lately, a trip is planned tomorrow...and I am hoping a plein air painting will be forthcoming.

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