Friday, November 9, 2012

Back from a blogging and painting break

Because sometimes a break from everything is in order.  I've been caught up in non-art creative ventures that have taken my attention away from painting for a while.  It happens during this time of the year, as I transition from eight months of exhilarating outdoor painting to the doldrums of the studio.

Our area is expecting its first snow of the season tomorrow and Saturday.  So, probably no more plein air work for me this year.

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about what I want to do this winter, and one thing is returning to oils and working on my drawing skills.  I'm also going to spend more time reading and studying the paintings and drawings of the Old Masters; library books on drawings by Picasso and Michelangelo are sitting on my night stand and I look forward to working my way through them.

In the meantime, here are two paintings done in the past two weeks.  The first is a plein air from the 4CPAP paint-out in Simone Canyon, in New Mexico.   I ended up going with the purple sky here because I forgot to bring my box of sky colors along.

Roadside Cottonwoods - 12x12"
pastel on black cardstock

The second is a studio piece, from a photo taken during our Escalante trip.   The afternoon of the quick-draw event, after I'd dropped my painting off, we drove west of Escalante, to the town of Cannonville, and then headed south along the road that leads to Kodachrome Basin State Park.  This is a view of the Kodachrome area further down the Cottonwood Wash road:

Cloud Over Kodachrome Basin - 12x16
pastel on dark gray Mi Tientes
While at the Escalante Canyons Plein Air event, I was delighted to meet a local area pastelist whose work I've enjoyed since I first discovered it in the past couple of years - Scotty Mitchell .  A few of her paintings are featured in the book Painters of Utah's Canyons and Deserts, which is one of my favorite coffee table art books.  Talking shop with another pastelist is always interesting, because we all use such different techniques and materials, so of course, I had to ask her what surface she uses for her paintings.  Turns out, she works exclusively on the dark gray Mi Tientes.  Between the chat I had with her, and the studio painting I did - Wash Wall Shadows - on Canson, I was inspired to try this paper again.

I like it, especially this dark gray.  So much so that I ordered a 10-pack of 19x25" sheets from ASW.

Anyway, that's all I've got for now.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fall Colors, and studio skies - pastel landscapes

The Green Shed - 12x12"
 pastel on black cardstock
Saturday afternoon's painting, from one of my favorite locations along the river, which of course, isn't visible in this piece.  Each year at this time, I'm reminded of what a fleeting season fall is, or at least as it pertains to fall color and painting.  

The cottonwoods, both narrow leaf, and Fremont, are rapidly fading and dumping their leaves, and I am sort of bummed I wasn't able to make the most of this season.  But, it was peaking in the high country when we were in Escalante, and here in town when we were in Moab, so I can at least bandy that around as an excuse, right?

I had plans to go up to Baker's Bridge and paint there, which I did last year around this time, but I think the window for that is shut; tomorrow, the 4C group has a paint-out in northern NM, and after that, the temperatures are supposed to drop precipitously as the storm hitting CA moves east to our region.  By the time things warm up again, no color will likely remain anywhere in our area.

Here's a small piece I did during the 4CPAP's recent outing the Wildflower Ranch in La Plata Canyon a couple of weeks ago.  This paint-out fell between the Escalante and Moab trips, and was the only painting I got done that week. The larger morning piece, of aspen, I worked on for about two hours before deciding I didn't like the direction it was going, and became bored with it.  I know from experience that it's best to just quit and move on, rather than keep pounding away at it, hoping I can make it work.  This was done after lunch, about 1/2 mile down the road on this property, and the first "keeper" painting I've done of the La Plata river.

Cottonwood Shadows Across the La Plata
8x6", pastel on black paper
And, finally - two studio pieces, small, both done for this week's DailyPaintworks challenge - "The Sky's the Challenge". 

Both reminded me that painting skies/clouds is always a challenge, and that I find it increasingly difficult to work from photographs, probably because it is so easy to overwork the clouds.  You just don't that as an option when painting them in real time.

Burr Trail Sunset - 9x12"
pastel on Strathmore 400-series paper

Monsoon on the Mesa - 6x12"
pastel on black cardstock

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Another plein air from Moab - along Hwy 128

Road to Professor Creek - 9x18"
pastel on UArt #600 paper, toned with gray acrylic wash
Another Moab area plein air landscape - the last one I did during my week there.  It was done last Saturday afternoon, with the 4CPAP group.  One of our members, Carolyn, who lives in Moab, arranged a weekend paint-out that happened to coincide with PleinAir Moab.

I have waited a year to do this painting.  At last years' PleinAir Moab, I took a photo of this same view, in the afternoon light, and had thought I might do it as a studio piece, because I was completely captivated by the view - plus, there's The Road.   This location is about 20 miles east of the Hwy 191 junction with Hwy 128, in an area known as Professor Valley.  I discovered last year that this dirt road, which dead-ends after less than 3 miles, takes one to some incredibly scenic views of Professor Creek.  Incredibly, no one, especially painters, seems to know about this place (although Deb from our 4C group now does)!   As a plein air painter, there is much to be gained by taking the road less traveled...I will be back for more next year.

At any rate, I'm glad I waited to do this piece on location; photos just don't do any justice to what you see as you stand there, taking it all in.  Also, the storm that swamped the entire region on Friday provided a gift:  the snow on the La Sals, which is like icing on the cake.  And, the lingering clouds obscuring part of the mountain let me have some fun with edges again.  

I had been reviewing the photos I took last year prior to this year's trip, experimenting with various crops, to help me decide what locations to return to, and determined this worked beautifully as a 1:2 format.   It's on a non-standard size, something I'd not use for a plein air competition because it would require matting.  

Anyway, I got most of it finished in the two hour window I had available, and was finally able to finish it up today.  I actually had Wayne drop me off here while he went and explored nearby Castle Valley and further east along Hwy 128 past the Fisher Towers.  It probably made for a curious sight for drivers to see a painter standing there, essentially in the middle of nowhere, with no vehicle or form of transportation nearby.   

Monday, October 15, 2012

Back from PleinAir Moab...and with another ribbon

Back yesterday shortly after noon, as I decided that it was too far out of the way to paint at Dead Horse State Park after almost a solid week of painting.

Anyway, aside from last Friday being pretty much a total wash due to rain throughout the day from the storm passing through the region, it was another productive and fun trip.

Something different happened on this trip, unexpected, which was spending four sessions over four days working on a single painting:

Late Afternoon Glow on the Monocline - 12x24", diptych
pastel on black cardstock

The finished painting on location, after the sun had
set behind the cliffs and the clouds had moved on
Part of the reason for this was because I ended up reworking the sky twice, the La Sal mountains once, and it wasn't until Wednesday late afternoon that the sky gave me what I wanted, and I was able to take the painting to the  level I had envisioned.  On the previous days, there were no clouds, which made for a bland sky.   Last year, during our early November trip, we had stopped by this location, which is along the road to Ken's Lake a few miles east of town, in the late afternoon.  I was struck by the intense glow of the light on this monocline (it may be an anticline in this salt valley, but I did not have access to the geology book to confirm this), and the mountains were in shadow due to an impending storm system.  So, the seed for this as a painting was planted almost a year ago.

Anyway, it ended up being a labor of love, I guess.  While I think it has far more impact as the two-part painting, I think each half stands on its own, which is always a nice thing.  Honestly, I wasn't sure how the whole diptych thing would go over with the judges, one of whom was Lorenzo Chavez, who is well-known amongst all pastelists.  Had PA Moab not been back-to-back with Escalante, I would have tried to sign up for one of his two workshops given at the event; both sold out quickly.  I've long admired his work, and I have heard that he is a wonderful instructor.  I framed it without a spacer or mat, just as you see above, on black foamboard, in the mahogany plein air frame I have (and non-glare glass).

I'm pleased that it had enough going for it to win a ribbon out of the ~30 dry media entries, especially as it was competing against a handful of pastelists who have won awards at this show in the past and have been painting far longer than I have.

I didn't get as many paintings done on this trip as I did in Escalante, partially because the diptych tied up a couple of hours during the afternoon over those four days.

Here are two, with adjustments and finishing touches done today:

Along Lower Courthouse Wash - 12x12"
This was Sunday's painting, the first day I was in Moab.  Courthouse Wash is located within Arches NP, but this section is accessed from a trail that starts outside the park.  We hiked it during our spring trip, and I knew I wanted to hike up and paint a section.  This is about 1.50 to 1.75 miles up the trail, and I loved the contrast between the Navajo Sandstone cliff with its beautiful desert varnish facade and the sunlit cottonwoods in the wash.  Desert varnish is an interesting thing; I actually find it more difficult to paint than water.

Here's a picture of my new hiking plein air set-up at this location:

- New, larger backpack purchased from Walmart recently ($29 - a great deal!)
- folding table in green plastic, which I just carry
- folding stool from Walmart, round III, so far so good with no tears.  It secures to the outside of the backpack sideways under the two clips of the lid of the pack
- 12x18 piece of foamboard as painting surface; this now allows me to bring papers up to 12x16 on these longer hikes
- a second piece of slightly shorter foamboard with a piece of foil taped to it; the foil side goes on top of the painting, and large clips secure it in place so it is protected from smearing or damage in my backpack
- two of my three pastel boxes; the third is a smaller Rembrandt box that carries all my sky colors.  I bungee cord the three boxes together and they go in my backpack.
- a small viewfinder by Guerilla, sits on the edge of the box.  It was part of the pack we got for the show!  I have larger handmade viewfinders that I keep in my portable bag, but this one will be a permanent part of the backpack gear.

Steelbender Trail Morning - 12x12"
This was Tuesday morning's painting, done in a hidden valley area just north of Ken's Lake.  Wayne was on his way in the RV to camp at Ken's Lake, so I didn't want to go far.  Fellow 4C painter Carolyn Daily, who lives in Moab, had taken me to this area on Sunday afternoon after I finished my Courthouse Wash painting.  This trail is used by mtn. bikers, dirt bikes, and Jeeps (and at least one trail runner who went by while I was painting).

Had I not finished the diptych, or ruined it, this would have been the other painting I'd have put in the show.

I have four other paintings, in various stages of completeness, that I did on the trip.  I'll post some or all as I bring them to completion...along with those from the Escalante Canyons trip.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Off to PleinAir Moab for 8 days

I'm leaving shortly for Moab, for 8 days of painting around the area.  In addition to participating in the official PleinAir Moab event, the 4CPAP group is having its second paint-out of the month in Moab as well, Friday-Sunday.  So, I'll be painting in Dead Horse State Park on Sunday morning, and then heading home later that afternoon.

Even when I have computer or internet access on these travels, I seldom get online.  So, I'll see everyone next Monday, hopefully with a small army of new paintings.

Have a great week and weekend, everyone, and enjoy the beautiful fall season!


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Two more plein air pastels from Escalante Canyons Art Festival

Not posted in the order painted...

Storm Over Escalante Canyon - 12x16", plein air
pastel on gray Artagain paper
This piece was done (and still not quite finished) in two afternoon sessions.  I'd intended to head back out for a third session to finish it up completely on location, but time and weather/light conditions didn't permit that.  So, after dragging it around on my easel for the better part of a week, it's now finished!

It was started Wed early evening, less than an hour before sunset.  The location is along the road to the Escalante State Park/Campground, where we spent the first two nights in Escalante.  It is about 2 miles west of town, so this view is to the east.  The late afternoon light lit up the beautiful sandstone cliffs and canyon walls, and I knew I had to paint it as we drove back from picking up my Quick Draw entry.

I jumped right back in the car when we got back to our campsite, drove to this location by a cattle ranch, and quickly established the main composition and the basic colors of the rock  and foreground while the light was still good.  I had to stop when the sun went down behind the distal plateau behind me, and the light had completely disappeared.  

I returned around 4PM the next afternoon, and was in luck that the stormy skies that had provided the contrast for the original view were staging an encore, albeit a bit different.  So, I worked quickly to capture the ever-changing clouds.

One thing I love about painting skies such as these, are the edges.  Hard, soft, lost and found - these clouds had them all.   

Buttes Near Harris Wash - 9x12", plein air
pastel on toned UArt #600
An "unofficial" piece done (not stamped) on Friday, along the trail leading to the Zebra slot canyon.  We loved this hike when we did it back in May, and I wanted to do a painting somewhere along the trail, or in the washes.  These stunning striped buttes, of Jurassic period Navajo sandstone, are a stand-out feature along the hike, and these are about 2 miles into the hike.  When I found a large juniper to provide shade right near the trail with this view, it was a no-brainer.  I spent about an hour or so working on this while Wayne explored Harris Wash downstream.

I even had him take a picture of me at the scene after he got back:

Two more pictures from that hike:

Forming cumulonimbus anvil looking north from where I painted

Clouds against sandstone - Halfway Hollow wash on the hike back

Monday, October 1, 2012

Escalante Canyons Art Plein Air Festival - part I

We got back yesterday late afternoon from the 9-day trip of camping, hiking and painting, and I'm in the process of getting caught up on things.  In short, the trip was awesome and the event was great.  New friends and connections made, both fellow painters and locals who love and support this event in their small home town of Escalante, UT.

Statistics for the trip:

Total paintings done on trip:  11
Counties painted in:  3
National Park paintings: 2
Paintings sold:  3
Awards: 1

I'll have to split up this into a few posts, simply because most of the paintings need a bit more work before I consider them "finished".  Two of the paintings sold the night of the awards reception, and I never got photos of them.

However, I can share the two paintings that are finished and photographed:  the entry for the main competition and the painting from Wednesday's quick-draw event:

Passing To the North - 16x12" - SOLD
pastel on black Strathmore paper

Honorable Mention - pastel/WC/mixed media division
This painting, done last Monday afternoon, was my entry for the main competition, whereupon I took advantage of the storm system moving through the area and also took a gamble that it would spare me while I painted.  

It is actually painted at the same location (campsite) as the stormy painting I did from our May trip:  "Gathering Storm Over Duffrey Mesa", about 5 miles east of the town of Boulder, UT, along the Burr Trail.

Conditions of strong wind gusts and spatters of rain earlier as the storm advanced from the west made it impossible to paint in another location by the Boulder Mail Trail, and I was feeling a bit restless that I'd not been able to paint all day after we got back to our campsite.  Later, I walked up to the hill, saw the dark sky against the pale sandstone slopes, and knew I had a painting in that, so I ran down and grabbed my gear.

I had to literally hold my easel while I painted as the wind continued to blow, figuring I could get hit with rain at any moment.  Amazingly, the rain kept to the north, which the title reflects.

By the time I'd finished the painting, that particular wave had passed to the east:

I knew when I finished this that I had my painting for the competition, which was both a thrill and a relief.   I had actually brought along a 12x24" paper, figuring I'd find a great place to have a staged painting of that size, but that never happened...but, I did find a spot for one of next year's paintings that I'm already excited to paint.

What was surprising, and delightful, were the number of people that came up to me after the awards ceremony and told me how much they loved this painting, the sky, and that they'd voted for it as the People's Choice award.   So, this storm, rather than being a damper, ended up being a gift.

Here is the painting from Wed's quick-draw event, which we actually had pretty much all day to complete (9-5, I believe):

Corner of 200 North - 11x14"
pastel on black Strathmore
We had to stay within a mile of the park where the main festival was going on, and it was suggested to do one of the many historic buildings in town.  I knew I was painting this house before I'd even seen it in person, thanks to a virtual drive around town via Google Street View.  If you are planning on painting an area but aren't familiar with it, Google is your friend!

I decided to have fun with color for this painting, and I decided to use one of the beautiful violet Ludwigs that normally just sits, unused, in my main pastel box.   Since I don't draw buildings often, I spent probably an inordinate amount of time just drawing the building and double-checking the angles and perspective.  That's important, along with accurate values.  Of course, by the time I'd finished the painting, the neat morning shadows were all gone thanks to the overcast skies you see.

But, I have to say, I am really happy with how this painting turned out, although I may adjust the values under the porch a bit - I didn't darken them enough during my final adjustment on location.

I'll post the other paintings in batches as I bring them up to completion; thankfully, most just need a bit of tweaking or filling in of small areas.

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