Monday, October 5, 2015

Sunflowers, Rain Lilies and False Thistles (The Final Zion Prep Update)

8 days and counting! (In fact, between packing and traveling, things could get so busy that this may be the last prep post. 

thumbnail comp, graphite on Bloc Rhodia No. 13

Took some time out from all of the Zion prep for a week-long celebration of my daughter's sixteenth birthday. (Oh, they grow up so-o-o fast!) And then, to commemorate the momentous occasion, I knocked out an oil sketch of her tinted sunflowers as a little keepsake for her.

Kate's Sunflowers, 8"x6", Gamblin oils on Ampersand Gessobord

The weather is finally beginning to hint at autumn (at least at night, right around dawn, and in the evenings... mid-day? not so much.) And my hikes are becoming longer, and slower (which also means I'm getting to look, and perceive, more.)

Day Lilies, journal entry, w/c over pen & ink, Clairefontaine Douceur de l'ecriture

During one of these morning walks I paused to study a patch of rain lilies. At first glance I got the impression that the three-chambered seed pod grew out of the flower as both stood the same height above ground (pretty much the way a squash develops between the stem and the flower.) But, on more careful study I observed that there was a joint half way down the stem from the flower (with the upper stem segment telescoping out of the lower segment.) And, after evaluating several other flowers I reached the conclusion that -- after the flower has bloomed -- the lower stem continues to grow in height as the upper stem segment and flower begin to gradually wither and shrink. As the lower segment reaches the original height of the flower its tip begin to swell and the seed pod becomes visible. At full maturity the upper stem has dwindled to a short, string-like thread and the flower has all but disappeared. Fascinating!

False Purple Thistle (Eryngium leavenworthii) -- an indigenous plant popular with native bees,
w/c over pen & ink, Clairefontaine Douceur de l'ecriture

Then, later in the week (while out on one of my endurance hikes) I came across what I thought, at first, was some kind of purple thistle -- except it wasn't like any thistle I'd encountered before. The head was reminiscent of Scottish thistle (or, my wife said, a tiny purple pineapple) and the leaves were decidedly thistle-like. (The phrase "razor wire" comes to mind.) But the dry, woody stems were completely devoid of spines and easy to hold barehanded.

Nature is such a delight to behold when we simply learn how to slow down and open up to the wonders it offers us! I feel like a kid in the candy store (or John Muir in the mountains.)

Oh, one last note; the Park Service and I hope to offer two free journaling workshops during my residency (one toward the end of October, the other in early November.) So, if you're going to find yourself in the area and would like to join me for some nature sketching/travel journaling, check with the Zion National Park Visitor Center or stay tuned for updated details here.


Monday, September 21, 2015

Talking Rocks, Whispering Waters... and a Street View or Two (Zion Update 5.0)

(24 days and counting!)

California Coastline, 6"x8", oils on Gessobord

Some of you have noticed, no doubt, that craggy mountains and coastlines have been a recurring theme in my practice pieces during the run-up Zion. These two subjects are among my favorites -- both in landscape art, and as attractions in nature. And the link between red/orange mountains and the canyons of Zion NP isn't too hard to see. The snow, on the other hand, may simply be the wishful dreams of someone still in the firm grip of Texas summer heat -- although there is a slight possibility of snow in the high country before I leave Utah, and I want to be prepared to avail myself of the opportunity to play (um, that should probably read "paint" or "sketch") in the stuff, right?

High Sierras, 8"x6", oils on Gessobord

For anyone who has only visited Zion through images the link with water may not be so evident -- most photos, videos and paintings focus on the cliffs and desert trails, and Zion certainly doesn't offer the kind of float trips that the Grands Canyon and Big Bend NP are famed for. But it should be remembered that the tallest canyons in the US were sculpted by water, and in Zion that water is the Virgin River, and in some spots in the park the reflected blues and greens of the water team up with the reds and oranges and golds of the sandstone cliffs to present the visitor with breathtakingly sublime views. And, with a little luck and a lot of hard work, I'm going to do my best to capture them on paper, panel, still photos and video. (Wish me luck.)

A New Prep Tool --

the Grotto House, Zion NP, seen from the S side looking N

Wilderness adventures are a blast (and, yes, the canyon floor can get crowded at Zion National Park, but 90% of the park is wilderness with nary a crowd in sight.) But venturing far from home is best done with a bit of planning and preparation; after all, I don't want to get get all set up to do a light study of Angel's Landing and then discover I've left my brushes in Texas. If possible, I also want to avoid waste time during my adventure in Zion -- scouting out picturesque venues, determining compass coordinates, identifying nearby geological formations that might cast shadows (good or bad), and determining the best time(s) of day to get the most dramatic light effects.

the Grotto House -- viewed from the E looking W (above), and viewed from NNE looking SSW (below)

(I'm already thinking that, if I move a little to the right from this point, I might 
get a nice vertical image -- or two -- of house and canyon wall)

In the past, before visiting a new location, I would have read books and blog posts, looked at magazine articles and, if possible, contacted other artists who had already visited the location -- and I've done that again this year. But this year, thanks to Google, I've got a really neat new tool: Google Street Views!

Google Street View lets me "walk" the trail between Zion Lodge and the Watchman campgrounds, look in all directions, 
test potential compositions (see red box), and determine best time of day to get the optimum lighting effect 

Sure, you say, street views have been available for years on Google maps. But now there's so much more. (In fact, I don't doubt that a name change will soon be in order.) Now Google offers off-road views of trails in major parks and other sights of cultural or historical significance around the globe -- including some of the most popular trails in Zion National Park. And, thanks to the 360ยบ feature, I can even scout for landscape subjects (try out composition options, and determine their compass heading from a particular point on the trail) before I even leave home (which, of course, means that I can start sketching and painting that much quicker once I arrive.) That's cool!

Walter's Wiggles, looking up trail (above) and, wow!, down trail (below) -- now this I'll have to draw, 
paint, video tape... or all of the above (my thanks to Ryan Allison for sharing this with the Google community)

Friday, September 11, 2015

Comp Hunting: How I Learned to Stop Multitasking... and Have More Fun (Zion Prep Update 4.0)

thumbnail comp on grid paper, Bloc Rhodia No. 13

Multitasking is an all-to-common component in the modern workplace (even though studies have shown that it is not an effective time-saver and frequently results in errors.) Unfortunately, multitasking is the way we often approach art-making too -- trying to resolve the problems of composition, pictorial space, tonality, color, and even trying to capture our own emotional reaction to our subject all at the same time. And this, in turn can lead to frustration, misperception, misrepresentation, and even imagery that falls far short of our desired goals.

I personally do not enjoy racing the clock; I find it stressful and even disruptive to the creative process. But our revolving planet stands still for no man and even the most sublime lighting effect is fleeting. So, before a new adventure gets underway, I train hard to work quickly, and search for creative options that enable me to see more clearly, work boldly, and avoid time-consuming errors (both perceptual and technical.)

identifying shapes and tones, Bloc Rhodia No. 13

There are a number of ways of avoiding the stress and inefficiency of multitasking but I have found one that works pretty well for me (and has worked well for other artists too.) I simply break the complex, multifaceted process of creating an image into component parts -- resolving one "visual problem" (or small group of problems) before moving on to the other problem(s) involved in the art making process.

The first "visual problems" I focus on when painting plein air is deciding on a composition, identifying major shapes and spacial plains (background, middle ground, and foreground), and establishing the shadow/highlight patterns that give the subject the appearance of form and record the specific time of day. (At this stage I deliberately ignore color and atmospheric perspective.)

emphasizing plains, Bloc Rhodia No. 12

I begin by viewing the subject through my View Catcher composing tool -- moving the tool side to side, up and down, and forward and backward until I find the composition I'm happiest with. Then I use a graphite pencil (easy to correct and ideal for recording tone through simple changes in pressure) on Rhodia gridded paper to capture the composition while exploring the primary shapes, spacial plains, and patterns of sunlight and shadows of my subject.

To further sharpen this skill I sometimes go out "comp hunting" -- taking with me nothing more than a sketch bag filled with Rhodia grid pads, pencils, eraser, and View Catcher and, in the course of just an hour or two, record several strong compositional studies.  

the light blue grid is both easy to read and readily distinguishable 
from the thumbnail comp, Bloc Rhodia No. 13

In this way I develop an accurate understanding of the non-color aspects of my subject before I pick up my paint brushes. I build self-confidence through successful firsthand experience, and learn to see more clearly -- emphasizing the essential and eliminating the superfluous.

Then, when I am ready to begin applying paint to panel, I am free to focus on the next set of issues -- including the expressive use color and the creation of atmospheric perspective. (And, best of all, I find that I work faster, make fewer mistakes, and have more fun.)

If you think this method might be useful for you, why not give it a try? (And be sure to let me know if you have more fun too.)


Monday, August 31, 2015

That's So Kawaii!!! (Shopping for Art Supplies at the 100 Yen Store)

This week my wife and kids talked me into taking a break from my Utah prep for a little fun and history-in-the-making all wrapped up into one. What could possibly pry me away from the packing and sketching and painting, you ask? Well, the Daiso chain of 100 Yen stores (which already have an extensive presence in California and Washington state) just opened their first Texas store in the DFW area (Carrollton) and we were off to the grand opening!

the Daiso store is one of the first shops to open for business in the new asian market

My wife and kids wanted to check out the colorful, kawaii (i.e., "cute") goodies and the yummy Japanese snack items; while I was intent on discovering anything that might be useful in the studio or field sketcher's day bag. And very best of all -- almost everything in the store sells for just 100 Yen! (That's $1.50US for those of us who don't carry yen in our wallets.)

every aisle is chock full of colorful little possibilities! 

OK, opting for a hand basket instead of a shopping cart was probably wishful thinking on my part. But, being our first visit, I wasn't really certain how extensive the product range was going to be. (After all "all items $1.50" and "artist's supplies" don't usually go together. Right?) And, besides, my wife and kids each grabbed a basket as we entered too.

need a daypack-sized brush carrier (with water bottle and bulb syringe thrown in for good measure)?

The art supplies weren't difficult to find at all. In fact, I was rather surprised to find that there were aisles of them. Not surprisingly, there was an extensive sumi-e selection. But there was also several small watercolor sets to choose from... and sketchbooks, correction tape, and two-sided adhesive dispensers (colorfully decorated, of course.) 

ink sticks, stones and mini sets (yellow arrows), a selection of traditional 
sumi-e brushes (red arrow), and oriental papers (blue arrow)

I also found at least two artist's sketchbooks in the store's stationary section, and several excellent -- and highly affordable -- ink dish and water bowl options in both plastic "lacquerware" and blue ware  porcelain. (Yep, still just $1.50US.)

leave it to Daiso to make correcting those sketchbook errors whimsical and fun

Some items weren't exactly intended for artists -- but it didn't take much imagination to repurpose them for studio or field work. (For example, if you don't want to risk loosing all those artistic goodies in the tall grass, one of these brightly colored bags might be just the thing for keeping it together.)

now that's kawaii!

Or maybe you like to work with your French color box and tripod stool at home but need to protect your hardwood floors against scrapes and scratches. Well, how about socks for those tripod legs?

OK, I guess you could use these with household furniture too

So, why not check out the Daiso web sight, find the nearest store to you, and pay them a visit? (Or email them and ask when you might be able to expect a store opening in your area.) You're certain to have a fun time.

Don't live in the United States or Japan? No worries! Daiso stores can also be found in North America, Brazil, Asia, Oceania, and the Middle East.

how close is your nearest Daiso store?

Note: Daiso does have an online store on their website, but currently it only sells bulk (i.e., by the case.) The prices are still reasonable, but you probably won't need that many of anything unless you're opening up your own 100 Yen store.)

Next week we're back to adventure prep. (This time we'll be working on paper... and maybe shooting a little video.

Until then, Happy Trails... and Sayonara!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Sketching in Oils as Place-based Journaling (Zion Update 3.0 Step-by-Step)

As any plein air artist can attest, sketching outdoors is a race against time. On anything but an overcast day shadows and highlights are fleeting and ever-changing. If I am lucky I may have an hour and thirty minutes, maybe 2 hours, to capture the lighting of a particular time and place. And sometimes -- having just caught sight of a serendipitous, and oh so fleeting, visual moment -- I may have only a tenth of that... or less. 

when Karen Doherty (at Exaclair USA) first introduced me to Bloc Rhodia notebooks I couldn't think of 
practical application for gridded paper; but now that I'm painting plein air again it's become my very 
favorite comp tool (tip: a wide rubber band will hold the folded pages open "gads-free" while painting)

To speed up the painting process I frequently begin with a sketch in pencil or pen -- focusing on rendering the key shapes, shadows and overlapping plains while making mental notes about hue/temperature/intensity options for the background, middle ground and foreground.  

by pre-toning the panel with Gamblin Yellow Ochre I am able to quickly 
establish an accurate sense of the major forms and spacial plains 

After completing the compositional study I start blocking in the shadow areas on a middle-toned panel. (And if, for any reason, the sketching process is disrupted at this point I already have a recognizable, albeit rough, visual -- and far more personal experience -- of this particular time and place.)

detailing and nuance are now added to the middle ground, water and sky

Next I begin to introduce lighter areas (while still reserving my lightest lights for the end -- when my observations are most accurate) and refine the primary shapes.

highlights are introduced into the foreground cliff tops and face

At this stage the painting is still rough -- but I have finalized the composition; finished blocking in the major color and value areas; and have more or less defined background, middle ground and foreground. 

initial detailing in the middle ground

Pacific Cove, 6"x8", Gamblin oils on Ampersand Gessobord

The final stage (the sprint to finish before the original shadow patterns fade into memory) is fine tuning, adding select detailing (some in the middle ground, but primarily in the foreground), and polishing off a few of the rough edges. (Some "roughness" can add a very desirable sense of spontaneity, vigor and vivaciousness to a sketch though. So I avoid overworking the piece by adhering to the 90-120 minute allocation.)

And, if I intend to use the sketch as a study for a larger work in the studio later (or if I just want a more complete record of place, time and experience) I will frequently make notes -- about the weather, time of day, season, and the sights, sounds and smells of the local, even what I was thinking and feeling at that particular moment -- in white Gelly Roll pen on the back of the panel.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Fresh AiR Gazette

If you're like me you do your best to get as art out of your art adventures as possible. Before each voyage of discovery I spend weeks, sometimes months, establishing a daily routine of observing, sketching and painting -- of artistically living in the moment. When I'm engaged in one of my art adventures I try to experience place as much as possible, and squeeze every sketch, painting and journal entry of the unique local out of the limited time I have. (Of course, sometimes that looks, to the casual observer, like I'm holding a mug of tea staring off into space; but I guarantee the "record" switch is on.)

the layout design for page 1 of the new subscribers-only newsletter

In order to maximize my artistic experience at Zion National Park this year (and produce more artwork to share) I've decided to suspend most of my social media activities -- Facebook, Drawn to Life blog, and most email -- from early October to late November. 

I will stay in touch with my subscribers, however; sharing the latest artworks, trail adventures, journal entries, and links to exclusive preview time laps and step-by-step videos. And I'll do that via my new digital newsletter, The Zion Fresh A-i-R Gazette. Subscribers will receive a new issue of The Gazette each week while I'm on the road and in the park and, if the publication proves a success with readers, Zion will be replaced with the names of other parks as our adventures take us elsewhere in future seasons.

click on either page to view full screen

So, I hope you like the mock-up of Issue #1, and that you share it with friends and family, and (if you'd like to come along on our Zion adventure) that you subscribe. (Then just keep an eye on your inbox and I'll do the rest.)


New Corporate Partner --

As noted in the test issue of The Fresh A-i-R Gazette, Strathmore Artist Paper has joined the team as my newest sponsor. Strathmore is renowned for their outstanding line of artist papers and journals, and I'll report in detail (including step-by-step field tests and demos) on the papers I'm testing for the Zion adventure in upcoming blog articles.   

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Zion Update 2.0 (Exploring Evocative Color)

As I've been prepping for my Zion adventure over the past few weeks and gradually working my way back into a plain air routing I've been exploring different techniques and color schemes. I want to capture both the vivid colors of the landscape and the evocative in my plain air sketches while in the park and that has led me to revisit the alla prima technique and post-impressionist/fauve palette of my youth.

Desert Valley (rendering exercise), 6"x8", oils on gessobord

Of course, most of us can't simply switch from one way of seeing and painting to another. So, I've begun a series of "exercise" panels to retrain hand and eye. Every other week or so, I'll share the results with you -- hopefully good results, but maybe the occasional miss too (this to share not only the problems that arise, but how I go about resolving them creatively.) And, time permitting, I'll even try to include a step-by-step demo, if you're interested.

As things stand thus far, I've decided to do my "scouting sketches" (those done while out scouting trails for interesting subject matter and vantage points, under whatever lighting I encounter) on 6"x8" or 6"x6" panels for speed and portability. Planned plein air pieces (done at sites I've previously scouted, or been told about, at a time of day that offers the most dramatic lighting) will be done on 9"x12" or 12"x12" panels. And studio pieces (done either at the Grotto House while in residence or in my studio after returning home) will be done on 12"x24" or 18"x24" cradled panels. Of course, I'm always on the lookout for an excuse to do a panoramic painting. So, if the subject presents itself, I'll likely do an elongated watercolor on location and construct a special panel or canvas when I get home.

High Mountain Spring (rendering exercise), 9"x12", oils on gessobord

My first venture back into a post-impressionist palette this week was the 6"x8" landscape entitled Desert Valley (see at top of article) -- explored bold light and the use of cool colors and a limited value range in the background, advancing to a more vivid color scheme and value range as I progressed into the foreground. 

Yesterday's exercise (High Mountain Spring) explored the same palette's effectiveness in capturing low-angle lighting on sandstone rock formations like those I'll encounter in southern Utah. (And the "snow" even offered an imaginary escape from the Texas heat.)

Canyon Wall (thumbnail comp study), 2 1/8"x 4 1/4", graphite on paper

And today I'm working on a 12"x 24" landscape entitled Canyon Wall (see thumbnail comp above.)

So, what do you think? Do you like the "new" color scheme? Or do you prefer a more naturalistic rendering? (Like I used in the Cascades.) And would you like to see more of these color studies (with maybe a step-by-step or two) in future posts?


Never enough time when you're really having fun....

I want to maximize the amount of sketching, painting, journaling, photographing and videotaping I can do while in Utah, and en route. But, as is too often the case for all of us, time will be at a premium. So, I've decided that I will suspend publication of my blog -- beginning with my departure for Zion, and ending with my arrival home.

I will continue my weekly drawing and painting articles only until early October for those of you who are enjoying following along as I prepare for this new adventure. Beginning with the second week in October and running through the end of November -- I will be publishing an illustrated weekly newsletter (which will be delivered in a printable PDF format via email) exclusively for my Kickstarter fundraising campaign supporters (at all pledge levels) and sponsors.

So, if you'd like the latest news and images from Zion and on the road delivered weekly directly to your email inbox (along with the pledge rewards which will be delivered directly to your house) be sure and pledge... and don't forget to share the project with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.

And as always, thanks for your support!