Friday, February 24, 2017

All Things Great and Small

As one might expect, most of my time in Zion Canyon was focused on the geological giants, the brilliant color effects, and the ever-changing lighting. But, occasionally, I found time to gaze in wonder at the little things -- the flora and fauna -- that call the canyon home.

Two simple (and ever so beautiful) examples: a Western Bluebird that perched on the Grotto bus stop sign while I awaited the shuttle one morning; and a Sacred Datura in full bloom that I discovered near the Junction bus stop one afternoon. (In both cases, not while I was going somewhere, or looking at something else, but while I was waiting -- when I took the time to look at the micro-world about me and was open to new discoveries.)

Western Bluebird, 5"x5", oils on panel

When I am going no place in particular (or when I'm en route to somewhere in particular) I often carry a set of "tools" with which to capture the unexpected, the serendipitous: a pocket full of small Gessobord panels (I call the results "pocket paintings") with my small (ultra light weight) pochade box; and a sheet or two of 3.5"x5.5" watercolor paper (actually heavy ivory-colored, deckled "Verge de France" cards by G. Lalo) tucked away with my field notebooks, pens & watercolors in my daybag.

Sacred Datura, 3.5"x5.5", w/c over pen & ink

I never know when Circumstance will present me with an opportunity that calls for me to use one or the other; but I usually end up with a delightful keepsake of a memorable mini-adventure when she does.

On a footnote: the Sacred Datura is indigenous to dry areas of the North American west and southwest, and is highly poisonous to humans and livestock alike. However, several of the First Peoples of the region have discovered both medicinal and religious uses for this fragrant bloomer.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Bend in the River - The Virgin River, Late Morning (A Step-by-Step Demo)

As with each of my paintings from Zion this image began with a decision about format (square? rectangle? elongated rectangle? horizontal? or vertical?) and then a quick compositional study in pencil on gridded paper.

Actually, this particular view had initially suggested an elongated horizontal format (previously posted) because of the width of the canyon at this point. But I was also taken with the verticality of the river and, so, decided to do a second composition.

As mentioned in last week's post, I began most of my Zion panels with an undertone of Yellow Ochre (an allusion to the overall warm tones of the canyon's stone wall) and then painted in the sky. The clouds set low in the sky at the far end of the canyon are tinted by the pink Navaho sandstone dust.

Next came the warm tones of the distant west wall of the canyon and the low intensity greens of the desert foliage just below the wall (which introduced a hint of the complimentary contrast to come.)

Working from background to foreground, I next moved to the east wall of the canyon and the foliage just beneath it. Both were, for the most part, still in shadow. But there were splashes of highlight to be seen within the foliage.

The meandering river was added next - pale as the sky itself where it was in direct sunlight, more intense within the shadow of the unseen canyon wall that towered above us to my far left.

The middle ground foliage tumbling down to the river's edge came next; again in deep shadow except for the faint warm highlights provided by indirect light reflected of the west canyon wall to the right. As I moved into middle ground (and eventually foreground) I began to apply the paint more thickly with a more aggressive, painterly brushstroke that that contrasted with (and complemented) the crisper edges of the dominant shapes.

An area of mostly warm red sandstone (with sparse patches of greenery) completed the foreground in the lower left & lower central portions of the painting. 

The distant middle ground foliage and trail leading toward Walter's Wiggles & Angels' Landing were blocked in next - being careful to keep contrasts subdued because of the bright direct sunlight and atmospheric haze.

The bright sandy riverbank in direct sunlight was added next. The dry water channels on its surface were hinted at by subtle shadows & tonal variations. 

The foreground riverbank was in deep shadows of violet, crimson violet, and blue violet. Core shadows of Phthalo Blue and reflected secondary highlights of crimson pink were also added to the segment of the river in shadow.

And the final stage of the color study consisted of blocking in the intense darkness of foreground foliage in the overhanging canopy, subduing the intensity of the shadowed Navajo sandstone at the bottom - and adding my signature. The finished work measures 24"x12" and was executed on Ampersand Gessobord with Gamblin Artists' Oil Paints.

I hope you've enjoyed this demo (and maybe found it a bit informative) and that you'll join me again next time.

In the meantime, I hope the weather where you are lets you get out and paint (or sketch.)


Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Watchman, Late Afternoon (A Step-by-Step Demo)

Rather than simply post another finished work in my Zion series, I thought I'd share a little insight into my work process with a step-by-step demo this week.

Each of my Zion projects has begun as a quick compositional sketch; which allows me to decide on the composition & cropping of the landscape, and the size & orientation of the panel. (In this case I wanted to do a long horizontal of The Watchman and four buttes just before sunset as viewed from the highway just beneath the Human History Museum.)

I began the panel by first toning it with yellow ochre, underdrawing the major plains & shadows in graphite, and laying in the sky (which was an interesting combination of light cobalt blue and pale pink -- the latter a result of the late afternoon sun reflecting of the fine Navajo sandstone dust that hung low over the canyon.)

With the sky complete I turned my attention to the landscape's background plain -- establishing areas of light & shadow and introducing modest middle-key, cool/warm contrasts.

As the background plane of navajo sandstone neared completion I began to block in the most distant areas of foliage.... 

This introduced the red/green contrast which makes Zion Canyon so visually appealing to artists and visitors alike.. 

With the distant cliffs blocked in I turned my attention to the four buttes that constitute the middle plain (working from the most distant butte on the right and moving to the foreground on the left -- adding warmth & contrast as I went.) The clump of trees in shadow on the far right mark the beginning of the final (foreground) plane.

The foreground plane is the area of strongest contrast -- with fall foliage in bright afternoon sunlight and evergreens in deep, late afternoon shadow.

Contrast, hue, temperature & intensity is relative. And it is not until the entire panel has been blocked in that I can determine how accurately I have estimated each. In this case I decided that the background shadows needed to be cooler & the value contrast a bit more subdued.

Well, that's it for this week. Hope you enjoyed the demo... and that you'll drop by again next week.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Long and the Short and the Tall

If you've been following my posts of color studies from Zion National Park you may have noticed that, to date, they've generally been 6"x8" or 9"x12" panels. Well, I thought it was time to take a break from those (not to worry, there are plenty more to come) and introduce a few of my more elongated pieces (12"x24" to be precise.)

since Zion canyon runs north-south the canyon's west walls (right) are in bright 
highlight while the east walls are in deep shadow during the first half of the 
daythis pattern is then steadily reversed during the second half of the day

The first panoramic composition to catch my attention was something I came across while biking down canyon between the Big Bend and Grotto shuttle stops one morning. The roadway and nearest stretch of the Virgin River were in full shadow but opened up onto a brightly lit expanse of river, canyon floor, and west wall -- giving very much the effect of looking out from a cave or the mouth of a tunnel. (Finding this was an unexpected surprise as I got "stuck" in a "traffic jam" caused by a flock of wild turkeys who were completely blocking the entire road -- quite serendipitous, and totally wonderful.)

with every step, every bend in the trail, every stroke of the bike pedal, every 
passing hour of the day, I was presented with a new spectacle (and the color 
contrasts were always a dazzling delight)

The second panorama was of a very popular landmark, but seen from a point-of-view that is probably unfamiliar to most park visitors: The Watchman seen from the west rather than the more common (and iconic) northern vantage point.

(If you're fan of popular tunes from WWII, you'll no doubt recognize the title of this week's post as a line from Dame Vera Lynn's song, "Bless 'Em All!")

As always, thanks again for letting me share.

Monday, June 27, 2016

First Light (Grotto House and Red Arch Mountain)

First Light #1, 9"x12", oils on Gessobord

During my stay in Zion NP my very busy daytime schedule (combined with the dry high desert air) usually meant that I was in bed by 8:30 and up by 5:30 (enjoying a pre-dawn breakfast, filling my water bottles and backpack, and planning another day of trail hikes, sketching and painting.)

Except in the area immediately around the Zion Inn most nights in the canyon were pitch black.

But not always.

During the full moon I stayed up to capture the amazing chiaroscuro effects of the canyon walls and floor bathed in moonlight (see the "Complementary Colors, Moonbeams and Shadows" post below.) and then stayed on to watch in fascination as the eastern sky brightened, the last stars faded, and the canyon's colors slowly awoke.

This week's post is the first of two attempts I made to capture the scene in oils. (I hope you like it.)

Signed, Sealed and Delivered!

Down Canyon from the Temple, 12"x9", Gamblin oils on 
Gessobord, gilded plein air frame 

Zion National Park Artists-in-Residence get an extraordinary deal from the National Park Service.

AiRs get to spend one month in the park: living in the Grotto House; exploring the trails, canyons, mesas of this geological wonder; getting to know the region's flora and fauna; and interacting with both local residents and visitors from around the globe.

And, in exchange, all the Park Service asks of visual artist residence is: two public presentations during the residency; and (within six months of completing the residency) one work of art inspired by the Zion National Park experience and a digital portfolio of all works created during the residency and the six month period following.

A few weeks ago I was informed that the selection committee had chosen Down Canyon from the Temple. And, after mounting the work in a gilded plein air frame, I had the folks at the UPS Store pack and deliver it to its new home in Utah.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Complementary Colors, Moonbeams and Shadows

Virgin River, Zion Canyon III, 12"x9", oils on panel

The desert Southwest has a special appeal for many artists. As one put it, in the Rockies and Cascade Mountains (and the Smokies and Appalachia) landscape painting is dominated by greens and blues; but in northern Arizona and southern Utah landscape painters get to use their reds, oranges, yellows, and purples!

Morning Shadows, 12"x9", oils on panel

But, even amidst all the spectacle of the Southwest Zion Canyon is special. Thanks to the Virgin River, Zion Canyon is a desert oasis filled with delightful eye-catching complementary contrasts -- red/green, blue/orange, and even yellow/violet. And, because the narrow canyon runs more or less north/south its color/lighting effects are dynamic -- changing every few minutes throughout the day, and even through the nighttime hours on those nights when the moon is full.

Life on the Edge (Hanging Garden), 9"x12", oils on panel

Watchman at Sunset I, 9"x12", oils on panel

And the south Utah night sky comes as an amazing surprise for visitors who know only urban skies and the veil of light pollution that obscures all but the brightest stars and planets. Under a dark, new moon sky visitors can clearly see thousands (if not millions) of stars of all sizes and colors. But the real surprise for me came with the full moon! Before leaving home I had planned to try my hand at a nocturnal (my first the North Cascades) and had expected to produce a piece in silvers and grays. But, instead, I was amazed to find a moon so bright that I could distinguish individual leaves on the ground and colors in those areas under direct moonlight (while ink-black shadows completely hid the secret details within.) 

Shadows and Moonbeams (Under A Full Moon), 12"x9", oils on panel