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

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Autumn Along the Kayenta Trail, Zion NP

Virgin River and Lower Canyon from the Kayenta Trail, 
12"x9", Gamblin oils on Gessobord 

Autumn in Zion NP: pick just about any point along the Virgin River -- from the Watchman to the mouth of the Narrows -- and you're bound to be treated to a landscape dotted with delightful splashes of fall color. But to experience the season's palette at its most spectacular you'll want to go up! You could opt to see it all from Angel's Landing, or just part way up the Wiggles. If you've got the stamina you could hike up to Observation Point for a view that is truly breathtaking (both figuratively and literally.)

comp study, graphite on Rhodia grid paper

But for the elevated view with the quickest access you can't go wrong with the hike up the Kayenta Trail from the Grotto shuttle stop -- in mid to late morning if you want the east side canyon walls bathed in blues and purples, or late afternoon if you want to see the same walls awash with warm pastels, oranges and reds. (In both cases, of course, the foliage along the canyon floor will be a sublime pat work of warm greens, yellows, and burnt oranges.)

I hope these posts are inspiring you to "find your National Park" during this year's centennial celebration of the NPS. And, as always, thanks for letting me share. Cheers!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Temple of Sinawava, Zion NP

this point just downstream from the Temple shuttle stop 
was one of the first I discovered by bike

By far the easiest, most stress-free, way for visitors to explore the Zion Canyon floor during the main season is on the free shuttle. If you're staying in Springdale you can even leave your car at your hotel or B&B, take the town shuttle to the front gate, enter the park on foot, and catch the shuttle at the Visitor Center.

Take the shuttle to the top of Scenic Drive and you get off at the Temple of Sinewava stop (from which many visitors opt to take a hike along the relatively flat and very scenic Riverside Walk.) And, of course, visitors can choose to get on and off the shuttle at any of the seven other stops along the shuttle's route. But, to maximize the exploring experience, visitors can combine the shuttle with a bike. (Bring your own or rent one of the Green Bikes available at the Zion Lodge.)

headed to the Grotto shuttle stop for another trip up canyon (some evenings 
my face muscles would ache from grinning all day)

As mentioned in my Week 2 A-i-R blog post, the National Park Service arranged a Green Bike for my use and I frequently loaded the bike on the shuttle's rack for the ride to the top of the Canyon. From there I could return down canyon (frequently letting gravity do most of the work as I coasted downhill) and stop as often as a new subject came into view.

The Green Bikes are even equipped with wire baskets that were the perfect size for my plein air sketch kits, water bottles, and tripod. And, while the Park Service had very generously provided me with a "white pass" that allowed me vehicular access to the entire length of Scenic Drive (during the high season, visitors staying at the Zion Lodge receive "red passes" that allow them to drive approximately half way up the canyon; day visitors, campers, and those staying in town may only drive their vehicles as far as Canyon Junction) I found that, on a bike, I could stop anywhere a scene offered itself (rather than just at designated parking spots and turn-outs) and the bike even made an excellent platform from which to shoot video as I coasted down canyon.

as I coasted downhill from the Big Bend shuttle stop I literally discovered 
exciting new subjects to sketch every 10-20 feet!

The experience was so rewarding artistically that, this spring, I'm putting together a "studio on two wheels" for further testing (maybe even adding a bike trailer for the occasional two-wheeled, man-powered adventure.)

Stay tune for updates and further developments.  

Friday, March 11, 2016

Big Bend, Zion NP

Big Bend II, color sketch, 
8"x6", Gamblin oils on Gessobord

Big Bend was where I painted my first sketch after arriving in Zion National Park (all be it facing outward when everyone about me was facing inward.) It's also a place I returned to frequently as it offers dramatically different subjects and views when studied from different vantage points, different times of day, and different elevations (i.e., along the valley floor, or perched high on a canyon rim.)

Of course, the canyon is the main subject visitors come to see. But, for the artist, the fact that the oasis-like environment created by the Virgin River means that we are gifted with beautiful red-green contrasts that aren't always to be found in most other Navajo sandstone formations throughout the Southwest. So I spent some of my time in the park sketching the fauna of the canyon floor.

Canyon Crest & Lone Pine, color sketch, 
8"x6", Gamblin oils on Gessobord

But one of the things that really amazed me was that -- in this dry desert environment -- so many Ponderosa Pines and Douglas Firs were growing, not along the course of the Virgin River but high up on narrow precarious ledges and even on seemingly vertical canyon walls. I was both baffled and astounded that these beautiful giants survived (little alone thrived) apparently without soil, nutrients, or a regular source of water. (And, in the end, I did several studies of these "hanging gardens.")

Thus far my art posts have focused on the park and my time there (primarily because I have a pending deadline for the piece I'll be donating to the ZNP permanent collection and I want the selection committee to have as many pieces to choose from as possible.) But it would be wrong to imply that I didn't encounter visually exciting subjects before arriving in the park -- as these comp studies will attest. (Expect to see the finished color sketches from the Navajo Nation posted here after I've fulfilled my obligation to the Park Service.)

I was awe-struck by my first encounter with the arid sandstone giants as we left Flagstaff and entered the Navajo Nation

while I thought that it would be so cool to spend time drawing, painting and staring up at the brilliant night sky here (at least until the food, water, or paints ran out), it also struck me that it would take a special kind of person to handle the immense solitude of the place 

climbing highway 89 between Bitter Springs and Page -- sandstone giants to our right and the beginnings of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River far below us on the left   

Friday, January 22, 2016

Court of the Patriarchs, Zion NP

South Wall, Court of the Patriarchs, color sketch, 
8"x6", Gamblin oils on Gessobord

Zion National Park is blessed with a plethora of scenic marvels. Some are easily accessible ( the Watchman, for example, can* be viewed without leaving your car) while others (like the view from atop Angels Landing) require strenuous, but exhilarating, hikes. With its own shuttle stop (just two stops up-canyon from the Human History Museum or one stop down from the Lodge) the Court of the Patriarchs is decidedly closer to the Watchman in ease of access.

Isaac, Court of the Patriarchs, color sketch, 
8"x6", Gamblin oils on Gessobord

For the least obstructed view of the Patriarchs and the Sentinel visitors can opt to hike the very short, only slightly strenuous, east trail up to the observation point (which places the visitor above the tops of the surrounding trees), walk to the river's edge from the shuttle stop, or hike to the CotP via the Sand Bench Horse Trail (for dramatic vertical views from the foot of the cliff walls.)

The Sentinel, Court of the Patriarchs, color sketch, 
6"x8", Gamblin oils on Gessobord

Mornings (just after the sun rises above the canyon's east wall) offer the most colorful and dramatic lighting. Late afternoon will find most, if not all, of the Court in shadow. And there are sometimes some very interesting effects to be seen after rain showers and thunderstorms (when whisky clouds often dance about the peaks.)

* I say "can" be viewed from your car (during those times when Scenic Drive is open to private vehicles.) However, exploring the park on foot, by bike, or via the free shutter are far more relaxing and rewarding.

Much more to come!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

73 Works (And Counting)

oil sketch of the "other bend" at the Big Bend shuttle stop (in Zion NP 
you can look at one breathtaking view -- then turn to each of the other 
compass quadrants to discover 3 more), 12"x9", Gamblin oils on Gessobord 

Since returning home from my Zion-SoCal adventure there have been any number of important priority items vying for my attention -- friends and family to catch up with (after missing Thanksgiving with my family, being home for Christmas was doubly special this year), a veggie garden in serious need of attention (the carrots, kale, and chives are thriving), my studio to put in order, and the last of the local fall color to capture. (Fall color comes late to north Texas.)

day or night (well, at least on the nights with a full moon) there was 
always something to catch the eye, comp sketches, graphite on paper

But, as the trees shed their leaves and the local landscape finally takes on its drab winter mantle, I'm also slipping into my "winter studio production mode" -- catching up on the backlog of works that need to be digitized, and producing new works from the sketches and color studies brought back from my month-long sojourn in Mukuntuweap. (I have until mid-May to deliver my finished and framed donation artwork for the Zion NP permanent collection and I want the selection committee to have a large group of works to choose from.) 

Angels Landing & the Organ in Morning Shadow, 
color sketch, 6"x8", Gamblin oils on Gessobord

Thus far I've posted 73 works to the new Zion NP gallery on my website -- 68 works on paper and 5 oil panels. I have a few more sketches and watercolors (and maybe a video or two) to add to the works on paper group over the next week or so. But, generally speaking, my focus can turn to the oil panels. (Of course, should we get snow this year, my day bag is always packed and ready -- but that would only be a brief day-break from the studio -- and snow in north Texas is always a big "if.") 

So, I hope you'll stay tuned. (And, please, drop me a line from time to time and let me know what you think of the new work.)

New Tools --

You may recall that part way through my residency my pocket-sized Rhodia sketchbooks (the ones with the gridded paper) became a little unwieldy. (Specifically, the binding works best if pages are removed as they are completed. But, since I prefer to leave them bound, the sketchbooks became very thick as the pages were folded back -- necessitating the use of a thick rubber band to keep things in order.) 

the No. 18 Rhodia (A4/8.3"c11.7") pad offers ample room for comp sketches of all sizes and shapes, and the 
slip cover (with tits stitched edge and embossed logo) provide both elegance and added protection in the field 

Fortunately, partway in to my residency the folks at Rhodia offered a near-perfect solution -- a day bag-sized pad with its own embossed cover (which adds both style and excellent protection while working in the field.)

in addition to being non-toxic Gamblin Solvent-Free Gel is amazingly light weight 
(very important if you're "packing it in/packing it out") and has a very mild scent

When I had to change my travel plans (flying from Utah to SoCal) I had to abandon my mineral spirits and stainless steel brush washer (both of which were added to the Grotto House's art cache for next year's residents.) Now I've added a backpack-sized brush washer to my kit, replaced the mineral spirits, and (for those times when traveling with flammable and/or hazardous materials is not an option) added Gamblin's Solvent-Free Gel to my paints box.

the adjustable Smart Lamp is daylight balanced with 3 brightness settings and is powered 
by a rechargeable battery, USB cable, or AC power plug (all included) -- it's also very 
lightweight and, when folded, is shorter than a standard size paint brush

And, for those times when Mother Nature provides less than ideal lighting (and for all future residencies) I've added a portable Smart Lamp R10 from Naturalight. It's compact, daylight balanced, operates off either rechargeable battery or AC, LEDs mean hours of continuous use between recharges, and (best of all) it's modestly priced. While the Smart Lamp is designed as a tabletop lamp, its compact size and light weight make it quite functional (when paired with a camper's LED headlamp) as a handheld supplemental light source (say, for those times when you want to do a plein air nocturnal under a full moon.)