Monday, March 6, 2017

Uinta Chipmunk (A Step-by-Step Demo)

Anyone who has hiked up to Angels Landing knows that, while on the move, you spend a great deal of time watching the trail ahead of you. (After all, accidentally wondering off this trail can be VERY traumatic.) And, as you near Indian Lookout you start noticing something new flitting back and forth across the trail (and maybe coming inquisitively close to you if you sit down to take a break along the way.) This speedy little fur ball with the alternating burnt orange & white stripes that runs with its tail stuck straight up in the air is Uinta Chipmunk, and it calls the higher elevations of Zion Canyon home. And this week I thought I'd share a "pocket painting" step-by-step demo of how I went about painting this energetic little fella.

As with most of my Zion paintings, I began with a small pencil comp study on gridded paper -- discovering the light/dark patterns, selecting the format shape, and determining the compositional relationship.

Work now begins on the pocket panel I've selected for the job -- in this case a 5x5 Gessobord which I've pre-toned with Burnt Sienna (a little darker, and redder, than my usual Yellow Ochre) -- as I quickly draw in the key shapes & confirm the shadows. (Note that I decided to draw the chipmunk slightly larger than in the comp study, and eliminate part of the surrounding sandstone.)

Painting began with a quick roughing in of the subject and establishment of the first shadows in the surrounding Navajo sandstone -- working from the middle tone of the panel toward my lightest lights and darkest darks. (That is, at this stage I avoid using white or chromatic black.)

With the color/tonal areas roughly established in the chipmunk I continue to block in the shadows and secondary (reflected) highlights within the weathered stone -- paying particular attention to the cool/warm contrasts.

Value contrast is relative: lights will appear lighter as new darks are introduced; and darks will seem to get darker as new areas of light are applied. For this reason (and to allow me the freedom to "discover" new highlights and core shadows to the very end) I continue to hold my lightest & darkest colors in reserve.

Once all of the general shapes have been blocked in and the basic color patterns have been completed I turn my attention to the final details; fine tuning color, unifying form, and carefully selecting & applying the brightest highlights & deepest shadows.


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.