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.