Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Escalante, Another Demo, and Alien Beings

Last week was Everett Ruess Days and the annual plein air painting competition in Escalante, Utah. After attending the opening of the show at Fremont Indian State Park, I drove to Torrey and camped for a couple nights in a tent at an RV park. Like last year, the picture I entered into the show was painted in the Capitol Reef area. On Monday I set up in the parking area for the Chimney Rock hiking trail. Here are some photos of that painting in-process.

Canvas toned and initial drawing.
Messing with lights and darks.

Adding Color
Finished painting. Chimney Rock, 16" x 20" Oil on Canvas Panel.

Just as last year, I handed out business cards and talked to people from all over the world. I enjoy talking to people who stop for a short visit while I'm painting. Some painters don't. If you see a painter and they're wearing earphones, they probably don't want to be bothered.

The next day, I painted near Torrey. This is the painting I entered into the main show:

Torrey Breaks, 16" x 20" Oil on Canvas Panel.

Monday night I camped at a spot north of town near the Great Western Trail. After driving a couple miles up an ATV trail, through a couple mud holes and across a stream, I came to a washout that even the ATVs wouldn't tackle. Their go-around looked too adventurous for my 4Runner, so I pulled off the trail and camped there. Walking over for a closer look at the washout, I thought, "This will take a piece of heavy equipment to fix." I had no idea how soon that would happen.

This kind of camp has advantages and disadvantages. On the minus side, there's no wi-fi or showers. On the plus side, it's free and it's wild. This spot came with an additional challenge, though. I thought since it was late Monday, and there was a washout making the trail difficult, no one would likely come by. So I began to settle down for a peaceful night in the pinion pines beneath red rock formations. 

But shortly after sunset, an ATV came by and stopped at the washout. Then along came a backhoe followed by a pickup pulling a flatbed trailer. The backhoe commenced scooping dirt out of a bank not far from my camp and filling in the washout. That accomplished, they parked the backhoe not 50 feet from my camp and both the ATV and the pickup headed up the freshly repaired trail. They had to see that I was camped close by, but they never seemed to acknowledge I was there. A while later, the ATV and the pickup returned, followed by another ATV. They didn't stop at the backhoe, but continued on past. Later, an ATV with two people came back up the trail and stopped at the backhoe. One of them got in the backhoe and fired it up while the other person continued on up the trail on the ATV. The backhoe operator drove the piece of heavy equipment back down the trail. Later that night the ATV came tooling back down the trail. 

So much for a peaceful night. There was no more traffic for the rest of the evening, but I lay awake awhile wondering if anything else was going to come motoring by and maybe even start digging again.

The next night I camped further up into the trees, and nobody came by the entire night. Except for the construction crew and all the unexpected traffic on the first night, it was a nice place to camp. Two old campfire rings nearby indicated other people thought the spot was a good one, too. There was other evidence this was a choice spot for camping, even to ancient people. Wandering around my camp one morning, I discovered a lot of lithic flakes. These were shards of sharp obsidian and flint knapped off of stone tools or weapons by Indians long ago. I examined a few of the lithic flakes, putting them back when I was done with them.

Lithic Flakes
Closeup of Lithic Flakes
I'll bet ancient Indians didn't have to worry about backhoes in the middle of the night!

Wednesday I went to Escalante and participated in the paint out at Slot Canyon Inn. For the rest of the week my camp was at Escalante Outfitters. I did a few more small paintings that week, at Devil's Garden and Hell's Backbone, then attended a small town church service on Sunday.

Thursday at Devil's Garden, an F-16 fighter jet came roaring by, just a couple hundred feet or so off the ground. A while later a C-130 flew overhead just as low. I set my camera aside while I painted to be ready to snap a picture should another war bird fly by. No other war planes came by. Instead, a sudden dust storm blew down the little canyon I was in and my camera was caked with desert sand! After blowing and dusting the camera off as best I could, I turned it on. I got a "Lens Error" message and the camera wouldn't work. If I can get photos of the other paintings I did I'll show them in a later post.

Now for the alien beings! The first night at Escalante Outfitters I was out under the pavilion in the campground working on my computer when this little guy came wandering by:

Only it wasn't so little. The thing was at least two inches long and it's ugliness made it look even bigger! It trundled back and forth across the concrete floor of the pavilion the whole time I was there. Or there were several of them taking turns crossing the pavilion floor - I don't know. This is one of the most bizarre looking creatures I have ever seen and it looked like it was from another planet! 

Turns out, it's not an alien creature from outer space after all, but a Jerusalem cricket (Stenopelmatus spp.) It (or they - I don't know) seemed to behave itself, so I decided not to call out the army on this one!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Grace and Beauty in Unexpected Things

Sumer is winding down. Here and there Autumn is beginning to peak through the tree leaves. She stirs the weather patterns changing not only the appearance of the sky but the way the air smells, too. The wild roses have long dropped their petals and now have big hips. Raptors will soon migrate, and insects will hibernate or complete their warm weather life cycles. This time my post isn't about painting or drawing. It's about something I've noticed in nature. Sometimes I'm surprised to find beauty in otherwise unpleasant creatures.

Vultures have often visited me when I’ve been landscape painting in the mountains. They're more interested in me, I'm sure, than in what I'm painting. Since I’m focused on what I'm doing, I usually don’t know they’re there until one of the vultures strikes me with it’s shadow. That’s when I look up, startled, to see them swooping and gliding, obviously enjoying their ride. Sometimes one or another of them will fly close enough that I can see them cock their red head to observe me. They’ll do this for a little while, then slowly move off, regaining altitude. I have to admit, I enjoy watching them fly. They seem to take such pleasure in their gliding flight, especially on windy days. I’ll also admit I hope vultures never get TOO close!

During the height of summer, huge swarms of pale midges appear near Utah Lake. Their masses form clouds and wispy columns that look like smoke from small, scattered campfires. These insects are about the size of mosquitoes, maybe a little bigger. They don’t bite, however, and cause no problems, unless you happen to blunder into one of their low swarms. Then you run the risk of accidentally inhaling one or two of them. *cough*yuck*

One evening in June I was walking along the bank of the Provo River near the lake. Earlier in the day the weather had been unsettled, but now the clouds were clearing out. The air was quite pleasant, though the breezes were still gusty. The sun had set, and an orange glow on the western horizon offset the deepening blue of the coming night. I stopped to watch one of these swarms of midges as it hovered above the trees by the river. The gusty breezes forced the swarm into fascinating shapes and patterns. The swarm would stretch and collapse, divide and rejoin, swirl and form graceful arabesques. Rarely do I think of insects as graceful, but this swarm of midges seemed to be. I watched the midges for several minutes.

Suddenly, three ospreys came wheeling overhead, circling and calling a few times before heading off northward. There might be grace and beauty in vultures and midges, but ospreys still trump them!

A few stars began to appear in the eastern sky, and I headed home.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Fremont Indian State Park Show

Photo Courtesy of Candee Osborne
The photo above shows me with an exhibit of my plein air oil landscapes in the Sagebrush Gallery at Fremont Indian State Park. The show runs from September 17, 2011 through January 2, 2012. Twenty six of my paintings are on exhibit there. This is the largest exhibit of my paintings yet, with a wide variety of landscapes represented and seasons depicted. Sizes of paintings range from 6" x 8" to 18" x 24".

There are a few works by other artists exhibited there also, including the potter who made those wonderful pots in the display case my grubby little fingers are on. Names of other exhibiting artists are, Joe Venus, Sharon Linde, Dennis Zupan, Finn Murdoch, Vanessa Allen, Vandy Moore and Randy Esplin. 

If you get a chance to visit, check out the FISP website for more information. Besides the Gallery, there is a visitors center, campground, miles of scenic trails to hike and a huge amount of ancient Indian rock art scattered throughout the park. The Sagebrush Gallery is free admission. The rest of the park has a small entry fee. Come and enjoy a visit!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Scenes Surrounding Spring City

Last week was the Spring City plein air painting festival. This was my second year in the event. Spring City is a beautiful little town in Sanpete Valley in Utah. It has done much to keep it's old pioneer buildings and charm. Many of the old pioneer homes and even some barns are built out of oolite; large pale yellowish blocks of limestone that give the buildings a unique and attractive quality. The town is surrounded by hayfields and ranches. East and west across the valley are mountains.

The paint waggon, stuffed with painting and camping stuff.
After checking in and getting my canvas panels stamped, I headed to my first painting spot. Last year I wanted to paint this scene, but found another painter there so I passed it up. I thought about it all year, so this year it was the first place I went to. Nobody else was there this time. At least not while I was there. Here's a photo of the place:

It was hard to decide whether or not to add the poles into the painting. A couple pieces of straw were used to help me visualize the poles.

I didn't like the way they cut up the dark shape on the left, so I left them out. This caused a minor controversy later at the exhibit. Here's the finished painting:

Later that day I drove toward the other end of town and painted this, looking in the other direction (sorry I don't have a photo of it in it's frame):

It sold at the show. 

That night I drove up into the mountains and camped. In the morning, squirrels were eating pine seeds and tossing the left over pine cones out of the trees. After my own breakfast, which didn't include pine seeds, I drove back into the valley to a mown hayfield not far from where I had first painted the day before. Here is the second day's painting:

It sold, too.

The next day began nice, but quickly changed it's mood. Just north of Fairview, I set up in a sheep pasture. This scene was sunny when I decided to paint it. After shooing away two sheep who tried to chew on my easel, I set to painting. By the time I had blocked in the initial scene, it had clouded over. When it was time to sign the finished painting, I was huddled under the hatchback chasing raindrops off of where I was signing.

Saturday was the paint out. Out on the west side of town, I made this painting:

It won a merit award.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Dry Desert Place

Edge of the Mojave  8" x 10" Oil on Canvas Panel
Earlier in the year I went to the desert near Littlefield, Arizona to paint. This is a different kind of desert for me. Just up the bank from the dry wash I was camped beside, I set up my 8" x 10" pochade box and did the painting shown above. Here is my set-up for that day:

Just off to my right were these awe-inspiring dry mountains. Someday I'll have to return and try to paint them:

In the two days I spent there, I explored nearby stands of joshua trees:

Joshua Trees, Cholla Cactus, and Many Other Desert Plants.
There were more varieties of cactus there than I have ever seen anywhere in the wild. Many were in bloom.

Other desert plants were also in bloom.

As fascinating as they are, several of the plants in this area are pointedly hostile. I was careful when I took a closer look at them. Even the joshua trees aren't very cuddly things.

A Joshua Tree and Me
Exploring up the alluvial slope, I walked through the joshua trees, past different kinds of cholla, barrel, and prickly pear cactus. Lizards and small birds were the only wildlife I saw. It seemed to me that the birds and lizards were also interested in me, judging by the way they seemed to watch me. Climbing down into the wash, I hiked the dry wash back toward my camp. During my return hike, I saw a curious thing in the wash ahead of me.

When I reached the out-of-place thing I found it was a warning sign.

Water? What water? Did I miss the undrinkable water? Was it not here yet? Did this sign come from somewhere else, carried down the wash by a flash flood? Flash flood not safe for drinking! I suppose if someone were out here for too long without water, a lot of things become not safe. Hallucinations not safe for drinking!

I could afford to entertain myself with such thoughts. I had brought enough water - this time. It was a lesson learned the hard way the first time I came to the arid West from a water rich eastern state in 1982. Back then I had tried to climb a mountain without enough water, without knowing where to find water, and with no comprehension of just how dry it is out here. By the time I staggered back off of the mountain, I felt weak, my knees were wobbling, My mouth was so dry my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth and I couldn't spit. My speech was slurred. When I came to a public water fountain I drank for several minutes before finally beginning to feel less thirsty. People stared. I didn't care.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Lunar Plein Air Studies

Small Sketches in a Small Sketchbook
Here are a couple studies I made during a lunar eclipse. It was sketched in colored pencil on an August night in 1989 when I lived in Pennsylvania. To make this sketch I would go into the back yard and observe the eclipse for a while, then rush through the back door into the kitchen where I had my sketchpad and colored pencils. With the kitchen lights on to see what I was doing, I would sketch as much as memory would permit, then go back out into the darkness to observe the eclipse more. I did this several times over the course of these two little studies. Observe - sketch - repeat. The top image is totality. The lower sketch is about 45 minutes later. I wasn't concerned with the lunar montes, mares or craters. That information could be easily had another time. The goal of these studies was to capture the color of the event and the spherical appearance of the eclipsed moon. The full moon usually looks more disk-like to me, but during an eclipse, it appears as an orange ball. This is information I can use in any future studio works that might need it. In fact, I did a larger colored pencil drawing of a night scene of bighorns, jagged rocky cliffs, and the moon back lighting part of the scene using these studies. That drawing sold several years ago, and unfortunately I have no pictures of it. I do have ideas for future works with the lunar eclipse theme, though.

Of course, a lunar eclipse is a fascinating thing to observe whether you're sketching one or not, so go see one!