Sunday, October 23, 2011

Reflections on Moab

Another season of plein air competitions has come and gone. Some sales and a few awards have come my way but the experiences, things learned and ties made might be more valuable. Each year and every painting builds upon previous ones. Painting for competitions brings a mind set and level of focus that is different from just going out to paint on my own. Many of the lessons learned can be applied to other kinds of painting and drawing I do.

Early Autumn Desert Asters
Sure, the competitions can be fun, but they aren't easy. Traveling long distances, not always knowing where I'm going to stay, dealing with all kinds of weather; every competition is an adventure.

As often as I can, I paint not only for the competition but also for my own portfolio. Here are a couple of small pictures I painted on the Moab trip. The first is actually the last one painted. It was done while visiting relatives in the four corners area.

Cottonwood Wash, 6" x 8" Oil on Canvas Panel
The next one was painted south of Moab:

Red Rock Juniper, 6" x 8" Oil on Canvas Panel
That was painted on a sandstone bluff looking across a canyon-creased valley toward foothills of the La Sal Mountains. While painting, a little reddish lizard came and climbed onto my foot. I stopped to watch what the lizard was doing. It crawled through a loop in my boot lace and poked it's nose under the cuff of my jeans. Worried about having a lizard up my pants I shifted my other foot. The lizard jumped off the boot and ran a couple feet where it stopped, turned and looked up at me. Again I stood still to see what the lizard would do. It crawled to the boot I had just moved and then went over to the painting equipment I had set on the ground nearby. The lizard crawled around, through and all over the leather bags. I returned to painting. Fifteen or twenty minutes later I took a few steps back from the painting to get a better look at it. When I did, the lizard leaped off my boot and scampered away across the slickrock, not to return this time! Absorbed in my work, I hadn't noticed the lizard was sunning itself on my foot!

There was another strange thing nearby on that same sandstone bluff:

This structure had a semicircle wall of stones about two feet high on one side. Stones, strips of juniper bark and sticks were arranged in curious fashion within an outline of rocks. An uneven pathway outlined with more small stones stretched for several yards from the main structure. Another small arrangement of stones was found close by.

Was this an ancient Anasazi structure? Or was it the site of some strange religious ceremony? After briefly considering these more exciting possibilities, I had to admit the structure was probably built by bored kids entertaining their imagination, possibly while their parents sat in camp chairs around a campfire just down below.

Exploring a dirt road several miles south of the slickrock bluff and the friendly lizard, I came across a somber scene:

This was the largest roadside memorial I've ever seen. It was covered with bouquets of artificial flowers. Here and there among the flowers were dolls and plush toys of all sizes. Toy soldiers were arranged in a couple areas of the memorial. There were a couple small American flags. A set of barbells were included in the mix as was what looked like some parts from a car. Other items were there, including a few pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters scattered around one end of the memorial. I walked around the memorial but out of respect touched nothing. I wish I knew the story behind it.

The days spent on this trip were perfect, all with early autumn blue skies! The cottonwoods in the canyon bottoms were just beginning to turn their brilliant yellow. Stands of scrub oak bore colors from golden ochre to russet. Here and there some reds peeked through all the other colors. Early childhood experience told me to stay away from some of the fall color though. In a side canyon along the Colorado I found this:

Poison Ivy
At a kiosk near Onion Creek, I saw this poster:

Stay off the biotic soil. It looks like it could bite!

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Slickrock Formations, 16" x 20" Oil on Canvas Panel.
Stepping on the heels of Plein Air Provo is Plein Air Moab. The first day of painting for the Moab competition is the same day as the opening in Provo. There's still plenty of time for painting in the Moab event, though, so I didn't worry about arriving for that competition until Monday. Monday was spent traveling and scouting possible painting spots between Moab and Monticello. The next three days I painted three 16" x 20" paintings. For this event the weather has been great!

Today I painted at a campground near Fisher Towers, in the Colorado River Gorge. While painting I was visited by a fat little ground squirrel who kept checking out my painting equipment. A little red lizard also came to check me out and crawled right up to my feet before moving on. I can't imagine the lizards at this campground are starting to mooch too!

While at Fisher Towers, I also picked which painting to enter into the show and framed it on a picnic table in the campground. The painting shown above is probably the one I'll enter into the competition unless I change my mind in the morning. The deadline for turning in entries is tomorrow morning. 

The show opens Friday the 14th, at the MARC, 111 E. 100 N. in Moab, and runs from 4:00 AM to 9:00 PM on Friday and 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM on Saturday. All works are for sale. The show is free and I understand there are already some (non-competition) paintings on exhibit!

Plein Air Moab, 2010
Last year was the first Plein Air Moab, and the photo above shows my entry in that year's show. The area surrounding Moab has probably some of the most spectacular landscapes in the world. It's about time there was a plein air competition here!

Hopefully I'll get in a little more painting while I'm here, paintings that can go to shows or in galleries. Maybe I could have painted more than three pictures so far this week, but I thought I needed to get in a little exploring both on foot and in four wheel drive. This is wonderful country!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Plein Air Provo

Image courtesy of David Hawkinson.
Cold, wind, rain and snow. When you paint outdoors on a regular basis, sooner or later you're going to have to deal with it. Those of us participating in this years Plein Air Provo had our choice of three days of cold, wet weather to paint in. I chose all three. Other challenges I dealt with were when the river rose unexpectedly while painting there on Wednesday, and on Friday, at a ranch on the west side of town, finding myself and my paintbox invaded by baby spiders!

The show opens Friday, October 7 at Terra Nova Gallery, 41 West 300 North, in Provo, Utah and runs through the 28th. Hours for the opening are 6 - 9 PM. After tonight, the show will be open at regular hours. For more information, visit Terra Nova's website and click on "Exhibits." Then scroll down to "Plein Air Provo."

When I dropped off my final entry for the competition, I got a sneak peak at many of the entries from other participating painters. I'm looking forward to tonight's (Friday, Oct. 7, 2011) opening so I can see everyone's paintings up on the wall and visit with other painters. I also look forward to meeting many of the gallery goers who come out to see the exhibit.

The show is free, and while you're out enjoying the artwork, you can also enjoy Provo's First Friday Gallery Stroll. Come and enjoy the paintings!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Rest of the Escalante Paintings

My poor little Nikon digital camera is still suffering from the effects of a sudden dust storm which struck while I was painting near Escalante. It remains to be seen if the camera is repairable. In the mean time, I found a relatively inexpensive little Casio to fill in for the Nikon. It's not as slick as the Nikon (was?), but if I'm going to be feeding cameras to the desert from time to time, I don't want to be paying very much for them!

This is a continuation of the post Escalante, Another Demo, and Alien Beings. Brought to you courtesy of the little Casio digital camera.

Here's the painting I did Wednesday at the paint out at the Slot Canyon Inn:

11" x 14" Oil on Canvas Panel
Another camper where I was staying in Escalante told me about a place nearby full of hoodoos. This little natural red rock alleyway ran by there. Here is where the sand ate my camera:

8" x 10" Oil on Canvas Panel
On a long drive up on the Aquarius Plateau, I found this dramatic view late in the day on Friday:

8" x 10" Oil on Canvas Panel
Saturday, I went back out to the hoodoos and painted this:

6" x 8" Oil on Panel
Hopefully I can keep the Casio out of the sand and the myriad other things that could destroy it! Wish me luck!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The BIG Box

When painting small, pochade boxes fit the bill for me very well. There have been a number of posts on this blog about those, in particular here and here. However, larger paintings such as 16" x 20" or 18" x 24" require more paint, bigger brushes, more solvent, etc, and that needs a larger, beefier means of carrying it all around. This post will be about the paintbox I use for bigger paintings.

I built this box nearly twenty years ago. Plans - or wishful thinking - were that I would begin serious oil painting soon after building the box. In reality, it was used mostly for storage of neglected painting supplies until just around a year or so ago. The design idea came from smaller paint boxes I've seen for sale in art supply stores. Not knowing much about oil painting, nor really knowing what I needed in a paint box, I just took the design ideas I saw in the stores and beefed them up considerably to what I thought would work for my purposes - whatever those were! This box was built almost entirely out of pine. Not the most durable of wood, but it was what was available then and it works well enough.

After years of pastel painting, and then lots of oil painting in pochade boxes, it was time to begin learning to paint bigger. Something was needed that would hold bigger brushes and large tubes of paint. Commercially made boxes of the scale I needed aren't readily available, so I needed to figure out what to do. Suitably sized plastic storage bins or even a cardboard box came to mind. Finally I remembered the lonely pine paintbox full of 37 ml paint tubes with stuck caps. It was promoted from storage box to working paintbox - what it was originally intended to be.

With the experience I've gained in painting larger pictures, if given the chance I would build this box entirely different. It's smaller than I would like, and the compartments could be better designed, but it works and will make do. This paintbox has everything needed to paint except easel and large painting panel, although I usually take the usual painting supply bag with it. Here's a photo and bullet points explaining what's inside the big paintbox:

Click Picture for Larger Image
  1. 11" x 14" canvas panels in swing out panel holder.
  2. Wooden palette. Fits in same holder.
  3. 150 ml size tubes of oil paint.
  4. In this compartment  I keep a tube or two of white paint, a small (37 ml) tube of ivory black, vine charcoal which I may someday use, along with an eraser, and whatnot. Whatnot gets into a lot of my stuff.
  5. Here I keep a few plastic bags for oily rags, plus a couple bottles of almost-never-used medium; one of linseed oil and one of liquin.
  6. Tube wringer. Domestically made - not imported. The imports break as soon as you try to use them.
  7. Brush washer filled with odorless mineral spirits. Bigger than the one I use with the pochade boxes, but I wish it was bigger still.
  8. This little compartment holds a small container of brush cleaning soap, if ever it's needed, a neglected medium cup, a wire hook for hanging the brush washer from my easel, and a thumbscrew for fastening the support that holds the paintbox lid open.
  9. Bamboo brush holder with brushes ranging in size from a little rigger to size 14 or 16 flats.
  10. Also in this compartment are paper towels in a plastic bag and a couple palette knives. The hardwood lid support fits into this compartment for transport. There's a collapsible mahl stick in there, too.
Back when I built the box, I thought it needed to hold a couple paint panels. They might come in handy someday, but that's not so important to me now. Access to the panel holder is made by turning a little wooden latch at the top of the lid, then the panel holder tilts out. Moving the palette out of the way allows the paintbox to be used like a pochade box. The paintbox is too big and bulky to be carried very far and being a pochade box is not its primary purpose. My feeling is, if I have to lug around such a big paintbox, it will be for big paintings.

The brush holder is a necessary evil. It's there to keep brushes in place. Otherwise when the box is closed and being transported the design of the box could allow brushes to fall into other compartments  - and into the panel holder, where there might be wet paint. I don't want the brushes painting unsupervised!