Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Winter's Night Painting Tale

8" x 10" Oil on Canvas Panel
Today, December 21, the Winter Solstice happens where I live. For some of you it might be on the 22nd...I think. Figuring out the timezones for this event is beyond what I want to do with this post, so my advice is – celebrate both days! Of course for some of you it may already be the 22nd. Somewhere I read that daylight will officially be about 9 ¼ hours long. Or maybe I should say short. It's the night that'll be long. With a tip of the hat to the longest night of the year, I thought I'd write a post about plein air painting – at night! The painting above is about my third attempt at painting outdoors at night and was done a winter or two ago in Heber Valley near Midway. The musical term “nocturne” is also used for these paintings made on the shady side of the planet.

Last January I was tramping around on some ridges by Goshen Valley looking for likely paintings. These hills are dotted with juniper trees and sagebrush. The snow that covered the ground had a slight crust to it's surface. Just below the crest of a sand hill, I set up to paint. Several deer were browsing in the fields below or wandering along paths through the sagebrush. After completing the painting I hiked up onto higher rocky ridges to scout out sites for possible future paintings.   

It was well after dark when I began hiking back down. With many years experience hiking at night, and snow on the ground, seeing my way was easy so I left the flashlight in my pack. As I neared the sand ridge, a full moon rose from behind the Wasatch mountains to the east. The moonlight cast a pale blue-purple glow onto ribbons and patches of snow between dark shapes of junipers. Deep blue shadows stretched from tree to tree.

There have been nocturnes painted by others that I have enjoyed very much. The night has been a part of my outdoor experience perhaps nearly as much as the day. For a while I've wanted to try my hand at nighttime plein air painting but suspecting it would be difficult, put it off. The opportunity provided by this night could no longer be resisted, though. Setting up a pochade box and strapping on a headlamp, I was going to try.

It was while into this painting that a chorus of coyotes struck up their wild harmonies. The coyotes' songs seemed to come from several directions at once, all around me. As usual, the coyotes sang for only a short time, then left me to the quiet of the winter night.

Farther into the painting, I heard the sound of footsteps in the crusty snow approaching from behind! Quickly turning around, the headlamp beam revealed only the tree directly behind me. Stepping around the tree I looked for the source of the footsteps but saw nothing. The footsteps had been too heavy to be a coyote. Most likely it was a deer that bolted once it became aware I was there. Mountain lions have been known to pass through this area, but I think the footfalls of a mountain lion would have sounded different. That is if a mountain lion cared to be heard at all!

More or less completing my first attempt at a nocturne, I packed up my gear and hiked down the sand ridge as the full moon rose ever higher in an indigo sky. I thought about how I was out in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of winter, in the middle of the night, surrounded by coyotes, while some unknown large thing walked up behind me. Then I said to myself,

“Man, I gotta do this more often!”


billspaintingmn said...

James! You had me at the edge of my chair! I was sure you were going to say,"..and there was Stapleton Kearns in his orenge knite cap, He offered a Moxie and began to paint!:)

Fun story, and beautiful painting! I will hope to do the same. Merry Christmas!

James Gunter said...

Thanks Bill. Glad you like them. Hope you had a merry Christmas, and good painting and guilding in the year to come!