Monday, June 11, 2012

Mojave Revisited

Mojave Byway  8" x 10" Oil on Panel
Last Weekend I painted in the desert near Littlefield, Arizona. This is the same area I visited last year and wrote about here.

After parking at the same place as last year I crossed the dry wash and explored around the joshua trees looking for a likely subject. Settling on one joshua tree I set to painting. As the painting progressed, the dry desert wind increased making painting difficult. Near the end of this joshua tree painting a paint rag blew from my pochade box. I got careless and stepped away from the pochade box to retrieve the paint rag. That's when a sudden gust of wind took my setup and contemptuously flung it into the dirt! Paint tubes and brushes flew everywhere. The brush washer crashed to the ground spilling all of it's solvent onto the ground and all over everything else. The painting had dirt and sticks stuck to it, extra smears of paint on it and - worst of all - solvent splashed all over it! The painting was destroyed. Why must I re-learn these lessons? After uttering some unkind comments about the situation I picked up everything and cleaned up the mess, which included wiping the wet painting down to the panel.

Being kind of late in the day and with the wind increasing, I really didn't feel like starting a new painting. Loading the painting gear back into the car, I threw on a day pack with extra water in it and hiked down the dry wash. After exploring around a little I found a better place to camp. Later I moved camp to the new spot. I was glad I found the new camping place. There was, after all, a dead cow too close to the earlier camp.

I did manage a small landscape pencil sketch of a joshua tree before sunset. Then I settled in for the night. The day had been hot and the night was warm, so I fell asleep without any need for a blanket. 

Later that night I awoke. There was a slight chill in the air so I grabbed a light blanket. Looking out into the desert night I saw the moon had risen. Silvery light from a waning moon flooded the Mojave Desert near and far, casting a seemingly supernatural glow onto the landscape. Shadows like hydras lay on the ground stretching from the bases of joshua trees, grotesque as if frozen in mid-writhe. It did indeed seem like a place spoken of anciently, where "...wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and...doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there." (Isaiah 13:21 AKJV) I really wish I could have taken a night hike then. It would have been a wonderful experience. But I had worked hard and hadn't had a full night's sleep in days. I was beyond tired. Because of physical weakness I wouldn't go out and cavort with the owls and satyrs. I rolled over and returned to sleep. They would have to dance without me...this time.

In the morning I awoke while the sun was still behind the eastern mountains. By the time I drove away the sun was well up. The morning breezes were gentle and the lighting to the west caught my attention as I drove down a dirt road, so I stopped and made the painting shown at the very top of this post. It was painted on the panel that had been wiped the day before. As this morning's painting progressed the winds began again to pick up and become feisty. Near the end of this plein air session I heard a noise behind me. I turned and watched as a dust devil passed about a hundred feet from me. If it had hit me it would have destroyed the morning's work. That provided motivation to quickly finish the painting and pack everything into the car. From there I drove to some red rock near St. George, Utah, where I hiked and did another painting. Maybe that'll be the subject of another post.

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