Saturday, June 21, 2014

Be Prepared

5" x 7" Oil on Panel
The title of this post (with a nod to the Boy Scouts of America) is admittedly advice I've never been able to fully achieve. Try as I might, occasionally something will come along that catches me completely off guard. Sometimes more than occasionally. Maybe I'm being increasingly prepared to be surprised.

As an outdoor painter, I try to be prepared to paint whenever the opportunity presents itself. I always have something to sketch with. As much as possible I keep painting supplies in my car, ready to go. Some painting trips are planned. Some are spur of the moment opportunities.

The day the painting shown at the top of this post was was made, I really was just out for a late afternoon walk by the lake. Much of last year's marsh grasses were flattened, and one could walk out on marsh grass mats over shallow water without getting your feet wet. So that's where my walk took me. While out on the bunched phragmites mats, I saw some trees growing on slightly higher ground near the marina. Deciding to paint those trees, I walked a few minutes back to my car where I retrieved a tripod, a 5 x 7 pochade box, and a couple other pieces of painting equipment. Back out on the marsh I set up he painting gear and got to work painting.

The phragmites mats make for unstable "ground." The thickness of these marsh mats varies. If you step on the thinner areas, your foot can go right through and into water. If you stand in one spot on the thicker patches of marsh grass it slowly sinks until you suddenly discover you've acquired damp feet. Walking around on the mats after setting up the tripod and paintbox caused the painting gear to wobble around and almost fall over a few times. In spite of having all this "fun," it was a great afternoon to be out painting. I'm glad I could do more than just wish I had brought some painting gear along.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Clouds, Wind, and a Rattlesnake

5" x 7" Oil on Panel
What a difference a day makes. The evening I wrote about in the last post had been such a pleasant experience. The very next day was... different. The painting that starts off this post was made the very next day.

I set out with a small paintbox expecting the weather to be just like the day before, but found instead very windy and cloudy conditions. Disappointing, but not reason enough to stay out of the mountains. Arriving at the place I had been the day before, I decided to leave the trail and head up the steep mountain slope several hundred feet to an area of outcrops, cliffs, and cliffrose. The weather, however, wasn't showing much concern for my painting aspirations. The wind was at times blowing perhaps forty miles an hour. Dust in the air made distant scenes look gray and washed out. A grimy film coated my skin and clothing. There was grit in my teeth.

I explored around, stopping to consider several painting possibilities. I also thought I'd try a little free climbing on some of the smaller limestone cliffs; ones only around ten or twelve feet high with ample handholds. I'm not a climber, but since I'm in the mountains a lot, a little practice could come in handy someday if I ever find myself in a situation where I absolutely have to do that sort of thing. Besides, it was a little fun.

Making use of a large crack in one cliff face to find handholds and foot placement, I climbed to the top of the twelve foot high cliff. Before hauling myself completely onto the top of the little precipice, I made a quick scan of the immediate area to be sure I could do so securely. With a surge of horror I suddenly realized I wasn't secure. A few inches from my right hand was a coiled rattlesnake! With a gasp I jerked my hand away from the snake! I hung there on the edge of the cliff, breathing hard and staring at the rattlesnake to see what it would do. My immediate concern was that it might flee for cover into the very crack I was using to hold onto the cliff. The rattlesnake did... nothing. It hadn't struck at me and was now staying perfectly still. It was a small rattlesnake, about a foot long. It was in fact the cutest little terrifying sight I ever did see. After regaining my composure, I could see no safe way to continue past the rattlesnake so I quickly and carefully climbed back down.

This is the guy I'm talking about!
Finding another way up around the cliff, I then hiked back down to the cliff's edge and found the baby rattlesnake still there. I snapped a few pictures of the snake and crouched, examining it. As I hovered over the rattlesnake, it slowly began to move. It first crawled into the crack I had earlier used to climb the cliff. Then the rattlesnake came back out of the crack and headed up slope. I followed it for a short distance, then let it be. This wasn't my first encounter with a rattlesnake. I've seen dozens of them. But it's the first time I've known myself to be within striking range of a rattlesnake, and the thought was unsettling.

After walking a few dozen yards away, I set up the paintbox and painted until sunset. I hiked back down after dusk, tired, dirty, and with rattlesnakes on the brain. What a difference a day makes.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

An Early Summer Sketching Trip

This post is more about a particular evening than it is about the sketch, but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless. It's also sort of a part one to the next planned post.

This was one of those early summer evenings along the Wasatch Front. 

The day's weather had been warm and partly cloudy. I had been caught up during the day tending to other distractions, but later finally found myself free of the day's concerns. It was tempting then to just plug into the internet and veg out, but I was eager to get outside and take a walk. Even a little walk. I got in my car not sure of where I was going, but soon found myself at a trail head on the Wasatch Bench Trail. 

There's a day pack in my car that's always available for any spur of the moment wanderings I may take. This little pack has some basics in it; water, compass, rain poncho, flashlight, first aid kit, knife, sketchbook, etc. A little essential whatever for wherever and whenever I may wander. As usual I take this pack with me as I walk southward along the trail.

It's late May – technically not summer but feels like it. It's the season when summer still feels fresh. The trail is dry, but for the most part the trees and grass on the mountainside are still green – as yet unsinged by the mid summer sun that will be here in just a few weeks. In a meadow between clumpy stands of Gambel oak, a deer stands watching the human travelers on the path fifty yards away. Even back lit, the deer's red-brown hide stands out against the fresh summer greenery. I stop and watch the deer for a minute or two, and then move on. The sun is low in the western sky, shining through patchy clouds above the Tintic, Lake and Oquirrh mountains. The silhouetted clouds are blue-gray, blending into lavender towards their edges which are brightly lit by the westward sun. The air is so pleasantly warm. The evening breezes are gentle, occasionally becoming a little more assertive but never too gusty. It feels good against the skin. I leave the trail and walk up the slope a short distance to some boulders. There I take a seat, pull the sketchbook out of the pack and sketch a stand of Quercus gambelii.

Below me is the town, full of activity. Lights down there begin to come on as the sun crosses the horizon. The lights make the town look all a-twinkle. But up here on the bench, the dusk is peaceful and soothing. Clouds above the western mountains are an even slate color now. A thin crescent moon, just a day or two old, looks down, still able to see the sun which is no longer in my view. Night breezes caress my skin and tussle my hair. Crickets chirp in perfect time.

The bell tower down on campus tolls nine times as I begin the walk back to the car. Usually I'd have tunes cranked up on the stereo as I drive, but tonight the radio is silent. Turning it on would seem... wrong. The air conditioner I had used earlier in the day is off, and the windows are rolled down.

I think I need to do some shopping before I go home, and stop at a store along the way. There in the store I get caught up in all the bright colors of packaging and rows and rows of goods on shelves, along with their prices, advertising and other signs. The magic of the evening dissipates. When I get back out to the car I realize that the spirit that was with me up on the mountain bench – a spirit of peace that had even accompanied me as I drove down off the bench – is no longer with me.

This had been one of those early summer evenings along the Wasatch Front. One of those evenings far too brief, but oh so valuable. One of those things that can never be found online, or in any store.

But I know where to look for it, if I want to find it.

Next time - what a difference a day makes!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Delivery Truck Driver

12" x 9" Pastel Pencil on Paper
This man modeled for our drawing session a few years ago. My sketch was made with a sepia pastel pencil - instead of charcoal this time - on white paper. 

For more about drawing sessions, go to "Labels" on the side bar and click on "sketching" or "drawing."