Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Down in the Valley and up on a Mountain Ridge

9" x 12" Oil on Panel
Here are two paintings made recently in the July heat. The first one is of marsh willows near the lake. The temperature that day was over 100° F. The paper towels I use to wipe paint off of brushes became damp from sweat running down my arm as I worked. 

When I first arrived at this spot, some ducks in a little canal (shown in the painting) were startled. The ducks, which included a few adults, some half-grown ducklings, and some very young ducklings, took off up the stream. That is, all but the littlest ducklings, who seemed unalarmed by everything. The group of little fluffy yellow ducklings paddled around through the duckweed apparently unconcerned by my presence. I kind of enjoyed their company.

9" x 12" Oil on Panel
One way to beat the summer heat is to head up into the mountains. The second painting was painted on a granite ridge way up Big Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch Mountains.

I'm not real familiar with Big Cottonwood Canyon, so after parking in a ski resort parking lot I just picked a trail and began hiking, confident I would find something to paint. The steep trail wound up past big stands of aspens and evergreens, and through alpine meadows covered with dazzling wildflowers of every color. I came across several scenes that would have been worth a painting, but I could see a couple trees high up on a ridge and kept pushing on to reach them. Storm clouds moved in, but I set to painting anyways. 

As I painted, I noticed that about a hundred and fifty yards or so down the slope from me, a moose lay at the edge of a meadow near a thick stand of evergreens. The moose's ears were constantly flicking, no doubt against mosquitoes like the ones that were beginning to bother me. Other wildlife I saw that day were a couple mule deer in their red summer coats, and a golden-mantled ground squirrel that briefly ventured out onto the granite boulders I was painting. 

The storm clouds never dropped rain nor produced any lightning. The storm of mosquitoes, however, was becoming nearly intolerable. By the end of the painting I was killing mosquitoes two or three per swat. Unfortunately, my insect repellent was with my sunscreen, forgotten and left back in the car. In spite of that, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip, and the wonderful beauty of the alpine meadows and granite peaks and ridges. I'm definitely looking forward to more painting trips up into both Big Cottonwood and Little Cottonwood canyons, next time with insect repellent, of course.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Yellow, Red, Black and White

10" x 8" Oil on Panel
A few more from the weekly portrait sessions. As mentioned in the posts title, these were painted with a limited palette. When painting plein air landscapes, I usually use some kind of split primary plus green. For studying portraits at the weekly sessions, I limit colors to a modified "Zorn" palette;  usually yellow ochre (or cadmium yellow), cadmium red, ivory black, and titanium white. I probably won't always use that palette for painting people, but it serves it's purpose for now.

10" x 8" Oil on Panel
The first two portraits shown here are the most recent ones. They were painted with only yellow ochre, cadmium red, ivory black, and titanium white. The last portrait was painted a month or so ago, and I don't remember the exact paints used.

10" x 8" Oil on Panel
The last portrait is of Micah Christensen. Micah is an art historian and lecturer who's work takes him to places all over the country and around the globe. He was good enough to sit for us one Thursday evening at Casey Child's studio. This portrait could have been better, but rather than hold still, Micah talked for the whole three hours. I was OK with that because of what he had to say about artists of the past, the art world of yesteryear and today, and what the future could hold for the visual arts. I was happy for the opportunity to listen to him while I painted. For more information about Micah Christensen, click here. While you're at it, be sure to check out his lectures, articles and other presentations about 18th and 19th century visual arts at The Bearded Roman.

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

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


There was so much to do last Saturday, but not enough Saturday to do it in. I thought hiking was one of the important things, though, so that afternoon I headed to a canyon in the mountains not far from town.

It was a very hot day. The temperature rose to 102°F in the afternoon. It would have been much less hot up in the high country, but summer storms had already laid claim to the mountain peaks. Dark blue-grey clouds brooded over the peaks and ridges and the sound of thunder could be heard all the way down the canyon. The lower canyon, where I was, was in full summer sun. A few lizards seemed to like that. I, however, hiked from tree shadow to tree shadow, pausing to rest at every shade along the trail. 

When hiking, one should pay attention not only to what is immediately ahead and under foot, but also to where the trail leads and what might be up ahead. Early in this hike I forgot about the second part of that. Distracted by the hot sun on my back and loose rock beneath my hiking shoes, I trudged up one of the steeper sections of trail. Upon reaching the top of that stretch, I finally looked up. There, twelve or fifteen feet in front of me, was a bighorn ram - who was looking back at me! Close by was another bighorn. I was surprised! I also felt uncomfortable about being so close to two large wild animals.

The closest bighorn appeared tough and powerful. Its thick horns were not quite full curl, but looked imposing nonetheless. The other bighorn had horns not much larger than a bighorn ewe's, but I think it was a younger ram. The two bighorns stood and looked at me, then milled around a little before stopping to look again. I backed off a few steps, swung off my day pack, and fished a camera out of the pack. The heat, exertion and excitement of the encounter made my hands unsteady, so the first few pictures I took were as blurry as photos of Bigfoot or UFOs. Then I was able to brace the camera against my hiking staff and got the more acceptable photo shown at the top of this post. 

There's usually a spring running where the two bighorns were. I've seen bighorn sheep at this spring before, but now it had dried to a wet spot, of interest to wasps and hornets but of little use to the parched tongues of much larger beasts. Both of the bighorn sheep were panting. So was I, but I could do something about it. I had brought my own water.

I considered what to do next. I thought my presence would cause the rams to move off and allow me to continue hiking up the trail. Deer would have quickly left. The rams, however, showed no signs of yielding right of way. After a short impasse, the larger ram tilted his head and tapped one of his horns against the flank of the smaller ram. I don't know what that gesture meant, but I figured that if he was thinking of his horns, maybe I should think of changing my plans. I decided to use a nearby wash to swing wide around the two rams.

Both bighorns watched as I hiked down to the wash. I went up the wash and then through some brush to get back onto the trail farther above where I had met the two rams. I discovered that as I tried to circle around the bighorns, they had actually moved farther up the trail. I met them again after rounding a bend in the trail. This time, they were down in the wash and I was up on the trail, ten or twelve feet higher than them. The two bighorns had stopped in the wash to investigate another place where water had flowed in an earlier, wetter season, but all that was there now was a damp tease in the bank. This time, upon seeing me above them, the two rams bolted down the wash, kicking up dust as their hooves clattered over cobbles and boulders. After watching them go, I continued hiking up the trail.

I wonder if, in nature, both predators and prey recognize the high ground as the angle of attack. When I was level with or slightly below the level of the bighorns, they stood their ground, if a little nervously. When I appeared above them they spooked.

A couple miles up the canyon I discovered the wild red raspberry bushes were beginning to bear fruit. I plucked a few of the bright red berry clusters and ate them before continuing up canyon. The storm clouds which earlier in the day darkened the higher elevations had moved on. Now blue sky brightened the mountain peaks. Other storms, however, had been forming and gathering to the west, and were beginning to move my way. The growing cloud cover cooled the air a little, but the heat of the day had already drained me a bit. That, and occasional lightning visible among scattered, tattered curtains of rain to the west convinced me to return back down canyon.

Other wildlife seen on the hike includes a racer (snake), hawk, hummingbird, and cottontail rabbit. I'm happy for any encounters with wildlife, great or small, that goes well. I'm especially glad I came across the bighorn rams. There are things to think about and learn from all such encounters.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Green Blouse

10" x 8" Oil on Panel
Here's an oil sketch from last week's Thursday night portrait session. As always, I painted until time was called. I never get finished with these, but what a valuable exercise they are! There was a little change to the colors on my palette for this painting. Like always, titanium white, ivory black, and cadmium red were used for this portrait, but then I used two yellows; yellow ochre and cadmium yellow. Ultramarine blue was also introduced into the mix.

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