Thursday, May 20, 2010

Mesa Verde

Painting 1.24, Mesa Verde, Square Tower. I enjoy using cliff dwellings as a subject because they provide a point of interest that is small in comparison to a natural feature like an arch. This gives me a chance to paint a small detailed portion of a cliff wall. Painting a cliff dwelling also usually means that there will be no sky in the picture which I think makes the paintings feel more abstract because the viewer only sees shadows on rock and can only guess where the light is coming from or what time of day it is. The light here could be from a sunrise or a sunset or it might even be night and the walls are illuminated by firelight. The sky doesn't usually play a big part in the pictures that I paint except to act as a smooth gradient in contrast to the jagged and absolute shading on the rocks.

Another note on the subject in this painting: while it is very likely that these structures were built using stone similar to the stone on which they were built it was important to me that the two surfaces look different in the painting. Almost as if the life had been drained from the stone when it was hewn into blocks for use in building houses. It is easy to think of Anasazi structures like this as being part of the natural landscape because both the buildings and the landscape were around long before we ever where. However, my interest in this area is not archaeological but geological and these structures are just man made objects deposited in the landscape.

Giclee Print

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Double Arch

Painting 1.23, Double Arch, Arches National Park. After that last painting of the white house ruins I was trying a new approach to depicting the dreaded but beautiful "desert varnish". What I tried to do here was to paint the highlights and shadows first, and then go back with a very wet brush containing some dark brown and lay down the strips of varnish over both the highlights and shadows with one stroke, darkening them both at the same time and forming a link between the two. Too often, either the shadows can look like dark shapes floating on the highlights or the highlights look like strange aberrations amidst the shadows. Having a continuous line through both reminds my eye that they are different aspects of the same object. I was especially pleased with the area in the top right.

Giclee Print

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The White House Ruins 2

Painting 1.22, The White House Ruins in Canyon de Chelly, Arizona. I decided to revisit the subject of one of the first paintings I ever completed. I had changed the style of my painting a lot in the intervening time and had always wanted to better convey what I loved so much about this cliff dwelling. The most interesting pictures of this location are taken from the canyon floor. Only at that angle do you realize how the canyon wall extends out of the ruins then curves upward toward the rim. Desert varnish is plentiful at the rim and strips down the canyon wall towards the gap where the Anasazi built these structures. This gives pictures a sense of isolation as the brilliant sandstone fades to black at the top of the frame. I'm still not quite satisfied because I don't feel like there are enough hints in the shading of the rock to convey the shape of the cliff to the viewer. I also still feel like the buildings stand out too much. They are extremely old, likely made from the same stone that makes up the canyon wall and they should look like part of the canyon wall.

Giclee Print

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Surprise Arch

Painting 1.21, Surprise Arch, Arches NP. I'm hesitant to post this painting because I am not very satisfied with the results. I do think that it provides an excellent example of how taking too much time off between starting and finishing a painting can have a negative effect on your work. I had finished the last two paintings rapidly over the course of a couple days. I started this one excited to try out what I had learned from the last two. Then I went away for the weekend and by the time I got back I had forgotten most of the ideas that felt so fresh before I had left. Its kind of like a dream that is so clear right after you wake up, but fades away much faster than you expected it to. When you try to revisit it later, you realize you have no recollection.

The other problem that I encountered with this painting was the choices that I had to make about highlights and shadows. I was so sparing with the use of highlights around the edge of the painting that those areas seemed very empty when filled with a black shadow. I tried to minimize this effect with the addition of a lighter shadow layer but the parts just don't seem to fit together. I really love this location in the fiery furnace in arches national park and will definitely revisit this in a future painting.

Giclee Print

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Gemeni Bridges

Painting 1.20 Gemini Bridges, in Moab, UT. One thing you'll notice when looking at formations like this is a faint but warm red glow in the shadows created by light reflected from the ground. I realized that up to this point I had been ignoring this aspect of the scenes that I had been painting and wanted to try to recreate it here. I'm not sure how well it worked out, but one thing that I am happy about is the look of the upper left hand potion in the foreground. I struggle a lot with making the rocks in the painting really look "3D" and in this case I really feel like you can tell that those jagged rocks are protruding from the sandstone. The only problem is that I can't really put my finger on what makes it look better than the other parts of the painting to me. Maybe it's the highlighting around the edge of the rocks, or is it the darker color of the whole area? In any case I'll have to keep trying different things to create this effect in subsequent paintings.

Giclee Print