Last week I needed to adjust what Mother Nature gave the scene. This week I need to simply do justice to what she handed me. I had no painting gear with me when I snapped this pic. What you see here is done totally in the studio using the reference photo. We're on Yaki Point looking down canyon with the sun lowering in the sky. This is the time of day when the shadows take on a warm blue and the receding layers have sharp edges, but fade as they sink into side canyons. You can see that effect I've roughly painted here.
The focus of this painting is the bright spot of light peeking around the point of the rock and cascading down the trail, right about in the golden mean portion of the piece. There will be a backlit piñon along the left edge of the canvas that will bring down the overall value range and help that sunlit rock pop a bit more. I'll raise the lit edge of the vegetation which will also guide the eye diagonally downward toward that peek of sunlight.
This represents about three hours of work. There is a lot more ahead for this fun 14 x 11" piece!
Sometimes you miss it, sometimes you need to make it up. Although this isn't the actual piece I painted at Mather Point, it's based on a smaller one that I actually did paint there. What I had to rely on were my reference photos when I got back to the studio and none of them seemed to show the light where I remembered it…or wanted it. This happens to be a favorite portion of the Bright Angel Trail as it drops of the Tonto Plateau and into the Inner Gorge. The intrigue of this scene, for me, was the little bit of light that caught the cottonwoods way down in the crevice alongside Plateau Point and the hint of the trail as it disappeared into the shadow. This is about 4 p.m., an exciting time of day when the shadows really start to lengthen, turn that beautiful deep blue and engulf the lit portions of the landscape. I feel a painter really has to be there to get the feel and note the subtle detail of this late afternoon light show.
The nearby outcropping of Kaibab limestone was quite dark in my reference pic, so I pumped up the reflected light on the undersides of the layers and placed just a streak of direct light along the edges. I'll do a little more work on the plateau directly below, probably darkening it just a bit in order to allow the side canyon in the middle to stand out even more.
So, this is the painting I mentioned in the May newsletter. It needs a title.
Let me tell you a little about how this painting came about and why sometimes words just elude me. It had been a fine morning painting at the Canyon with painting buddy, Bob. In the afternoon, we set up to paint near the Geology Museum at Yavapai Point. It had been a chilly day anyway and not long after we set up, the wind came up, a thin layer of clouds came over and the temps dropped. Just not fun. We painted for about an hour, then wrapped it up. However, just about that time, the sun came out and started the light show in the Canyon. When this happens, we may take 50-100 reference photos. (what did we do before digital cameras?!) What I found most intriguing was the soft light on the foot of the redwall across the Canyon. It was focused right on the very end and softened as it drew back to the left, bouncing off the planes turned directly toward the light with sharp shadows in the very deepest crevices. A thin cloud layer can make this soft light sometimes. Whatever the phenomenon, I shot a dozen pics and couldn't get this scene out of my head once I got home. Such strong visual impressions along with the feeling of the moment, gets burned into a painter's brain, the right brain, the nonverbal part of the brain and I think that's why I need a little help with words for the title.
I once spoke about this with a respected painter-friend from Sedona and his reply was "oh, that's never a problem". He advised when that happens to him, he invites a lot of friends over, serves a lot of wine and they all come up with titles for the nameless painting. Hmmm…maybe not a bad idea. Nonetheless, submit a title to me via email, dawn@DawnSutherlandFineArt.com and the person with the title I choose will get the 7x5" study I used to plot out this piece. Looking forward to hearing from you!
I snapped a pic of late afternoon light at the Canyon in late March and found I kept coming back to this particular one. "Dance with the one who asks ya"…so I began to evaluate just what I'd like to do with it. I decided to start out with a value study on a little 7"x5" canvas and see how it felt. I slicked up the canvas with liquid, then applied an even coating of yellow ochre and burnt sienna. I wiped off the high value areas and applied more paint in the low value areas until I felt I had a pretty good image. I liked it…a lot. Next I applied the same technique to a 14"x11" canvas and began shoving paint around until I had an underpainting that felt good. It's drying in my studio right now and the next step will be the actual painting. I want to get that gentle glow of light on those formations and just a hint of form in the shadows.
For me this is the incredibly fun part of a painting; watching it take shape and holding all the promise of a fine little piece.
Being a featured artist at Sedona Arts Center means contributing time to do a demonstration. Today was my day to set up and paint in the lobby.
I generally don't mind chatting with people as I'm painting. (If my purpose is to do a demo, then I'd better not mind!) I especially like it when children watch and ask questions. It does, indeed, require switching powers from the right, creative, nonverbal side of my brain to the left, the logical, chatty side of my brain. Sometimes the switch happens without a hitch, sometimes I can't seem to form a sentence…and that's OK. I guess that means I've been deep into the "right" and in order to respond, I have to work through the maze in there and get over the corpus callosum to the left side to excavate the words to respond. Getting back to the right side of my brain after chatting usually happens pretty quickly.
So, this little painting happened in about the span of two hours. I think visitors to the gallery enjoyed watching it progress. A fun time for all!
My studio is right in my back yard. Convenient in some regards and a problem in another sense. All those chores that need attention can take over painting time. Raking pine needles, laundry, updating my website…just a few. Life had become too disjointed over recent weeks and I knew I needed time to get away from all obligations. I had a totally unscheduled day last Saturday, so I decided to find an isolated spot to paint and just sit and do nothing. I never sit still, so this was self-enforced inactivity. I drove up to the property of a Navajo acquaintance and asked if I could spend the day on a knoll overlooking the Little Colorado River Gorge. He said yes, and off I went with my painting gear, a tote bag full of everything I could imagine I'd want for the rest of the day and a little camp chair. And as you see in the picture above, this is where I stayed and painted. An absolutely wonderful day, it was. I finally packed up around 3 p.m. when clouds moved in. When I returned home, there were still chores to be done and somehow it all happened. Sometimes you just have to clear your head!
This is the culmination of all the intense painting I've been doing over the last two months. The show, Beauty of the Spirit, went up at Sedona Arts Center yesterday morning. There is a great energy putting several artists together who work with different media. AND it is gratifying to see your pieces up on a wall, lit and ready to greet visitors to the gallery.
It was mid afternoon at the Canyon. Paintingbuddy, Bob, wanted to know where I wished to paint. The light was optimal and those wonderful blue shadows were lengthening. I thought Yavapai Point would be a cool spot. I'd painted there in December and knew the formation I wanted to try. When we got there, the wind had picked up, a slight overcast developed and the formation I expected to paint had fallen totally into shadow. Rats! And it was getting colder. When you have the whole Grand Canyon in front of you, you just can't whine that there is nothing to paint. We set up on the edge and I selected a formation way out in the middle of the Canyon that was receiving pretty consistent light and had an interesting shape. "Keep it simple" and thanks to the nasty turn in weather, "keep it quick" were my mantras.
Sometimes the coolest results happen under duress. To me this one looks spontaneous and urgent. I didn't have time to ponder or belabor any details. The whole 6x8" piece was finished in less than an hour.
The wind increased as we packed up our gear. Taking one last look at the Canyon and the spotlights of sun skating across the formations, we promised we'd be back soon.
Here's a study based on a photo I took at Moran Point on the Canyon's South Rim. Walking along, I was drawn to a rock outcropping, lit against the shadow of the distant canyon wall; a simple and striking composition. I took a couple of shots and when I got home, sketched it out a couple of times until it felt good.
Then…how to start the painting? I use one of two methods. One is to sketch it out, outlining the shapes, then blocking in the shadow. The second method I use is to choose a general underpainting color, cover the whole canvas, then lift off the high value, lighter areas with a paper towel. The very light areas, I use a paintbrush with a little solvent which leaves behind an almost pure white canvas. The underlying canyon walls are a rusty red and the earth in the sunlight is a pale rust color. I decided to blend Transparent yellow oxide and a little vermillion to get the underlying painting. My intent is to apply washes of blue and violet in the shadowed areas. It will be an interesting experiment, using washes and I'm excited to get started on this one. Stay tuned!
…try, try again. Here is an example of sticking it out. Paintingbuddy, Bob, and I found a great place to paint in the Sedona Area last week. Down little FR 525 to a short side track that gave us a knoll that afforded a fine view of Loy Butte. Late afternoon, the shadows were really good and just the right amount of reliable, constant light on the formations. I started my piece by using thin red paint to outline the composition. Didn't leave enough room for the butte. Wiped it off and started again. Designed the little road winding off toward the butte, sketched in a few junipers and, didn't leave enough room for the butte. Wiped it off again and realized maybe I was starting from the wrong direction. That inner voice said if it wasn't working from the bottom up, try going from the top, down. On the clean canvas, I lightly sketched in the top edge of the butte, and making a few adjustments, literally worked my way down to the juniper-carpeted landscape in the foreground. This time it worked and I took a nice little plein air piece home that may just turn out to be the basis for a larger painting one day.