Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Grand Fountain Geyser

Grand Fountain Geyser 5 1/2x8 pastel, copyright 2012

A little bit north of Old Faithful in Yellowstone is another (somewhat) predictable large geyser, Grand Fountain Geyser.  We just happened upon it during an eruption, which usually lasts about one hour.  We didn't stay for all of it of course, but it was a rather dramtic one as water sprayed in several diractions at once, sometimes quite high.  Shallow terraced deposits have formed concentric pools around the geyser.  It's fascinating and little bit scary when these pools overflow almost to the boardwalk.

White on white is not an easy thing to paint.  The combination of spraying water and rolling steam make for a pretty dramatic view but a challenging subject.  Creating contrast to give it depth seems to be the key.  I used a lighter, yellow paper here, I'm wondering if it would work better on darker paper.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Devils Tower

Spirit of the Bear, 16x20 pastel, copyright 2012

Northwest of the Black Hills is the iconic Devils Tower, the remaining core of ancient volcano long since eroded away.   It stands in the middle of a valley, surrounded by red sandstone and prairie while the Belle Fourche River meanders at its base.  We took the shorter of the paths around the monument where aspen and pine predominate.

The monument is considered sacred to many Native American tribes, most of whom associate its unusual formation with the claw marks of a bear.  Throughout the forest many prayer bundles can be seen.  These are small offering tied to the trees in brightly colored cloths.   

Most images of the monument include only the tower itself, but I liked the idea of seeing it in its environment, as a part of a bigger landscape.  I still haven't decided, however, if I should remove some of the leaves to make it more visible.  But I am pretty happy with how the trunks and branches of the aspen turned out.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Along Yellowstone Lake

At the Edge of the Lake, 5 1/2x8 pastel, copyright 2012

This painting is from the same spot as the last one, but looking along the shore of Yellowstone Lake instead of across it.  I'm still finding reflections in water a bit tricky.  The images of the closer trees and the clouds turned out, but it's the distant images that I'm struggling with.  Maybe I'm being too self critical, but they just don't quite read right.  Part of the problem perhaps is that the distant tree line is too regular.  Making tree lines regular and symmetrical, especially distant ones, can be hard to avoid.  It seems the eye (and the hand) tends to create patterns where none exist.  More yellow in the foreground shoreline would help too.

This is certainly a learn as you go process in which I am finding both where I am doing well and where improvements need to be made.  This is the last small piece completed to this date, so I need to sit down and do more.  Although I know I need to work on my reflections more, the idea of trying a few geysers sounds like a lot of fun.  Maybe they will help me to loosen up my painting a bit and not fuss so much over the details.  We shall see.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Into Yellowstone

The Last Tree, 5 12/x8 pastel, copyright 2012

After the last little pastel I decided I needed some practice with reflections on water.  Creating a reflection in water is a bit different than it would be in a mirror.  The reflection tends to be slightly darker and not quite a clear.  There were a few times when I turned this one upside down to get a better feel for it.

The reference photo for this image was taken on our first day in Yellowstone National Park, not too long after coming through the East Entrance.  It was a very still morning, and Yellowstone Lake made nearly perfect reflections.  Our timing was perfect, as the wind picked up later in the day, and continued for the next few days, making the lake choppy.  I think this one is a good candidate for a larger image.  But I've thought that about most of my paintings so far!  

Yellowstone, by the way, is truely remarkable place.  It's hard to take a bad photo, and there are amazing things to see around every bend - it's one of those places that should be on everyone's bucket list.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The space between

Crossroads on the Flats, 12x9 pastel, copyright 2012

Between the Badlands and the Black Hills is an expansive prairie called Buffalo Gap National Grasslands.  There are washes, gullies and low hills throughout, but in a few places it's very flat and the view goes on for miles.  Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between the mountains and the clouds.  Unpaved roads are the only connections between the scattered ranches.  It seemed like a good spot to try out my new understanding of distance in a larger format.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Starting to get it

Rain Moving Across the Mountains,  5 1/2x8 pastel, copyright 2012

So this is how you paint mountains!  I feel like I'm starting to get the hang of it now.  A strong contrast between light and shadow seems to be lot of the trick, at least if you really want the mountains to pop forward dramatically.  A bit more care in defining the highlighted snow helps.  And perhaps the much darker color of the paper makes a difference too, as I felt like I was using the color rather than trying to cover it up.

The most difficult part of this one was the foreground lake, which looked more like ice and snow than water.  It took a while, but I finally figured out that it was too light - lighter than the sky in fact, something which is generally only true for snow.  Painting choppy waters still eludes me a bit, though contrary to my pervious post I'm back to enjoying the smaller format.  Obviously I have yet to embrace the idea that these should be studies rather than finished paintings, but I just can't help myself, especially when it comes to painting the sky!

By the way, I'm still in Grand Teton National Park for this one.  If you ever find yourself in Yellowstone or Jackson Hole, it's worth a day trip to check out this park.  The mountains are amazingly picturesque and there are many lakes and rivers to reflect their images.  Not surprisingly, there are a number of plein air events and we spotted a few artists working away to capture a little piece of the grandeur.  I'd love to be able to join them someday.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Still learning

Across the Valley,  5 1/2 x 8 pastel, copyright 2012

I'm still working out how to paint mountains and create a sense of space with this one.  The middle ground aspens seem disproportionally small, though it might be the foreground sagebrush that is the problem.  It isn't detailed enough, which somehow makes it appear larger.  At least the mountains are bit better.  It's hard to decide how much detail they need, though perhaps a bit more shadow would help.  It was rather overcast and dull when this reference photo was taken, which doesn't help in creating a bit of drama.

By this time I'm starting to get a bit frustrated with the smaller scale of these paintings.  They are not intended to be "finished" pieces and I need to get past that frustration and have a mind set that they are only studies meant to give a general impression of the place.