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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Road Trip, West to East - Zion Canyon, Part 5

Falls to Lower Emerald Pool

Saturday morning dawned with steady rain.  The rain, which had begun in the night, came down hard enough to wake us.  At breakfast, fog shrouded the mountain tops, but as it parted, we saw snow at the highest elevations.  After our group critique, I proposed the idea of my doing a pastel demonstration indoors, an idea which everyone eagerly accepted.

Big Sur Coast - 9x12 pastel - color temperature study

I parked myself in front of a large window for light and pulled up a photo on my my tablet.  I decided to paint a "rehearsal" of a piece I plan to make for one of my videos; this particular video will feature oil, but I wanted to try it in pastel first, which I find easier for working out design issues.  The chosen scene was of the California coast near Big Sur, but the real subject was color temperature in the landscape.  I didn't refer to my outline as I worked, but just tried to keep in mind my focus on temperature as I talked.  It was good to go through the steps, since I discovered a compositional problem that needed resolving.  Since I ran into a problem with this one, you can bet I'll rehearse the other two videos, as well.

After lunch, the weather finally broke - or seemed to.  A glimpse of sun came out and the rain stopped.  We had heard Zion can have some great waterfalls after a storm, so we headed up the canyon on the shuttle to see if anything interesting was happening.  We're glad we did!  Trina and I hiked part of the Angel's Landing trail from the Grotto and saw a small waterfall just where the route creeps up a steep wall.  Then the showers began again, so we turned around and hiked over to the Emerald Pools.  An awesome, triple waterfall surprised us as we rounded a corner.  We headed for the lower pool, which required us to hike below and behind the noisiest waterfall.  We hugged the cliff wall to avoid the spray as the water thundered over head and cascaded among the rocks.  Although our shoes were a muddy mess, it was worth the effort.

Triple Waterfalls at Emerald Pools

We and scores of other hikers felt the effort required a break at the Zion Lodge.  We got a bottomless coffee/hot chocolate blend, which we refilled twice, and sat with the other artists and people-watched.  The canyon was surprisingly busy; we thought the rain would keep people away, but maybe they had heard about the waterfalls just as we had.

Evening was spent with saying goodbyes to some of our crew who would be leaving early Sunday morning.  Departing were Tennessee and Maine.  British Columbia had already left, shortly after breakfast and crits.  New Hampshire and Massachusetts wouldn't depart until Monday, as would we.

Sunday dawned clear and cold.  Someone reported it was 37 degrees.  After an early breakfast of oatmeal, we headed up the canyon via shuttle for one last painting expedition.  We stopped at Zion Lodge, about halfway up the canyon, where the sun hadn't quite penetrated yet.  That was good, as I always like to anticipate where the sun is going to hit and work toward it, especially in early morning canyon situations.

We hiked just past the Lodge along the river where the land opened up and gave us excellent views of Angel's Landing, the Emerald Pools waterfalls (still going strong!) and Mountain of the Sun.  I set up facing south and painted a view of the latter with the river in front.  To make sure I got the light on the mountain accurately before the shadows changed, I worked exclusively on just that feature, leaving the rest of the panel empty.  Once I'd finished blocking in the light and shadow patterns and painting in some of the warm, bounce-light on its cliffs, I worked on everything else.

Mountain of the Sun, 12x9 oil

Afterward, we hiked back to the Lodge to eat our sandwiches in the sun and to take the shuttle home.  Once back, it was time to clean up and pack.  Since we'll be traveling for a few more weeks, we had to do the laundry and repack all that stuff that we will need for workshops.  The light continued to be beautiful, and although the brushes are stowed, we still enjoyed an afternoon walk.   The last day is always sad, but we know we'll paint together again somewhere along the road.

Now we are trying to revise our route east.  We had hoped to take I-70 through Vail to Denver, but lingering snow in the Rockies and northern New Mexico may push us as far south as I-40.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Road Trip, West to East - Zion Canyon, Part 4

Painters from Maine and Massachusetts
Friday we went down to one of my favorite spots - Canyon Junction.  This is where the shuttle buses depart the main road and head up into Zion Canyon to follow the river.  A large bridge spans this spot, and the paved Pa'rus trail runs under it.  Also, the canyon widens out to give good views of both the Sentinel and the Watchman with the river lazily winding in the foreground.  There are also big boulders, rapids and waterfalls, a small dam, cottonwoods - plenty of scenery for the painter.  I've painted here several times over the years.

Although you can take the shuttle, there is also a wide shoulder for car parking on the west side of the bridge and a smaller area on the east side.  If you get there early enough - 9 a.m. in the busy season - you'll find a few spaces left.  Later than that, though, and you will need to head back to the Museum where you can park and take the shuttle in.  Our small caravan of three cars had no trouble parking.

Under increasingly cloudy skies, I lead everyone across the bridge and just past the shuttle stop where there is a river access path.  At the bottom of the trail you can wander freely in the sand among the boulders and cottonwoods.  I found myself returning west, passing under the bridge, to a spit of land that let me look back at the Sentinel.  (This year, for some reason, I keep finding myself drawn to this feature.)  It was a nice composition with water, boulder, tree - just about everything.

The Sentinel and the River, 12x9 oil

The painting was a struggle because of the peek-a-boo shadows.   The changing light had the biggest impact on the rock face, so I focused on that, waiting for the moments when the light gave me the effect I wanted.  I painted the rest of the scene at a more leisurely pace once I'd finished the important part.

You can't see my feet in the photo, but my heels are in the river.
I had to head back to the house early for a conference call with my editor.  I was to discuss my upcoming video shoot with her and the videographers and needed some time to study up on the outlines.  After the call, which I was able to do via Skype and another artist's portable Verizon wifi unit, I set up my easel on the patio with the other painters to tweak paintings. The wind was kicking up huge dustdevils, and storm clouds loomed over Zion, so we all decided it was best to stay at the house for the afternoon.

I took my tree pastel from the day before and adjusted the drawing on it; then I adjusted my Grafton church piece by darkening the foreground shadows; and finally I took my latest Sentinel scene and added some dark accents there as well.  These foreground darks continue to elude me in the field, but I am reluctant to automatically apply the darkest dark I can make.  I don't want to make any assumptions.  Quite often, you just don't see that kind of dark in nature.  But if in the studio the painting seems to call for it, I'll listen and add it.

By dinnertime, the wind had died down and patches of blue sky appeared.  Did the storm pass us by?  Not at all.  As I write this at 5 a.m., this rain is falling steadily.

Painter from New Hampshire

Friday, April 25, 2014

Road Trip, West to East - Zion Canyon, Part 3

Warm, pleasant weather continued Thursday as we prepared to head out to the ghost town of Grafton.  Last time we were here, our group went there on the very last afternoon not with the intention to paint - all the gear had been packed up as we prepared to depart Zion - but to explore.  As we drove down the road past turnoffs for Smithsonian Butte and the Grafton Cemetery, we were treated to stunning views of ragged-top buttes, cottonwood-clad arroyos and the distant peaks of Zion Canyon.  And Grafton itself turned out to be a treasure - four or five buildings from the past in a picturesque setting of green pastures edged with split-rail fences and mulberry trees.  We vowed to paint there next time.

After breakfast and the morning critique, we headed out.  The road had more pavement than I remembered, and then, as we got close to Grafton, a lot more dust than I remembered.  The last mile or so was composed of some fine dust that seemed like FFFF-grade pumice; and it was several inches deep and as slippery as snow.  A breath of wind stirred up a huge cloud of it.  We had our all-wheel drive Subaru, but the others had low-clearance rental cars.  We all made it, but the cars were amazingly dusty.  (Later, we found that the dust had penetrated every cavity of the car.)

Last Year's Rattler
We didn't see the rattlesnake we saw last year, which was a big one.  But since the weather had been warm for many days, we kept a lookout.  I found a good view of the church or schoolhouse (it had served both needs) with some nice shadows on the cliffs behind it.  As I painted, a variety of vehicles, including at least one Prius, crawled in on clouds of dust.  Most tourists stayed only five minutes; it was a rare group that stayed ten.  As painters, we absorb much more than the casual visitor.  After staring at a building against a shadowed hill for two hours, you have learned a lot not just about the scene but also about the overall temperament of a place.  It's like an intense conversation with a new friend.

Grafton Church, 9x12 oil
By lunchtime, the sun had gotten hot.  We retreated to a shady porch to eat and rest, and as much as we liked Grafton, we decided it was time to move on.  I personally felt the dust was rising like the tide, and if we didn't get out soon, the road would become impassable.

Back at our house, some of us spent time making adjustments to earlier work.  I found a bit of shade and enjoyed adding or correcting a brush stroke here and there.  My problem is that often I don't put deep-enough darks in the foreground; in the field, I have a hard time judging those darks and often deal with them later.  They're important for creating a sense of depth.

Virgin River Cottonwood, 12x9 pastel
Toward dinnertime, we went back to the Nature Center to work along the river.  We found some nice cottonwoods, and the roar of the water made a pleasant backdrop for painting.

Painter from British Columbia
Weather changes are afoot.  A big storm is predicted for the weekend.

The "Sundance Kids" at lunch.
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," starring Paul Newman
and Robert Redford, was partly shot in Grafton.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Road Trip, West to East - Zion Canyon, Part 2

Painter from Massachusetts

Wednesday dawned mostly clear and about 60 degrees.  Much of the dust from the afternoon before had settled, and from the house we could see the Watchman clearly.  Painters woke early for coffee and scrambled eggs.  Although we had talked about having breakfast at eight, it seemed we were all hungry by seven.  We had thought that getting a too early start didn't make sense, as the canyon is narrow and the walls, steep, which means that it takes a long time for the sun to spill in.  But we found that in the lower canyon, from the Court of the Patriarchs and below, it's wide enough for some good light early.

After breakfast and a group critique of work from the day before, we saddled up and rode the shuttle to the Court of the Patriarchs.  The shuttle plays a tape loop as you run up the canyon and tells you many facts about the Park.  These are interesting the first time you hear them, but by the third or fourth trip it's a little tiring.  (Fortunately, the loop isn't played on the return trip down the canyon.)  As we approached our stop, it let us know that there was a short, steep trail to the right that would give us views of the Patriarchs.  These are three awe-inspiring peaks that tower over a broad sand bench and box canyon.  But I knew from previous experience that the view is partially blocked by trees and there'd be lots of tourists.  Better is the service road on the other side of the road, which takes you by the river and, via a bridge, out to the sand bench, where few people go.

A short hike took us past cottonwoods that lined the river and a horse barn that houses the horses for the guides that run tours up and down this part of the canyon.  The cottonwoods were huge, and several of them showed the work of beavers.  I was surprised that they would go after such large trees; in my experience, they prefer the smaller saplings, which are more tender.   The horses were already gone; we could hear the guides in the trees on the other side of the river, coaching the tourist riders.  A couple of wild turkeys appeared and sparred briefly, but their calls rang out all morning.

Some of us painted down by the water and others up on the sand bench.  I went up on the bench to paint a vista.  After a couple of close-ups of rocks the day before, I felt like painting something a little broader.  I faced up the canyon, where I had views of the spring-greens of cottonwoods against the red-violet of the shadowed cliffs.

Court of the Patriarchs, 9x12 oil

We'd packed lunches with us, so when I finished, I walked around to see what the others were doing while eating a sandwich.  Afterward, I thought about making another sketch, but instead decided to return to town with a couple of the others.  We explored a few galleries and then, after a break, headed back into the field late in the afternoon.  We went to the Nature Center, where we'd gone the first morning, and painted the shadows.  I tackled the Watchman in pastel; my first try this week was in oil, and it had been a hazy-light situation, but this time I had some good, crisp shadows.

The Watchman. 6x9 pastel.

Three of the painters made dinner - grilled chicken, roasted potatoes and asparagus followed by bumbleberry pie and ice cream - and then we settled down to view a short art instruction video one of the painters had brought.  This reminded me that I'm supposed to shoot a series of three videos in a few weeks for Artists Network.  You can bet that I wasn't paying attention to the lesson but instead to how the artist performed in front of the camera.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Road Trip, West to East: Zion Canyon, Part 1

We arrived in Springdale, Utah, on a glorious day filled with air so crisp it was like biting into a good apple.  I imagine it was the kind of day that the first Mormon settlers experienced when they pulled their wagons into Zion Canyon.  They saw it as a place of not only peace and beauty but also as a place of refuge.

The Sentinel, 9x12 oil
(The sun was still out when I painted this one.)

This is, I think, my fourth trip to this land of cloudscraping towers, weeping springs and light-filled canyons.  My first time here, back in the 90s, I hiked Angel's Landing, a 1488-foot climb, after suffering a bout of food poisoning that I acquired in Moab the day before; my next time was in 2011 as an Invited Artist at the Zion National Park plein air painting event; then, shortly after that, I joined a group of artists to spend a week painting here.  (Click here for past posts on Zion.) Now, I'm doing that again.  I'm finding that with each visit I get to know Zion better and better as a painter.

We got to our rental house, which is right in downtown Springdale and close to galleries and restaurants, on Easter Sunday, a day early, which gave me an opportunity to refresh my memory.   Town and the Park were incredibly busy - every lot in the park was filled, and the town's streets were lined with RVs and cars.  Not only was it Easter, it was also a "free weekend" at the National Parks across the country.  Trina talked to one ranger who said that Saturday had been a record, with 27,000 visitors.  To us, Sunday seemed just as busy.

The Watchman, 9x12 oil
(The clouds were beginning to move in.)

But the town and Park have a great shuttle system.  We left the car parked at the house and rode the shuttle, which was filled to capacity, into Zion Canyon and along the North Fork of the Virigin River.  Every stop was a rich painting spot.  You could spend an entire day painting at any of them.  We rode all the way to the end, to the Temple of Sinawa and the Narrows trail, to take the 2.2-mile hike there.  Columbines, Zion Shooting Stars and other flowers clung to the canyon walls, dripping with moisture.

The next day, we prepared for the other artists, buying food at the local grocery store (literally a one-minute walk from the house) and running around making sure we had enough towels.  The first arrival came mid-afternoon, an artist from British Columbia, and while we waited for the others, we did a little sketching in the shade of the house.  Neither of us wanted to get too messy just yet, so he did a pencil sketch and I did a little digital painting.  I continue to play with Sketchbook Pro and find that I'm getting better at quick color-mixing; but even in the shade, on that bright day it was somewhat difficult to see what was happening on-screen.

Digital Zion
The others - a total of nine that included six artists - arrived by dinnertime.  We headed across the street to the Flying Monkey for pizza and then bed.  We were from everywhere, east coast and west coast, and what with the travel and time zone changes, we were beat.  Artists hailed from not just B.C. but also New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts and Tennessee.

From Tennessee
Tuesday morning we all woke up early, had a light breakfast and then headed out.  A big spring storm to the north with high winds in our area were predicted.  But dawn came surprisingly calm and clear.  We set up, two pastel painters and four oil painters, along the Pa'rus Trail near the Nature Center, with views of the peaks to the west.  I did two paintings, and then the sun disappeared and the wind began.  We headed back to the house for lunch with the idea of everyone taking the shuttle ride in the afternoon to get familiar with the terrain.  Some of us had been here before, others not, but I thought it'd be good for all of us to scope out painting spots for the week.  By the time we reached Big Bend, the wind was howling.  By the time we headed back down the canyon, the air was so full of dust the canyon looked like Peking on a bad day.  We'd made the right decision to not paint in the afternoon.

The cold front moved in quickly, though, and by the time we finished our dinners at the Flying Monkey, the air was clear, the setting sun bright on the cliffs, and we knew the next day would be beautiful.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Road Trip, West to East: Lee's Ferry and Kanab

The Colorado River at Lee's Ferry

As many of you know, we travel cross-country twice a year.  Each May and October, we spend days making lists, carefully packing and cleaning house before we lock the door and say goodbye.  In order to make this trip successfully, we need to be organized and thorough - and even more so, since the trip isn't a vacation but a long drive to teach workshops.  All this preparation comes, of course, with stress, but it is sweetened with eager anticipation.  We really do look forward to seeing some new country along the way.

We left Sedona on Friday, stopping at the car dealership in Flagstaff to have a wheel balance problem addressed.  (Who wants to worry about that for 3200 miles?)  Then, we worked our way up Route 89 to the Vermilion Cliffs and the Arizona Strip.  As you may recall, I'd spent several days painting in that area with my friend M.L. Coleman last fall, and I wanted to pass through again and share some of my discoveries with Trina.  This is a beautiful part of the state.  Lee's Ferry, especially, is such a nice spot that we decided to go camping there next year.  There's also lots of BLM land just outside it where we might camp and explore.

Saba Takes a Dip in the Colorado

From Lee's Ferry, we headed west toward Jacob Lake with the high walls of the Vermilion Clifffs on our right for many miles and then switchbacked up the hill to over 8,000 feet.  Here, among the ponderosa pines, we took a short break for lunch and a walk.  I'd forgotten what it's like to be that high - it was a cool 67, compared to 80 or more at Lee's Ferry, and the air was noticeably thinner.  It was tempting to think about heading over to Grand Canyon's North Rim for a visit, but Route 67 is still closed at this time of year.

It wasn't long before we found ourselves over the state line and in Kanab, Utah.  I'd passed through Kanab several times and considered it just a crossroads.  But we arranged to spend three nights here at Flagstone Studios on the north side of town.  We were pleasantly surprised.  Not only is Kanab the gateway to the most spectacular National Parks - the North Rim of Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef and also Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument - it has an impressive series of town trails that are open to hikers.  Each morning, we've picked a different trail to explore in one canyon or another.

Hiking on the Bunting Trail

Hiking on the Tom's Canyon Trail
Some of these trails are even on private land.  After my encounter with the Red Rock Ranger District in Sedona last week, it's nice to see a sign like this one:

Hopefully, "hiking" includes "painting."  (You can also read Trina's take on the matter here, which I completely agree with.)

That's all for now.  Tomorrow morning, we head west to Springdale.  I'm looking forward to pulling out my painting gear and painting in and around Zion National Park with friends.  I promise to post some plein air paintings soon!

Tom's Canyon

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Driftin' Back: Heading East

"The Three Graces" 16x12, pastel

It's hard to believe, but it's that time of year again.  In a couple of days, we'll be driftin' back east.  I say "driftin'" because we'll be taking a very leisurely pace.  First stop will be Kanab, Utah, for a couple of days to explore, followed by a week near Zion National Park to paint, and then we'll be on to workshops in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.  Normally, we'd head right home from there, but I've agreed (and gladly!) to spend several days in Cincinnati filming a series of three instructional videos with  Only then will we speed home to Campobello Island, with a quick stop in York, Maine, to visit an old friend.

(By the way, we still have some room in those workshops.  For details, see my workshops page.)

I'll post from the road and the workshops when possible.  In the meantime, I leave you with a few recent paintings plus a little music video from Neil Young's new album, Psychedelic Pill.  The song's called, appropriately enough, "Driftin' Back."

"Clouds over the Mesa" 9x12 oil
"Secret Sycamore" 12x9 oil
"Evening in the Desert" 9x12 oil
Neil Young, "Driftin' Back" from Psychedelic Pill

Friday, April 11, 2014

Overselling the National Forest - Bad News for Teachers of Plein Air Painting & Photography

Painting at the Mescal Trailhead in the Red Rock Ranger District
of the Coconino Forest

Last week, I was informed by an enforcement officer of the US Forest Service's Red Rock Ranger District here in Sedona that I can't take my painting workshops onto Forest land without a permit.  Because I charge a fee for my workshops, I am considered a commercial operation and fall under the "outfitter and guide" category, and this means I need a permit or else suffer a $500 fine.

I've been teaching workshops on Forest land here for some time.  I've taken my groups to some high-profile trailheads and have seen plenty of forest rangers - I've even acknowledged their presence and said hello to them - but no one ever told me that I needed a permit.

Before I go deeper into this, I want all my past and future students to know they shouldn't worry.  There is plenty of excellent painting in the Sedona area that isn't on Forest land.

I was taken aback by the news.  As many of my readers know, I take pride in leading very small groups, no more than four at a time.  This is by design, since I want to minimize the impact on the environment.  What's more, we are respectful of the environment.  I make sure we pick up our trash, don't harm vegetation and, as they say, "leave nothing but footprints." As a landscape painter and environmentalist, it's in my nature to want to see the landscape kept beautiful for succeeding generations.  Heck, I even donate my work to raise money for conservation causes.  (I also make sure all my students purchase the "Red Rock Pass" so they can legally be on USFS land; I myself purchase an annual "America the Beautiful" National Park and Recreational Lands pass.)

There's a big difference between my low-impact workshops and the other commercial operations.  If you've hiked the trails in and around Sedona, you can't help but notice the fleets of Pink Jeeps and ATVs grinding through the Forest, along with a plethora of Magical Mystery Tours, hot air balloons and large groups of bicyclists (who, by the way, rarely yield to hikers like they're supposed to.)

Okay, fine, I get that, I thought.  I'll get a permit.  So imagine my surprise when I found out that I can't even apply for one!  The Red Rock Ranger District has stopped taking applications for them because they have, in effect, oversold the permits.

The enforcement officer who cited me said I should contact Jeff Gilmore, the Recreation Special Uses supervisor for the District, regarding a permit.  Here is Mr Gilmore's response:

...A permit is required whenever a good or service is provided on the National Forest for a fee. On the Red Rock Ranger District, new permits for outfitting and guiding are only available when solicited by the Forest Service through a prospectus. This is due to the high level of competitive interest in acquiring this type of permit in the Sedona area combined with the high level of recreation use already occurring, and analysis indicating that we are at or approaching available capacity for recreation use in the core area around Sedona.
We have identified a need for additional permits to provide for hiking, interpretive, and educational services. This category would include the services you have been providing. Unfortunately, I do not have a time line for when a prospectus might be issued for these activities. This is due to a staffing shortfall and competing priorities with other District and Forest level projects. We are maintaining an interested parties list so we will know whom to notify when there is an opportunity to apply for a permit.
So, you need a permit - but you can't get one.

I looked deeper into this, and it turns out that in 2010 the Red Rock Ranger District approved a few dozen long-term permits - for a period of 10 years!  This effectively closes out any competition from other operators until 2020.  Why such a long term?

To give you an idea of the size of some of these operators, Red Rock Western Jeep Tours, a Jeep outfitter similar to Pink Jeep, was authorized for 10,055 trips, each with multiple passengers.  It's unclear from the USFS document whether this number is an annual number or an amount to be distributed over the 10-year period of the permit, but either way, it's a very large number.  My average number of students over each winter has been about 30.  That's right - just 30.

Mr Gilmore says he has no idea when a prospectus will be issued for enterprises such as mine, but I read somewhere that 2016 was the date.  Since the 10-year permits expire in 2020, I'm guessing that 2016 is actually the date they will start a reassessment of permit practices, with the anticipation of having the assessment complete by 2020, so really no prospectus would be available until then.

By 2020, I hope to not be leading workshops but collecting Social Security instead.

My point is, there's no room for the small, low-impact operator, like painting and photography teachers, whose focus is education.  Instead, the Forest has been allocated - or should we say "sold"? - to large, high-impact operators, many of which are out-of-state, who see the Forest more as an opportunity to make money than anything else.  The Red Rock Ranger District should never have permitted so many long-term permits that they can't issue a permit to an operation like mine.

Or maybe I'm just so small that I'm not worth the paperwork.

It's a real shame that the Red Rock Ranger District has chosen to support these operators.  Rather than support the photographers and painters who not only show you the beauty of the landscape but also teach you to love and respect it, it has given it to operators just out to make a buck.

But as I said, don't despair.  I'm already building my list of really great places to paint that don't involve the Forest.

(Painter and teacher Carol Douglas has written about her own experiences on public lands on her blog.)

Below, I have added several plein air paintings I made while on Forest land in some of my favorite spots.