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Monday, September 26, 2016

The Importance of Drawing

Good drawing skills will help you with your painting -- even landscape painting.  If you're a plein air painter, you  might find this video helpful.

More plein air videos at my online video course!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Get Ready for Paint Sedona Plein Air Painting Workshops!

Painting the Red Rocks of Sedona

If you've been following my blog, you'll have read nine rather long posts on my experience at the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art.*  I wanted to give you a feeling for what's it like to participate in a world-class event like that.  I hope you enjoyed them.

Now I want to tell you about another great plein air painting experience, my Paint Sedona plein air painting workshops.  Limited to four students, each four-day workshop runs 9-1, giving you time in the afternoon to either paint on your own or to explore the area with family and friends.  Each day will start off with a brief talk in the studio to get you started, followed by an excursion to the field where I'll demonstrate and then you will paint.   For the more advanced weeks, as noted on the schedule, I will present different topics or customize the workshop to your needs.

You can't go wrong in Sedona.  It's got some of the country's best Southwestern scenery including the famous red rocks, as well as creeks, sycamore and cottonwood trees, and more.  In one of the workshops, Exploring the Verde Valley, we'll go a little farther afield to places like the historic mining town of Jerome.

The workshop is only $300.  But I'm also offering a package deal that includes lodging at our studio for only $600.  Lodging is very limited, so you will want to sign up soon.  Workshops are scheduled from mid-October through next April.

You can get full details at  I hope you'll join us!

*If you haven't been following my blog, you can read about the event, in reverse chronological order, here.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Grand Canyon 2016 - Part 9

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Saturday morning dawned with the canyon filled with a blue haze from the Fuller fire still smouldering on the North Rim. The artists I met during check-in for the Quick Draw all remarked on how lucky we were; it always helps with a painting to put a feeling of “atmosphere” in it, and here we had been handed it on this day. We wouldn’t have to make it up.

Parking in the Village, which is where the Quick Draw is held, is always a problem on weekends. Even though check-in wasn’t until 7:30, I arrived at 6 to find a parking spot, which I was lucky to do right near the Kolb Studio. (I was able to keep that parking spot all day and didn’t have to move my car.) So I had plenty of time to join the tourists for sunrise pictures and coffee.

After checkin-in, I went to my favorite spot near the Bright Angel Lodge with a nice view of shadowed cliffs. Having over two dozen artists set up between Verkamp’s and the Kolb Studio, a short stretch of trail, meant that some of us would be painting similar scenes -- or so you would think. Artists who set up beside me were Brad Holt, Robert Goldman and Susan Klein. None of us painted the same view! Brad painted a picture of the Lookout Studio; Susan, an intimate close-up of some rocks right off the trail; Robert, the view looking west; and I, the view looking east.

The virtual pistol went off at 8; by 10, we wrapped up and delivered the paintings, finished and framed to the auction table. There was an amazing amount of good work done in just two hours, and it always amazes me that artists can pull that off. (But this is what we do, isn’t it?) I was very pleased to have my 12x16 auctioned off at $1000. You might remark that this is not a bad rate of pay. But as Whistler remarked, artists are paid for their vision, not for their labor.

We had a break after the auction, so I joined my lodging host and Robert Goldman at El Tovar for a beer. Robert, it turns out, lives in Prescott, and I also learned that we were in the same gallery (now closed) in Sedona for awhile several years ago. I talked to Robert about his painting process, and it’s always interesting to hear how other artists work.

Artists were asked to return to the Kolb Studio at 4 to vote on Artists’ Choice. (Won by Robert Dalegowski.) I love getting a chance to see the artwork before the collectors arrive because I can take my time to enjoy the paintings. Each artist has a studio painting as well as the week’s worth of plein air work. I won’t render judgement on my fellow artists and their work, but I will say there are some excellent paintings there. I was honored by Peter (P.A) Nisbet, a much-respected and highly-collected Grand Canyon painter, who said my studio painting of Acadia National Park’s Otter Point was the best of all of them. “I like to give credit where credit is due,” he said.

The collectors flooded in at 5, and the Studio became a mosh pit. By 7, it was over and time to go home.

Now it’s Sunday. Artists have a debriefing with the Grand Canyon Association at 8, followed by a Buyer’s Brunch at 10 and more sales. The exhibit and sale opens to the public at noon and will be ongoing until January.

On Tuesday, I fly back home to Maine and New Brunswick. Not long after, we pack up the car and head west for our winter home and studio in Sedona. I may write more on this event as a wrap-up, but I’ll be quite busy with packing, a workshop in North Carolina, and then the Sedona Plein Air Festival. I will say I had a great week and enjoyed, as always, painting on the Rim, working with the Grand Canyon Association’s staff and volunteers and the National Park Service, and deeply appreciate the support and hospitality of my lodging hosts. Thank you, everyone!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Grand Canyon 2016 - Part 8

Saturday, September 17, 2016

I thought I’d take a moment to talk about my evolving palette. Many of you have asked what I use and if it changes from Maine to Arizona. Up until this week, I have used what is basically a split-primary palette. And no, the palette doesn’t change. In the photo above, you can see the these colors in the top row, from left to right:
  • Cool yellow (cadmium or hansa yellow light)
  • Warm yellow (cadmium or hansa yellow deep)
  • Warm red (cadmium red light)
  • Cool red (permanent alizarin crimson)
  • Blue (ultramarine blue, which is a blue with red in it and next to cool red on the color wheel)
  • Green (phthalo green)
Rather than two blues, I prefer use use a blue and a green. I feel it enlarges the gamut, or offers more color mixing possibilities.  That's titanium-zinc white on the left.

This week, however, I’m finding it advantageous to add some earth colors. These are in the column on the right, from top to bottom:
  • Yellow ochre
  • Burnt sienna
  • Raw umber
  • Prussian blue
Prussian blue, of course, isn’t an earth color, but I’ve found it plays so well with the earth colors and is perfect for the skies and canyon blues this week. That last little dollop in the column is Gamblin’s Solvent-Free Gel. It’s my medium when I don’t want to thin with Gamsol (odorless mineral spirits.) It also helps the earth colors stay glossier. Earth colors tend to go matte, whereas the modern colors tend to stay glossy.

Now you are asking, Why the earth colors? To make the colors of the canyon, it’s just faster and easier to use these rather than mix the equivalent with the split-primary palette.

My process is to first tone the surface with Gamblin’s transparent earth red (all my colors are Gamblin) to get a nice warm effect going. Next, I paint as much as I can with the earth colors. Then, since the earth colors dull down so easily, I move to my split-primary palette if any of the colors need to be richer. This is especially the case with sunlit areas, where I might need a warmer, more intense light than I can achieve with yellow ochre. I might use the cadmiums here. In the darks, I might add touches of ultramarine, alizarin crimson or even phthalo green.

Now, on to my journal.

Chimney by Mary Jane Colter at Hermit's Rest

After delivering my final painting Friday around noon, I was beat. It’d been a busy week. But I had a breather, with nothing really to do until Saturday, when two fun-filled days of hob-nobbing with collectors will begin. So I took the afternoon off. A couple of friends surprised me by coming up from Sedona, and we had lunch together. When lunch was over, they had to head back, so I was once again on my own. I decided to drive slowly out to the end of the West Rim Drive to Hermit’s Rest and take a hike there.

As Arizona goes, it wasn’t very hot -- 82 degrees -- but the sun at 1 p.m. was intense, even for being so near the autumnal equinox. I smeared on the sunblock, put on my hat and grabbed two bottles of water. I began to hike down the trail and quickly realized, yes, it was indeed hot. I decided to go off-trail and hike along a rock shelf that followed a contour line.

As it turns out, it was a very pleasant detour. I came across twisted, graceful junipers; patches of blooming apache plume and mountain mahogany; agaves that had recently sent up flower stalks and were now green with fruit; and of course there were the ravens, playing. I strolled for about an hour, all told.

Next stop was Pima Point. The view there is amazing. You can look back to Hermit’s Rest and see the trail winding far, far below. All the layers of the Earth lay open, peeled back by erosion like the layers of an onion. I stood at the rail for a long time, entranced. It was a very spiritual moment, and for awhile, I was no longer a painter but a witness to the ages.

From there, I went home. It was time for a rest and to engage my mind with something other than painting. When you are painting for a festival, you are always spending your creative energy and not earning it. You empty the bank. It’s good to have a break just before the end to take a little in. Hiking and sightseeing is part of that; so is sitting down with a book or magazine or movie.

After my rest period, I went off to hear a talk given by Curt Walters. Curt, who lives in Sedona, has painted Grand Canyon for many years and has won many awards for his work and kudos for his activism in helping to preserve the Canyon. He showed a retrospective of his work and talked about how it had changed over the years, and why.

Now it’s Saturday morning. The Quick Draw starts very soon. Artists are expected to check in at 7:30 with the starter pistol going off at 8. We’ll paint for two hours along the Rim, between Verkamp’s and the Bright Angel trailhead. At 10, we are expected to deliver our paintings finished and framed to the auction table at the Bright Angel trailhead. The auction starts at noon.

Finally, the day will end with the Grand Opening at 5 pm at the Kolb Studio. This is a ticketed event and allows you to get first pick of the paintings. The public opening isn’t until Sunday at noon. I hope to see you at all these events! Visit for details.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Grand Canyon 2016 - The Paintings

As promised, here are the paintings from the 2016 Grand Canyon Celebration of Art.  These are all for sale through the Kolb Studio on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.  For details on the event and the sales, please visit

Still to come is the Quick Draw piece.  But that should sell at the auction.  The Quick Draw is Saturday, September 17, 2016 from 8 to 10 a.m.  The paintings will be on display at the Bright Angel Trailhead immediately following, with the auction set to start at 11:30.  I hope to see you there!

Please keep in mind that these are field photos.  The paintings look much better in person!

Canyon Trails 12x24 oil

Evening in the Canyon, 9x12 oil

A Moment in Time, 12x9 oil

Condor's Realm, 9x12 oil

Perched, 9x12 oil

Downriver, 16x12 oil

Tree with a View, 12x16 oil

Sunrise at Yaki Point, 12x16 oil

A Place to Stand, 24x12 oi

Leaping 6x8 oil

Antediluvian, 6x8 oil

Shadowed Throne, 6x8 oil

Plateau Point View 6x8 oil

Grand Canyon 2016 - Part 7

Canyon Trails 12x24 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
Available at Kolb Studio, Grand Canyon National Park

Friday, September 16, 2016

My goal Thursday afternoon was to finish the 12x24 I’d started at Yaki Point the day before. I was eager -- okay, let’s be honest and say “impatient” -- to get going. It was hard for me to waste time while waiting for the right hour of day so the light would be the same.

First, I drove out to the Visitor Center and took the last remaining parking space. In my four years of doing this particular event, I’ve never seen the Park so crowded. This year, a big flashing sign sits by the road saying “VISITOR CENTER PARKING LOTS FULL - USE LOTS A, B, C, D”. (I took a chance and found a spot in lot 4.) But I only really notice the crowds at the Visitor Center and the main shuttle stops in the village; elsewhere, the crowds seem to melt into the landscape of this big Park.

At the Visitor Center, I bought an ice cream bar at the snack shop, watched an 8-minute video about Canyon beginnings projected on on oversized (eight-foot?) tennis ball, and people-watched. Checking my watch, I saw it still wasn’t time. I drove to the Geology Museum, thinking I’d take a refresher course in the geologic eras and how they relate to the Canyon. The Museum, however, was quite busy, with tourists either taking photos of the displays or of the Canyon through the windows. (Funny, but you get the same view outside the Museum.) I finally decided to just drive on out to Yaki Point and set up.

But I was slowed down by stopped traffic. I was in a line of maybe six cars with a tour bus at the head. The bus had its flashers going. “Uh-oh,” I thought, “they must have had a breakdown.” I’m sure the wait wasn’t long, but it seemed that way. Turns out that everyone had stopped, including oncoming traffic, to take photos of a single elk buck by the roadside. There was plenty of room to pull off, but of course, no one did. I was finally able to pass when I was down to just one car ahead of me. Local residents don’t care for these “elk jams,” which apparently happen all the time.

Still, it wasn’t enough of a delay. When I reached Yaki Point, I still had another hour until the magic moment. But I set up anyway, taking my time, thinking about the painting, and then taking a short walk. A big fire was smouldering off to the north; a huge plume of smoke drifted east. (I think this is the Fuller Fire on the North Rim, which has burned nearly 15,000 acres; although the fire is much reduced in size, the recent winds may have kicked it up again.) By the time I got back to my easel, the time was close enough, so I launched into it.

I was missing the wind of the day before; it may have been windy, but at least it felt cooler. Here in the sun without the wind, it was quite warm. I sought shade but found none with my view. So, I drank a bottle of water an hour and took breaks in the shade. After a couple of hours, though, I was done. I am very happy with this painting.

I had the rest of the afternoon free to explore a bit before dinner. The Grand Canyon Association was again hosting a meal for the artists at a member’s home. In attendance was the new Park Superintendent, Chris Lehnertz, and it was a pleasure to meet her. By the time I wandered home, the stars were out, and the moon was full and bright. The air was filled with the scent of wood smoke.

Friday morning, artists were instructed to paint on the Rim Trail between Trailview and Mather Point from sunrise till 10. Ever the team player, I was out there at the crack of dawn. It was all of 41 degrees, but I was comfortable in layers. Knowing I had several hours, I took my time setting up, selecting my view and blocking in. I was done by 9. After that, I pulled out Thursday’s 12x24 and took another look at it. Satisfied, I framed it up and got the paperwork ready. I’ll be dropping it off Friday afternoon at the Kolb Studio.

That’s it for Friday! This evening at 7:30, Curt Walter will be giving a talk. Curt has painted the Canyon for decades and is very well known for his magnificent paintings. I always look forward to his talks.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Grand Canyon 2016 - Part 6

Thursday, September 15, 2016

After lunch Wednesday, I started to feel the pressure of time. With the option of delivering finished paintings Thursday afternoon and the deadline of Friday afternoon, I needed to make any final adjustments and start framing. I drove off to a quiet, shady spot on the Hermit Road where the shuttles don’t stop and set up shop. I was happy to see that none of the paintings needed much, and a few needed nothing.

My outdoor studio

Afterward, I decided I’d like to have one more 12x24 in inventory. (I suppose given enough resources, I always would want to paint “just one more.”) I hadn’t been to Yaki Point in the afternoon light, so I drove over to see what it could offer. Although the cold front had blown through overnight, the wind was having a hard time leaving. As much as I liked the views on the west side of the point, the wind pushed me to the east side. There I found a stunning scene that would give the viewer a real sense of the Canyon’s depth. It was about 2:30, and the shadows cast a pattern that I liked. Knowing that they wouldn’t stay that way long, I made the commitment to not rush but to paint the scene over two days.

Half-way done.  Other half will be done in a second session.

As I expected, I got the painting only blocked-in before the shadows had changed so much that there was no point continuing. Memory would take me just so far, and I really wanted to be true to my reference and not invent anything. The first-timer may may think the Canyon’s little towers, valleys and temples all look the same, but to the old-timer, each view is unique and recognizable. I want some old mule-rider to say, “Yup, I know that place.”

Bill Cramer at work

After packing up, I took a hike around the Point. I wasn’t quite ready to go back home yet. Maybe I was looking for the company of other painters. Plein air painting during a festival is, most times, a solitary sport. Each painter tends to have his own idea of what to paint and where and when. I don’t really run into many painters out here. This day, George and Marcia Molnar happened upon me while I was adjusting paintings, and again at Yaki Point. But of course, we were all busy painting. After my 12x24, I wandered back up the Hermit Road and found two more. Bill Cramer and Michelle Condrat were painting the vista as the sun set and the moon rose. I didn’t have time to set up and start, since nightfall was imminent; instead, I sat and chatted and then ran interference for them when a tour bus pulled up. The tourists were from Missouri and were only going to be at the Canyon for three hours and were already heading home.

I decided to head home, too, and start the paperwork for my inventory.

Thursday morning, I wanted to get one little painting in before starting the task of framing. I went over to Yavapai Point - always a good spot for sunrise or sunset - and did a 6x8 study of an outcrop. After that, it was back home to frame.

I was lucky to have a nice, shaded porch with a big table to work on. I got out all my frames and framing equipment, all my paintings, and got to work. There’s really not much to say about framing, except that it is a process: photograph the unframed painting, spray with retouch varnish, put it in a frame and photograph it in the frame; fill out paperwork with inventory number, title, price, size, etc., and write the same on the back of the painting with indelible ink; make sure to record the same information on a piece of paper that will stay in my possession, along with the image number(s) from the camera; and finally, stick the painting in a box and add it to the stack. Yes, it’s a lot of things to do, and you have to keep your head on straight. What makes it easier is to have pre-wired the frames before the event. What always makes it hard is thinking up titles. “Canyon Light” -- yawn.

After that, I loaded up the van and drove over to the Kolb Studio to deliver the paintings. And this was all before lunch.

I will write a separate blog post on the paintings themselves; it’ll be sparse on text and heavy on images.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Grand Canyon 2016 - Part 5

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

After Tuesday’s midday sleet storm, I spent some time making minor adjustments on the morning’s work. Once in awhile at these plein air painting festivals, the question comes up: Must a plein air painting be finished entirely in the field? The question usually is asked by painters new to plein air painting festivals. In my opinion, as long as the bulk of the work is done in front of the subject and your main goal is met, you can tweak the painting later in the studio. My rule of thumb is to keep adjustments down to a half-hour per painting. After all, these are “tweaks” and not major renovations. Any longer than a half-hour indicates the painting has a big problem and should either be scraped or set aside for analysis.

Of course, you don’t always have the opportunity to adjust. Saturday morning we will have the “Quick Draw,” where artists will be asked to paint between 8 and 10 a.m. followed by immediate delivery of the finished and framed piece to the auction table. How many of us wish we had a few extra minutes in the studio to touch up those pieces!

After my studio time, I noticed the wind had gotten worse. The high wind advisory was set to expire at 7 p.m., but I didn’t see any sign of slacking. Fighting the wind is tiring. So, I took the afternoon off to explore. On Friday, artists will be asked to paint along the rim anywhere from the Trailview shuttle stop on the Hermit Road to Mather Point by the Visitor Center. I wanted to scope out an area I was curious about as a painting spot, so I hiked a little on the Rim Trail. I got off the trail to explore nooks and crannies, and I did find some good views. The only problem is that my exploration was in the afternoon but the painting will be in the morning, so the light will be different.

After another spectacular sunset, the Grand Canyon Association sponsored a pizza party for the artists at one of the local restaurants. Most of the artists I spoke with said they, too, had taken the afternoon off because the wind had been so tiring. Everyone looked a little beat. That’s typical, I think, for the middle of a long plein air event like this one. But everyone rallies as we get toward the end and the energy ratchets up.

Wednesday morning dawned cool and with big, fast-moving clouds. At 44 degrees and with the fickle clouds, I decided to do a little laundry first. The machines at campground were fast; I was heading for a painting spot within an hour. I also wanted to check out the location I’d discovered the day before to see what the morning light was like.

I went up the Rim Trail where there is a distant view of the Kolb Studio and El Tovar. The clouds had started to break, and the canyon was filled with a golden haze from all the dust stirred up by Tuesday’s wind. I did a small piece first, a close-up of a temple getting the sunlight; and then a second piece, a little larger, that features the clouds with El Tovar and the Kolb Studio as supporting characters. I think this will be a great location for Friday. Maybe I should stake my claim now?

Now I’ve just enjoyed an early lunch at the Maswik Lodge, and I’m just about ready to find another painting spot. I have plenty of inventory now, and I don’t need to paint much more for the show. But with today being Wednesday and paintings needing to be delivered Thursday or Friday to the gallery, framing is imminent!

I showed the exerior of my Dodge Promaster City in an earlier post; I thought it'd be enlightening to show the interior.  How'd I ever fit all this stuff in a little sedan?  (Which is what I rented in previous years.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Grand Canyon 2016 - Part 4


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

At lunch on Monday, I spent a little time reviewing my paintings thus far. The temptation with this event is to just keep painting; it’s like harvesting a garden, where you know you have only a limited time before the frost, and you don’t want to miss a single tomato. But at some point, you need to start making tomato sauce. I find that most of my paintings need a few adjustments before I frame them--and there are always culls, too.

By the time I was ready to paint some more, the wind had begun to pummel the Rim. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the weather service had issued a high wind advisory. I headed up the West Rim Drive. I knew I’d be able to find some shelter, especially on one of the points, where there is always a lee side.

I ended up at Hopi Point. But when I looked at the lee-side view, I realized that it faced a part of the Canyon where the sun was hitting the rocks dead-on; there weren’t any shadows. Without shadows, it’s hard to pick out form and thus hard to make a successful painting. So I went over to the windy side. I found a couple of twisted junipers that seemed to provide shelter and set up to paint a 6x8 study of the Alligator. But a moment after I set up, a particularly powerful gust came and nearly tipped over my easel. And it wasn’t just one gust, but a whole train of boxcars coming at me. I persisted, but after that one 6x8, I moved on.

As I passed Mohave Point, I spotted another painter. How clever, I thought; he’s painting out of the back of his car where he’s protected from the wind. But that wasn’t the case. It turns out the wind had snatched up his French easel, dashed it to the ground and broken its legs. He had the body of the easel in the back, just resting in the car, while he was perched on a little stool. “I’m now confined to painting out of the back of my car,” he lamented.

I drove past the Abyss and toward Pima Point. Just before Pima, I parked and walked a bit. I really wanted to be out of the wind. I have painted in every weather condition, including rain, snow and sleet, but wind is the worst. It is a battle. Fortunately, I found a little section off the trail where I had a nice view of a formation that always has a beautiful shadow on it late in the day. (I apologize for not knowing the name of it.) I returned to my palette of Prussian blue, burnt sienna and yellow ochre for this one, but added some of the cadmium colors for a little more brilliance in the sunlit areas.

On the way back down from Pima, I joined a few thousand other visitors in watching the beautiful sunset. I helped a German family take a snapshot of them against the sunset. All along the rim in the distance, flashes popped as tourists snapped pictures.

I woke Tuesday morning to another high wind advisory. Winds were predicted to gust up into the 50 mph range. That meant I needed to find some serious shelter. I hadn’t been out east of Grand Canyon Village yet, so I decided to make my way to Grandview Point where I knew there were lots of little pockets I might set up in to escape the wind. I found a nice ledge to hide behind. It only required moderate rock-climbing skills. There was quite a bit of dust in the air from Monday’s wind, but once the sun rose a bit more, the air seemed clearer.

I painted a 12x16 but forgot to get a photo of it on the easel when finished. I was busy making plans for hiking back to the car without getting blown away.

View of Desert View Watch Tower

I headed on east to Desert View, which is about 25 miles from the Village. A watchtower, built by famous architect Mary Jane Colter, is the centerpiece, but I didn’t need to climb it to see the view. From ground level I could see the canyon formed by the Little Colorado River and far beyond, the Vermilion Cliffs. Closer by, the Colorado River, dull green and shimmering with rapids, snaked through the canyon. I grabbed a coffee and thought about painting, but when thirty motorcycles arrived to add to the throngs of tourists, I decided to walk a little and then head back west.

I stopped at Moran Point to do a quick 8x10. Named after Hudson River School artist Thomas Moran, who visited and sketched in the area a very long time ago, this outcrop has the usual stupendous views. But I was more interested in the sky: beautiful, fast-moving clouds had built up. I found another protected spot that also had some shade.

On the way back home for a late lunch, I ran into a sleet storm! The road was covered with slippery ice pellets, and the thermometer in my car dropped from 71 to 58 degrees in seconds.

I’m not sure what the afternoon holds. I can hear thunder. Tonight, there’s a pizza party for the artists. Most of the artists paint on their own, so it’s nice to have a little social event to connect with everyone.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Grand Canyon 2016 - Part 3

Monday, September 12, 2016

After lunch yesterday, I headed west on the Hermit Drive, also known as West Rim Drive. The wind had gotten up, and sure enough, it was worse at the Abyss. The Abyss is a box canyon that faces northeast, and its immense walls seem to capture the wind and turn it right at you. It’s also the drainage for Monument Creek, which flows into the Colorado, and a popular destination for hikers from Hermits Rest at the far west end of the Park. But what’s more, the Rim Trail at that point provides a sheer, vertical, 3000-foot drop to the Tonto Platform below.

And you feel the fear in your groin when you’re perched right there above the Abyss. Yes, at the parking pull-off there’s a metal rail, but it doesn’t go very far. I had in mind painting a particular overhang, and the viewpoint I’d scoped out yesterday would put me in danger of being seized by the wind and possibly yanked over the edge. (A good book to read while you’re here is Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon. It’s a hefty tome.) So, I found a different spot with an even better view on the lee side of a big clump of apache plume.

For this painting, I changed my palette. The question came up recently about what I use; normally, it’s a split-primary palette of a cool and a warm version of each of the primaries, although I vary that by using phthalo green rather than cobalt. For this one, I used yellow ochre, burnt sienna, Prussian blue and raw umber. (White is always assumed; I use titanium-zinc white, and all colors are from Gamblin Artists Colors.) I love this palette because color harmony is so easy to achieve. Of course, you sacrifice the ability to mix intense colors.

This is a 9x12 oil. (I’ll have titles for the ones I frame later, when I post my chosen ones just before delivery to the Kolb Studio on Thursday or Friday.)

Next, I took a hike with a big water bottle. I’ve been feeling like I haven’t been drinking enough water, so now I’m making a conscious effort to stay well-hydrated. This is my driest, warmest visit to the Canyon yet. Other times, we’ve had some good, moist air because of the active monsoons.

On my hike, I started noticing the ravens. Actually, I’ve been noticing them all week. They are playful birds. They love to swoop, roll and dive in pairs or groups of three or four. You can tell with their aerial acrobatics that they are playful. There’s no point in what they do, so far as I can see, other than to play. They made me cheerful (not that I needed cheering up.) If reincarnation can happen, I hope I come back as a Grand Canyon raven.

Ravens weren't the only ones in the air.  A rescue copter passed beneath me.  I imagine they were either training or on a search-and-rescue operation.

After the show, I set up to do a small painting. I like doing 6x8s once in awhile; I can focus on a single feature in the Canyon rather than laboring to capture the vista. In some ways, it’s my version of what the ravens do. It’s play.

Finally, I went home to have dinner with my hosts, Dave and Judy. They wanted to take me to El Tovar, which is a very fine restaurant with a very fine view. I told them the story about how, years ago, Trina and I had hiked down into the Canyon to Phantom Ranch and then out again. It’s an eight-hour hike out, and we were famished on our return. We plodded into El Tovar and ordered apple pie a la mode. It was the best apple pie I’ve ever eaten, before or since. I didn’t have apple pie last night, since I didn’t want to tarnish that cherished memory.

I was up early again this morning (sunrises are hard to beat) and headed toward the Village. I had in mind to paint a piece of architecture. After getting a coffee at the Bright Angel Lodge, I settled on the historic train depot. The chamisa is in full bloom now, and I found a beautiful scene with the chamisa showcased and the depot in the background. I had to work quickly, though; the view I wanted required me to have full sun on my painting surface, which isn’t desirable with oil paint. It causes a huge problem with glare. Fortunately, the sun was still behind some ponderosa pines, and I was able to get most of the painting done before the sun swung around. I didn’t quite finish, so I will have to go back.

Another scene I wanted to paint was a view of Mather Point with all the little people on top. (This came as a special request from Trina, and I always listen to her.) Monday, I figured, would be a good day because lots of tourists have left after the weekend, and I’d be able to park pretty close to the trail. This all worked out, but again, the sun was coming over my shoulder, throwing a glare on the panel. (Yes, I have an umbrella, but it has a discipline problem, and is now dead weight.) I actually turned the easel 180 degrees away from the scene so it would be in shade. With the scene literally behind me, I had to look, memorize, paint a few strokes, and then repeat the process. Passersby thought I was painting the sidewalk and the scrubby junipers.

And so we come to lunch time again. This afternoon, I think I’ll find a quiet spot to pull out my work thus far and review it. I usually find a correction or two that needs making.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Grand Canyon 2016 - Part 2

Sunday, 11 Sept 2016

Saturday afternoon, after a midday break, I decided to hit the Hermit Road. Clouds were building up, and I was eager to see what they would do. In previous years, we’ve had good monsoon weather. If you’re not familiar with the monsoons of the Southwest, basically it’s a season (July-September) of moisture from the Pacific moving over Arizona and New Mexico. The monsoons are typified by clear mornings followed by a quick build-up of thunderstorms around noontime. These storms bring welcome but often violent rain, accompanied by lightning, flash floods and sometimes hail. The Rim, and especially the high Hermit Road, can be a dangerous place as it is very exposed to lightning.

The forecast for this week, however, has none of that. But clouds were building, and I always welcome them. They add movement and thus interest to the sky. They also provide relief from the sun, which is intense here at 7000 feet.

This time of year, the Hermit Road is closed to private traffic and access is only by shuttle buses. But not for event artists! We are given a much-coveted permit and a secret code that gets us through the gate. (Trust me, you don’t want us trying to get all our gear and supplies onto a shuttle bus!) I do try to stay humble though.

The Hermit Road is about 7 miles long. I stopped about halfway out at Mohave Point. I’ve painted here many times. There’s a view I like where I can see the Colorado and some of the amazing rapids. I painted this 16x12 of that view, from a slightly different angle from what I have done before. The clouds cast beautiful shadows over the 5,000-foot cliffs, but these were tricky to paint because the clouds were moving. I had to pick-and-choose a moment in time that best featured the river.

I completed three paintings that day, and I was ready for a break. I took a walk along the trail there to the Abyss (you can imagine what this looks like) and then headed back to town. The day was moving toward sunset, and I wanted to visit Yavapai Point, a place popular with tourists for sunsets, and maybe paint the evening light.

John Cogan, James Trigg

But the clouds thickened, and the light vanished. I ran into John Cogan and James Trigg, and we ended up having pizza together and talking about galleries, Spanish land grants and digital SLRs. The best artists can discuss more than just painting.

Sunday morning, I got another early start. John, James and I had decided we’d all paint out at Yaki Point, at my suggestion. Yaki has great views, and because it is a point, you can usually find someplace out of the wind, if you are expecting wind. (And at Grand Canyon, you should always expect wind!) I hiked out to one of my favorite spots and took my time thinking about what I wanted to do. I decided to haul out my French easel and do a vertical 24x12. The view had started off very hazy, but by the time I was ready to paint, the haze had cleared and we had a glorious day ahead of us.

This painting took a long time but went smoothly. One problem with oil paint is that, in situations with a lot of light (e.g. Grand Canyon), it can cause a glare. I was fortunate to have a little rock shelf right behind me that I could stand on now and then and change my viewing angle to eliminate the glare. Also, because this painting was so tall, I was glad to have the rock to stand on so I could paint the top half of the panel.

I just had a quick meal at the Market, and now it’s break time. In a bit, I’ll head back up the Hermit Road to the Abyss. There’s a feature I want to paint there. It’s getting windy, though, and you can never tell what it’ll be like at the Abyss. It channels the wind in strange ways.