Saturday, April 29, 2017

Zion National Park 2017 Painting Retreat - Final Report

Big Bend I 9x6 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Some readers have been curious about what colors I used for my painting retreat at Zion National Park this week.  Well, in addition to my usual split-primary palette, I added a few "convenience" colors; these are colors that I could, if I wanted to, mix with my split-primary palette, but which I decided to include to save time.  The colors are raw umber, transparent earth red and yellow ochre, all Gamblin colors.

Raw umber greys down ultramarine blue nicely.  Transparent earth red (TER) is a great base color for the shadowed parts of Zion's cliffs.  Yellow ochre, for the warmer, sunlit areas.

I started each painting by first blocking in the rock shadow masses with transparent earth red.  Although this is a very rich, warm red, it is easily greyed down as needed with yellow ochre, raw umber and ultramarine blue (plus white.)  Some of this rich underpainting always remains, adding a little spice to the landscape.  Sunny rock areas I block in with yellow ochre.  Together, these colors give good value and temperature contrast.  Later, I use many other colors to modulate them to get the correct local color and atmospheric effect.

Our week ended with a painting session at Big Bend, near the end of the shuttle line and below stupendous, vertical cliffs that are favored by rock climbers.  I've always loved Big Bend, especially in the morning, since the rising sun lights the cottonwoods along the banks of the Virgin River from behind, giving them a beautiful halo.  I've painted here several times before, once for the Zion Plein Air Festival in the fall, when the cottonwoods were decked out in their autumn beauty.  This time, I made two small color studies, which I hope to turn into larger studio paintings later.

Big Bend II 6x9 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
To paint the two studies, I simply divided my panel in half with a
piece of masking tape.  Later, I'll use a utility knife to cut them apart.

It's always sad, parting at the end of these retreats, but there'll be another one at Zion in a few years.  Now, Trina and I are on our way to the east, but first – a stop at Capitol Reef National Park.

Backlit springtime cottonwood

Goodbye to the Virgin River!

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