Sunday, November 26, 2017

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

11 ½” X 18”
Acrylic on a reclaimed cabinet door

This weekend I was determined to make art. And, as bad luck would have it (good luck for me), Clint had a doosey of a cold, so I retreated to the studio for some much needed art time.

Two weeks ago, we celebrated our 10-year wedding anniversary. We packed up the car and headed over Molas pass and east to Gunnison, Colorado. We had a grand old time hanging out together and exploring new places. I loved the high plains sea of sagebrush surrounding Gunnison, charmingly placed on a plateau under a big bowl of a sky. We saw canyons with wild, icy creeks and the snow-topped Sawatch Mountains. We crossed the Continental Divide in yet another place and stopped for a roadside lunch where we gazed into the beautiful Weminuche Wilderness. I came back inspired and with plenty of photos to work from. 

Our first stop was the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It’s one of those places like Canyon de Chelly, where you’re traveling through a pleasant, but unassuming landscape and all of a sudden—bam—you come upon this holy-cow canyon (in this case carved by the impressive Gunnison River). The view into this deep maw of a canyon is knee buckling. There were places where I wouldn’t even lean on the overlook's railing—yet at the same time, I longed to have wings so I could soar out over it.

This painting was an obsession. I’d drawn out the basic shapes last weekend and laid in a few washes of color after spending the afternoon wrestling with my Cascade Creek painting. I couldn’t wait to get back to it. Yesterday I grabbed my morning tea and went straight to it, painting most of the day, bringing the piece nearly to a finish. I got lost in color, finally setting my brush down late in the afternoon.

Cascade Creek

Cascade Creek
13 ½” X 23”
Acrylic on a reclaimed cabinet door

One of our favorite hikes takes us down a short, but steep hill to this lovely creek. The views heading down the trail are spectacular, especially in the fall when the aspens turn to brilliant golds and yellows. This time, it was early spring, the aspens still bare, and patches of icy snow in the shady spots as we left the trailhead. Having nearly died once on a narrow icy trail, I was nervous. Now some might say I wouldn’t have died, but I certainly would have at least broken several appendages. Thanks to Clint’s lightning fast reaction, as my feet shot out from under me he grabbed the strap at the top of my daypack, holding me until I dug my trekking pole into the snow and rolled back up onto the strip of trail. What ensued was something like a bear trying to get up from a greased linoleum floor. It wasn’t pretty, but I got both feet back under me and we continued. So, that experience was in my mind that day as we set out.

All went well until we came to a short steep stretch in shady patch of a hairpin turn covered in snow. It was slick as can be and Clint coached me onward, “Step in the footprints that are already there in the snow so you don’t slip.” That sounded like a good idea to me and with the first step, I discovered the snow was about three feet deep as my leg postholed without touching any terra firma and I spun around in a physically impossible position, my free leg bent, knee slip-sliding across the icy crust. Think awkward bear on greased linoleum again, as I struggled to get my leg out of the hole. Eventually I did and promptly decided to slide on my butt down to the bottom of the berm. I was thankful the people behind us on the trail hadn’t caught up to us yet to witness this ridiculous spectacle.

From there the way was clear and we quickly made it to the bottom where the trail opens up to a beautiful broad meadow in a steep walled canyon. We made our way towards one of our favorite spots along the creek that runs the length of the valley. It was a stunning day and the water was a thick ribbon of green and blue laced with white foam.

PS. Though I haven't been painting as much as I'd like to, I've been remiss about posting my pieces. Apologies! More to come soon.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Sunset on the Departing Storm

"Sunset on the Departing Storm"
20” x 16”
Acrylic on Canvas

Some nights it takes longer to get home than others…particularly when there is an amazing sunset and I have to stop multiple times to take photos. This image represents just one short section of the spectacular panorama of sky we had one evening in early fall. After a rumbly storm that was more noise than moisture, the clouds moved east. Father Sun bid them goodbye in a wild array of color.

I’d wanted to paint this image for some time, but ordered myself to finish the two paintings I already had in progress. (I shared those two last week here and here.) Once I put the finishing touches on those, I eagerly broke out a new canvas and went to town—it was a dance—one of those paintings that practically paint themselves. The spirit of the painting gods flowed strong and powerful through me that afternoon. I started and finished within a matter of a few hours.

I wish I could say all paintings come together that easy. Most of the time there’s an element of struggle as I work through the challenges of shape, value, color, and hue. Other times, like this, they are a gift.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Above Shearer Creek

"Above Shearer Creek"
16" x 20"
Acrylic on Canvas 

This was a hike full of surprises. Not like the usual surprises, like when Clint says, “Oh there’s a little hill, but then, it’s flat because you’re going along a stream bottom,” and then, it turns out the trail rollercoasters up and down along steep, rocky shoulders that line that flat stream bottom. That was a different trail…

This trail had more visual surprises—with a terrain that changed quite a bit along the way. We started up a gentle slope in Ponderosa forest that took us to the top of a steep, chaparral-covered hill with few large pines that survived the last fire. We looked out across a deep crease of a valley you’d never guess was there based on the terrain at the trailhead. 

The trail snaked its way down the hill, presenting a beautiful view, and eventually we saw the creek—way down in the bottom. It had rained recently and in the warm days that followed mushrooms had erupted everywhere: all shapes, sizes, and colors, sprouting out of the duff at the base of shrubs, boldly sitting on top of broad tree stumps, and edging the trail. 

At one point, we could see structures in the valley that appeared to be part a camp of some kind—maybe a dude ranch of sorts. We reached the creek and crossed over onto a rutted road that paralleled the drainage for a short stretch. It looked like a lot of water had come through the tight canyon, twigs, logs, and detritus lodged against anything that had resisted the deluge.

We crossed back over the creek, the trail narrowed and started to climb. It was a little slippery and rocky, that section having served as a funnel for rain runoff. We stopped for a short break at a wide spot to let a large party of dudes and dudettes go by on horses. While some looked at their phones, others looked at us in surprise, wondering why people would be walking up this steep, rain-beaten trail. One of the riders made a comment about how riding a horse was the better way to travel—to which we replied that we preferred experiencing the landscape up close and personal on foot—you see things you can’t see from the back of a horse, thank you very much. I was thinking about all the mushrooms we’d seen.

Up over the next hump the dirt turned red, the trail left the creek bed and it opened up into a bowled side canyon—the dirt and rock so red in the sun it hurt my eyes. The trail kept climbing and it was getting damn hot. We pushed on further and got to the top of the bowl where we were treated to this spectacular view across the canyon that opened up before us. We rested, enjoying the light breeze for a while before we turned around and headed back.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

First Snow

First Snow
16" x 20"
Acrylic on Canvas

I couldn’t wait for the first snow. I knew it would be beautiful—wide swathes of sparkling snow on the pastures, the tree trunks dark espresso from the moisture, their branches perfectly outlined with white, chubs of snow climbing up the windward sides of the trucks, sticking to the rough bark wherever it could defy gravity. 

Every tree holding the snow in a distinctive pattern: the oaks with clean, graceful branches, every little branchlet lit by snow, bunched globs at the junction of larger limbs spreading from the trunk. More dollops resting atop the remaining rusty leaves—a surprise of color in the nearly black and white landscape. 

The piƱon pines look as though snowy popcorn was dumped over them, filling the needled fingers of every branch, the pinecones framed with frost like a postcard image. 

Deep green against the slate sky, the towering Ponderosa pines are garnished with impossibly large clumps of snow that become snow bombs, leaving a trail of snow dust in their wake as they slip from the limbs and plunge toward the ground. 

Late in the day, the sun peeks out and everything bursts with color—but just for a moment before the sun slides behind the gray wall to the west. It starts to snow again in the cool, waning light.