The summer months bring rain to the American Southwest. Skies become dark, light bright and fleeting; a sudden downpour, and then it vanishes. The clouds clear and once more the intense light returns. Everything becomes more vivid and alive during these brief showers and scudding clouds with lightning often adding to the drama. To me, this is the desert at its best – a harsh beauty in a harsh land.
Red rock formations are stunning. Utah is filled with them, with Bryce and Zion National Parks presenting stunning examples of not only the rocks, but arches and canyons.
Driving through Utah is a trip into a wonderful land, brimming with natural beauty besides the red rocks – the Great Salt Lake, mountains, ranch land, forests, and so much that it is hard to even begin to describe. Add to that, it holds a special place in American history as it is where the persecuted Mormons (Church of Latter Day Saints) found sanctuary.
Back in the 80s, I drove through St. George, Utah, when I returned to California to live. Just a few years back, we visited on a family road trip – it was far bigger than I remember, but just as beautiful.
We are pushing 100F today, with east winds adding to the heat and potential fires. Thus, an autumnal desert scene seemed appropriate for today’s painting. As I haven’t worked in gouache for quite some time, I thought it time to dig them out. Variety is the spice of life, for sure.
Before painting, I did a value study before I even sat down to paint.
I used pencil, as you can see below. I like pencil a bit more as I have a good range of pencils of varying hardness and softness, and that helped out in the light and dark department.
I won’t say that the value study did not help. It really did. What it aided in was setting up light and dark areas, of course, but also helped me see shapes, such as the trees against the dark mountain, as well as shapes in the creek in the mid to foreground areas.
I left the sandy bank of the creek and the reflections deliberately vague – hard for me when I want to put in a lot of detail! The focus of the painting is the cottonwoods, so too much detail in the foreground would compete with the more detailed painting of the trees.
Altogether, this was a pleasant diversion, and the value study was worthwhile (not that they take a lot of time – I am just lazy). The creaminess of gouache is fun and a completely different experience than watercolor or pastels. I used Holbein gouache for the most part, CP 140# paper. The painting is about 6×8 inches – the nature of gouache often means smaller paintings than watercolor or pastels.
Here’s to autumn!
I have had a perfectly lovely day today! Went out on a short road trip, did some photography, ate a Croque Madame for lunch, and drove through beautiful back country here where I live. Josh came along, and we had a nice day out. Once home, a nap, some coffee, and then, at long last, the pastels came out from hibernation! The result is more rain (we get none, I want some!) as subject matter. As pastels lend themselves to blurring and blending, I decided to use a long stroke of a finger tip, moving at an angle from top to bottom, to suggest that fierce rain one sees in the high desert. Dark background and a sunlit foreground. So fun to do!
Another painting on the reverse of another, again employing dampening the paper before commencing. More hake brush wet-in-wet. I wanted to catch the brilliance of the land beneath the storm as spots of sunshine break through a fast moving storm. In the Southwest, this is common and exciting to see – sometimes the landscape shifts in seconds.
For the next week, my schedule is a bit different. I have to be in to work 30 minutes earlier than normal, so I did this quick sketch in my Stillman & Birn softcover book. The ink is iron gall. I tried to keep the lines minimal, enough to capture important elements of the landscape, but not so much that they become dominant or what will (eventually) hold the image together. Hopefully I will be able to work on shadows and light, working to good contrast. I seem to need lines – I am comfortable with them – that are clearly visible. Interesting to find out how we all work, eh?