Fall colors 2020

I recently went out and made some photographs in the Sangre De Christo as the aspens reached peak color, and then a few days later, headed north to the Chama River Canyon to see the cottonwoods. Here are some of the images from those trips:

I wanted to be up in the mountains at sunrise, so headed up wicked early. Here’s the moon setting as I headed up from the trail.
There are some cliffs above Tesuque Creek which seem kind of inaccessible, but if one looks after passing them, you can climb relatively easily, and it’s a wonderful view looking out towards Santa Fe just as the sun was rising.
I bushwhacked over to another trail through various stands of aspen. Here the sun is just hitting the trees above me as it climbs down the mountain.
It’s wonderful to be in this dense, almost field painting abstraction of trees.
Here is a little aspen getting hit by sunlight reaching through the trees.
This is looking out towards the mountain range as I headed down to the other trail.
Here’s a shot of the popular Aspen Vista Trail from above.
This is probably the most expensive photograph I’ve taken. It’s a little lane that leads one to a plank bridge over the Rio Grande west of Espanola. When I got back to the car (I was on my way to the Chama River) someone had heaved a huge rock through my driver’s window and stolen my backpack and camera bag with 5 cameras! (used cameras)
This is just before dawn on the Chama River. (I still had two cameras and a tripod fortunately)
Here the sun is just hitting Laguna Mesa in Chama River Canyon. This is taken from a bridge over the Continental Divide.
Looking out over some cottonwoods over the river. (I was maybe a week late for peak color)
This is right after the sun rose enough for full day to hit the valley.
Looking out over a bend in the river later in the day.
This is a lovely little recessed wood below a bluff next to the river.
Looking west as the sun set in the canyon.
Here are some friends who decided to allow me to pass as the day was ending.

Conundrum Creek

This is an oil painting from a long – and beautiful – hike up to Conundrum Hot Springs near Aspen, Colorado. I looked back up the mountain on the way down, completely soaked, and loved the view up to the top with the mist still swirling from the rain. Here’s the stages along the way:

This is the primatura, or underpainting. I roughed in the clouds very loosely and just put a reddish umber in the ground so I wouldn’t see that nasty white as I worked.
This is the beginnings of the scene sketched in with markers.
This is a sort of cartoon of the whole scene, a mixture of oil paint and marker sketch. It’s very rough, but gives me an idea of where to go.
This is a little further along. I am slowly going through and painting area by area – it usually takes me three or four passes of this before I can stand it. This is maybe two, and one in places.
Here’s the final painting. I left the edges a little loose and blurry on purpose here, wanting to draw the eye more in the middle where I was focusing at the time.

Cottonwood Trail Oil On Canvas 24″ x 36″

This painting is from a visit to Crestone, Colorado early last fall. It’s on the west slopes of the Sangre De Christo Mountains, and overlooks what was once the huge Lake Alamosa, and is now a large plain. The Cottonwood Trail heads up into the mountains and I was struck by this exquisite scene. The early sun was just starting to rise high enough above the mountains to illuminate the magical world I was in, and I decided to make a painting of it. It’s crazy complicated, but kind of perfect, and I was sort of entranced by the combination of landscape and light. Here are the stages along the way:

Here again is the primatura, or underpainting. I didn’t want to show white underneath as I painted, so did a very loose approximation of blues and greys before starting.
These days I’m using alcohol based permanent markers to sketch out the scene. This is just the beginning. I recognize that there is something wonderful in this early stage, and hope that after perhaps a few more years of painting, i will be able to retain something of this sort of mystical image in the finished painting.
Here the drawing – the marker drawing – is fairly well along, but still nowhere near completion.
Now the drawing is pretty complete, and the real work begins.
First I’m working in the darker areas, trying to put some foundation in.
I’ve done more some work in the leaves and the water in the distance, and begun laying in parts of the foreground.
The thing is, there are lots of areas addressed, but there is so much still to do! A little more work on the water in the foreground. The leaves are are a little loose and I don’t feel the light hitting the leaves at the top center, and the leaves along the edges aren’t right yet…
This is kind of getting there, but I still don’t feel it’s quite right. The next stage is to make little changes all over…
It sometimes, as in this case, takes me a while before I can see the painting enough to go in and make little improvements here and there to where it feels complete. A lot of the leaves have been more clearly delineated, and there is more clarity in the light and dark areas. The foreground had little areas where I discovered I had sort of forgotten about them, then adding detail to the leaning tree in the foreground was one of the last steps.

Aspen Forest in Rain Oil On Panel 36″ x 48″

This is a painting from a hike in the Pecos Wilderness in the summer. I was up on Hamilton Mesa and got caught in a heavy rainstorm, and ended up standing under a tree for over an hour waiting for the rain to abate. As usual, I fell in love with the image and the mood, and as I started working I realized how challenging it would be. But by then it was too late! I started this almost exactly one year ago, and just finished it. Here are some of the stages of the painting along the way:

This is the primatura, or underpainting. I wanted to help myself by having this show up in the background as I worked, so the painting started to feel like something earlier in the process than if I had left the gesso alone or used a solid underpainting.
Just beginning to lay in the scene. I’ve been experimenting with different ways to sketch for an oil painting, and have been using alcohol based permanent markers – Winsor and Newton Brush Markers usually. They allow me to work on detail relatively quickly without getting oil paint on everything. Once I start painting in oils, I usually can only work a bit before starting to smudge the painting if I’m not working loosely, even using a painting mahl.
This is a lot of marker sketch, with a little oil painting starting.
Now I am slowly painting into the scene, using the marker sketch as a topographic map to help me know where I am.
This is after scumbling in lots of paint to start to get the values right, instead of just seeing underpainting.
I finally starting tackling the detail of the grasses and stuff in the foreground, as well as slowly going through the leaf canopy and painting leaves. A fair amount of the foreground is still markers. Now the mountains and sky in the background feel wrong, as they are still the underpainting and don’t have the right value.
Now the mountains have been painted in, and most of the foreground is painted.
None of the rain the was falling showed in the photograph I had taken, and that was important to have in there to convey the mood of the scene, so I added raindrops with a brush and lots of Liquin medium to make the rain transparent. If it didn’t work, I would pretty much ruin the painting, so I did a little study (shown here) to try and figure it out.
Here is the final painting, properly scanned instead of photographed in my studio.

Morning, Aspens in Autumn

Here is a little evolutionary study. I have been thinking for a long time about painting more the way we see and perceive; so that the center of the painting is clear and ‘realistic’, but the edges are less defined. I have, I suspect, many years ahead of working this out.

Here I started with a fairly loose painting of a scene I found in the Sangre De Christo Mountains early one fall morning. I neglected to take a photograph of any earlier stages, including the ochre to blue to yellow graduated underpainting…

First I focused on tightening up the center of the image and leaving the rest to steep in my mind. I left the underpainting towards the edges and just indicated the trees there.

The scumbly quality of the yellow canopy bothered me, so I cleaned it up a bit and added a little more detail in the trees at center. After each of these stages I worked on other things while I thought about it. This stage irritated me when I looked at it.

Now where I left the underpainting on the trees at the edges bothered me, so I worked enough on them to show the darkness there, and just began a little to show some detail in the foreground. There are, if you look close, still pen and felt marker marks in places, particularly in the small branches.

Here’s the final painting. A LOT of time went by as I kept looking at this. I decided I wanted to show the differentiation in the yellow leaf canopy, and worked on the foreground more, as well as cleaning up lots of other areas. There are things I love about the first stab at this, but I think it will take a while to be able to get both qualities in one painting!

Finally, a brief word about photography. I work from photographs that I take when I am pretty far away from civilization, and usually at the early and late ends of the day, or else in the middle of the night. I learn a lot from plein air painting, and intend to do more of it, but usually the scenes that I am moved to paint are momentary and change quickly, as well as being wicked hard to get to with painting gear. I shoot RAW images, and then grade them in Lightroom to be more like what I saw or want to see. Here is the original image before being graded.

This is the same photograph after being graded…

Marguerite & Barney

A dear friend and old colleague wanted me to make a painting of his stepdaughter (daughter) and her horse. These are some of the steps towards making this oil painting for them.

Here is the final piece about to be shipped!
This started out with a loose drawing using markers and some scumbled body color.
Second stage was to start adding details of the fence and the trees, as well as beginning to show the subjects.
Here’s the first stage of painting in Marguerite and Barney the horse, as well as beginning to work on the grass in the foreground.
This is more of the foreground painted in – just a first pass.
This is the point where I realized what I had gotten myself into. Everything feels sloppy here and clarifying it looks to be a ton of work!
Now I’m slowly adding coherent details; a very slow process.
Here is the final painting, many days later then th

Moonrise, Chama River

I wander around at night sometimes, partially to be out in the wilderness at dawn or twilight, but also because the night itself is so powerful and magical to me. This is overlooking the Chama River as the moon rose early one morning; I was actually heading somewhere else but had to stop. This is another painting ( 3′ x 3′) that I started as an acrylic, and then was able to finish once I started painting in oils.

Just the beginnings of a sketch, using colored pencils on a prepared panel.

Starting to put in some values with the water, and acrylic markers for the shadows. The milky way ended up disappearing.

One of the ten times that I would paint the sky and the reflections…

Now with the background details begun there is a cartoon, giving a sense of the piece.

New sky, new water…

Another new sky…

Okay, sky is massaged back into place. I just began using oils on the distant hills, making them darker so that I would have to balance everything to that. It’s amazing how much harder this would have been as a watercolor!

Here, a lot of the painting has been repainted in oils. It’s still a little cartoony, though, and the trees aren’t right and are too dark…

The trees are participating in the moonlight now, and everything has been touched. Not right yet, but it’s easier to see what to do once one gets closer all around.

Moonrise Chama River
Here’s the final painting. 

Morning, Canyonlands

This is a large (3′ x 4′) painting that I started a while ago and just finished, showing the valley and mesas on the way to the southern entrance to Canyonlands National Park one morning. It’s from a car trip back from San Francisco when my wife Melinda and I traveled through Utah, where she is from originally. I began it as an acrylic painting and got stuck for a while. Even using Open Acrylics, I had a hard time feathering edges and gradations of transparent color. Once I started painting in oils, the problems that I couldn’t overcome using acrylic seemed solvable to me, (still hard but solvable) so I was able to finish.

This is the initial sketch in acrylics.

Still initial work, with the sky darkened, and a little more detail added. 

Right about here was when I realized how hard this was all going to be.

I slowly started working on the foreground grasses and the mid ground line of trees. There is no way to do this without music.


Much more work on the foreground in this stage, and a little re-working of the sky and clouds. For someone who has worked for so long in watercolors, to be able to mess around and revise is pretty amazing! (Although it’s still pretty rough)

Now the sky and  clouds and part of the mesas have been repainted in oils.

This is the final painting, with everything reworked – and finally a proper scan as well.

Big Ivy North Carolina

These are from a lovely foggy autumn day in Big Ivy, North Carolina driving up state road 2173 to Douglas Falls. I was visiting my sister and her family in Asheville and my brother in law and he took me to this special place.

This was a year ago, and I was too depressed with the political news, and a beloved dog dying to post them, so I waited a year to do it. It’s such a lovely place that I didn’t want to not post them! And now of course we are surrounded by two new young canine family members…

On the foggy road up Big Ivy

As we were walking to Douglas Falls, the fog cleared for a little while and revealed this lovely view.

Douglas Falls in fog…

..and after the fog cleared

Peach Orchard Creek

Staire Branch in the fog

Walker Branch

Little Andy creek

Walker Branch after the fog rolled back in

A view from the trees near Asheville