Brazos Cliffs Commission

Some good friends surprised me by commissioning a painting for their house in San Francisco. They went through my photographs and chose two for consideration, I then made a reference print at the size of the finished painting so they could put them up and think about it. Once they decided which of the two (they were both hard) I got to work.

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The finished painting in their house (18 x 38 unframed)
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The initial drawing
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The foreground was highly detailed, but the sky was demanding wet on wet, so i started there, as if it didn’t work, i didn’t want to have wasted time on the foreground.
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This is the first pass of the big wash for the virga clouds. unfortunately, the roll of watercolor paper is was using had holes in the sizing (see detail in next image) and i realized i was going to have to start over.
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The little holes are where the sizing in the paper didn’t hold up and allowed more paint in little circular areas in the sky, leaving these dark spots. So, that happened…
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Starting over here. i waited to do the detailed foreground drawing until i got the sky to behave.
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The first big dark wash of the sky is in…
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Beginning the foreground – the sky isn’t finished, but far enough along to get on with things i figured. mostly i’m putting in shadows, and the orange is frisket to hold out the light areas. I’ll remove it once I get the next covering wash in.
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An overall wash for the foreground ridge on top of the shadows.
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Right about now is when it feels a little overwhelming and terrible
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This image is a little too dark, but i am putting in more detail in foreground and trying to delineate all the complexity there.
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Again, a little dark, but more work in the sky, and some adjustments like reducing the intensity of the orange in the sky, and more light and dark areas of the foreground, so the little meadows and stands of trees show up.
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The final painting. i went in and used a little gouache here and there, especially to bring back the aspen trunks.

Forest of Nisene Marks

I recently showed my work at the Sausalito Art Festival, and took the opportunity while I was in California to drive down to the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park in Aptos. The park is a beautiful and not well known forest, that was also the epicenter of the Loma Prieta earthquake, which occurred when I was working in San Francisco.

My favorite trail is the Aptos Creek Trail, which had been heavily damaged by the winter storms, so it was more than usually challenging. I hiked in about 6 miles, spent the night and then back again in the morning. It’s always a special treat to experience dusk and then dawn in a forest.

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looking out through a stand of redwoods
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This is pretty far in on Aptos Creek, as dusk was falling.
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This is the spot that I had remembered from an earlier hike years before. I got there about an hour and a half late for the light I wanted though!
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Dawn just coming into the forest right after I had woken up.
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This is a wonderful little glade, looking up at the fog in the redwoods in the early morning.
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Deep in, the forest is a mix of redwoods and bays, and has an Edenic feel.
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This is high on the trail looking out southwest.
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The canyon looking up towards the fog on the hills
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This is one of the bridges along the road as you head into the park.

Vermont in early fall

I’m going back in time a little bit now as I’m trying to catch up. I visited an old and dear friend in Vermont in mid September, south of Burlington by Lake Champlain. I love Vermont; there’s beauty everywhere you look. I snuck out late one night – or early one morning I guess, and wandered through some of the villages and backroads. Here are some of the images from that trip.

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Night over Lake Champlain
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Neighborhood in Vergennes
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More Vergennes at night. I love this feeling of being lost in time.
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Main & Mountain Street, Bristol Vermont-
outskirts of Bristol
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leaving Bristol
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Highway 116. Heavy fog just before the sun began to rise.
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Early morning fog near Starksboro
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My friend’s house at night as I left.

Bisti Badlands

I had heard about the Bisti (BIS-tie) Badlands ever since moving to New Mexico and have always wanted to visit. It’s pretty far from Santa Fe; about 40 minutes south of Farmington in the middle of nowhere. About 50-70 million years ago it was a riverine delta on the edge of the Great Western Seaway, which covered much of New Mexico and the west. The remains of that, as well as volcanic ash, now make up this surreal landscape. I spent a day and night there so I could get up early and explore before dawn. Despite being somewhat warm during the day, it was crazy cold at night, and the first hour of tramping through the cold darkness before pre dawn arrived was a little challenging.

It’s a giant area, and takes a little orienting to figure out where to go. This was my first exploration, so I’m looking forward to returning now that I have a somewhat better sense of the place.

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pre dawn with the black hills in the foreground
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Dawn just breaking. It seems like another planet, And NO ONE is out here at this time.
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Looking north over the flat area between two lines of hills as the sun starts to rise.
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The different kinds of rock deposits erode at different rates, making these hoodoos.
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Looking down into a little valley of hoodoos.
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This is a tree that fell some 50 million years ago, and the wood was replaced by minerals.
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more hoodoos
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canyon of hoodoos
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rock formations at sunset
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looking towards the sunset on the way back to the parking area

Dawn. Madrid

This was a little 11″ x 17″ commission of an early morning in Madrid, New Mexico just as the sun was about to come up. I’m always experimenting a little bit,  and in this case, after I painted the sky, I laid out the scene using pens filled with acrylic paint, before  working with brushes once the basic structure was delineated. That worked okay, except that the wet paint caused some of the pen work to smear, so I had to rework a few areas. I am using what are called Open Acrylics, which stay wet and workable longer, which is better for the southwest climate. Unfortunately, I thought the painting was dry when it wasn’t really, so my isolation coat destroyed a lot of my work, so I painted some of it twice…

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The Black Place

The Black Place is where Georgia O’Keeffe painted some of her most unique landscapes. It’s right opposite mile marker 111 on highway 550, but unfortunately it’s been taken over by oil drilling and the land is private and separated by barbed wire.

I visited on my way to an overnight in the Bisti Badlands, and managed to find a way to wander around a little bit using some little used dirt roads to get access. This was just a scout really, but it’s an amazing place. The black is from oxidized iron ash, and it’s a combination of the swamps, forest and river sediment that once covered it. Many of the hills are covered in montmorillonite clay, nicknamed ‘popcorn’.

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Dawn and Moonrise over Rio Salado. Sandia Mountains in the distance.
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snow covering part of the black hills
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It’s a very otherwordly and abstract landscape.
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Looking north from the hills above the Black Place
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Looking east
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The San Juan mountains in the distance to the north. Highway 550 bisects the view.
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looking south from the hills above the Black Place
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The canyons from above
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One of the ravens that hang out there passing by