Diablo Canyon in Winter

We’ve had some delightful winter weather here in Santa Fe. Not knowing how long it would last, I hurried down to Diablo Canyon, which is amazingly just down the road from where we live.

Diablo Canyon was originally a lava lake that was probably surrounded by sandstones that have since eroded away, leaving these basalt cliffs. I’ve enjoyed visiting it, but wasn’t amazed until I went one day and saw these guys high on the cliffs to the left. I scrambled around a bit and discovered the trail that goes up that side and into what’s called the grotto and eventually up to the top. That completely changes one’s point of view, and also gives some lovely views to the Jemez Mountains to the west.

Coincidentally, I was commissioned to make a 4′ x 6′ oil painting of Diablo Canyon, which I am in the middle of now. I attached a work in progress image at the end of these photographs.

Diablo Canyon seen from Buckman Road on the way there.
Entering the canyon at ground level
On the way up the trail that climbs the cliff
A view from the grotto looking out to the main cliffs.
This is looking west from higher up. The Jemez Mountains are lost in mist.
Looking north from high in the grotto.
This is looking back towards Santa Fe in the distance.
Looking back as I leave.
I headed to the Rio Grande before I left. This is Buckman Road right before it.
The Rio Grande in snow
Here’s the painting I am working on now.

Golden Gate Bridge at Night

Here’s a painting from my old hometown. This is the Golden Gate Bridge very late at night from Crissy Field lagoon.

I’ve been experimenting with using a mix of lifting preparation and gum arabic mixed with water as a resist to keep light areas. Gum arabic gives softer edges but is much more idiosyncratic in the way it works.
The foreground is really almost black, but I wanted to start with the darkest shadows.
The problem here is that I had too long of a hiatus working on this and the frisket dried too much and didn’t remove cleanly. For me, there is usually a stage in a watercolor where it really looks just terrible.
Beginning to put in the bridge, and the foreground darks.
A very dark wash added to the sky. The areas between the wires in the bridge are getting gummed up and the thing is looking very messy. I hate that.
Some clean up, but the bloody painting is still sort of a mess.
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Fortunately there’s gouache paint! Gouache is watercolor to which has been added chalk to make it opaque. In watercolor, the paper is the white, but in gouache, one uses white paint and – you can COVER UP STUFF!!!
This is several layers later, addressing various areas of interest one at a time. Every part of the painting has been gone over at least a little. And now I’m using Chinese white for the stars.

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.

The finished painting in their house (18 x 38 unframed)
The initial drawing
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.
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.
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…
Starting over here. i waited to do the detailed foreground drawing until i got the sky to behave.
The first big dark wash of the sky is in…
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.
An overall wash for the foreground ridge on top of the shadows.
Right about now is when it feels a little overwhelming and terrible
This image is a little too dark, but i am putting in more detail in foreground and trying to delineate all the complexity there.
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.
Brazos Cliffs
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.

looking out through a stand of redwoods
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This is pretty far in on Aptos Creek, as dusk was falling.
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!
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.
Deep in, the forest is a mix of redwoods and bays, and has an Edenic feel.
This is high on the trail looking out southwest.
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The canyon looking up towards the fog on the hills
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
Nocturne, Vergennes Vermont-8
Neighborhood in Vergennes
Houses at Night, Vergennes Vermont-
Maple & School Street, Vergennes Vermont-
More Vergennes at night. I love this feeling of being lost in time.
Nocturne, Vergennes Falls Vermont-
Vergennes Falls
Main & Mountain Street, Bristol Vermont-
outskirts of Bristol
leaving Bristol
Early Morning, Hwy 125 Vermont-00256
Highway 116. Heavy fog just before the sun began to rise.
Early morning fog near Starksboro
House at Night, Charlotte Vermont-
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.

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


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’.

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