Friday, March 12, 2010

Waiting For the Light

This is a context shot to illustrate part of the story below. Several bus loads of people came by, and in between, it was so hushed and momentous-seeming.
When they'd arrive, in a burst of noise and exhaust, they would disembark, mosey on over and commence to chat. It was like a commercial break from the Main Show. They'd pet the dog and tell me I missed a spot, talk about where they were from and then jump on the bus and ride away.
This shot was taken right before I put in the shadow of Mexico on the American canyon wall. I had to wait till it was juuuuuuust right.

Santa Elena Canyon, 10x8. sold

This is another painting from our Big Bend trip. We had seen Santa Elena Canyon before this day but always with the sun behind it. We resolved to spend a morning with it to try to capture its grandeur fully lit. The right side of the canyon is the US, the left side of the canyon is Mexico, and between them is the Rio Grande. The river was unusually high, as Mexico had just released a huge amount of water, raising the level up to 10 feet higer than normal, we were told. The color of the water was milky green and even looking right down into it, it had no discernible transparency. We were visited a lot while painting, having picked such a nice perch. The day before this, while viewing it at sunset, we shared the perch with a Disney film crew! They were doing a documentary on Big Bend. They got some fantastic shots but all of their work captured successive moments. This painting is trying to capture a morning. I hope you like it.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Split Rock

One time, while I was in the art school at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, we had an assignment: illustrate grandeur. That took some thought. The way I met my challenge was to draw soaring cathedral arches in juxtaposition with very tiny figures. It worked.
Does this work? I have no context; just this split rock. It was massive, like a minor mountain.
In order to communicate is monumental size, I think I might have put some trees or figures, for comparison.
I surrendered the story about it's ponderous mass for the subtle and tender story of the light. I love the light.
It's risky to cover a painting in mostly the same value pigment but the rock had mineral deposits or something that made rusty reds, iridescent blues, hints of greens, all in the shadow on its back. It's front was in full, late-day sun.
I felt like I was backstage watching a major actor accepting applause in the spotlight of his fame, getting to see the quiet, private, subtle part at the expense of the light-splashed, sparkly, flattened out part that everyone gets to see.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Cartero Pass

Cartero Pass is a 6x8 inch painting that was originally a 10x8. The top part of the painting virtually painted itself and was sheer joy.
The bottom half-ish was a rock river bed that shadows were quickly creeping across and I was struggling with. At a certain point, I realized that I had over-worked it and lost the freshness. In a fit of impulsive problem-solving, I hacked off the bottom half of the panel and all my problems were solved!
We found this pass near a dirt road in Big Bend. It was beautiful and hauntingly quiet. All afternoon, only 2 cars passed. Their dust is in this painting.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Contrabando Mission

Well, I've already pretty much told you about this scene in the previous post but there are some things that I haven't told you.
For instance, sometimes when you see my plein air paintings, you might see scratches and teeth marks on the ends or some odd circles in the corners. Have you ever wondered about that?
In the last post, you can see me attaching a device to the bottom of the painting. It's a clamp to hold wet paintings, and it holds them with sharp teeth, which leave marks.
The corner marks are from little sticky felt pads that I use for my panels when I travel: I stack them about 6 at a time with wax paper in between, then bind them with masking tape and stick them in a bag. They can then be carried right in my suitcase, even wet! Once they're framed, all the road scars are hidden forever and it stays just our little secret.

Monday, March 1, 2010


I have been gone for a week of fabulous plein air painting with the Outdoor Painters Society at Big Bend.
On our first day there, it was in the 80's and we set up on the Rio Grande, right outside of Lajitas in the Texas State Park.
Our subject was Contrabando, a 25 year old movie set that's been featured in 9 movies, and that was under water last year during a flood! There was a building about where we were set up that was washed away and the remaining structures were very damaged, adding to their authenticity.
The Rio Grande is just feet behind us, 6 feet higher than normal level because Mexico was releasing water. It made the river milky green and ferocious; scared my doggie!
The buildings that I chose to paint were the church and a small casa that was half buried in sand. Right behind them was an odd hill of the brightest red. The satellite view shows a red streak coming right through town, like someone painted it! We had to catch that local color by painting Terlingua red later that evening.