I found another sketch from my time in Utah, this one of a small rock waterfall on the Virgin River in Zion National Park. The river flows through a canyon and most people follow it as it narrows and the canyon walls get closer together, even wading through the shallow water at times. It must be very beautiful in the off-season but it was so crowded on the day I visited that you practically had to hold your breath to squeeze by people on the trail. Not my preferred way to hike! I chose instead to draw several views of the river from a little off the trail. I’ll probably use this sketch in a larger painting but change the format to vertical so I can include more of the red rock wall behind it.
It’s very overwhelming to look into a crowded space like the Jean Talon Market and try to make sense of the chaos. Instead of rushing into things I took a bit of time today to think about how I would draw this instead of just starting in the middle and drawing outward. I didn’t have time to take progress photos but one of these days I will.
Here are steps I used:
1. Draw (in pencil) the main shapes like the curve of the window, a few figures and the main signs
2. Ink (with a Sharpie pen) all the details of the lettering, fruits, figures, hair, signage
3. Erase the pencil drawing
4. Add more people as the market gets busier towards lunch time
5. Paint the big, bright areas like the window, the backlit signs, the hanging signs, the clothing, the fruit
6. Mix up a big neutral wash for the darker interior areas
7. Paint the small darks with a thicker wash
Keeping the steps simple helped me make sense of a very busy scene which at first seemed impossible but turned out to be quite fun to paint.
I am still completing work from my visit to Utah last month. One aspect I have yet to write about is the Utah Symphony’s Mighty Five Tour — four free outdoor concerts set against the backdrop of the spectacular red rock arches and canyons of Utah’s National Parks. Of course my sketchbook came along for the ride and although it became difficult to see my paper as the sun went down, I was able to sketch the events — the full symphony concerts as well as this concert with the Aspen Winds Quintet. Looking at the symphony’s website today brings back wonderful memories of this intensely rich experience, both visual and auditory. There are some great short videos on the site including many testimonials from musicians and citizens of the communities where the concerts were held. You’ll get a good sense of just how beautiful this red rock country is and how lucky I was to be able to witness this tour.
When I don’t have time to work on a whole painting sometimes I pick one thing and practice it. For me, painting skies in watercolour takes a great deal of practice and you almost always have to get it right in the first wash. It’s really difficult to go back into a dry sky area and make changes without having it look touched up. It also takes a lot of control to know how dry your brush should be because you can end up with horrible blooms if the brush is carrying too much water onto a semi-dry sheet. Today I took the backs of some used watercolour sheets and practiced skies, with more pigment, less pigment, wetter brushes and drier brushes. It wasn’t easy. The foreground in this one is inconsequential, it’s really just there to ground the composition. I was happy I did this because after four or five sheets of scrap paper I did feel more in control but I will keep on practicing.
Still practicing my people drawing skills (it seems to be a lifelong struggle) and trying to figure out which way works best for me. I think I’ve pretty much figured out that a loose contour drawing for people in motion (like students at school) has the highest success rate (that means for every two that I post I have drawn six or seven). If I get into shading it never works unless they are sitting very still but I think I could probably add a light wash to this without getting into too much trouble.
If I squint the dark side of the fig and its shadow blend together. That was the first wash in the sketch. The deep yet dusty purple is a mysterious colour to mix — a blend of purple and green with a yellowish glow in places. Sketched in an Arches spiral sketchbook — a paper that soaks up all the water yet one that I continue to use.
I’m quoting from one of those informational panels in Utah’s National Parks when I say that the clearest air in America is on the Colorado Plateau. The average summer visual range is 145 miles! That’s a bit more distance than what I’m used to sketching in the city.
There were many reasons why painting in Utah was a challenge, but I would say that trying to capture those great distances and vast vistas in front of me was something that took a bit of time to understand. There are so many variables that have to be dealt with: colour temperature, value, edge quality. I am still working on the Utah paintings (there are ten in all), but when I am done I hope to post them and talk about the challenges of painting each one. Table Cliff Plateau in Bryce Canyon was one of the easier places to paint because of the shade from the pines on the rim where I sat. I haven’t started the paintings from Bryce yet but when I do I hope to include this view, especially the giant cloud shadow that floated across it.