People often ask how long it takes to do a painting or a sketch and usually I don’t know. I always lose track of the time. Except today I know exactly how long it took to do this half sheet. The church bells chimed at 9 when I was setting up my easel and then again at 11 when I was putting everything back in the car.
This week I have been thinking about how to treat foliage in watercolour so the last three paintings have had good sections of trees. Today I tried a few different brushes because I instead of making deliberate marks for every leaf I wanted the brush to do some of the texture work for me. I used a hake and a squirrel mop brush, both much more floppy than I’m used to. If you treat the foliage quite dryly, you can get some nice texture from both of these brushes.
There are still paintings from my summer travels that haven’t been painted. Places I saw that I didn’t have time to paint because I was teaching or driving or it was just too late in the day and the light was fading. Washington Park in Anacortes was one of those places. It had the same impossibly tall pines that I looked at every morning from my cabin. Painted on 300 lb Fabriano cold press paper. Size: 11″ x 15″.
There is a certain comfort in sketching the familiar. After a summer of travel it feels great to be looking at my neighbourhood with fresh eyes. Despite a chilly wind blowing off the lake and an equipment malfunction (broken tripod leg), I was happy to be back at the yacht club to sketch today. There didn’t seem to be much action at the sailing school — I guess lessons are over for the season — and before you know it the boats will be coming out of the water, so I have to make the most of the time that’s left. Painted at a picnic table on a Saunders Waterford CP block, 9″ x 12″.
There’s an interesting feature in the October issue of Watercolor magazine called “Brushing Up: five artists share their go-to brushes for achieving their signature looks.” I love reading articles like this and it made me dust off some brushes in my studio that I use infrequently. In the process I discovered a little gem — a 1″ Grumbacher Aquarelle flat that I don’t remember buying and that I haven’t used in years but that works like a gem. It’s so nice, in fact, that I had to do a little research to find out more about it. Turns out it’s a sable brush, one of the best ever made by them. I do have other flats of the same size but the secret with this one is how much wash it holds and what a sharp edge you can get with it. You can paint a whole painting with just this brush, except for possibly the tiniest of details. If you are interested in something similar (this one has been discontinued), have a look at the Richeson Series 6229. It’s the closest I could find to this one.
The desert colours are still in my brain, especially the different hues that comprise the many layers in the canyons and cliffs of Utah. I bought a poster of a geologic cross-section because I loved the names of the rock — Navaho Sandstone, Redwall Limestone, Bright Angel Shale and Carmel Formation — and because they serve as a good reminder as I finish the paintings from home. Each park was visually unique and splendid but Capitol Reef remains a favourite because I spent the longest time there and it was relatively quiet compared to the more popular parks like Bryce and Zion.
I’m just back from a full week of touring and painting in Utah’s five National Parks. I still have comments to catch up on and more sketches to post going back to day one. The start of the sketching week begins like this:
It was easier to get to southern Utah through Las Vegas, rather than fly into Salt Lake City, but that meant that last Sunday, upon arrival in Vegas, we had to drive directly to the first National Park which was almost six hours away. The start of the drive was surprisingly pleasant despite the long flight, with changing desert vistas and wide open skies. When I looked at the map I realized that before getting to Utah from Nevada, we had to cross a little corner of Arizona, so I dug out my panoramic sketchbook with the idea of capturing a bit of landscape from each state. The view of the Nevada hills was grey and dry, not a tree in sight, just low scrub and cracked ground. By the time we reached Arizona, the colours of the rock started to change. When we crossed into Utah, the setting sun lit up the red hills and green pastures.
I won’t go into too much detail about the harrowing second half of the drive — in total darkness, on switchbacks through narrow canyons and then for a long time on an open range. I’d rather forget it. But if you want more info I can put you in touch with some of the locals I met a few days later who told me that NO ONE drives on an open range at night.
It was a pleasure today to have a guide through Zion National Park — and even better that my guide is a watercolour painter. Russell Black lives not far from the park and paints here often so imagine my luck when he offered to accompany me to some favourite sketching spots of his. Zion is the greenest of Utah’s National Parks with rivers, waterfalls and hanging gardens. I guess we could have climbed to the great lookout points but it was a pleasure to sketch in the cool shade of the greenery both in the Temple of Sinawava and near the waterfalls of the Emerald Pools. Check out Russell’s wonderful watercolours of these splendid spots here.