The Utah palette (and paintings)

When venturing into unknown territory it’s best to be prepared, or so I told myself when I was invited to paint Utah’s National Parks this past August. I looked at many images of the parks before leaving and tried my best to bring along a palette of colours that would help me capture the reds, pinks and greens of the rock layers. I even made a colour chart and carried it in my bag. It seems like overkill when I look at the chart now because many of the colours are so similar, but as I said, better to be prepared. In hindsight, the colours were the least of my problems. The bigger challenges were the ones I hadn’t anticipated, like trying to cover 1,400 miles in one week, or painting a scene where I could see 150 miles into the distance, or looking down into a vast canyon that was shrouded in cloud, or painting in 100°F heat. And there is nothing that can prepare you for the incredible beauty of these five parks, no matter how many images you look at. Below is the palette I used and following that are the ten painting I did of the parks, some done on location and others painted in studio from my sketches and reference photos. All are half sheets (15″ x 22″) of Arches 140 lb. cold-pressed watercolour paper.



Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef was the first park I visited and perhaps my favourite because I spent the most time there and got to see more of the sights. “Grand Wash Trail” and “The Waterpocket Fold” were both painted on location, although a storm blew in while I was painting the latter and the final details were added from the car.





Arches National Park

There was a lot of pressure to get Delicate Arch right because, after all, it is Utah’s most recognizable landmark and is even pictured on the state’s license plate. I arrived at the park at midday, in extreme heat, humidity and rain. My attempts to paint on location were thwarted by storms, so I sketched, drank lots of water, took lots of photos and painted both “Delicate Arch” and “Park Avenue” in studio.





Canyonlands National Park

Nothing prepared me for the strange beauty of Canyonlands. This part of the park — which is the least accessible of the five parks — is called Island in the Sky. To get there you drive 30 miles in from Moab and see the park from a series of overlooks. That is, if there are no clouds. “Green River Overlook” was painted on location and “Island in the Sky” was painted in studio. Both of these were painted wet-in-wet.





Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon is another park that is first admired from a series of overlooks, although there are trails that allow you to descend into the hoodoos. The pines around the perimeter of the canyon provide great shade for sketching, which is what I did, since my time in the park was very limited. Both “Thor’s Hammer” and “Inspiration Point” were painted in studio.





Zion National Park

Of all the parks, Zion seems to be the most crowded — and for good reason. The only way through the park is by shuttle bus, which made it impossible to carry all my painting gear. I sketched at various stops along the route and painted “The Virgin River” and “The Cottonwoods” in studio. One of my only regrets about my week in Utah is that I had no time to hike the trails, especially the spectacular ones at Zion. Truthfully, I would have had to spend a week in each park to see them properly as well as to paint many of the famous viewpoints. I hope I’ll get back there one day to see them again.






94 Comments on “The Utah palette (and paintings)”

  1. It takes bags of talent to paint equally well on site and also from photos. You do it.

  2. Wayne says:

    I feel actually visiting these places may be a disappointment compared to these fantastic paintings. Whoever commissioned them must be thrilled. Bravo!

  3. John Lillyman says:

    Tremendous tribute to the natural beauty of this location. Well done!

  4. Joe Fidler says:

    What a beautiful series!!!

  5. Frank Bettendorf says:

    As a watercolorist and a visitor to the parks you painted, I’m extremely impressed with your images. You have captured both the beauty and the overwhelming sights that greet a visitor. I feel you’ve also grabbed the essence of the places and how each is different and how each “feels” when you’re within the setting. I agree, just a few hours or moments isn’t nearly enough. And, I hope you do go back again so we can enjoy your talent and skill and the parks. Thanks for your commitment to painting and posting. I enjoy your work and appreciate it.
    Frank Bettendorf
    Mount Vernon, WA

    • Thanks for writing Frank. I don’t think I could have painted these without visiting each of the parks. And even though I only had a short time in each one, I feel that I did get to see enough to be able to capture what makes each one of them unique.

  6. joreimer says:

    I enjoyed every word and every painting in this post, Shari. Your excellent work reminded me of our travels through the red rocks three years ago. I tried to draw and paint the various places we stopped but didn’t have the skills to do it justice, so I’m very happy that you shared your work with us, helping me remember these incredibly beautiful places.

  7. Jeff Gold says:

    Shari, these are stunning. We have all been waiting since the summer to see the results of your efforts and they are wonderful. They are both a feast for the eye and a primer on painting and design. It’s great to see again the ones that you had previously posted and especially the new ones, i.e., Zion and Canyonlands. You’ve really captured the light, space and color. BRAVA!!!

  8. Congratulations on an absolutely stunning collection of artwork. I have had the privilege of traveling in several of these parks and you have really captured the vastness and beauty of these landscapes. Bravo!!

  9. Vicky Porter says:

    These are stunning! Your paintings remind me of the parks I’ve visited and make me want to visit the others that I haven’t seen. You’ve captured the majesty of these glorious parks.

  10. Lynn says:

    You’ve taken my breath away – truly I am in awe of your spectacular work.

    Thank you, thank you.

  11. Sue says:

    Wow! These are incredibly lovely! Good Job!

  12. munchmeister says:

    What they said ^^. These are wonderful paintings

  13. george smith says:

    Moving from painting I felt frozen in a time warp back to when I photographed all these places. This work is a tribute, not to the places but to your hard work and determination to be the best watercolorist possible. You can truly make the medium speak with a voice of beauty and clarity, and that voice is heard by our souls.

  14. carol russell says:

    Very impressive paintings. Such beautiful colors and you really captured the depth. Awesome!

  15. Susanne says:

    Gorgeous. Thank you for sharing. I watched a TV program about the 5 Utah parks yesterday. And I have been to 2 of the parks. You really captured it!

  16. WOW !! Thanks Shari. as my son is after me….with all his pictures, you are a great help

  17. Carmen Renaud says:

    Beautiful work Shari. Bravo!

  18. Oh Shari, these are so, so amazing! Those parks are probably my most favorite part of the country and to paint a landscape that is so spectacular is intimidating in itself. And to see how you captured it is truly, truly inspiring for me. Your palette, how clearly you see form and how well you captured scale. I could go on and on… I’ll stop now. Thank you, these are beyond gorgeous.

    • Suhita, because you sketched there, you understand the difficulties, especially of scale and distance. I remember looking at your sketches of these places and they made me want to travel there when I saw them. Thanks for writing!

  19. Shari, These are lovely paintings! I find landscapes one of the most difficult things to capture and do justice. You my friend are amazing! I hope one day we will have a chance to paint together.
    Happy Painting!

    • It’s great to hear from you Brenda. This was one of my biggest painting challenges so it is a joy to read these comments. Wouldn’t it be great if we got to paint together one of these days? Tuscany? Utah? You pick!!

  20. Awesome Shari, just completely awesome. Off the bat, I love the palette mixtures, and something I plan to do the next time I travel. The last time I traveled, I had the totally wrong colors – Washington, DC and Israel have totally different colors, period. More so, I love looking at these desert paintings. I remember sketching and painting in the Judean, Negev, and Sinai Deserts, and though they have their challenges – water quickly evaporating, searing white heat, and the occasional F-16 flyby in the valley below you – the colors that one can observe in a desert when truly observant is simply amazing, very rich in range that one doesn’t see with a mere surface glance.

    • Thanks so much Jason. I’m glad I packed all of these tubes of paints, even though I didn’t use all of them. At least I had a choice when I needed them. And they are not at all my Montreal colours. I think I’ll have to go back to Utah to finish up the tubes.

  21. They’re all gorgeous and beautifully done. Congratulations!

  22. tsketching says:

    You are very inspiring, thanks for sharing!

  23. Kalena says:

    I can only say….Wow!!!! Andl love to you oh most talented one xo

  24. wuauuuuuu that’s really veryyyy nice8

    I love the colors you use, and the intensity!

  25. Tony says:

    Hi Shari. More than worth the wait. Wonderful in every way. Your mastery of the technique required is as awesome as the scenery and the paintings. Hopefully I’ll get there myself one day – but until then I’ll have your post to refer back to. Best. Tony

    • I hope you get there one day Tony. If you do go, plan on at least three days in each park. The parks are filled with Europeans, in surprising numbers. I talked to some French girls and asked them if there was some sort of special on airfare from France since every second person was from there. Or Germany. Or the UK.

  26. croquedessin says:

    Wooow ! Amazing, awesome, splendid ! I like them all !

  27. I’m leaving today to spend a week in the area you so beautifully painted. I’ve found so much inspiration from your work. Thanks for sharing with us.

  28. A spectacular ensemble even discounting the pressures of time, weather and great expectations. Congratulations.

  29. Dee says:

    Can’t express how beautifully executed these all are. I’ve been to several of the parks and feel you have captured their splendor in a awesome way. Though I will never get back to them, you have enabled a visit each time I get on my iPad! Thank you, thank you!

  30. Enviroart says:

    Great blog and paintings Shari, you made us travel with you

  31. Betty says:

    Beautiful and fantastic …I so love looking at all your work.

  32. Joan says:

    Utah is a neighboring state that I have visited many times before I started painting. I have been to every one of these parks and can say that you have captured the beauty and sense of place in every single one. To be able to make an image of such vast and overwhelming scope is a tribute to your talent as an artist. I’m amazed that you could do this in only one weeks time! You could easily spend a week in each park. What a treat to see these paintings. Thanks so much for sharing your work with us.

  33. helena says:

    i’m speechless! i’ve visited these parks on several occasions – my favorite place in the world, you captured the essence and breathtaking beauty of the South-West – like no photo will do! So inspiring!

  34. Tricia Culina says:

    These are absolutely beautiful. Thank you for sharing. We contunue to learn from you and to be inspired. Loved meeting you in Anacortes, Tricia Culina

  35. HEATHER says:

    We’ve visited these parks on different vacations from England and I think you have captured the light and majesty of them brilliantly. You must go back to Bryce and go into the canyon itself which we did for the first time this year- the hoodoos are amazing when seen from underneath. Thanks for the info on the palette- you’ve inspired me to try some paintings from this year’s holiday. Beautiful work.

  36. Tom Jump says:

    Fantastic, Shari! These are just great and make me want to visit the area even more! Thank you so much for sharing the paintings and your immense skills!

  37. These are wonderful, Shari! I have painted in many of these parks and I can FEEL the atmosphere and its color that you so acurately portray. Thank you so much for sharing these!

  38. Chinh says:

    Superb Shari! These are stunning!!! Congrats! Love the series. You have a great collection of inspirational work. Thanks for sharing. I’m learning to paint rocks and they’re not easy.

  39. dezabaleta says:

    Excellent, impressive !

  40. Jane Hannah says:

    You must be very proud Shari, as these are a testament to all of your hard work and dedication! They are wonderful -)

  41. These paintings are truly beautiful, thank you for sharing.

  42. yxz555 says:

    Wow… I am really impressed by how you captured Canyonlands. And remember if you really want to come back and paint again, I am here in Moab and can help set up a class, pick locations, find you some free accomodations. just keep me in your contacts in case you want another red rock fix. Ginny
    PS. Your driving schedule was truly insane even without putting painting time into it. And driving on those roads at night, “where the deer and antelope play”… you are lucky you didn’t take a souvenir of a deer home with you. –smile–

  43. Cathy Amos says:

    All of your National park paintings are just stunning!! As are all of your sketches and paintings!

  44. helmut langeder says:

    The Natonal Canyon Parks watercolors are an amazing series. Love those hard edges and contrasts.

  45. Tex Dawson says:

    Dear Shari; all your canyon paintings are beautiful and illustrate great composition and
    colour as well as a marvelous loosness–Tex Dawson

  46. These are amazing! wow. I’ve only been to Arches, of all of those, and you got those vista spot on!

  47. Billie Barton says:

    Shari, I absolutely love your work. I have taken 2 of your on-line classes (w/Craftsy) and have learned a lot. I am now retired and planning on living full time in an even on the road. I want to sketch everything. It does not come natural to me, but I enjoy it do much. My question to you, do you think you could have gotten the same effect if you had done a sketch in pen and then did more of a wash? I am trying to ‘find’ my style, and right now I am trying pen & wash. Any suggestions! Oh, btw, thank you for sharing your beautiful work with the world. ~Billie

    • Hi Billie,
      I’m so glad that you liked the Craftsy classes. This will be great practice for your retirement travels.
      As for the Utah paintings, I am not sure I understand your question. These were done as a commission (to paint all of the parks) and they are quite large paintings (15″ x 22″). I couldn’t have done these in pen. I use pen and wash mainly for small sketches but I am doing a large painting I usually build up the lights and darks only in paint. Does that answer your question? As for finding your style, just keep at it. Eventually, with lots of practice, your own style will come out. Just keep drawing!

  48. Jeff Lossau says:

    I have been to each of the parks you painted (except Capitol Reef). I have just started watercolor painting so finding this site was a blessing. Your painting is amazing. Thank you for sharing your talent.

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