High and dry

When I was invited to give a workshop in Sun Valley, Idaho, I gladly accepted, knowing that the high desert landscape was beautiful. I looked at plenty of photos online, but like all mountainous regions, you never really get a sense of it until you get there.

What I found most striking was the rounded, yellow hills on either side of the Wood River Valley that runs through Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley. The colour of the hills changes every time you look at them. In the morning they are dark and greenish. At high noon, they are the colour of bleached wheat. At dusk the sunlit parts are bright yellow and the shadow areas are deep blue. It’s quite magical.

One evening we drove to Silver Creek Reserve. If you don’t know it, imagine Ernest Hemingway standing knee deep in a trout stream with a fly fishing rod in his hand. That’s the place.

I did a couple of quick sketches from the visitor’s centre, standing in the blowing wind, looking out over the valley towards those yellow hills. It was a real challenge to figure out what colours to use to paint them, since the colours were changing quickly in the late afternoon light. You can see ochres, siennas, reds, blues and greens, but how to combine them all to convey those luminous lights and shadows is still a mystery to me. Good thing I’ll be back next year to try again.

15 Comments on “High and dry”

  1. Shari, thank you for sharing your watercolor sketches from the high and dry mountains.


  2. beth says:

    What beautiful landscapes


  3. Bernadette says:

    Inspiring…as always!


  4. Denise says:

    If anyone can capture the scene, it would be you. These are fabulously done!


  5. Judy Sopher says:

    I love seeing a photo along with your painting of the scene. Having lived in NM for years, the changing colors of the mountains is so beautiful. The range there is the lower end of the Rockies and called ” Sandias ” which means “watermelon” for the color it turns just before sunset. You have captured the feel of this so well.


  6. Lynn says:

    So glad you found Silver Creek. The high mountain desert with all its shapes and shadows are the best.


  7. Betsy says:

    My, my, what lovely “atmospheric perspective.”

    I am carefully studying your watercolor sketches to try to understand how you can mix such lively colors (even including subtle knocked-back hues and neutrals and darks) without losing intensity and saturation.

    Your colored grays and blended hues always seem so clear and bright. Tons of neutrals, yet no mud!


    • Thanks so much Betsy. Glad you like all the neutrals. If you want to know more about how I mix paint, have you seen my book? I have a whole chapter on mixing neutrals. But it’s more than that. I think it also has to do with putting down the paint. After I lay down a wash I never go back into it unless it is very wet. I sometimes glaze over it when it’s dry but not if it’s damp. That is often how people get muddy washes. Does that help?


  8. joantav says:

    Having the light change so quickly must make you paint faster. It is amazing to see the difference in the color of the landscape. Well done.


  9. Elizabeth Kane says:

    Oh, yes, that does help! Thanks for the tip. I am looking at purchasing your book, too. Maybe I need to drop a gift hint 🙂


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