Capitol Gorge

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post about the experience of sketching on location in Capitol Reef National Park, here’s a studio painting I just completed that is also inspired by walking in the park. On the day with hiked Chimney Rock and Capital Gorge, I didn’t carry my sketchbook with me because it was too hot for a full backpack and a heavy book, so the reference comes from my photos.

I wanted to convey the sense of awe we felt in that park. If you’ve been there you know what I mean. The Waterpocket Fold — that massive ridge of rock layers that runs for a hundred miles through the park — is so magnificent that it’s hard to find words to describe it. Have a look at this to see what I mean. When I decided to paint it at home the only way to express what I saw was to use a full sheet of watercolour paper, and put in some tiny figures. This particular view is near the end of the trail, almost back at the parking area. The larger figure in the painting is our son who walked on ahead as I stopped to take a photo. The other two figures are invented but they seemed necessary.

When you’ve been working in a sketchbook, it’s not easy to scale up to a bigger size. I made two false starts before feeling that I had the beginning of something that might be worth spending time one. My problem often is that I begin by sloshing too much pigment on the paper, but a scene like this requires more layering and glazing so it often takes a few tries before I slow down enough to work my way through it. Of course now that this is done, all I want to do is more large paintings of our trip to Utah.

29 Comments on “Capitol Gorge”

  1. Mary Eastwood says:

    This is gorgeous Shari!


  2. Phil Corlis says:

    Wonderful watercolor Shari! I think you’ve done a great job capturing the colors and sense of the scene. I am especially grateful for your last paragraph about the struggles of changing scale and being overly aggressive with pigment at the beginning. I think you’ve hit on something many of us struggle with! I’m sure I’m not the only one that would like to see more from this magical place…


  3. Kristin Johnsen says:

    This is spectacular, Shari! Those places are so hard to capture, but you did it!


  4. dankillebrew says:

    Shari both works are lovely, and this one certainly expresses scale in a grand manner. But I thought the other one was as well.


  5. murraylh says:

    Really beautifully rendered!Sent via the Samsung Galaxy S9, an AT&T 5G Evolution capable smartphone


  6. bobbie says:

    Beautifully rendered!


  7. Renee Fittinghoff says:



  8. Francine La Rocque says:

    Lovely….thank you!


  9. sandidureice says:



  10. Chris Rusk says:

    Awesome. I’m there!


  11. TonyU says:

    I’m running out of superlatives so will have to settle for wow! wow! wow! again … both for the location and the painting.


  12. Cindy Wahlstrom says:

    Beautifully captured scene!


  13. lois says:

    This? Large? Oh, yes, please!!


  14. Rlschaffer says:

    Oh my…this on makes me feel a flood of emotions. Capturing the scale with the tiny people really makes this one come alive. I too really loved Capital Reef as of the five Utah parks it seems almost undiscovered. I love the contrast between the river bottom and orchards at Fruita with the trails through the layered sandstone. Just a beautiful painting!


  15. Jane Haddock says:

    Wow – you did a great job of capturing how beautiful it really is.


  16. elizabeth says:

    You need a good challenge from time to time. Cameras can’t quite capture the grandiosity of Capitol Gorge, maybe it can’t really be captured. Your painting Is beautiful and expressive. You’re good with difficult scenes. Your use of watercolor’s ability to portray light together withe the figure gives it a sense of big space.


  17. Pamela Peters says:

    Shari, This painting is spectacular. Breath-taking. Pam

    Sent from my iPad



  18. Uma says:

    Good Morning dear friend Shari,

    Wonderful sketch and looks very realistic and also sharing knowledge.

    This sketch reminds me of the famous movie ‘Mackenna’s Gold’. I saw this movie a number of times and I love that song ‘Old Turkey Buzzard, sung by Jose Feliciano.

    Thanks for taking me back to those beautiful golden days of my student life.



  19. Marilyn says:

    you nailed this one. Its magnificent and inspiring. I share your frustration with putting too much pigment down too early


  20. Laura Kate says:

    Very amazing. My husband and I recently visited North Dakota and saw similar rock formations. Your painting captures the look and the feel very well.


  21. susie langley says:

    These are great paintings. How did you mix your greens? Thanks


  22. Wow, you captured the scale of that vista very well. Those rocky cliffs look massive. I also like your use of the browns, greys and reds in the rocks.


  23. Joan Tavolott says:

    Beautiful! I understand your need for a full sheet for this. It would be impossible to compress this view into a smaller sketch or painting and do justice to it. Thanks for sharing.


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