Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sierra Packtrip 2012

 I finished a packtrip a few weeks ago in the Ansel Adams wilderness with a great group of artist friends, Paul Kratter, Terry Miura, Michele DeBraganca, Jim Wodark, Kim Lordier, Ernesto Nemesio, and Robert Steele. Each year brings a different set of  experiences....  due to weather, place, and other circumstances, and this trip was no different. We hiked in as clouds were building up, and ended up in  a thunderstorm for the last few hours of the hike. We arrived in camp late afternoon, put up our tents in a downpour, then all crawled inside and slept for a few hours, emerging to eat dinner in the dark. We hit a pattern of afternoon rain and thunder for most of the week, so most of our productive hours took place from sunrise to mid afternoon, before we had to beat a retreat to our tents. 

The image above is a study from the first morning. All these pieces have been pinned up in my studio for a few weeks, so most have benefited from a fair amount of touchup/repair/cleanup. When I was up there, I felt pretty limited at times regarding my color choices when faced with certain lighting conditions. Backlit trees in warm morning light, and distant blue shadows in a certain value range were two recurring lighting setups. I was aware of it up there, and it was evident when I got my work home. I needed to knock down certain saturated hues, and also add more complexity and variety of color to some areas. Maybe if we had painted more at different times of day I wouldn't have felt constrained as much. I did a lot of morning paintings. Here's a few more:

I always enjoy the subtle temperature shifts of the light bouncing off of shadowed granite. Plenty of boulders were available to explore and celebrate this quality. I would just wander out of camp slowly, studying views. I usually didn't get too far. This one is about 100 yards from my tent. 


This is part of the shoreline of a pond about a few minutes walk from camp. 6 years ago we camped near here, and I swam in this pond almost every day. This year I swam in the lake.

Mid-morning, probably around 10-11-ish... After a swim, back to work!

There was a large area towards the west end of the lake that was dotted with numerous erratics such as this one.  The recurring threat of afternoon rain kept us from moving too far afield from the shelter of our tents. Consequently, we never hiked to the beautiful upper meadow and melt pond at the base of the peak. I hope to return there another year.

 A quick sketch of the north shoulder of Mt. Banner as  clouds start boiling up around noon from the west. On a few days the clouds came from the east. 

A good example of the typical afternoon weather (cloudy and threatening to rain) vs. the 'rare' sunny evening. The large snow patch is part of Mt. Ritter, viewed over the south shoulder of Mt. Banner.


Painted on the last afternoon. I had been walking by this view all week, and finally gave it a shot. The 'wall' of the mountain in the background was in shadow from overhanging clouds. The light on the rocks was intermittent. It was the oblique angle of the cliff with the tree shooting up that kept catching my eye.

A view across the lake. The last piece I did the morning before we hiked out. 


Bev said...

I love them all Bill. I like the colour pallet you have used with the contrast between warm and cool.

Sonya Johnson said...

These are just marvelous, Bill. I always look forward to your annual Sierra trip reports + photos.

What a shame that the weather was so poor (from what I understand, very uncharacteristic for this time of the year) during your trip, but it looks like you made the most of it.

Kim VanDerHoek said...

Stunning group Bill, you captured the feel of the Sierras beautifully. Even though the light was similar due to the time of day you had to paint in, all of these shown together look like a cohesive series. There is still a lot of variety in terms of composition. The only thing that is missing is the story about the salmon and the cook.....:)

Jocelyn Liang said...

These are all gorgeous! I love the way those trees are blocked in.

I think my favorite has to be the one with the mountain range.

Julia Lundman said...

I have been sitting here trying to figure out which one is my favorite. The answer is ALL OF THEM.
I love how your paintings always look so incredibly spontaneous.
I especially love the way you indicated the hue shifts in the rocks and also the distant trees. Those areas are so challenging!

The rock slab jutting up at a 90 degree angle with the conifer next to it is a fascinating composition!
These are all so beautiful!!! I'm so inspired!

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Carolyn Jean Thompson said...

The comment before mine here is so unusual!!!! What do I say after that? Bill, these are beautiful, and for having inclement weather, you really got quite a few paintings in a short time. If you had an "off" palette, I sure didn't notice it in your paintings. You still capture the light so the rocks, love the way you do water....awesome!

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Beautiful work, Bill. You really bring a sense of the moment to these plein air pieces. I know what you mean about the color constraints of certain hours of the day. I'm mostly a morning painter, and I wish I could get out there in the afternoons and evenings for different effects.

wolf said...

Bill, your work continues to amaze me as it did when we worked together in '91. Beautiful.

Bill Cone said...

Bev: Thanks for your comment. The warm/cool palette was evident in the atmospheric light, however around midday, the direct light of the sun was often cooler than the some of the bounce light in the shadows.

Sonya: Thank you. Actually summer thunderstorms are common in August. We've been lucky on more than half of our trips to be rain free, but have been 'baptized' enough times. A few years ago we hiked out in clear weather, but by the time we hit the trailhead, snowflakes were direct sunshine, no less.

Kim: Your comments are much appreciated, however, the food related issues are better off as part of the oral tradition of story telling...

Thanks Jocelyn!

Julia: As I've spent more time outdoors doing landscape than I have indoors, I think my mark making is defined by that practice, even when I get in the studio. Thanks for your encouraging comments.

Carolyn: We were all constrained by the weather, so it made the time we had pretty precious. Everyone produced a fair amount of work in spite of the rain.

Michael: Its funny, when I started out doing this on summer trips to Oregon, back in the 90's, I had this idea that one should only paint at 'golden hour', which seemed awfully limiting, and sure had an effect on my color palette. It was looking at Maynard Dixon's work, and others that taught me the range of ideas one could explore, regardless of the time of day, and weather. On some afternoons, I sat down by the lake until the storm came into camp. I was not in the mood to paint it, though that would have been a worthwhile effort. I always feel pastels are at such risk in the rain.

Hi Deane! Great to hear from you, and thanks for your kind remarks. I'm glad you're doing well.

Ida M. Glazier said...

Seeing these great paintings of the hi Sierra Rocks, trees. lakes.painted with your insight is always a pleasure. You do bring these area's to life with the light and feeling to get into each one. Its always amazing, and not at all photographic---just beautiful and so much better! Your best post yet!!!

MG said...

A highlight of this time of the year is seeing and reading about your Sierra trip. Congrats on a beautiful body of work once again. Inspiring to us mountain artist as always.

chuck pyle said...

bill, once again, you have captured the magic essence of our Sierras. Old Edgar Payne would approve. chuck

Unknown said...

Hey, some great ones! Looking forward to "Bill Cone '13 " at Studio, when I can see these beauties in person.

Unknown said...

These are fantastic. Can you give us some details of how you backpack with pastels? Do you leave your easel behind? How many/which colors do you take, etc.?

Sarah Bachhuber Peroutka said...

Just returned from 3 week camping trip to Four Corners area and WISH I'd been able to capture my plein air experience as you did! Along with the last commenter, Anne, I'd like to know what sort of plein air set-up you use. If you'd kindly take a look at my Sept. 23 post at you'll see that I'm actively looking for a solution to this problem.

Bill Cone said...

Ida, MG, Chuck, and Rab, thanks for your kind and supportive words.

Ann and Sarah, There's some information about my packtrip setup in some previous posts here:

I currently use a Heilmann backpacker size box on a tripod.
When we do the Sierra trip, mules are taking our sleeping gear, clothes, etc in. I hike in with my supplies, plus, water, camera. I feel like a mule! Sarah, I looked at your photos and you seem to have all the gear you need, plus a pack to carry it in. You can go lighter (smaller box, lighter tripod, etc), but unless you're planning on hiking a few miles, it may not be worth it. My setup for many years was heavier, and I slowly found the lighter and smaller box, took fewer colors with me, found an umbrella that didn't break every season, etc.

The basic goal is stability of the setup, control of shade, enough colors to get the job done, storage for finished work, and a level of comfort while working as well as ease of use and portability. There is no perfect setup, use something for a season or 2, and change it only if you believe it will improve on the variables listed above.

Sarah Bachhuber Peroutka said...

Bill, thank you for your response. I'm going through your other posts and see you are achieving what I'm working toward.Got any upcoming workshops scheduled?

Chris said...

Gorgeous work!!

Juliana said...

Beautiful and inspiring. I found the comment that told about your supplies, and the mules, which was my did you carry everything? I love to plein air paint, but haven't plein air painted on a backpacking trip yet. Do you use the Heilman easel attachment? Thanks for your posts.