Friday, August 23, 2013

2013 Sierra Packtrip, Part III: Getting down to work.

After hiking to Iceberg and the Nydiver lakes the first 2 days, I was ready to move less and paint more. Accordingly, after doing a morning painting in camp, and having another tasty breakfast from Kelly, our stellar cook, I shouldered up my pack and walked a very short distance over to one of the creeks that runs down from the upper reaches of the basin into Ediza. There were numerous small pools and waterfalls of varying size to choose from as I wandered along the banks. I found one pool that had enough depth to show the shift in water color, as well as having some whitewater, and a nice reddish, submerged boulder. The spot was surrounded by a thicket of trees, so I could work in the shade for quite some time. Just what I was looking for. This was a fun piece, though it didn't start to fully work until I put in the white water moving across the surface to give it a better perspective context. The water was rough enough that the rocks at the bottom were broken up and distorted in the deeper areas, so I had to generally depict them in fragments of the right color. There's an excellent oil by Sargent that I saw at a retrospective in Seattle over 10 years ago. It is about a 6 foot long painting, depicting a ship at a stone breakwater. When I was working on this piece, I started thinking about how Sargent had thrown down such loose and colorful paint to make a convincing depiction of underwater rocks.

I took a lunch break, sat down in the shade, nibbling on my usual fare of peanuts, dried apricots, an apple, and a stash of chocolate chip cookies. Then I poked around a bit, and walked down to talk to Julia Lundman, who I spotted working further down the creek. After chatting, I still couldn't figure out what to paint, and decided to head back towards camp, and maybe go for a (30 second) swim. On the way there I stopped and decided the view of the trail, and the lake through the trees below might work, so went at it. It still needs some work in the foreground.

Ernesto, Paul, and Eric had gone by while I was working on this. I finished up, turned around and spied this view between the trees with the boulders in the mid-ground. Hmmm.... I was getting pretty tired of standing at this point, but re-positioned, and went back to work. By now it was late afternoon.
I finally finished up and walked over to where Eric and Paul were painting. They were both aiming towards the afternoon light with varying views of the upper reaches of the basin. There was plenty of atmosphere and great shapes to play with. I checked my watch: 4:30, and resolved to come back tomorrow (Thursday) and work from that spot.

Thursday. This was the last full day before we had to hike out. I got up before 6, and saw Ernesto headed for his sunrise painting spot he'd been going to all week. I headed the other way around the lake, and painted a view looking towards camp from across the lake, which is the last image in my Part I post. I wrapped up pretty quick, and hurried back to camp just in time to get some breakfast (essential), then cleaned up, and headed out again to get the most out of the last day. Back to the creek I painted the day before, but I instead became interested in some sinuous granite forms running up a hill, in orange and green grass, interrupted by foreground trees, with a hint of a deeper, and higher background... Once again the brightest lights on the rocks were decidedly cool in nature, which I attempted to depict.

I took a break, moved to the shade for lunch, and  took a short nap next to the creek. This kind of working and resting in such an amazing place does not get any better. Though I was tired, I was exhilarated, and in the mood to paint. After about 40 minutes I left my pack, and walked up to check out the late afternoon view. It wasn't very atmospheric yet, so I debated... return to camp, continue resting, or paint something else until the light was better? Between some trees I spied a view of the jagged crest with a snow patch, with a good foreground mass of rocks, plus some bonus compositional tree devices conveniently beckoning... Egad, I had just painted a rock formation. One a day is enough. But time was running out, and I liked the zig zag to the snow patch, the orange grass... Back at it. I used up my energy on this one, as well as the clock, so by the time 4:30 rolled around I packed up and kind of shuffled over to my planned location...

This was the view I had spotted a day earlier. My eye was drawn to the light and shadow break in the distance, plus the steep, curving slopes running down from the upper right. I was pretty much out of energy and time at this point, but set up near Eric Merrell, who was continuing work on a piece he'd started the day before. I did a small study, that I may work into a larger piece in the studio. The light changed rapidly on this one, as cast shadows came down the slopes from above. 

That was it for me. I packed up and walked back to camp to clean up and hoist a beverage with the other artists that had been camped together in this great spot all week, wandering around the basin, and painting to their heart's content. Before it got too dark, everyone went and laid out their work, so we could all see what the others had been up to. Its a part of the trip that I truly value and enjoy, as one gets to see the world one has been studying intently all week, through someone else's eyes, and can draw inspiration and insight from the shared, multiple points of view. The impromptu art show had us wandering around the camp looking at groups of work laid on the ground for our perusal.

Nothing left to do but dig into a steak dinner, with sautéed veggies from Kelly's garden on the side.
Another great week in the wilderness drawing to a close as dusk settled in. But wait, there's more. 

"Professor" Eric Merrell had been painting nocturnes in camp for several nights with his own unique laboratory setup of gooseneck LED's, dutifully taped with a color correction gel and a diffusing filter (wax paper), augmented by the light of a waxing moon. It seemed a daunting task, primarily because the undisciplined flock of well-lubricated painters who stayed up to watch him work, wandering about and yakking, were likely a distraction more than anything else. But perhaps we unwittingly functioned as a DEW system for the bears. Eric offered to let me use one of his LED's, so I took him up on the offer, and gave it a shot.... a very quick shot. For the astro inclined, that's part of the tail of Scorpius floating above the Minarets.

 One thing I immediately learned is that any strong light on your work, under such low light, will kill your vision for the subject you're trying to see. Kind of like the paradox in quantum mechanics...(the act of observing/measuring, effects the outcome of the event) yeah, just like that! I love science. Regardless, I could see value differences in the scene, and the low level of the light on the colors in my box only allowed me to see them as values. I had a general idea of where my hues were, and so, just grabbed values with some bias towards hue selection. I hammered away, then spent a little time trying to see deeper, or adjusting some shapes. Much later, at my tent, I was looking at the stars for awhile, and in the absence of white light, I could get a subtler sense of what color was visible in the scene. I think you could augment observation in the dark, with written impressions, memory, as well as direct effort with the aid of low light, and perhaps get a deeper, more personal color sense going. Or, you could just borrow Remington's nocturnal palette, or someone else's, and paint it in the studio. It is an interesting problem, and I give Eric credit for pushing the perceptual envelope, and setting such an inspiring example for the rest of us sleepy heads.

That wraps it up for this year's summer adventures. I'm already looking forward to the next one. My deep gratitude to the artists and friends who came on the trip this year, as well as Kelly, our cook, and her son, Cole. It was the collective spirit and good will that made it such a good one. 

 Meanwhile I'll be in this years Sonoma Plein Air event, barring any unforeseen complications. 2 other upcoming events are my one man show at the Studio Gallery in October, with the reception on the 6th.
And, lastly, I'll be teaching one more weekend workshop this year at the Lifeboat Station in Pt. Reyes.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

2013 Sierra Painting Packtrip, Part II: Sightseeing!

The first two full days at Ediza I painted in camp in the morning, and then hiked up to higher locations to explore and paint. On Monday, Ernesto and I decided to hike up to Iceberg Lake. I was last there in 2008, and was looking forward to seeing and painting it again. The hike itself, for me, is a humbling reminder of how not in shape I am, (or my age), or both. Stopping to catch my breath was literally true. At times I couldn't keep moving and also breathe. The good news is that the view was great every time I stopped, so there was a reward for being out of breath. Truthfully its also difficult to sightsee while walking up there, as the terrain is so uneven, you need to watch where you're stepping most of the time.  Here's a few shots of the area:

Approaching the lake, which is just beyond the meadow.

The outlet of Iceberg.

Ernesto, late in the afternoon, after painting all day in the meadow.

Here's a huge erratic we spotted on the way down. The atmosphere was pretty heavy, probably from the Aspen Fire to the south.

The curved basin below Ritter and Banner, across the valley, was to be our route on Tuesday, to get to the Nydiver Lakes.

I did 2 pieces that day, and here is one of them below, a fairly typical, (and un-retouched) view of the shoreline. For some, it may seem ironic that, surrounded by such alpine vistas, I have a habit of picking these more intimate scenes. I simply find such closeup views to be equally beautiful, and often unique to such an environment. I wouldn't see these colors and forms in the Bay Area, any more than I would see the jagged peaks.  I never get tired of the color relationships found in wet and dry rocks, as well as the clarity and depth of water, and the hue shifts to be found there. 

I should point out that the light at that altitude, after sunrise, cools considerably. Much more so than at lower altitudes. The warmth seen on the rocks at the top of the image was local color, while the average rock temperature, and the temp of the sunlight, combined to make a cool result in the brightest areas. It is a somewhat disconcerting effect, as it doesn't match our everyday perceptions in the lowlands. I may have to 'adjust' this one. It may mean adhering to the overcast 'rule' (cool light, warm shadows) for example. 

On Tuesday, after doing our morning paintings, having breakfast, and filling up our water bottles, we decided to hike to the Nydiver Lakes. We decided not to go for a shortcut on the way up, and opted for a clear trail up to the basin below Ritter and Banner. From there, we headed east, up a rocky slope, expecting to see the lakes at the top. Instead, we just found a landscape littered with shattered boulders. We had to walk another quarter mile before they came into view below us.

Our view of the lakes below us. We found 3 medium sized lakes, a couple of pond-sized ones, as well as dried up pools.

Looking back towards the peaks. We had climbed over the mid-ground ridge on the left from the basin.

I modified my setup for painting up there due to strong gusts of wind. I sat on the ground, clipped my umbrella to the tripod, and weighted it down with rocks in my bag, hanging from the center post.
Water? Check!, Hand Lotion? Check!, Cookies? Check! Go!

Ernesto did not have an umbrella, so oriented his easel to be in shade. He was painting the meadow and shoreline to the upper right.

This is a quick study I did from my spot, later in the afternoon. I was compelled to paint this view, partially because it resembled Edgar Payne's penchant for inserting lakes that didn't exist beneath lofty alpine crags. Here it was the truth. 

We didn't want to go back the way we came, as we knew were right above our campsite, so we ditched our packs and walked over to the edge of the plateau we were on to see how steep the descent would be. It resembled a double black diamond ski run, with boulders and weeds instead of snow. The lake in this image is Ediza. On the lower right shore of the lake is a white dot. That is Eric Merrell's umbrella, with him beneath it, painting. If you look to the top of the image, you can see Iceberg Lake, to which we'd hiked and painted the day before. You may also note that we are looking down on Iceberg Lake. We decided it was do-able, went and got our packs, and spent about 45 minutes ungracefully and gingerly picking our way down the slope. 

That was enough climbing and exploring for me. I was determined to stay out of the sun for the next few days, and paint 'locally'. Besides being sore and tired, I was in the mood to spend more time painting, and less time walking around out of breath. It was time to get to work.

Monday, August 19, 2013

2013 Sierra Painting Packtrip, Part I

A fine group of artists and friends, of which I was fortunate to be a part of, spent 6 days camped on the shores of Lake Ediza in the Ansel Adams wilderness last week. This was accomplished with the help of Red's Meadow Pack Station, who supplied us with mules to carry our gear up, and a cook to keep us well fed, between sleep and our daily expeditions to paint whatever we could between sunrise and sunset. Even that limitation was somewhat exceeded by those who were up before sunrise to paint the alpenglow on the peaks, or the moonlit nocturnes that were painted well after dinner, spearheaded by Eric Merrell. My companions on this year's journey were: Paul Kratter, Ernesto Nemesio, Michelle DeBraganca, Jeff Horn, Julia Lundman, Eric Merrell, and Sergio Lopez. I encourage anyone interested to check out their websites, blogs, and other social media to see what they've done from the trip. I may re-write this post over the next few days as it evolves. What follows is not necessarily chronological, but primarily paintings and photos with notes and recollections, in a few categories, and as it is getting late, I believe it will be in multiple posts.

Morning Studies

Virtually everyone did some painting before, during, or right after sunrise, at least a few times during the week. It helped of course to have hot coffee and fresh melon slices laid out by our amazing back country cook, Kelly, prior to beginning our labors, or if we were in sight of the kitchen, to have her come by our easels with a slice of sizzling bacon or sausage as a snack before breakfast.

"How do you want those 2 hen bullets? Medium? Over Easy?"

We were camped on the northern shore of the lake. The image above was painted in the morning from camp, looking roughly southeast to the right of the rising sun, and I'm looking past illuminated air into the shadows of what is called 'Volcanic Ridge' on the maps, a greenish, glacially scarred, steep range that runs a few miles from the San Joaquin headwaters up to the Sierra crest. The Aspen Fire, about 20 miles south of our area had a pronounced atmospheric effect, most noticeably on a few afternoons, but when I could see atmosphere like this in the morning, I had to wonder if the effects of the fire were also coloring the morning haze. 

Here's another study painted from camp, looking roughly south across the lake, as a sliver of light began to invade the shadow. The color range in the water has to do with a change in depth in the foreground. This one is a candidate for a larger studio piece.

This might be a post breakfast piece from camp, but you can see the range of color that was common at least to looking towards the lake in a southerly direction in the morning.

After painting morning views from camp most of the week, (it is hard to resist sausage delivered to your easel), I tried walking halfway around the lake and looking towards our camp, and was amazed at the  range of color shift to be had. I got up around a quarter to six to get over there. Ernesto and Sergio were up at that hour for several days straight to hike to their own spots to paint  before sunrise. I had my eye on a huge boulder by the lake, but by the time I hiked over there and did a pencil study of it, I began looking at these smaller groups of rocks nearby against the reflected colors in the water, from the trees and granite bluff on the opposite shore. While I was working on this, I could spy my cohorts across the lake, sipping coffee and conversing... probably eating bacon as well. 

More to come.