Monday, September 7, 2015

Water on the Brain

This summer marks the 11th year that Paul Kratter and I have organized a trip into the Sierra back country to paint with other artists for a number of days. The other artists on this trip were Ernesto Nemesio, Suzie Baker, Lori Putnam, Aimee Erickson, and Carol Marine. This year we chose (for the fourth time) Garnet Lake, which sits on the east side of the Sierra crest between Thousand Island Lake, and Lake Ediza. All these drainages form the headwaters of the San Joaquin River, which ends up in California's Central Valley. Surprisingly the headwaters were still running, and the lake, though down a bit, had plenty of water in it, but the only snow in sight was two permanent glaciers on Mt. Ritter and Banner that have been shrinking in size since the first time we saw them in 2006. This was the warmest weather we ever had, and there was also a fair amount of smoke from time to time throughout the week, a reminder of the fires that were burning north of us around Tioga Pass.

One of the interesting features of this location is a basin at the upper west end of the lake that sits right below Mt. Banner, and contains a large shallow melt pond, filled with boulders, surrounded by a large meadow. We first hiked up there in 2006, and though we were able to briefly paint there in 2007 before bad weather drove us out, I have long wanted to get back up there to paint again. This year I was able to get up there for 3 days in a row, in perfect weather. The place has a magical aspect to it.... something to do with the range of color in the water due to depth, as well as how the reflection of the sky can impede, adding another range of blue. Of course the overall location is rather spectacular, plus one gets to share it with other artists. After waiting for 8 years, I was not disappointed in either the aesthetics, or the challenge of painting up there. 

I did paint other views, some of which are shown below, but my primary fascination was hiking up there day after day to try and decode those colors and forms in that incredibly bright light and clear water. Here's a selection of paintings below with notes. 

I worked small this year, primarily 6 x 9, painting 2 paintings per 9 x 12 sheets of paper.
This was an image I did one afternoon, sitting on the ground in front of my tent, looking up the hill. While I painted this, Aimee Erickson started painting me amongst the trees, and Suzie Baker set up and painted Aimee, which is representative of the kind of synergy the entire group had.

The above 2 were painted one after the other, early in the morning on the shore of Garnet Lake before breakfast. As we've done in the past, we have a cook on our trip, and so we are free to work from the time we get up until breakfast. This was the second day in a row I painted these same views, just trying to warm up, and figure out all that was going on. I was especially interested in the soft blue cast shadows of the trees across the shallow water, seamlessly colliding with the reflection of the mountain. More research is needed...

I should mention also that many of us swam in Garnet Lake every afternoon..
It was wonderful. (photo by Carol Marine)

The melt pond at the base of Mt. Banner. Carol Marine, Lori Putnam, and Paul Kratter setting up to paint.

Where artists camp, the laundry looks different.
A few of Aimee Erickson's paintings.

Here's the first piece I did at the pond, after 8 years. The rocks under the water are often a very rich red. At the same time, the deeper the water gets, the bottom surface goes from an ochre to a turquoise. Then the sky reflection starts turning all the shadowed areas navy blue... 

A day or two later, same location, looking at a shallower spot, where you can see how red the rocks are underwater, while the shadows are reflecting the blue of the sky, but the shadow pulls the value way down... 

This image is about 20 feet to the left of the one above. The meadow that surrounds the pond is just an unkempt shag rug of multi-colored grasses, with little inlets from the pond cutting in. The boulder has a toupee of vegetation it.

We were right near the timberline, and there were very few trees above our position. Many of the pines that dwell up there resemble brooms of a sort, in that they are narrower at their base, and wider at the top, in contrast to the pyramidal icons we are familiar with. Above those regions are primarily rocky slopes, giving way to solid rock. This is a view of a ridge to the south, called White Bark Pass, which leads to the Nydiver Lakes and the Ediza drainage. The smoke from the fires added to the apparent atmosphere in views like this. 

Probably the most 'refined' piece I managed to do. This one is 9 x 12, and was painted on the 3rd day of hiking up there to study this stuff. Carol Marine made a very helpful suggestion while I was working: Squint!
Usually I do that to study value relationships, but in this case squinting actually made it clear how strong the sky color was overwriting everything under the water.

Art show! Always a favorite (and humbling) part of the trip to see what everyone else has been doing. Lots of beautiful work. 


I should also mention that on our way out, Paul slipped and dislocated his kneecap, leaving him totally immobilized in a matter of seconds. We were about 7 miles from the trailhead, and not on a regularly travelled path. Fortunately one person had a text based satellite phone, and another quickly hiked to a spot where there was cell coverage, so that in short order, 2 emergency calls were made reporting our position and the problem. Unfortunately we had to wait about 3 hours for a helicopter to show up to assess the situation. They circled us for a few minutes, sounded a siren briefly to acknowledge they spotted us, and then flew off. About an hour later they returned, and dropped a first responder named Megan. Following her assessment and guidance, we helped package Paul up, put him on a stretcher, and we all carried him up to the drop zone, where he was essentially zipped up into a giant duffle that the helicopter hauled up and whisked away. It was quite a departure from our usual hike out, and gave us a lot to think about. Everyone pulled together to help in whatever way we could, which was wonderful. In addition, it was evident that technology played a huge role in resolving the situation so rapidly. After the helicopter left, the hike out was quite a lighthearted affair, in late afternoon light, all the way to dusk and moonlight by the time we reached the pack station.

Another memorable trip with great folks. 


Unknown said...


mars said...

Thanks for sharing Bill.

Brenda Boylan said...

I find it mind boggling to see how you can paint water so successfully with juggling color, shadow,and highlight. Bravo!

Sergio Lopez said...

Wow you really nailed the feeling of the shallow pools with the rocks in them. I love the amazing colors you can see up there. I miss being a part of the Granite Group!

TSteinbachGarcia said...

Whew. Inspiring. Thank you

Ida M. Glazier said...

Bill, seeing your work each year after you take this trip is a real treat and pleasure. I love your notes and thoughts . Didn't you ride the pack horses this year? The hike out wouldn't have been so bad if you had I think. Poor Paul!
The way you paint the light on the grasses is so life-like. And of course. your rocks and water is supreme!

Bill Cone said...

Thank you Lisa and Mars for your comments.
Brenda: It is just like painting everything else: if you paint it over and over, it finally starts to make more sense. There is no secret. Thanks for your remarks.

Sergio: Thanks. Yes, the colors are 'different' up there. The light seem much brighter, for one thing. You would like this place, and about 3 miles from Ediza, as the crow flies...

Ida: It is fun to keep logging time in that part of the world over many years. There's a narrow window in which we go to visit these spots, so it is precious time to spend in that area, but it does have a cumulative aspect as well. Plus collective shared memories with the folks we've gone with.

Unknown said...

Beautiful work, as always, Bill. Was just going through our images from the trip and it puts me right back there all over again. Those colors are super-natural. I never quite managed them. Looking forward to 2016.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Beautiful images from the trip, Bill, and not a one of them a mere snapshot. What a trip, and how fortunate to paint in such a spot.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful work, and sounds like a great time was had by all! Judy in NYC, but huge Sierra/ Cascades fan.