Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Desert Rocks

I’m out here in the Anza-Borrego desert again for their annual Plein Air show. I thought I’d post one of my paintings just completed the other day in Glorietta Canyon. This 9x12 scene, “Morning Glorie” was begun around 8 am after an easy 15 minute off-road drive. I had to lug my gear over boulders and cacti to get this vantage point, but I thought the trek was well worth it once I saw this view out over the desert floor to Salton Sea in the hazy distance.

I was drawn to the incredible diversity of rock colors that were present in this canyon. The morning shadows created these vibrant blue and orange casts that complemented nicely with the frosty greens of bushes. With the compelling vista and atmospheric rock formations stepping back, how could you not want to capture this in paint!

I knew my center of interest would be the yellows of the main bush as the sun highlighted it’s rim. This contrasted well with the darker cools in the rocks creating an instant grab for your eye. I started by laying down much of the rock tones as quickly as possible. As the sun was rising, I was losing the harmony in the shadowed mass fast, so getting those color notes down gave me the information needed later as the sun brought them into full light. It was much easier to work the finishing details with my color notes already in place. Next, I began the closer ridge, distant bluffs and desert floor, painting those to completion to finalize my overall atmosphere. Then I went back into the main rock formation, fleshing out the details and nuances from my rough color dabs made earlier. I worked to keep these reading as one unified shape to offset the highlighted bush and flowers. Plus, these rocks ended up giving me weight to create the foundation of my painting.

Another goal this year was to punch more color into my desert scenes. Over the years, as I’ve looked at the exquisite paintings by Mark Kerckhoff, I’ve noticed the beautiful pigmentation and variety of color he is able to achieve in the desert. So for the above piece I pumped up the chroma a bit, but worked hard to not have it become too garish. This helped me avoid the trap of chalkiness that can ruin the beauty and subtle richness that is all around.

Now if I can just find more shady spots to paint, everything will be cool! Enjoy.