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'In any land what is there more glorious than sunlight! Even here in the desert where it falls fierce and hot like a rain of meteors, it is the one supreme beauty to which all things pay allegiance ... The chief glory of the desert is its broad blaze of omnipresent light.'
-John Van Dyke

Friday, January 31, 2014

More Arizona Critters

Regal Horned Lizard
My photographer friend G. Vargas allowed me to use her beautiful shot of a mature, colorful Regal Horned Lizard as a reference. But I nearly gave up. I guess natural selection worked hard for millennia to make our little dragon cryptic, shadow-less and distort his shape, so who am I to give him his three-dimensionality back and make him stand out in a watercolor within a few hours....
For everybody who worries about the ants: no pogos were harmed in the making of the painting and no macro-photographer's copyright was infringed upon, the ants crawled out of my brain alone.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Arizona Critters

Two new little watercolors were inspired by our backyard animals. A pair of Great Horned Owls has been hooting at night until about a month ago. They were often both sitting in one of our Eucalyptus trees, hooting at each other. Their voices are so deep and powerful that I can feel them 'in my gut' like basses from a boom box.

I started the painting with the darks to keep the confusing pattern of the drawing under control. I could have used inks, but I'm hoping to pick up some of the darks when I wash over them. They should then blend and soften somewhat. That will require a delicate touch to avoid smearing and mud. This is not the traditional approach to watercolors. The last step shows the addition of the background of very free-flowing pigments to counteract the tight rendering of the portrait.

watercolor of a Great Horned Owl inspired by a photograph by D. Barret

The owl now looks like cut out and pasted onto the picture. To finish, I need to loose edges and blend some of the background into the portrait to integrate the two elements. If done successfully, the lost edges will also make the head appear rounded. I think it's done, but I will return to it tomorrow and maybe tweak it a little. I like the way the background turned out.

Yesterday I also finished this little guy, a Harris Antelope Ground Squirrel.  For some reason google refuses to upload him without turning and flipping the image. But that's OK, he found a home with one of my collectors right away when I posted him on facebook.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Superstition Mountains

from Apache Junction in 1995
A giant monolith, Superstition Mountain, rises to the height of 3,000 feet above the surrounding desert floor and dominates the eastern fringe of the Salt River Valley east of the metropolitan area of Phoenix.

When I lived in Scottsdale I loved hiking to Weavers Needle or up the Siphon Trail, but I always found the iconic shape of Superstition Mountain an intimidating and awkward topic for a painting.  Last week I tried again to meet that challenge. It was the third time I think. With more distance, I'm living in Tucson now, I approached it after acquiring  a little more background knowledge which always helps. But I think most importantly, I didn't try to sit out there in June to do a plein air study. I did that before: it's too hot for watercolors (and me). So I turned to my old slides for inspiration and did a studio painting.

Plein air study in June of 1997
From the web site of the Apache Junction Public Library I got a little more than the usual 'Lost Dutchman Mine Story'. To the Apaches the mountain was the home of the god of thunder. Having seen huge anvil clouds amassing around the mountain top before summer monsoons, I understand that notion.The Pima Indians called it Ka-Katak-Tami meaning "The Crooked Top Mountain." The Spaniards called it Sierra de espuma (Foam Montain? not quite clear to me). The Pimas had many fearful stories about it, which seems to have given rise to the name Superstion Mt. among white settlers. It appears under this name on military maps from 1870.

The website explains the geology of the strange shape that rises so abruptly out of the desert flats: 'This land of towering spires and deep canyons was formed by volcanic upheaval some 29 million years ago during the tertiary period of geologic time. Superstition Mountain was formed during a tectonic maelstrom which resulted in a massive caldera. The caldera was almost seven miles in diameter. After the lava cooled, magma pushed the center of the caldera upward forming a mass of igneous rock. The mass was slowly eroded for millions of years by running water and wind forming the mountain we see today. Superstition Mountain in the distant past was a thousand feet higher than it is today. Uplift, subsidence, resurgence and erosion have all played a role in shaping Superstition Mountain 

Superstition Mountain close to Apache Junction is only the most well-known part of the Superstition Wilderness Area containing some 242 square miles or 159,780 acres of Arizona's rugged desert mountain terrain. Mountain peaks tower 6,000 feet above sea level and deep canyons dissect this vast wilderness region. The lower slopes are a great place to experience exuberant spring flower blooms in years with just the right pattern of winter rains.  Down there, the summer heat can be brutal. But I did see my very first Collared Lizard there, running on two legs like a miniature Tyrannosaurus rex. The higher, more remote areas support even Ponderosa Pines and are the home to Bighorn Sheep, Black Bears and Mountain Lions.   
This year I'll definitely be back for more exploration, hikes, and maybe paintings, who knows..' 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Horse portraits in black and white

When I was in my teens I saw the work of Rainer Blutke - Arabians and Lipizzaner horses portrait in charcoal. Inspired by those drawings I did a whole series of portraits using just black watercolor. Those paintings generated a lot of interest and sales among my dressage riding friends. 

I now went back to that technique and topic matter. Mainly I want to explore some painterly problems without dealing with the added aspects of the human face, as whether the depicted person is attractive, or whether the expression is appealing. 

For example, I want to test the eyes dominance of eyes by covering one eye with the mane, or how the impression of three-dimensionality is supported or destroyed by the value distribution inherent to the horse's color. I also want to find out how colors translate into black-and-white value systems....will I be able to express the warm glow of a chestnut with just black pigment? 
So there may be more of these portraits as I go along and I'll add them to this blog. 

 I just framed the first pair so I can present them at my next show at the Mountain View Country Club in SaddleBrook, AZ, on February 8 and 9. The two 7x11 in watercolors are mounted as a diptych. They are floated in a shadowbox mat and a wood frame with integrated canvas liner. To see more of my equestrian paintings go to this link

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

First new paintings of 2014

In early January I finished a watercolor of the Old Pima County Courthouse in Tucson. The court is moving into a new building soon, so one of the judges commissioned this as a memento. Luckily the beautiful old building with its Moorish dome and Spanish style arcades will be preserved. 

At the last show of 2013 I sold more originals than expected, so I tried to paint at least one more half sheet before the Green Valley show in early January