Thanks to so many who helped us get here, my wife and I are back in the Pacific Northwest. We landed on Monday, and by Wednesday, we were out in the woods. It’s not hard to get to a forest around here. Many of the parks are so densely wooded you hardly know you’re near a town. Noble Park is new to us, so we have some nice exploring to do close to where we live. This scene was just a short walk from the parking lot via one of several trails.
I started the painting onsite. About 45 minutes into the session, it started to do that Oregon drizzle thing, so I quickly packed up the pastels and we headed back. (Only after I was mostly packed did I see the owl perched about 15 feet over my head, graciously refraining from anointing/bombing me down below!) A few hours later, I sat outside the place we’re staying and painted for another half hour…until it started raining for real. I finished painting in the dining room.
What a delight to be out in the cool woods once again! I love it.
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“Remembering the Chief” – Wallowa Mts. OR – Pastel on MingART, 7.1×4.4″/18×11.1 cm
After I posted this painting of Chief Joseph Mountain, I was asked how I go about painting snow texture. Well, the texture has a lot to do with two factors, in this case: 1) the finely sanded surface of the MingART “Finest” paper, and 2) the ability to lightly, evenly drag a pastel pencil point across that surface.
Of course, between those two factors lie several steps that add realism to the snow. In a nutshell, though, I paint the most colorful parts first, which are the mid-value shadows, and then I work the highlights and darks, alternating between them. Most of the darks on the snowy mountain were done with deep Indigo. Virtually all of the highlights were done using Chinese White on top of the shadows. Texture is achieved by varying the pressure on the pastel pencil when painting the highlights. Most of the time, I’m using very subtle strokes.
Here are all the geeky details.
Lightly (very lightly) lay down the varying hues that make up the sky and snow shadows. I completely ignore all details, focusing on the midrange values only. At this point, I don’t really differentiate between the snow, the clouds and the sky, except where the colors shift.
Smooth the color transitions with finger blending. MingART Finest allows for blending without too much loss of skin! I add a little color where needed, again, paying no attention to the highlights or deep darks. Some of it rubs off, and that’s okay because I want to put down as little pastel as possible an still have some color. I actually rub my fingertip on a soft pastel and paint with my finger rather than applying the pastel directly. In some places, where the sun strikes, I leave the light gray paper showing through the color haze.
Using a deep Indigo pastel pencil, faintly outline the left ridge and the upper shadows. Again, this is all about subtlety. Lay another line down to generally demarcate the middle ridge. Don’t finalize any of these lines.
With a Chinese White pastel pencil, leave little tick marks to show where the uppermost highlights are, and then lightly establish the line of the brightly lit snow slope. I used less pressure to show where the clouds obscure the view.
Using only Chinese White and varying amounts of pressure, establish only the brightest highlights on the upper third of the mountain. Now the drawing is sent and I can start working the details.
Using deep Indigo, paint the exposed rocks and deepest shadows. With an image this small, I literally poke at the area I’m painting, hardly scratching the surface. The tip of a lightly held pastel pencil skidding across the sanded surface is sufficient to represent the rock bands on the upper right. I’m still saving the darkest darks for later, when the whole range of values is clear.
Using the lights tint of Indigo, Ultramarine Blue and Dark Violet (Derwent’s names), I start working the snow highlights within the shadowed areas on the upper part of the mountain. I’m going for luminosity here, so I put warm and cool temperatures next to each other. The sanded paper allows for lots of layering without creating mud, so if I watch my pressure, I can put a warm violet over a cool blue and get a nice mix without blending. I can even paint the negative space between the exposed rocks, showing where the snow drifts and collects.
With medium tints of the same three colors, I make sure the subtleties in the shadows are correct. To make certain shadows more luminous, I’ll add some Spectrum Blue and go over it subtly with a medium tint of Dark Violet to keep it from being too intense.
Going back to Chinese White, I paint the lower highlights. With very delicate, even pressure, I paint the sunlit snowfields in the middle of the mountain, letting the texture of the paper catch just the slightest hint of white. These strokes are painted in the same direction as the slope, so we can see the curvature.
As I do the highlights on the bottom of the mountain, I draw a thin line for the top of that low, backlit ridge, and then paint feathery strokes off of it from right to left to show the spindrift. I set my fingertip on the line and lightly drag it off, from right to left to pull that white into the shadowed area. If it’s too strong, I buff it in the opposite direction, pushing the shadow toward the spindrift. When that’s close enough, I reestablish the sunlit ridge line.
Finish up the darkest darks, and then tweak the values throughout to ensure proper depth.
For reflected light in the uppermost summit dome shadow, I put just a little French Gray in the lightest tint, which gave that area some warmth.
In the middle ground, the shadowed snow is done by painting a middle tint of Ultramarine Blue in patches over a relatively heavier blended layer of Dark Gray (NuPastel) and deep Indigo (Derwent). I then reestablish the tree texture with the deep Indigo pastel pencil.
The foreground dusting of snow is made by painting the moraine with Umber blended on top of deep Indigo, and then dragging a light tint of Indigo over it in the direction of the slope. The paper texture does the work.
Hope it explains what I did this time around. How do you do snow texture? I’d love to hear about it.
“To Sweep the Sky” – SongShan, China – Pastel on Canson, 16×20″/41×51 cm
“To Sweep the Sky” – Pastel on Canson, 16×20″/41×51 cm
I often wonder what it felt like to be the first human being to set foot here. Some of these trails were blazed thousands of years ago by explorers who returned home to speak of legends. Here, the rocks rise up to sweep the sky. As I hike through the ravines and across cliffs guarded by lofty spires, I am accompanied by the spirits of the first visitors. The legends they told were true. I am witness. To me, such places speak of home.
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“Intermezzo” – Taiwan – Soft pastel on sandpaper, 8.7×5.3″/22×13.4 cm
“Intermezzo” – Taiwan – Soft pastel on sandpaper, 8.7×5.3″/22×13.4 cm
Beitou has a wealth of local trails. Danfengshan is a favorite. In the middle of a busy week, you can walk down past the park and head up into the steep hills. It’s a great workout for the legs, and you’re surrounded by dense woods until you break out on the ridge. The view outward is expansive. The weather’s good tomorrow, so we’re going back up there!
I’ve been working on a big painting, an “Inner Vision” which is being improvised right on the canvas. In my imagination, this composition includes high altitude trees. Some are already suggested in spiky brushstrokes on distant mountains, but some of them will be seen from up close. Just for practice, I sketched a few, based on a photo I took in a hike up to Sawtooth Lake in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains about a decade ago. Man, has it been that long? Anyway, all of these examples were in the same frame, on the same hillside. Fun practice with a cheap #2 pencil (about 8×10″).
We spent our Thanksgiving holiday deep in the woods. Taiwanese forests differ from those in the Western Hemisphere, but they are just as evocative. We spent two days hiking the trails in Shanlinxi, reveling in the company of ancient cedars and colorful metasequoias. To me, the most amazing trees in these woods are the Taiwanese rhododendrons, which grow to such scale that one would think they were oaks.
It has been said that Nature is optimistic, and these woods are proof: whatever can grow, will; whatever fails, fails; but nothing stops the next growth. Nothing. I need to remember that, and emulate it.
I drew this duotone from memory as we rested in our room on Wednesday.
“Shanlinxi Memory” – Taiwan – Graphite and white charcoal on colored paper – 15×21 cm