Dateline: Mitchell, Oregon, Day 5, Sept 10, 2011

We zoomed out to Picture Gorge extra early today, hoping to catch the shadows and avoid the heat.

We were carrying the large canvases in the carrier Neighbor Jim made for me; the carrier protects the car from oil paint, and me from sorrowful looks by Jer, who loves his 1994 Honda and can’t bear the thought of it sullied with, gasp, paint:

The carrier is to the right with the canvases facing inward. The slatted piece sits on top the carrier, acting as a lid so the canvases don’t get holes poked in them. The white rectangle (bottom center-left) is the box for the 18 x 24″ boards. My usual small boards (12 x 16″) fit into the smaller boxes beside the white one.

At Picture Gorge, I set up the canvas, this time using an extension cord instead of my belt to secure the canvas to the easel. The cord was long enough to go around the fence against which I lodged the easel, so the canvas and I were secure against the wind gusts that come through the gorge early in the day.

Draft one of the big canvas (30 x 40”) was basically just about getting the composition and large planes (forms/shapes) onto the canvas. So this is where I started this morning.

Picture Gorge, 2011, Draft 1, 30 x 40″, oil on canvas

I worked over the canvas for about 3 hours, then we loaded up and went off to visit a friend whose acquaintance dated from my 2006 residency at the Fossil Beds. True to form, Alicia fed us, gave the tired artist (me, me) a beer, showed us the glorious spread (200 acres) that she and her husband bought a few years ago and generally made us feel very welcome. About 2:30, we trundled back to Mitchell.

I unloaded the car and carrier, and brought the big painting to the porch to join the two smaller ones:

The three paintings that I’ve been working on are perched here on the front porch of Hollyhock Cottage. You can see their relative sizes. None is as small as my usual “vignette” plein air work.

Here’s what evolved from today’s session:

Picture Gorge, 2011, Draft 2. 30×40″, oil on canvas.

It still needs work — I ignored the sky after yesterday’s laying on of a single ultramarine layer, so it needs some white+pigment  paint; I also need to bring out the highlights on the columns, work up the grasses and sage brush, and fracture and facet the columns a bit more.  I was thinking about collaging natural foliage forms over the top, but since I have another large canvas with me, perhaps I’ll just finish this as is (probably another 3—5 hours of work), leaving it as a “straight” landscape. Then I’ll do a new loose version, layered with the local fall foliage.  But that decision can wait until I have a fresh eye – or 2015 — whichever comes first.

Of course, I also have the first two canvases to work on. So tomorrow we will stay in Mitchell, I’ll eat bon-bons (or Peets chocolate blueberries), sit on the porch, commune with nature, and paint.

So think of me on Sunday afternoon, slaving away, surrounded by lush green growing things, with the usual questions of paint and form and hue and temperature circling around my head.  –June

Dateline: Mitchell, OR, Picturing Picture Gorge, Sept 9, Day 4

After I posted yesterday’s journal, I decided to work more on the paintings I had started earlier in the day.

During the morning session, in addition to working further on the long narrow 12 x 24″ piece, I had hurriedly used up the paints on my palette  as Jer hiked up the trail toward me. So I had the reworked narrow painting plus a more rectangular panel, 18 x 24. The 18 x 24 was basically a bunch of fast smears. However, when I pulled it out of the box back at the cottage, I liked the looseness of the smearing.

The Painted Hills, September 2011, draft 1, 18 x 24″ Oil on masonite

The feel was right but the crude thin layer of paint needed work. As dusk descended over the cottage, I layered over this first smudgery, resulting in the painting below, an improvement in which I managed to keep the looseness of the first draft.

JOU, The Painted Hills, September 2011, draft 2, 18 x 24, oil on Masonite

This needs more work, both compositionally and in its detailing. But dusk was drawing nigh, and I was looking with dismay at the other painting that I had reworked in the AM. It looked like this:

The Painted Hills, Sept 2011, 12 x 24″ oil on Masonite

In the cooler light of evening, the reds, which seemed muted in the blaze of the desert sun, suddenly became much too much. Elizabeth Barton and the traditional guidelines for color were absolutely correct — the rather even mix of warm and cool colors did not work.

So, having a violet already mixed on my palette, I turned on the porch light and smeared the titanium white/ultramarine violet over the red bits:

JOU, Painted Hills Sept 2011, 12 x 24″ draft 2, oil on Masonite

Obviously I smeared a bit elsewhere too. This is more like the effect I want, so now that I know what has to be done, perhaps on the next draft, I’ll be more successful. There was no time and no energy and no light to continue last night.

This morning we got up at the crack of dawn (did you know that dawn cracks like a rifle shot out here in Mitchell?) and drove the 45 miles east on Route 26 to Route 19, where the primary exhibit space and science labs (the Condon Center) of the Fossil Beds is located. As you approach Route 19, you drop through a canyon, Picture gorge, carved by Rock Creek. The canyon is lined with hexagonal basalt columns, leaving just room for the narrow two lane road and the stream. Route 19 goes left off Rt 26, following around the end of Picture Gorge. It was there at an interpretive pull-off that I sat up my gear.

This is the approximate scene I painted, on the largest canvas we can fit into the Honda, 30 x 40″. (Actually, if the canvas is unpainted we can squeeze in a 36 x 48, but a naked painted canvas is not allowed in the Honda, and the carrier reduces the space available. So 30 x 40 it is). It took me three hours to cover the canvas with paint. Luckily, the shapes are simple as are the colors, at least in this initial scene.

The canvas threatened to blow down the river, so I removed my camera from my belt, using the belt to anchor the canvas stretcher bars to the easel, which I snugged up against the Park Service’s railings. That held everything secure against the morning breeze, a wind which I yearned for as the sun got higher and hotter.

At the appointed time, Jer returned, and after we reinserted the canvas into its carrier and the whole package into the Honda, along with the cart and all the other gear, we checked out the book store at the Condon Center (alas, a rather meager selection), chatted with some old acquaintances from my 2006 residency there, had a picnic lunch, stopped at the Kimberly Fruit company for our farm-fresh peaches, got gas in Spray (the gas pump in Mitchell is operated erratically), ate an early dinner at Service Creek, and wound our way home over Oregon Route 207, through the Ochocos, south to Mitchell. I took a  badly needed shower and crashed on the couch. It seemed like a fruitful but exhausting day.

I forgot to take a photo of the morning’s work; I might remember tomorrow morning. We’re going back even earlier  so the photographer (the real photographer, I mean) can capture more spectacular scenes in a different light. And the painter can get an earlier start, when the sun won’t be quite so ferocious.

Oh yes, my favorite sign in the Park is a rattlesnake alert:

Everyone at JODA (the Fossil Beds)  sympathizes with the rattlers. –-June