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