PEFO Paintings, Mostly Finished.

I promised to provide updates to this blog as I worked in my Portland, Oregon, studio on the Arizona Petrified Forest National Park Paintings. I am in the process of moving this blog, pages and posts, to my website, but until that process is completed and ready for public consumption, I thought I would continue here.

The following paintings are mostly finished. At the moment I seem to have 17 acceptable paintings which I am moving around into various groupings to see what works best. Here are the 17, in alphabetical order.

Agate House, 12 x 16″, oil on masonite, 2010.

This is one of the two structures in the park made from the petrified wood that litters the landscape (most of the Puebloan buildings are constructed out of sandstone, not petrified wood). It was “restored” in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and is not considered an authentic artifact. The original dated to the 1250’s and was built by Puebloan peoples, part of the language group that Mesa Verdi and Chaco Canyon National Parks feature. I was fascinated by the grasses, the petrified logs along the path, and the structure, high on the hill.

The Bidahochi and Chinle Formations, 24″ x 12″, oil on masonite, 2010. This is the big geological unconformity in the park, where the volcanic Bidahochi, 10 million years old, meets the Chinle, 225 million years old.

Blue Mesa Hoodoo, 16 x 12″, Oil on masonite, 2010.

The hoodoos are weird wind-and-water eroded features. In the Petrified Forest, they are often blue-gray, but when the waning sun hits them, they turn golden. The Blue Mesa trail is one of the best in the Park. This painting is an unconformity all its own, having a style very unlike most of the work I did at PEFO. It resembles most closely paintings I made in Death Valley, up some of the side canyons, where the features are sculpted and golden.

Lacey Point, 12 x 16″, oil on masonite, 2010.

One of the pull-out points where the Painted Desert is the predominate item of interest. Here the clouds caught me in their spell; the badlands faded beneath the skies. This view was recommended to me by a park service staff member, but the time of day she recommended painting it surprised me with its colors.

Long Logs Trail, 12 x 24″, oil on masonite, 2010.

The Long Logs Trail was once a macadam road, although that doesn’t show here (I have photos and think sometimes of painting that unconformity). I suspect the road was turned into a walking trail not long ago because as a roadside attraction, the innumerable petrified logs were tempting for poachers. Vehicle passage near them made poaching easier. This is just a guess. But the trail is a delight because it is not close to the current highway. And the lushness of the area around the littering logs was fun to paint.

Petrified Logs in the Visitor Center Plaza, 24 x 12″, oil on masonite, 2010.

Sometimes the visitors don’t really want a drive through the park. The main visitor’s center is just off Interstate 40 and can be entered without going into the park.The plaza that the Center and a gift shop/cafe that surround it have charming bits of petrified wood, including one 20-some foot log. The Visitor’s Center Building, across the Plaza from the log still life, is pictured below.

The Neutra Plaza, Main Visitor Center, 12 x 12″, oil on masonite, 2010

The Visitor’s Center’s main doors are at the end of a long wall, facing the parking lot. Beyond the doors is the open entrance to the Plaza, and the petrified wood displays face the incoming traffic. At the far end, the plaza has a pond and artworks and is open to an artificial but pleasant desert hillock that hides the employees quarters. The cafe and gift shop run along the other edge, stopping short of the welcoming entrance. This view looks at the windows of the Center which face the Plaza, opening up the small interior to give it a sense of the Arizona sky and foliage. I painted it just as dusk was coming on.

Painted Desert Inn, 12 x 12″, oil on masonite, 2010

The PDI, as everyone referred to it, is an historic structure, built over an older structure by the CCC guys and decorated by a well-known designer of Spanish Revival style Park buildings. These spanish revival buildings and decor can be seen in many places around the southwest. The PDI was almost torn down in the 1970’s but was saved.

Painted Desert Inn, North Side, 12 x 16″, Oil on masonite, 2010

The PDI sits on a bluff overlooking the badlands of the Chinle Formation. I got fascinated with the challenge  of painting adobe (or in this case, faux adobe.) The building has, I think, at least 10 levels of roof, each of which is a subtly different color of rose-pink.

Storm from the Painted Desert Inn Patio, 12 x 16″, oil on masonite, 2010

Inside the PDI is a covered porch that protects a bit against the wind and rain that can gust through the park. Through its adobe openings, the Chinle and Bidahochi formations are presented, against a wide wide sky. Painting within the protected porch while gazing outward was magical.

Pintado Point 1, 12 x 16″, Oil on masonite, 2010,

The badlands of the Chinle formation.

Pintado Point 2, 12 x 24″, oil on masonite, 2010.

Another view of the badlands, with the washes, which were important as roads, depicted. In both these paintings, Pilot Rock stands, as it stood for explorers, as a way to take one’s bearings.

Puerco River Meadow, 12 x 16″, oil on masonite, 2010

We were at the Petrified Forest in an exceptionally lush year for foliage. This scene was painted right next to the Puerco Ruins, which sit on a hill above the Puerco River. We saw water running in the river several times during our stay.

Puerco Ruins, 12 x 12″, oil on masonite, 2010.

The ruins here date to about 1250 AD, and like those elsewhere in the southwest such as Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon are from a Puebloan people who left the area for reasons that are unclear. Current Pueblo people say these are ancient habitations of their ancestors. The Navajo who are now more prevalent in the area arrived some hundreds of years later and spoke a different language than the Puebloans.

Route 66, 12 x 12″, oil on masonite, 2010

The Petrified Forest Park is full of unconformities, but the one that stands out, both in the painting and at the park is this reconstructed old car, placed prominently on a pull-out where Interstate 40 roars by.

The Painted Desert Inn from Tawa Point, 12 x 12″, oil on masonite, 2010.

PDI takes on its proper place in the area when viewed Tawa Point. It blends into the landscape and reveals the true small nature of its historic status.

The Teepee, 24 x 12″, oil on masonite, 2010

The Teepee painting has a couple of funny stories attached, but for my purposes here, it’s another of the badland features of the park, less complex than the Painted Desert, but fascinating in its stature.

These paintings will be grouped for exhibit. That’s the process I am currently working on in the studio — that and painting the 1/8 inch edges of each, as well as planning for their mounting, floated, so they can be readily hung. — June

The Masonite Studies: Day 15, Nov 15, 2009

from Mary Shelley’s comments in Part II of her Rambles in Germany and Italy:

Were I exiled, perforce, I might repine, for the heart naturally yearns for home. But to adorn that home with recollections, to fly abroad from the hive, like a bee, and return laden with the sweets of travel-scene, which haunt the eye — wild adventures, that enliven the imagination — knowledge, to enlighten and free the mind from clinging, deadening prejudices — a wider circle of sympathy with our fellow creatures; these are the uses of travel.

The quote above, taken from Wikipedia, describes something of my mood at the moment. It was a slow starting day and a fast ending one: I didn’t begin until 9:30 and Jer showed up at 3 to pick me up. I also did a lot of work sitting down.

I now have an even better masonite board panorama, and more ideas to play with with the linen. I spent the entire day with the masonite boards on a table, where they weren’t subject to glare from the open Barn doors. And I reworked them to add more shadows, more blending of the skies, and differently toned basin floors.

Here they are, panels 1 through 7, each 12 x 16″, plus the line-up, 16 x 84″. I realize I have shown earlier versions of these, so if you are curious about the changes, here is the earlier set. Looking at that set again, I see that I need to go back to some of the ideas I had earlier. and keep some I had today. Anyway, here are today’s results:








The hues are enhanced with more golds in the later panels, and the contrasts deepened. The colors here aren’t quite right, particularly on¬† some panels. but you get the idea. Here’s the whole panorama:


These are Jer’s photos, taken with bad¬† lighting and worse glare and manipulated in Photoshop Elements from memory, rather than with the paintings in front of me. So I know (or at least I’m hoping) that the actual work is more subtle and more varied than the computer shows.

Since I forgot to carry my camera with me, I can’t show you any delights from the desert. Moreover, I had no visitors today, neither human nor other critters, except for some house sparrows which seem to be flying on a tour.

Reported from Beatty Nevada, where yawns are starting to accrue.

Take Brush, Put to Canvas: Day 4, Nov. 4, 2009

I went altogether too long without painting. Sketching doesn’t substitute. Thinking isn’t adequate. Looking at scenery only makes one’s fingers twitch. So today I painted. Not well, not finished, but I got that brush in hand:

First I did an acrylic-painted sketch on some sketching paper I taped together (Note to self — there is no such thing as too much tape):

acrylicSketchwThis is as close as you’ll get to seeing the acrylic sketch.

And note the toes of my rattlesnake stomping boots. Actually they aren’t for stomping rattlesnakes; they are for stomping the ground to make vibrations that tell rattlesnakes you are coming. Apparently that serves notice to most snakes¬† that a terrified human is approaching and they are courteous enough to slither away. Only the Mojave green rattler turns and confronts the vibration. The Mojave green has both neurotoxic and hemotoxic venom and, according to Richard, who dropped by to bring me my mail the other day, is the only rattler to maintain its neurotoxic venom into adulthood. He killed one on the steps outside the side door to the red barn for the artist who preceeded me.

I walk mindfully. And open the side door carefully. Actually, I open all the doors carefully, scouting them out before I confront anything under-foot. Thus far, it’s just been friend tarantula.

But back to the primary point of the day: having mucked about with acrylic, which went dry on me faster than I could spit, I pulled out my very cheap oils. I mean so cheap that I could afford to buy about 20 big tubes (120 ml) for only a little more than 2 small tubes of the real stuff would have cost. I figured for a first coat, cheap wouldn’t hurt.

I like to use transparent oils for my initial blocking out of the shapes. They disappear readily when the blocking doesn’t work. So here’s my palette, in the cheap oils, for today:

FavStartingColorsRaw Sienna, Zinc White (not transparent but essential, even early on), Payne’s Gray and Terre Verte — later I added Alizarin Crimson and cerulean blue and a bit of ultramarine. So … I got a bit excited about color…..

I had a short-in-height but longish-in-length bit of canvas on the back wall, the end of the roll, and had divided it so it approximated the scale of the big canvases (I’m not going to go into my mathematical workings for ratios — challenged is a generous way to describe what happened to me. And “approximated” is my operative word for the day.)

Anyway, here are some tools that I began with (note the painting glasses — I’d forgotten how much I need them and how often I have to take them on and off), and the back wall painting, first draft, blocking out the whole scene.



I am always shocked at how bad the first drafts are. I’m unaccustomed to painting on canvas, which eats up the paint and leaves scarcely a trace of color (and it’s doubly bad with cheap paints that have too little pigment). And the blocking isn’t right — panel number two from the left should be below the horizontal center, not above it, with the others rearranged accordingly. But this is why one does these studies, right? I think I know how the blocking should go now, so I’m less ignorant at 9 PM than I was at 10 AM.

By the time I got a bit of paint to show on the dark beige linen, it was about 3 PM — too early to quit, too early for Jer to show up. But the sun was westering nicely, which meant I could bear to be near the open doors again (the midday sun is for mad men only; I try to work away from it at that time).

I needed to sit down, so I decided to play with one of the 12 x 16 inch masonite boards and my small plein air easel. At least the boards don’t gobble up the paint. And they are ungessoed, so they mimic the dark beige of the linen of the big canvases. Here’s the set-up, and yes, it’s hard to see what you are painting when the light outside is so fierce. But I did it anyway. I could see the furthest end of the valley (panel #2) from the door; that’s what I painted.


Panel2BoardDraft1wThis first draft feels like a watercolor to me. The 12 x 16 (3×4 ratio) is a bit taller than the 4 x 5 ratio of the big canvases, but at least I got the horizon almost in the horizontal center. I still need to move it down a bit.

I want to do these small boards as studies, matching the larger canvases. It will be fun to see how they match or don’t match. So tomorrow I think I’ll sling some paint at the big canvas. Even the small back wall one called for a bit of a dance: I’m eager to see how the big one goes with my toes.

And lest you think I did nothing but gaze at paint and surface all day, here’s my 3-part Obo in one corner of the studio. I gathered it today. The rocks in the desert are fantastically colored; I feel like I’m seeing treasures all ’round when I take my morning stroll. So I have the outdoor spiral, one rock a day, that I’m working on, and this little obo, which might grow larger as I find an irresistible chunk of earth to bring back and admire.

StudioOboIt can’ t get too big; it’s sitting on a small folding table. Maybe just two more rocks to accompany me on this six week¬† journey.

Reported from Beatty, Nevada, where we had avocados in our salad for dinner and found the cheese grater. Life is good.