|Blacktail Canyon Narrows, 20x30"|
For each of my four trips along the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon I have been fortunate that by group consensus I was able to visit this place, and all but one time even camp here!
I love this place so much I decided to tackle a large painting, which is normally something I don't do since I prefer to work small. But a big place calls for a big painting!
So here is the finished painting. I am keeping the original to hang in our living room, but if you are interested in a print you can get one through Fine Art America. Here in this blog post I'd like to share how the painting progressed.
A slot canyon such as this can be very difficult to photograph well and even then required processing levels of brightness in the photographs to see all the cracks and rock shapes correctly in order to draw them. I used the grid method to draw the contours first with pencil, then when satisfied, drew the lines with a black ink pen. I transferred the lines onto a full sheet of Arches 140lb cold press watercolor paper using a light table.
|Drawing out the many shapes using the grid method|
The first wash for me is an ice-breaker, setting the tone for the lightest values and adding baseline colors as an underpainting. I love to make things quite colorful at this point, letting the paints mingle. For this wash I used Daniel Smith Monte Amiata Natural Sienna, Daniel Smith Pyrrol Orange, quinacridone violet, and I think a bit of phthalo green. The bits of blue tape help me to distinguish the boundary between the foreground rock and the background rock.
Then I started working on the rock layers in earnest. I separated out each layer of rock as its own wash, blending in usually Monte Amiata Natural Sienna, dioxizine violet, ultramarine, and burnt sienna. I was careful to not paint to the outer edge to try to give the layer a bit of lighter edge. Again I used bits of blue tape to let me know to stop and start making darker rocks in alignment with the photo.
So I kept plugging away with the rock layers. I tried not to become to slavish to the photograph but follow a trend for how I painted each layer. First a wash of the Natural Sienna, then drop in the dioxizine violet, particularly around the inner cracks, drop in some quinacridone violet and maybe some burnt sienna, letting the colors mingle. When I got to the region of the darker rocks, I placed more emphasis on the purple, incorporating some ultramarine for the exceptionally darker areas, and using less of the Natural Sienna and more of the burnt sienna.
I painted the slot canyon floor with blends of Natural Sienna, burnt sienna, quinacridone violet, and I think a slight amount of green. But before painting the floor I masked out the rocks on the floor so I could paint more freely. Once dry, I added texture by spattering gently.
I wanted the boulders and rocks at ground level to have more of a magical quality. My first attempt at grays left me feeling uninspired. They were just too dull and boring. So to add a bit of interest to these rocks and to hopefully convey a more magical quality to the slot canyon, I incorporated Daniel Smith Jadeite Genuine and quinacridone rose into the mixes. To me, pink and green are colors of the heart, and being in Blacktail is a very heart-centered spiritual experience.
Once I was satisfied with all the Tapeats rock of Blacktail Canyon Narrows itself, I began washes for the Grand Canyon wall on the opposite side of the river. Most of the wall you see is Redwall, so named for the staining of the red sandstone above it for millions of years of weathering and erosion. Aside from Tapeats, the Redwall is one of my favorite rock layers in the Grand Canyon. I wanted the orange sunlit layer to really stand out so for my first washes I incorporated pyrrol orange with Natural Sienna, and some azo green for the areas destined to be brushy alluvial fans.
Subsequent washes of the background rock face and features provided a deepening of color as well as textures and cracks, shadows, and crevices.
Once I felt the background wall was complete, I noticed that there wasn't enough value contrast between the foreground and the background rock layers. To correct this I needed to darken all the Tapeats rock of the slot canyon walls. So I washed over both sides with diluted mix of quinacridone rose and ultramarine or Indanthrone blue (purple, of course). Ah, much better! And a whole lot less confusing. After some minor fine-tuning here and there, I called it complete.
So my plan is to mount this painting to a cradled panel using gel medium and sealing the painting with Dorland's wax. Angela Fehr had a really good YouTube tutorial on the process for doing this. I really am enjoying this display technique, and for a large painting like this, it's much more cost-effective than a mat and frame. I ordered a cradled panel from my friend Lindsay who makes panels via her own company CanvasStrong.
What follows is a series of progress images with captions:
|Detail in the rock layers|
|Continuing on with the layers|
|Painting more layers...|
|Ground-level rocks with greens and pinks|
|Continuing ground-level rocks|
|Satisfied with the floor and Tapeats layers|
|Starting the background wall|
|Two more layers for background wall,|
but there is not enough value contrast
between the foreground and background
rock faces, making the painting rather confusing.
|Darken Tapeats walls to correct contrast|
with diluted purples mixed from
quinacridone rose and ultramarine or
|Some finishing touches to all areas|