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Pastel drawings and fixative

I like to think that the internet has a positive side. I ask my new students each quarter to define the internet. What is it? The best answer I ever got was this:

“It’s the consciousness of the modern world”

I like that explanation. When we google stuff we are basically asking the world, via the internet. I sometimes frequent websites devoted to art. On one of those today someone asked  if they should spray fixative on a pastel drawing. This is a common concern, especially in the frame making community.

No one wants to frame a pastel and then have  it returned to the shop because the pastel dust slid down and got trapped between the matts and the glass. It makes an unsightly mess. It’s easily fixed, but takes about an hour each painting. It involves opening up the frame and carefully vacuuming and or erasing with a sticky gum eraser until the matt and glass is clean. An easy fix is to use matts that have some speckle in them. And to build in a ‘dust catcher slot’ in the frame. This is basically a 1/8″ slot of air between the pastel and the first matt. So if pastel dust falls, it drops into the slot and doesn’t make  a mess.

Here is the message I wrote on the art website explaining all this:

Spray fix is important for a pencil drawing. However, if you care about your pastel drawings, never, ever spray them. The fixative turns a bright white pastel mark to dull gray. Something about the fix kills the highlights.

To store a pastel, get some shiny paper, such as the kind that glossy magazines are printed on. You can get this from large print shops, probably for free. They use it to get their printing presses ready for a production run. It’s called ‘make-ready’ stock, 80# enamel gloss. Use removable tape and tape the shiny paper to the top edge of the pastel drawing. The pastel won’t stick to the shiny paper…or, at least, not enough of it to matter.

This allows you to view the pastel by lifting – hinging up the protective shiny paper, and then flop it back down when you want to store the pastel. I typically tape two sheets of cardboard together and carry a dozen pastel paintings in my plein air backpacking kit. When I want to frame a pastel, I pull the shiny paper off, wipe it down and use it for another pastel.

Also, when you do go to frame them behind glass, hold the pastel up and smack it sharply on the back numerous times with your thumb. This knocks off all the loose pastel dust. Examine the pastel, make sure it doesn’t need touch up, and then smack it again. Once it’s framed under glass, it’s good for hundreds of years.

If a few pastel specks float down off the painting after framing, they will drop down into the ‘dust catcher slot’ between the pastel and the first matt, which should be about 1/8″.

Appropriate uses for fix on a pastel drawing might be where you have overpainted a section and the paper won’t accept anymore pastel because you’ve covered up the ‘tooth’ of the surface. Your options are:
(1.) to brush the pastel off with a stiff brush like a toothbrush, which gives your paper back it’s tooth, or
(2.) to spray fix on that area, which glues the pastel down and creates tooth from the glued down pigment.

But fix is smelly, and it’s better to use a paper with high tooth (Rives BFK) or one of the sanded papers, and be careful not to overwork the tooth.


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Preparing for a show

Two weeks ago I needed 6 new frames for a one day show. Because I couldn’t afford to buy them I reasoned this was a good time to learn to make frames from scratch. Usually I go to Michael’s and buy pre-made frames. I paint in standard sizes  of 9 x 12, 12 x 16 and 16 x 20 precisely because those are easy to find pre-made for under $50 each. However, if I could figure out how to make frames from raw wood, I could get the cost down to five dollars a frame.

Dewalt table saw
Dewalt table saw

I bought 1 x 2 pine from Lowes and drove over to my son’s house to borrow his table saw. To put a picture in a frame, the frame has to have a slot in the bottom. It’s called a rabbet, and allows the frame to overhang the picture, covering up the edge of the painting. You basically have to take a notch out of the bottom inside corner, and it needs to be about 3/8″ inch deep.  This required two long cuts on each board, that met in the middle exactly.

cutting the rabbet

With the rabbets cut I took the  boards to my house where I have my son’s other saw, a miter chop saw. I cut the 45 degree angles then glued and nailed them together. At the time I didn’t have corner clamps and chose to use a very old system of hammered wedges  to pinch the corners together for gluing. Trouble was, hammering in the nails would knock loose the wood wedges. And if not that, then the wedges wouldn’t hold the corners true. The trueness problem

Clamping with wooden wedges
Clamping with wooden wedges

was related to me not cutting the wedges square. I cut them with a hand jig saw, which wasn’t accurate. I did 6 frames with those wedges, but they  needed a lot of work afterward. I had to sand off alignment issues of up to 1/16″ on the corners, plus  a lot of wood putty work to fill gaps.

After assembling I had to stain them in 3 coats. And this was all while teaching during the week. I calculated afterward that I worked 8 days straight, up to 16 hours a day. At the end of that period I was so frustrated with the wooden wedges I drove up to Rockler woodworking in Tukwila and bought two professional framing clamps.

finished frame and a pro corner clamp

The show was Saturday from 2 to 6 pm. It was billed as a wine tasting event. They sold out at 270 tickets and it was packed from 2 to 4ish. I mean the room was literally jam packed to the point that people were waiting in line out on the sidewalk. They had 10 artists in 10 different businesses. The tickets allowed people to walk from location to location and get wine samples by presenting tickets which they received in a roll from the event organizer.

My 6 paintings were hung in a financial planners office. Both he and the wine dispenser guy were doing an awesome job of ‘working the crowd’.  Those guys were pro’s.  In contrast, I seemed to be most comfortable leaning against the wall, like a shy wallflower at the prom. It’s odd because I love teaching, and enjoy  helping my students. I did talk to some very nice people who complemented my paintings, and we had brief conversations about painting. But nothing sold. I talked to another very talented artist from across the street, and she confirmed the same experience.

As the crowd of tipsy wine tasters streamed by I kept thinking about the high alpine meadows or quiet vistas where I had created the paintings. I’m at peace in those places. But in a busy crowd of strangers in the city, where everyone is drinking wine and having fun…it’s hard to explain. If I’d had the money I would have bought a ticket and sampled some of the local wines on display, maybe loosened up a little. The wine guy who was next to me  runs a one man wine making shop in Lakewood. I asked him how he got the ‘gift of gab’ and he commented that it is a learned skill. Perhaps some day I’ll figure it out, but, that’s all water under the bridge.

I was thinking about starting another painting today, but yesterday I saw smoke coming out of the hood of our 1991 Corolla. I was afraid the poor old thing was going to catch fire and blow up. On popping the hood I saw a huge crack in the radiator. This will be the second time I’ve had to replace the radiator in that car. It’s about a 5 hour job for a back yard mechanic. Guess I’ll paint another day…

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Easter Overhang and painting leather

C, V and I climbed Easter Overhang Saturday. When I did it 7 years ago with Fletch I led it almost clean and loved it. Fast forward to last weekend and I was a different man. I could barely follow it. I fell out low down on the 5.8 layback, I just couldn’t figure out the move. My feet weren’t sticking in my new Scarpa shoes. Then I ran out of power at the roof move and fell out backwards, landing upside down over 300 feet of exposure. At that point I started grabbing gear and clipping my daisy into the cams to rest. I asked V if I could leave the backpack I was towing to make myself lighter. I was out of gas, and seemed to have forgotten how to climb. I was sort of watching myself flail and thinking: “Dude, you are better than this…snap out of it!”

Finally I got thru the move into the upper chimney. I got stuck there for a while until I realized you have to move out where it’s wider to get some kneebar action. Other than the obvious reason: I’m in my mid sixties now…here are my excuses for climbing so badly.

  • I can’t afford the gym anymore, so I’ve got weak forearms
  • I was climbing in some brand new Scarpa’s, which I’d just finished rebuilding. They felt like wooden shoes and need to be broke in
  • I’ve been focusing on slab climbing due to rain on Castle the last few weekends…I barely got up Classic Crack recently.
  • I’ve been painting more than climbing all summer.
  • I’ve been dieting hard this week, trying to stay below 170 which creeped up on me.
  • I might have got real old, real fast?

Lisa bought me a turban squash. It’s looking pretty good. My main problem with stilllifes is composition. This may be the first time I’ve nailed a good set up. Painting leather is super fun. Brown has always been a problem for me. It’s like green…I just can’t paint it pretty. But this one might be a break through.

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A wedding, a helicopter, two paintings and 3 bears

waiting for the helicopter
waiting for the medevac helicopter

Sue, Lisa and I went to Paradise today. I dropped them off at Reflection Lake. They hiked up to Pinnacle Saddle, then 5 miles across to Paradise to meet up with me. Meanwhile I hiked up to the Skyline trail where the mountain was hiding behind a cloud cap. I set up to paint, hoping it would clear out, but when it didn’t I flipped my easel the other way and painted the fall colors on the meadows.

When that was done I packed up and hiked up to Glacier Vista below Panorama. I got out my partially finished painting of Rainier from 3 weeks ago. The top and middle of the mountain were done, but not the bottom and sides. I began working on that as the clouds continued to drift on and off the summit.

Because I was on my second day of painting, it was looking pretty good and I began to have a lot of hikers, climbers and tourists stop to take pictures of me working. At one point a cute little girl of about 8 walked right up to me:

“I like your painting, you are a really good artist!”

I thanked her and turned around to see a huge crowd completely filling the viewpoint. There were maybe 15 people, all holding up their phones filming me, or staring in wide eyed wonder at the painting.

I took out my earbuds and they started in with the questions:

“How long have you been working on that?”

“Do you sell your paintings?”

“How long have you been an artist?”

“Is that oils or acrylics”

“Are you a professional?”

“Do you have a business card?”

They seemed quite dumbstruck with the whole thing. I’ve never  had that many people like my work before. Its odd because I don’t think the painting was that much better than some of the other work I’ve done this summer. Perhaps it was just a busy day at the park. I suppose it was partly because my painting showed the whole mountain, but if you had just hiked up there, you could only see the bottom. They might have wondered how I painted something that wasn’t there.

no mountain no problem
no mountain no problem

I was perfectly happy with only the bottom of the mountain showing because that was what needed finishing. Anyway…all those people left, but they were soon replaced with smaller groups, all of whom seemed to like the work. By 4:30 I was loosing my light so I packed up and headed down.

Just as I was approaching the y split to the Alta Vista trail a helicopter passed quite close overhead . This always means a rescue and sure enough it landed right in front of me, about 200 feet down the trail. I saw Lisa’s ranger friend down there signaling the pilots and doing crowd management. He couldn’t let us pass until the helicopter had lifted off.

I waited with the crowd for a 15 minutes thinking it would take off. But soon the ranger told us to go back and take a detour trail. Unfortunately that was up a steep trail with stone steps, and I groaned at the thought of going back the wrong way. But soon I was on my way again…until I ran into a bunch of guys in tuxedos. And a film crew. It looked like an expensive wedding. There were at least 5 photographers and video people, even a sound guy.

I didn’t see the bride and her ladies in waiting…until I walked a mile further down the trail…and there they all were, sweating from the steep trail up from the parking lot. And it was getting dark, with threatening rain clouds coming in. Some of the old people coming up the trail in suits looked like they were on the way to a heart attack. Right before I arrived at the parking lot I ran into a huge group of tourists pointing cameras into the meadow. I couldn’t see the bears, but Sue and Lisa had watched the mom and two cubs for half an hour. They must have been just off the trail based on the excitement in the crowd. I felt sorry for the poor animals. They probably could sense the chaos and just wanted to eat some blueberries.

That was not your average trip to Paradise. I will post the paintings later after I’ve had time to review them. I’m hoping they are both good, but I’ve often been disappointed pulling paintings out of my backpack.

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Stadium High painting

For the last 3 days I’ve been painting the morning light at Stadium High School. I had a guy stop his car, lean over and roll down his window this morning: “Hey, I’ve been watching your progress. It gets better and better every day you are here!”

I had a couple with a baby carry some bags of garbage down to my dumpster. They were both very young and handsome. She was totally enraptured by my painting, telling me it was “So Awesome!!” Huh…does an old duffer good to hear that from young people.

Today there were strikers, and I thought they might walk down to the dumpster where I am painting. But they were busy holding signs…working basically, with no time to check out the scenery. The painting is  complicated by the fact that there are a dozen cars in the parking lot. Behind them are some very slender ethereal trees. Both are equally hard to paint. I have a painting from this viewpoint dating to 1997, and I’m tempted to use it for the foreground parking lot. It has no cars, and better landscaping bushes than are currently in place.

I exchanged a couple emails with my old friend George today.  I’ll write more about that later. Climbed at 38 with Lisa and Sue on Thursday. I have a lot of memories of the Far Side. I’ve climbed all of those so many times over the years with a variety of partners, from Dave to Clint, Craig, Marty, Christine, Sue and Lisa. The climbing is fun, and not difficult, starting around 5.6. After climbing the runnout monsters at Darrington, 38 felt very comfortable.

 

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Exasperator

Vitaliy and I went to Squamish over the weekend. We climbed at Octopus Garden where I led the nine on the right. I wasn’t as calm as I’ve been in the past, but it was a clean lead. We also did Vector. Two fives would be nice up there, or one plus the green big bro. It’s only 5.8 but the #five section goes on for 20 feet and it’s very insecure.

We also climbed Exasperator. He led the first pitch. When I arrived at the belay we both looked at the second pitch and knew we couldn’t do it clean. The jams are too small for my big fingers. We talked about bailing and driving home early…maybe doing some 5.9 nearby. But then I got to thinking that I could just climb up a few cams and bail.  I’m good at down climbing. I could just pull the cams and climb backwards to the belay station. No harm no foul.

So I started up, placed a couple cams and had Vitaliy. Taking means he locks off the belay device and holds my body weight as I rest on the cam. It’s safer than falling because there is no acceleration. I place a cam, pull up the slack rope and wait for him to hold me. It’s called hangdogging. I rarely do it because I prefer climbing stuff where I don’t need to “cheat”. Cheating is defined as using the rope to get up the climb….it’s also called aid climbing. While I never pulled on a cam, I definitely rested on cams while placing better gear.

As I was hanging up there resting and feeling bad about the sh*t show, some climbers down below complimented me on a “putting up a good fight”. Later, after watching several other climbers I realized very few people get that pitch clean. And no one climbed it with white hair. I’d love to go back now. I’m sure I could do it with much fewer hangs. It’s basically a series of bad jams followed by good jams, and then repeat, every 8 feet.

In my spare time in the evenings I’ve been trying to finish some paintings I did at the Grand Canyon on vacation back in June.  The paintings were ok, but needed a lot of TLC. I almost have one of them done. The colors of the canyon walls 8 miles away are very difficult to paint. I don’t think I’ve ever had to be so precise in mixing colors, which means it’s great practice.

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Artist Statement

Mark H Webster Artist Statement

Like many artists, I began drawing and painting as a child. In high school I found I could capture a fairly good likeness of my friends in pencil. My parents supplied me with watercolor and oil paints to encourage my early efforts.

Life got in the way for 15 years and I stopped painting while I focused on my day job.  But when my son was born I drew his portrait in pencil and it re-awakened my inner artist.

Since then I have established a reputation as a landscape painter, winning a number of awards and honors in Puget Sound area juried art shows. I am primarily self taught. Most of my learning has been trial and error although studying art books in the library, and touring local museums and galleries has given me many ideas.

I believe the struggle to paint from life lends honesty and character to my work. I love to capture the play of light and shadow over my subject in monotone. I then use the versatility of pastel and or oils to go beyond form into vibrant, complementary colors, creating paintings that, in the words of my collectors,”jump off the walls.”

Many of my artist friends find that the studio is the place to create art. Perhaps it is my love of the outdoors or just the chaos of my garage/studio, but I have found that I do my best work on location. I have stood painting for hours in very unfavorable locations, such as on the shoulder of the road above a high cliff on the Oregon coast highway in 20 knots of wind, or in a meadow up at Mt. Rainier in sweltering heat and clouds of mosquitoes.

Two weeks ago I hiked 7 miles up into the high alpine meadows (Sahale Arm) with 50 pounds of painting gear. I shivered under a space blanket all night under the stars. In the morning I painted the morning alpenglow on the North Cascades.

Painting on location in the city has turned out to be easier than I feared. An artist working on the sidewalk is so unusual most people walk by as if I were invisible, which suits me just fine.

Due to the relative shortness of our time on earth many of us want to savor what little beauty we find amongst the asphalt. This urge to slow down and provide time for reflection is what drives artists and photographers alike.

I have often thought of my painting backpack full of paints and a lightweight easel as a 300 year old camera with a 4 hour exposure time, and a six year learning curve. When I am out painting on location, hikers and tourists, often wearing cameras, will occasionally stop and admire my work.

They photograph my painting like it’s some kind of rare magic trick. They often lament their inability to draw. I never know what to say. Drawing can, and should, be taught like reading and writing, but the ability to paint collectable art is harder to explain…it may be a gift.

I sometimes go for long periods without selling any paintings at all…like years…which is why it’s important to have a day job. But I never stop painting. I stack them up in attic.  Painting is an itch I have to scratch.

Life is short, Art is long.

 

 

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Toleak Point backpack trip

We finally got around to revisiting Toleak Point, but this time with my painting gear. We’d been there 6 years earlier, but all I had was my camera and I’d regretted not bringing paints. Photos from our previous hike 6 years ago.

Toleak Point sea stack
Toleak Point sea stack 9 x 12

When we arrived at the trailhead Saturday night there was no possibility of parking. Cars were parked in every square inch of the lot. Cars were double and triple parked behind other cars, blocking the early arrivals in place. We’d planned to sleep at the trailhead and hike out in the morning. Instead we drove a couple miles West and slept in a pullout. I was glad to have the pickup bed to sleep in. In the morning there was a couple bad parking spots open and we were able to jockey our way into a very tight parallel parking slot.

 

Toleak is getting far too popular. Do not go on the weekend. We talked to a guy who arrived Friday at noon and only two spots were open even that early in the weekend. It’s weird because the place isn’t  really that pretty. I mean it’s very nice, but Shi Shi and Rialto or Ruby are just as pretty. Maybe it’s the remoteness that draws the crowd. When we hiked out on Tuesday there were 40 open spots…if you don’t mind double parking along the road, with cars backing out toward you broadside.

Weather was perfect Sunday as we hiked South but I arrived too tired to paint. Hiking 7 miles with a heavy pack is not something we do regularly. We woke up to fog but I could see this 100 foot high tower capped by a nesting bald eagle so that was what got painted.

Toleak Point 9 x 12
Toleak Point 9 x 12

We took a siesta, dipping into our meager food supplies, and then I walked South, hoping the fog over the main rocks would lift. It didn’t, so I painted this little twenty foot tall tower right at the tip of Toleak Point. After dinner I tried to paint the Giants Graveyard 4 miles distant but that proved to be too difficult and I erased it. It would have been my third painting of the day anyway.

My homemade backpack isn’t happy carrying 50 pounds, though really 50 pounds won’t feel good with any backpack. I felt like a mule with a Grand Canyon tourist on my back.  I had skipped the sleeping bag to save weight. I slept in my thin puffy ($40 on sale at Big 5) and my Feathered friends down vest. I also had on thin nylon pants over long johns.

The first night I put my legs in my backpack for warmth. That was not warm enough and it wasn’t a great night sleep. The second night (Monday) I opened up the 3 ounce space blanket I’ve been carrying around for a decade and it was amazing. I felt as warm as if I’d been sleeping in a summer weight bag. I have to bring the two puffies anyway for standing around and painting in the ocean breezes, so it was awesome to sleep warm with just the mylar space blanket.

Bivying without proper sleeping gear is something I’ve been doing since my alpine climbing days. Mountain climbers have the same problem painters have: the gear is so heavy you have to cut corners on the normal gear that keeps backpackers comfortable.

In summary

Things I could leave behind:

  • All of my colors except Transparent Oxide Brown and Red (TOB & TOR).
  • 12 x 16 boards. I worked on 9 x 12’s, which seemed big enough
  • Large brushes…work on small boards, need small brushes
  • Grizzly bear spray…didn’t see anything larger than a bald eagle
  • Two headlamps, one light per party would be enough
  • extra water bottle…plenty of streams

Things we should have brought:

  • More food! We were hungry all the time. An extra dehydrated dinner would have been awesome
  • Windscreen for MSR stove, slower cooking time wasn’t worth the savings in weight
  • Bigger bear box for more food…and or add in the white bear proof bag
  • Trail mix-granola. It would be lighter than the packaging for all the expensive energy bars we brought.
  • Shoulder strap spreader pads…or I need to sew better pack straps

Backcountry Permits

The hiking books advise you to stop at the ranger station in Port Angeles to get permits. We were shocked to read that it’s $8 per person per night to camp out there. What they don’t tell you is that you can also pick up a permit at the trailhead, fill it out, and mail it in with your check.  And as it happened, we saw no rangers Sunday through Tuesday checking peoples tents or backpacks for permits.

It’s sad that our parks have to charge so much for simply allowing us to enjoy the beauty. I know they have to maintain the trails, signs, ropes outhouses and parking lots, and that’s expensive. But for cash strapped people trying to have some cheap fun by walking the coast…it’s a shock. A party of two pays $16 a night…for backpacking!

Here is the pit toilet at Toleak…not a lot of money went into this 4 star facility:

toleak-toilet
toleak-toilet

 

 

 

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Painting in the Grand Canyon and Bryce

I’m looking out the window of our cozy little house, thinking about the last two weeks. Neither Sue nor I had ever been to the Grand Canyon, Zion, or Bryce so we were excited to get out of town. We drove to Boise first to stay a night with my niece Pam. She is in her second year of residency as a GP, but she’s also one of my climbing partners.

She was able to get a half day off and we climbed at the Black Canyon just outside of  Boise. It is a cheesy little cliff  similar to Vantage but the climbing was real, and we both got a little gripped.

The drive down to Zion was not fun at all…simply something you have to grin and bare. I love to listen to free talking books from the library while I put the miles behind me. We pulled into our first of several free campspots thanks to this cool website. I don’t have any classes this summer, or income, so avoiding unnecessary expenses is a priority. I’m thinking I may apply for unemployment…heck I might even find a job. I have no desire to have the summer off, though the weather is good for painting.

We had to get on a shuttle to get in to Zion. Cars are not allowed in peak season. It’s $20 a person to walk into Zion from the shuttle. We were thankful to have our $10 lifetime senior passes. After a 60 minute wait we got on a shuttle and then got off at the first pretty viewpoint. I hiked off trail up to a quiet spot and started the first of many bad paintings this trip. It was simply too hot to stand in the sun and paint…not too mention the jet-lag from the long drive. My new oil based gesso grounds allows me to easily wipe back down to clear white “canvas” (board). I packed up, found Sue and hit the road for the Grand Canyon…glad to put over hot, over crowded Zion in the rear window.

We pulled into our free Grand Canyon campsite at 4AM dead tired. In the morning we drove into the park and man was it confusing. There are looping roads circling everywhere when you get close to the South rim by Grand Canyon village. They gave us a map but it was so confusing I had to use my phones GPS to get anywhere. We stumbled on free parking near one of the trails and used that for the next week.

I did another bad painting out over the canyon that morning: Rim Trail, pictured above. I had a young guy from Kansas tell me I was the best artist he’d ever seen. Clearly they don’t have many painters in Kansas. It looked ok after the first morning and I should have left it alone. But alas, I worked on it a second day and ruined it. And there went another painting wiped down to white.

My track record was not looking good so we decided to combine a hike with the painting. Oxygen often makes me paint better. We did a dawn start and joined the hoards hiking down the Bright Angel trail. Two miles down I found a wide spot in the switchbacks where I could set up and be clear of the stream of hikers and tourists on mule trains.

Tourists pay $800 for a two night round trip ride on a mule down the canyon. I guess if you are rich it might be worth it. My daughter did the 16 mile hike on foot in a day a few years ago, but that was in the Spring, not early July. I was tempted to try the hike myself, but Sue wasn’t buying it. We would have had to bivy, and hike back up at night to avoid the heat.

The painting I did on the Bright Angel trail is rough, but it has potential for refinement in the studio. It was fun to feel it start to breath on it’s own. Lots of people liked it, commenting on it’s beauty, and that is usually a good sign. Those tourists are not dumb.

I got into a routine where I would do morning and afternoon paintings. After about 3 days of that, where the morning painting would go well, and the afternoon painting would turn into a ‘wipe off’, I realized I could do one or the other, but not both. It was simply too hot to work all day in the blazing sun. Temperatures ranged from 90 to over 100.

The evening light was supremely pretty out across the canyon, but after 4 failures I realized I could not paint it. I could draw the shapes, but I couldn’t figure out the color of the grass. Anything that isn’t  vertical in the Grand Canyon is covered in grass. It looks like a hillside in Eastern Washington. It’s a boring yellow green that fades to gray in the distance, and turns slightly blue depending on the time of day.

The shadows of the red cliffs were also troubling, and don’t even get me started on tree covered slopes of grass. My trees look like pasted on cucumbers.

I had some moderate success on the South Kaibab Trail, which we hiked down for a mile, loosing 1000 feet of elevation. The viewpoint where I stood was a 4th class ledge, and I wished I’d brought some cams with which to anchor myself. This didn’t stop the crazy instagram tourists from jumping up and down on the edge of the 300 foot cliff next to my easel. “Do it again, and try to click your heels together!” And they wonder why I wear headphones.

Our last hike was the Deception Trail. It is an unmaintained trail, which means it’s too hard and dangerous for mules. They can’t make money on the trail, so they abandon it. People can pick their way down it, if you don’t mind crumbling wooden bridges over 70 foot drops. I don’t have a picture of that painting yet. I had switched over to monotone painting by then.

The impossibly hard color of the canyon had simply wore me down. I figured I’d get the values right, and figure out color at home from my imagination. On a rest day we saw some paintings for sale by Serena Supplee which gave me some great ideas.

There is quite a cast of characters driving the Grand Canyon shuttle buses. One guy went on and on about how he’d hit and dragged a traffic cone for 10 minutes before it rolled out from under his bus. It was the highlight of his day. The buses drive East and West along the South Rim, sometimes only twenty feet from a 2000 foot drop, with no guardrail. One driver was calmly explaining to us that only certain stops allowed  you to catch rides both East and West. “And if you have a driver tell you he is going North, get off the bus, immediately!”

After our rest day following our 3 canyon hikes I finally took the bus all the way out to Hermit’s Rest (8 miles) and set up to paint the afternoon light.  As I was framing my view in my little aluminum viewfinder I noticed a really cool twisted tree that looked more fun than the canyon.

The reason trees were even on my radar was that Sue had started sketching too, and she had been working on trees. I decided that it was a good candidate for a monotone and set to work.

I do these by rubbing the board down with Transparent Oxide Brown and Genuine Rectified Turpentine.  This gives the ‘canvas’ a lovely brown tone that is quite malleable. Then I lift out the highlights with a brush wetted with Gamsol (Odorless Mineral Spirits). I push and pull cool and warm colors by using Transparent Oxide Brown and Red. Richard Schmid calls them TOB and TOR. For the darkest colors I used just a touch of Cobalt or Ultramarine Blue.

Something clicked that day with the twisted pine tree. I have no idea why, but suddenly I was able to see, and paint exactly what I saw. I actually turned to Sue who was napping nearby and said: “Who is this guy, and what has he done with Mark?” I don’t think I’ve ever painted that well in my entire life. Sadly, I came back the next day to work on it again in the same light and may have ruined it. I have yet to take it out of the wet painting carrier box since adding the upper branches and leaves.

After 10 days we’d had enough of the heat and headed North. We were thinking the North Rim, but halfway there I got tired of driving and saw a sign that read: “30 miles to Bryce  Canyon”. We found a great free camping spot right outside the entrance and crashed at dawn.

After a few hours of sleep we drove to Bryce Point and hiked down a mile to a nice view where I did a another monotone. I thought I’d be too tired to paint but once again something clicked. A lot of hikers liked it, so it might be good. I did another one the next day, but it wasn’t as successful. I swear the shadows on those hoodoo towers move as fast as breaking waves at the ocean.

Hiking up to the rim at Bryce’s Sunset Point I finally hit the wall, spent, exhausted and done. My 45 pound pack felt like it weighed 200 pounds. I may have under hydrated. I had plenty of water, but forgot to drink it. Once we got to the car I had to nap all afternoon and went to bed without dinner. I think it was a touch of heat exhaustion.

Whenever I was painting Sue would sit in the shade…while I baked in the 100 degree sunshine at my easel. She has always been the smarter hiker in the family.

We left after that and drove north to the City of Rocks for some climbing. On the second day Pam joined us, she had the 4th off and the City is only 3 hours from Boise. Sue tries to take it easy climbing, but with Pam there we could hit the hard stuff. We did Wheat Thin, Columbia Crack, Intruding Dyke and Mystery Achievement at the Breadloaves.

Sue was burned out on living for 16 days out of a little mountaineering tent and talked me into driving home. I was just getting warmed up at climbing and didn’t want to leave, however, the tent zipper was blown, bugs were getting inside, and I have 8 plein air paintings waiting for some TLC. Climbing feels like playing hooky when I’m actually trying to get serious about learning to paint.

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Portrait of a climbing buddy

I met a great climbing partner 9 years ago in Joshua Tree. He wants to remain anonymous so I’ll call him John. We put together a van full of 4 guys and spent 3 weeks living the life. We are still friends today as we have a lot in common including: web design, inventing, playing guitar, and teaching.

We also both know our good friend Paul, who used to be a stellar climber but is now blind after a brain injury following a climbing accident. ‘John’ knows I’m trying to learn to paint so I asked him if he would consider sitting for a portrait. I said I couldn’t pay him…artist models earn $18 an hour. In exchange for posing, I’d give him the painting. He was onboard immediately. We are both underemployed and were easily able to schedule a couple morning painting sessions.

I’m still enjoying my break from Facebook. It’s so refreshing living the life I had before social media. My son used to always see my paintings first on facebook. He’d come over to the house and say, ‘oh yeah, I saw that on facebook…nice’. Now that I’m not online as much, it was awesome watching his expression when he first saw it…in real life. ‘Dam dad, you are getting really good at that!’

I know it’s got a few problems. Eyes have always been hard for me, and the background is unfinished. But it’s breathing and has staying power. I chose to walk away before I overworked it. I’m studying a book on painting called Alla Prima 2. He is famous for leaving large areas of his canvas completely unfinished. If the painting speaks, it is wise to leave it alone. Knowing when to stop is often the hardest part.