Plein Air, Photoshop and Sahale Arm

My daughter invited me on an overnight hike to Sahale Arm. She and her friend were planning to climb Sahale Peak. I’m not a fan of alpine climbing so I decided go but bring paints instead of climbing gear. Even without a sleeping bag, water filter, stove or tent my pack weighed 47 pounds.

I had my 12 x 16 wet painting carrier box with 3 boards, plus my easel, paints, thinner and brushes. For camping gear I had a foam pad, Sue’s winter puffy, long johns and a 5 ounce space blanket. I used the detachable brain from my pack for a pillow. Lisa and D. gave me their raincoats for insulation over my legs, which I stuck in my backpack. I was warm enough…no shivering, but it wasn’t toasty by any means. Mostly I missed a soft pad. I may be getting too old for thin foam backpacking pads.

The bivvy sack is open on top so I was a little worried about rats running across my hands and face. I’ve had them do that when sleeping under the stars in the past. We got up early. They roped up and started up the glacier while I set up my easel.

The mountain goats hung around hoping for some salt, but after a while they lay down 30 feet away and I got down to the business of painting. And then the flies arrived. They were in all sizes but the biggest ones were huge green eyed beasts the size of pinto beans. They were fat and slow with insatiable curiosity…and they wanted to bite. I put on my long sleeved shirt and pants, plus my mosquito head net. Then they started landing on my fingers…the only skin still exposed. It was very frustrating. I’ve since picked up some white gloves in order to be completely covered.

The painting went well, but I kept turning around to worry about my daughters progress up the climb. I knew they’d run into trouble. but they were just tiny dots a couple miles away and I wasn’t sure whether they needed help or were just moving carefully. Finally they got off the rock and onto the glacier moving normally roped together. By then I had packed up and was ready to either head up to help, or hike out to the car. I wished I’d at least brought a light ice ax. There is no cell coverage up there and I wished we’d brought radios. My ham radios reach out to 50 miles.

When I got the painting home I didn’t like it. I’d done it as a grey monotone and it needed color. Since I was already cheating (working from a photo), I decided to bring the photo into Photoshop and build a color chart of swatches. I have found that having square swatches of color on the reference photo helps me to see the color relationships. The swatches are easier to look at than the colors on the mountain.

I start the process of building swatches by choosing the Photoshop shape tool. I put on a 2 point thick stroke of black and drag out a little square. Then I use the move tool (V) to alt+drag out a bunch of duplicates across the photo, aligning the bottom left hand corner with the problem area on the photo.

I set the move tool preferences to: auto select – layer. I touch a swatch to select that layer, choose the shape tool (U), press the fill color picker on the shape tool options bar, press the rainbow color picker, then eye drop (sample) the photo just below the bottom left corner of the swatch.

This puts that color on the swatch. I go to the next swatch and repeat. Here is what that looks like when it’s done in Photoshop. Note the row of recently sampled swatches.

I’m fairly happy with the finished painting. In retrospect though, I don’t need to carry a 50 pound pack 14 miles to create a nice painting. What was I thinking?

Tacoma Old City Hall painting

I finished my painting of Tacoma’s Old City Hall. Simultaneously there was a community push to save the old building from neglect and abandonment. I posted my painting on the “save old city hall” page, and the guy who runs it liked it so much he made it his profile image. A week later Tacoma bought the building priced at $4,000,000.  That got me thinking that I need to start an open artist Facebook account to promote my art. My current Facebook account is just for climbing friends…people I know and like personally. I have it locked down tightly for privacy. As a teacher (part time), I try to be careful about my professional image. But that does not serve me well as an artist. I will work on that.

Here is the painting. It took me three Friday afternoons to finish it. Below it is my latest Nisqually painting. This is the first time I’ve painted down there in oils.

Tacoma's Old City Hall

Tacoma’s Old City Hall

Nisqually Delta, 9 x 12 oil on board

Nisqually Delta, 9 x 12 oil on board

I’ve got 3 hours in a new painting of Stadium High School, which I will post later.