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October 2014
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August 2015

Painting Colored Snow

My friend, Mari, asked me the other day, via Facebook, if I had been painting snow. Yes, I have. I have been fortunate enough to spend quite a bit of time out in the snow with my snowshoes on. But painting white snow is a whole different ball game. I have discovered that in translating the white snow I see all around me onto a two dimensional surface, it has to go through a transformation before it can make visual sense on the canvas. The snow can't be white on a two dimensional surface and look right. It won't have any sense of depth, or rather: you won't be able to tell what's in front, and what is in back. Your eye will swim about looking for clues that anchor it to what your brain knows to be "right." Below, you will see an exercise I did a few days ago.

I first made an ink wash to get the dark and light areas, aka the values, to look like the scene had some depth:


Doing an ink wash first, gives me clues as to how to go about the painting... kind of like a road map.

Then, so as not to get too hung up on the level of my skill set, I painted the scene in oils, but did not use a brush. I only used one pallet knife and the paints:


Using a pallet knife meant I couldn't get my panties in a bunch if the branch I put down didn't quite go in the direction I wanted it to. The surface, which was actually a gessoed board, was no bigger than 8 x 10 inches. The small size of the surface , in conjunction with the flat pallet knife, worked against perfection, but it also gave me the ability to only focus on color. This was when I realized that I was not painting white snow, but rather colored snow.

The next step I took was to do the same scene in pastel, on a sanded board that was no bigger than the oil painting.


Keeping all the variables to a minimum teaches me how to deal with things more methodically. Doing this step by step, allowed me to see that all those little snowflakes on the mountainside are like little mirrors, all bunched up together, reflecting the world around them. The snow in the far distance reflected the light that was blocked by the clouds. The snow in the closer distance was reflecting the blue sky, above. The snow closest to my right had the most direct sunlight on it, so i painted that snow pink. See what I mean? Although it seems like a slower method, it allows me to have a depth of learning that my get-to-it personality desperately benefits from.

The paintings are called The Tree That Greets Me. They are of the first tree I see when I turn into the McCoy Nordic Park for snowshoeing and cross country skiing up at Beaver Creek, here in Colorado. It is a wonderfully weird Aspen tree in that because it isn't in amongst a grove of other Aspens, it's branches seem to have more freedom and personality. Once I make a turn at this tree, the downhill ski trails are left behind and the mountain becomes mine.

There are some things in the pallet knife painting that I prefer... like the life of the light in the clouds. The pastel painting for me feels better in the branch area of the tree, and also all of the shadow areas. I may attempt this whole scene one more time with a pallet knife, again, but on a large canvas. We will see.

Hope you enjoyed the little lesson I gave myself on painting white snow that, as it turns out, is anything but white.

Until next time,



The Moab Desert Left Me Bone Dry

No need to adjust your screen... it was dark, very dark. We had set the alarm for around three in the morning in hopes of making it to the Moab Desert, in Utah, just in time to photograph the first rays of light hitting the arches. Unacustomed to doing much at that hour, the apples and granola bar in my pack offered little assistance in shaking off the grogginess. In fact, eating anything at that unGodly hour holds little appeal for me. Some people "don't drive drunk," my husband does not drive without a double shot of espresso in him. So it was me behind the wheel... for hours... in the dark... total, black inky darkness. If it wasn't for the invention of GPS, we would not have made it. The entire ride was cloaked in black... aside, of course, from the glow of the dashboard. I kept myself amused (and awake) by imagining what the reflection of that dashboard looked like on the surface of my eyeballs. Questions like... "I wonder if everything is in reverse, like when one reads the word A-M-B-U-L-A-N-C-E on an emergency vehicle only to see it correctly written in one's rear view mirror," and "If something comes running out into my path, and I hit it, will it look like a squashed, mindbending, miniaturization of something catapulted directly from the dinasaur age, or will it look like the Road Runner from my cartoon loving youth?" Obviously, you can tell I was having a tough time staying awake. I kept checking the GPS, and saying to myself "you JUST checked it three minutes ago, you fool. What could have changed in the past three minutes?" The road was straight,  and it kept unfurling before our car. I had visions of the grill on the front of my SUV being a giant mouth swallowing up that road, like a fraternity pleby sucking down beer through a tube. My own yawns were adictive. Desolation ruled everything beyond the metal and glass boundaries of my car. When we finally did arrive at the gates to the Arches National Park, you guessed it: NO ONE was there. We just drove right in, the wheels just kept right on rolling as we followed that GPS as we had done so many times before out in the open ocean when we lived on the boat. This was different than the boat though. On the boat you follow the GPS all the while scanning the horizon for the tell-tale red and green lights on another boat.You watch your radar like a hawk incase some idiot out there has fallen asleep at the wheel. At least on the radar screen you see a 'pleep'... here, there was nothing. NOTHING. If I didnt stay firmly in the middle of the road, one swerve to miss a "silly Wabbit" and I could, unknowingly, be flying off the edge of a cliff. It COULD happen, my heart was in my throat. For heaven's sake, I kept thinking to myself, I have children to raise. By now my caffeine deprived husband was way past the head bobbing stage and fully awake. The GPS said we had "arrived". Really? I put it in park and we prceeded to take out all of the equipement in the back of the car. And then, out of nowhere, came the barely detectable glow of morning light. We rushed to get set up... hard to do when your only real light source to the foot path is the flashlight app on your iPhone. And then, with the same exact speed of an advancing storm, the light started to reclaim the desert and this is what we saw:





 It was quite the magic show. My husband was still concerned about my whereabouts and kept warning me not to trip over the legs of the tripod- something I have been known to do... even in broad daylight.





 My husband's camera was literally "firing off on all cylinders."  Non stop. While I was fully absorbed in the Grand Awakening going on around me. The Moab was saying "good morning."


I tried my best to remember the parade unfolding before my eyes so that I could recall later, at home, when I would be standing before my easel:

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 Once the magic moment was past, and the sun was a little higher in the sky, we set off to see what we had missed on the way in.


 Peaceful. Magestic. Bizzare.











 It didn't make any sense.


Being in the desert is a weird thing. You feel utterly different. Small. Insignificant. Alone.



The fleeting few moments I had in the Moab were... were...


It left me feeling unable to capture the majestc quality that nature is. Nature has NEVER failed me, but I, in my feeble attempts before the easel, fail it. I had not been able to paint since. It is only now, months later, that I am attempting to do so once again. I need to go and spend a few weeks there... and  listen to what it says to me so that, in paint, I can do a better job at holding up my end of the conversation.