Water and Rocks

Painting Water and Rocks in Colorado

Plein Air Landscape Painting along Canyon Drive of Boulder Colorado

Matt Abraxas

study of Boulder canyon rocks in rain, August 2010

I’ve found a new love: rocks; I can paint them (and water, yes always water) for a long time to come and find endless treasure.

This first place is a short way up Canyon st or blvd or ?.  As in most cases in my plein air experiences this summer, the clouds joined me as I set scouted out other nearby spots, and the lighting came to cheer on my first brush stroke.  So I painted this from the back of my Suburu station wagon.  I dearly look forward to a truck with a camper shell.

I find with rocks that there needs to be patience in getting color right.  The values, especially in rocks like these are pretty straight forward: light, shadow and deep shadow.  Well, there’s reflected light as well, but in this case, clouded as it was, there wasn’t much to be concerned with, not yet anyway.

The brush work is really fun with these.  There’s a good amount of forgiveness with rocks, unlike in figurative work, because I don’t feel the importance of getting the form absolutely correct.  I just want the general form.  In figurative work, I’m much more attentive to accuracy, and much more bothered by the lack of it.  With rocks like these, there are a many flat planes interacting.  I enjoy painting in simple broken strokes; I realized my tendency to blend the strokes with soft edges more than I need to.  A soft edge can be made with very little brushwork.

Once the general feel of the planes are set up; that is, I painted the variety of colors that I saw, then I could get into the fun work of the darker shadows.  I did paint just a couple early on to give me something to compare to, but it was much more fun to get into them later and see the piece pop out.  As I worked, the light broke through and everything changed, along with my opinion of my study.  I didn’t want to go on, I loved the brighter lit piece more.  If I can get to this spot at the right light again, I’ll make a larger painting of it.

Matt Abraxas

Study of Boulder Falls, August 2010

This place is Boulder Falls.  I finally got up the canyon before the lightning.  9 AM.  Once I set up, I had only about 90 minutes to mess around until the light shown directly on this spot, changing everything.

Here were new lessons: falling water.  Richard Schmid said something to the effect about falling water being all about edges.  I may not be remembering it right, but I thought about edges while painting this.  It seemed that the patterns in the falling water were a variety of edges that I had never considered before.  I was excited to capture the small amount of mist at the bottom of the fall, but once I was there, it was the variety in the falling water that most excited me.

There are sections that appear streaked, where the water has a moment of free fall.  Then there are sections where the water is fragmented in what looked like perfect short brush strokes; this was where the water seemingly nicked the surface of rock behind it.  Then there is the splashing water, which was harder then I imagined to replicate.  I use to paint waves for a surfing advertisement company, and I got away with feathery nebulous strokes, but I didn’t want to do that here.  I was aiming at painting the splashing effect with relatively few brush strokes.  I found this to be more about the value changes in the water than the edges.  The edges within the billowy sections seemed roughly the same (I am eager to get a closer inspection next week, weather providing), but there was a slight change in color and value.

I hardly ever got the rock work.  The section along the right of the water fall, especially the piece with the hardest edge, I gave a little more attention to.   The whole section along the bottom where the water pools and beautiful warm tones of brown come out, I only touched on in about ten minutes as the sun light quickly move in.  I’ve got a bigger canvas ready to explore this again early next week.