Painting in Taos, NM

This week, I’m headed to Taos, NM for Mike Mahon’s five day plein air (outdoors) painting workshop.  I keep hearing that Taos is an outdoor enthusiasts “must-go” place and Mike is a very well known painter and teacher.  Painting and outdoors in Taos… this is going to be awesome.

I met Katherine, an artist friend also going to the workshop, and we flew to New Mexico ready for fun. Despite a delayed flight, missed flight, rerouting the flight and rental car service, misplaced baggage and a 40% markup on the rental “Taxes and fees”, we’re here and it’s amazingly beautiful.  Just on the drive to the lodge, we were making u-turns for pictures and in awe of the mountains and color of the landscape.

Katherine and I grabbed a quick breakfast, then shot off to downtown Santa Fe, an art mecca.

And a good place for zen moments at Subway:

As artists, it’s hard to drive immersed in theselandscapes. The one and a half hour trip from Santa Fe magically became two-ish hours, but the view stops were amazing.

We just got to our rooms at the San Geronimo Lodge and briefly met our workshop instructor Mike Mahon and the seven other classmates for the week. Time for some zzz’s. I think I’ll click the switch to turn on my propane fireplace in my apartment-like bedroom.  I might opt to move into the bathroom.  It’s is so big I could fit a sleeper sofa in the open space! Wow.
Day 1:
We gathered around for breakfast and Mike Mahon walked us through his “DeVine SETUP” painting method (the name is a mnemonic) laying down the foundation for the basics. At 9:30am the sun was casting a dramatic yellow light just outside of the lodge, lighting up the poplars and aspens to a bright glow. The clouds passed over frequently changing the scene, so it was great to see how he adjusted.

The scene for the first day’s painting
Mike Mahon’s morning demo

After lunch we had our turn at the scene. The sun was right overhead and everything looked flat. My first painting got the “Judy Chop” in frustration, but I hunkered down and waited until about 5ish when the lighting was better.  The setting sun casts shadows giving the trees more form (depth) and the yellow “glow”.

First Day’s painting by the lodge

The second painting here was better, but I can lots of room to improve during the week. The yellow of the trees really do glow that much!!
Day 2:
Mike demo’d down at John Dunn’s Bridge in the Rio Grande Gorge this morning. afterwards, Katherine and I hiked around and found some petroglyphs.  See the bird and star or sun? That bird looks like the wing spread of a swallow.

Petroglyph by the entrance of John Dunn’s Bridge

See that thing that looks like a cow patty stuck on the wall? That’s a cliff swallow’s home.   Coincidence?

Cliff Swallow home near John Dunn’s Bridge

We ran by Taos Moo ice cream and painted a scene of an old shed in a pasture with the mountain backdrop.

The scenery behind the Taos Moo ice cream shop.
A scene from around the side of the Tao Moo Ice Cream shop.

Day 3;
Mike talked about perspective, then we painted at Millicent Rogers Museum. I found a good Adobe to paint concentrating on perspective, the lesson for the day.  I plan on putting Mrs. Millicent opening up the windows and hanging one of her southwestern rugs on the sill.  Behind the wall, this open space will have a table and people dining to give it that “upscale” look.

Scene from Millicent Museum
Millicent Museum Scene

Afterwards, we went by Art Galleries and we saw some works by amazing artists, including Leffel. A 9×12, $18,000. Sheesh.
Day 4:
We headed south today and painted at the “Wayside Park” in a different part of Rio Grande Gorge. Part of my goal is to do outdoor scenes with figures in them, so Mike posed for a couple reference pics. We painted all day and I got in two starts to paintings. It was hot in the sun, so the second painting I propped my camp stool in a shallow section in the middle of the river. Felt great! As long as I have the reference photo and colors correct in the painting, that’s all I need to finish later.

Wayside Park in the Rio Grande Gorge
The semi-finished painting
Quick sketch for color reference.

Day 5:
Last day. We headed to Ed Sandoval’s studio (famous painter) and painted stuff around his house. He had this really old car (model A ford?) in the front yard begging to be painted.

It was a great study in color and I got a thumbs up from Ed. We chatted a bit and he’s one eccentric man.  He dressed up like zorro and rode his horse around town explaining he wants to keep the “Taos city’s character alive”. Good for him. Afterwards, Mike critiqued our work and had great suggestions for improvement. For me, I can work on suggestive, bold brushstrokes.
I wanted to put the new lesson in brushstrokes into a painting. I got lost driving one of the days and happened upon a perfect area with aspens and the distant mountains. So, today I started hiking down that same road with my gear and saw the perfect scene. The old adobe entrance to the San Geronimo Lodge (built in the 1800’s) with an amazing backdrop! I knew right then my job was to paint this for the owner of the lodge (cool lady). Hope she likes it! The prayer path and magpie tucked in the details are a part of the lodge personality.

This is a view from the old entrance to the San Geronimo Lodge. I’m pretty sure it was built in the 1800’s and patched up over time.

Overall, Mike Mahon’s workshop was great.  He and his wife planned every detail to get as much teaching and painting squeezed into the five days as possible.  I think I’ve progressed in getting some more form (3-D look) and bright colors in my paintings as well as learning to put in bigger, more accurate brushstrokes.  The appearance of having fun with a painting by using the bigger brush strokes, as opposed to smaller labored strokes, is a part of the message to the viewer: It really is a fun to paint this is it looks!


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