Plein Air: Colorado Springs, Red Rock Canyon


I went back for some more plein air painting at Red Rock Canyon here in Colorado Springs on Saturday and settled for a couple sweet views. This is the first sketch done at the entrance, where many of the hikers start their trek past some iconic red sandstone towers.  When you see this scene, the immediate response is how those odd looking rocks just seem like they punch out at you with that bright red tint against hazy blue-green background of the mountain. With the spruce trees in the shadow of the front rock, casting a dark shadow in back of the brightly lit people walking down the trail, it looks like a movie set up with everything placed in just the right spot. This is when artists say, “It painted itself”, meaning there was really very little that had to be altered. I was iffy about placing the people into the scene, but that’s a very unique part of this area and it helps to give some scale to what you see. I had a good time meeting some of the hikers, some making rounds, checking back to see the progress as I went. It’s both encouraging and a great way to hear about other places to paint. I had a bit of trouble with the acrylics drying so fast, so I resorted to pasting it on with a palette knife.  It wasn’t great for getting the fine detail of the rock structure being more like spreading thick butter on toast with a butter knife. However, I love the look of thick paint giving a 3-D look (called impasto).

Here’s the reference photo:


Artist Chat:

This is more a directed toward acrylic plein air: The air is so dry here lately, any heat about 90 degrees will dry the acrylic paint fast. At least half of the acrylic paint I use turns solid before I can dab my brush into it. I picked up some “Liquitex palette spray” at the Hobby Lobby (use the 40% coupon), and it did help. A thin film does form over the paint still, but the spray did keep the paint “wet” a lot longer. It was a welcome change to trying to stab the paint with my brush to extract something no rubberized. Highly recommended. It shouldn’t be a problem later when it get cooler.


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