Plein Air Colorado Springs: Helen Hunt Falls



About the Scene: Helen Hunt Falls is in the Cheyenne Mountain State Park in Colorado Springs.  When you enter the windy road of the state park, it’ll run alongside Bear Creek. You will pass huge cliffs and massive Ponderosa Pines for about 2 miles until the falls come into view.  It impressive.

The Experience: After waking early, tired from thoughts of employment rolling around in a spin cycle all night, it was time to get out and enjoy the day.

If I’ve learned anything from life, it’s to enjoy the moment. Whatever has me tied down, just let go. Don’t quit, but take a time out. Painting is a release. A zone. It’s a place I can go to in my mind where I only observe what’s beautiful before me and feel the deepest need to share it in hopes it may provide this release for someone else. We all have our vices, our bad situations. Thank God for nature’s inspiring magnificence. We’re just a blink of an eye compared to what we see. Our problems are so insignificant compared to its timeless quality. I look at the scene of this amazing waterfall, and the worries slip away to the soothing sounds of the water crashing rhythmically over the smoothed rocks. Trees rising up at the top in a triumphant display. People passing by over the small bridge, one by one, each with a world of worries on hold, just for a moment.

I set off to the side of the entrance, painting on a small hardboard panel for about three hours, which seemed like half an hour. Visitors to the falls stopped to chat; some took pictures. Little kids giggled and got excited about painting, and a lady enjoying her retirement said, “It’s time for me to get out my pastels again!”. It so funny how all of this happens unexpectedly. I’m there to paint, taking notes and thinking about how I’d produce a large studio painting from the scene. But in being there, these moments make it so much richer. I learn about their stories, and in the process of listening, see them relax into the scene. It’s comforting. I just enjoy the moment, and somehow the concerns of the future and employment disappear.  What good is it to worry about the future and miss moments like these??

It was a good day.

Artist Chat: I’m now in love with Red Oxide.  I usually use Alizarin Crimson, but red oxide mixes with ultramarine blue into a deep, warm gray-purple that sets off the yellow tints in highlights.  When there is the indirect light glowing in the shadows, a touch of yellow ochre does the trick. Using these three color, along with Titanium white, produced a great color harmony in the rock structures.

Distractions: Above the falls was a back-lit scene producing tons of bright, yellow highlights like glitter. I had to make a decision to ignore it or not, but figured the point of this is to get accurate color notes of the scene.  This sketch is information for a larger work.  In setting this sketch aside for a day, I can see today that I’d mute the sky color, most of the bright yellows and focus on the subtle grays in the waterfall, letting the rest of the scene above the falls only support and enhance it.


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