Plein Air Colorado Springs: Palmer Park by the Stables


Location of the Scene: This is in Palmer Park, the central park of Colorado Springs. In the middle of the park on the western side, there are some horse stables. Looking up at the cliffs from the stables, these towers are a striking display of yellow, bight tans and oches against a deep cobalt sky. Hard to miss.

The Experience: Today was perfect for getting outside, so Sarah, Luke, Aja (dog) and I went to Palmer Park. Luke and Aja stuck around the entrance to explore and Sarah and I headed out for about 5 miles of trails.  Due to my superior, in-built navigation system, we got lost, wandered through a neighborhood, trespassed, fought brush and cacti to relocate a trail and by mile 7 were back at the car.  Always an adventure.  While on part of the trail I was familiar with, I spotted this scene near the horse stables. After Luke, Sarah and Aja left, I headed back.  At 2pm, the sun was out and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. When looking up at the tans and whites of the cliffs, the angle of the sky at that viewpoint is a deep cobalt blue. This following picture of Sarah on some cliffs, shows how much darker the sky is compared to the cliffs:


Not able to find a shady spot was my first mistake. The sun and low humidity dried my paints so fast, many times the paint never left the brush onto the 6×8 panel. I’d look at the brush to see what happened and there is was, the pristine gob of paint, just the right value, hue and saturation, delicately mixed … and dry.  I dunked my brush in the water, mixed the paint like a mop with suds and resorted to doing a watery color painting for the next couple of hours. It was an onslaught of silent swearing, and at the just the right moment of anguish, my tripod chair busted sending me to the ground in an awkward feet-out, head-down position. Luckily, mountain bikers were passing to make sure I was okay.  Two inches to the right and I would have nailed a cactus. Phew. Forging ahead in a crouching position like a cat ready to pounce, I mopped on the last few bush strokes, throwing in some rocks in the foreground and called it a day.  Frustrated, I remind myself, “fighting through the frustrations make me a better person”, then think “who says that??”. I gotta quit that goody talk and kick a rock like a man or something.  This is when you know for a fact you love painting. Nobody in their right mind would return unless the sense of awe at nature and the hope of catching just a glimpse of that with paint was so much sweeter than frustrations.

Artist Chat: All in all, the little 6×8 study didn’t turn out bad.  I wanted to capture the bold, bright cliff structure against the sky and bring it into perspective with the green-grays of the grass and brush. No doubt this will come in handy if I build a scene in the studio needing these color notes. My palette was ultramarine, yellow ochre, lemon yellow, red oxide and titanium white. Next time I’m going to try using only Golden Open paints aside from the red oxide. I really think the slower drying time will be a perfect match to the climate here (and avoid kicking rocks in frustration).  The hardest part was figuring out the value and hue of the shadow side of the rocks. The layers in the rock switched from ochre to yellow to tan, each having a different shadow color. Then there was the indirect light producing yet another “glow” in the shadow.  Finding the right value, then adjusting the color was the key in the end. It took a couple layers of paint to get it, but it worked. If nothing else worked in the painting, this was enough to make this painting useful as a tool.


Me with my painting kit with Cheyenne Mountain in the background.


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