Plein Air: Colorado Springs,”Refrigerator Creek” on the Intemann Trail

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I went back to Red Rock Canyon Open Space (Colorado Springs) to get in another study of a scene I’ve been working on (to be posted later) and went to hike a bit further up the canyon after finishing. It was unusually hot and most people were carrying their coats they came out with. The dry air and intense sun creates a dramatic change from sunlit places to shade. Hiking into a trail section that head up toward the mountain behind the canyon, I passed scenes of massive rock faces that seem to dwarf a person to the size of an ant by comparison. Amazing. Noting the places for later, I continued on and found a mountain trail which could go all the way to the top of Pikes Peak called “Intemann Trail”.  Along the way up the winding switchbacks, I moved into a shaded portion of the mountains and came across a little creek with huge mossy boulders and a hand made log bridge (for those local to Colorado Springs, it’s just shy of Gold Camp Road).

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You know if when you get there because it’s like walking into a freezer and was called “the refrigerator” by a local couple. The cold water combined with the shade drops the temperature instantly. It was completely different from what I expected, but it was so unique, I scrambled down off the edge of the trail so I was looking up at the boulders and began to lay in the scene quickly. Within ten minutes, my fingers were slowing down and my fleece jacket was zipped up to my chin. Over the next hour, I enjoyed trying to capture the scene. When I was taking deep breathes to steady my hand for a precise line, I knew it was time to pack up and finish back at home. It was fun meeting hikers and mountain bikers who knew the area and found that I picked a well known spot.

In getting home, the painting changed! The cool sky color in the shadowed area on the trail had a tint on my panel and all the sudden it looked warm an somewhat cozy, like I wouldn’t shiver at all. Arrg. Over the next few days, I tried to add cool colors, but nothing seemed to work. Yesterday, Mark Boedges, an incredible painters send out a “monthly tip” email to his fans about this very topic with some ways to “fix it”. (For all artists, I encourage you to sign up for his monthly tips). He talked about keeping the scene as close as you can to the nature colors, but adding a bit more blue to the scene when you are painting on location. This will help to keep it “cool” at home in the warmer light. In looking over his paintings (for the hundredth time), I noticed he adds dashes of color to places that are way off “natural”, but when stepping back from his painting and looking at the scene it seems so realistic and fresh! All the sudden it snapped in my mind and made sense. I took out my study and mixed up some ultra bright sky color to add to the foreground rocks, and bingo, all of the vibrancy I remembered from when I was there came out! I probably overdid it a bit in my excitement, so in time I’ll tone it down a bit, but this adds a whole new tool to my sleeve of painting tricks. Now, when I look at paintings from other top tier from artists, like Richard Schmid, I see it in almost all of their paintings.  I realize that some may like the more subdued, natural look, but to me the impression, or “feel” of the scene is just as important as the accuracy of the scene itself.  Here’s a before I added the blue, cool highlights. It seems good up close, but from ten feet back, it looks drab, subdued and too enclosed, not what I actually saw and felt. After adding the blues, it seemed to open it up with depth and add that feeling that indeed, you are now at “refrigerator creek”.

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