Plein Air: Rock Study at Stillhouse Lake

This is at a an area for fishing where a limestone layer of rock line the sides.
This is at a an area for fishing where a limestone layer of rock line the sides.

With an upcoming welding entry test for a job in Gatesville, TX, my mind is occupied on worries, which directly limits my inspiration to go paint, but with some encouraging words (thanks, Shaz!), I finally realized I have nothing to worry about.  With a bit of writing down my concerns, looking at the evidence and re-framing the situation in a positive light, I was ready to get out to a new plein air adventure.

I’m working on a commission for a friend that has a scene from Colorado where he hiked up to a rocky summit.  Since the scene has rocks in the foreground, and the photo doesn’t show much detail in the shadows, it was a great excuse to get out the Stillhouse Lake for a rock study. A thick layer of limestone rock has caved in along the edges of the lake.  Between the rocks lies the remains of large cedars with roots digging for water under the boulders.  With the sun casting side shadows around 6pm, it was perfect.  I could have fixed the background a bit, but it’s a study… no worries. It’s all about the rocks, the parched cedar stump and the little bit of new green grass and shrubs growing up between the rocks.

Here’s the final study:

~6x8" acrylics on paper. This is a photo taken in better light.
~6×8″ acrylics on paper. This is a photo taken in better light.

Artist Chat:

palette: (Golden Open Acrylics) Titanium White, Hansa Yellow,  Pyrrole Orange, Burnt Sienna; (Regular acrylics) Cobalt blue

Painting with Golden Open in Texas at 93 degrees and dry wind is perfect. The paint on my palette stayed “open” the entire time, even being exposed to the wind and sun.  In contrast, I used regular cobalt and within minutes it formed a thin crust over the blob of paint.

Finding the color notes (values and color matching): I did two things that helped. In the rock shadows, it’s deceiving how light it is with all the reflected light from other rocks. Also, the slightly tan-white has a blue tinge in the shadows, but is warmed by this reflected light. How do you know what to paint? I curled my finger until only a little hole remained. I put this finger-window over the area of the shadow, isolating the rest of the scene from view. I then compared it with different areas in the background, as well as the lightest and darkest areas in the foreground. This gave me a good estimate of value and color to start with.  To double check color accuracy of my mixes, I held my brush forward and compared the edge of the painted tip with the scene.  I did this brush-forward technique for the rocks, and a little for the water, but muted to colors of the background to really push the focus on the rocks.  The sky looks dark in the sketch, but in relation to the white of the rocks, it’s correct.  Thank goodness for finger holes.  Hope that’ll help ya.

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Plein Air: Dana Peak Fishing Area Trail

6x8" acrylic.  This is a rough sketch. Can't wait to get out for another try!
6×8″ acrylic. This is a rough sketch. Can’t wait to get out for another try!

This is quick post before I head out to a welding interview.  After getting some steel toe boots and staring at job listings all day, I saw a chance to get out this area around Stillhouse Lake that I’ve seen before.  There is so much detail out there, I felt it was a good time to study how to simplify a scene into big planes. I lost the light before I finished all the way and tried to add the final smudges of paint at home.  After doing this, however, I can see this really does have a good composition and I can’t wait to get back there for a larger sized plein air painting.

Off to the interview (two-day interview!).  Keep your fingers crossed for me.