Thursday, June 21, 2012

Mono Pass/Bloody Canyon

Last Sunday, Belinda and I hiked from Tioga road through Mono Pass, and part way down Bloody Canyon.  It was a spectacular hike in the high country.  There was about a half mile of steep elevation gain, but it wasn't bad at all compared with some of our more strenuous hikes.  The fact that we started at 10,000 feet, though, made breathing a little more difficult than normal, but our last three or four hikes have been at these elevations, so, we're getting a little more used to it.

The sights along the way of snow covered peaks and distant craggy spires was amazing.  I'm not sure what I expected at the far side of the pass ~ surely a nice vista of distant Mono Lake, but when we headed down Bloody Canyon and could finally see around a bend in the trail, the sight was nothing less than jaw-dropping. A real pay-off for our hike of 4 miles or so.

We ate our lunch on some glacier-smoothed rocks above one of the Sardine Lakes.  The tale is that they are named that because of a clumsy pack animal which was carrying a load of sardines to the upper camps and slipped into one of the lakes and drown.  Perhaps a better name for them would be Clumsy Ass Lakes, or Dumb Ass Lakes ... just a suggestion.

I got out my watercolour kit and started a little sketch, then we headed down Bloody Canyon (named that because of two factors - that the pack animals cut themselves so much on the sharp rocks, and because the rocks have a deep red hue which is sort of blood coloured) to where we had a view of the lower Sardine Lake. 

There was another lake beyond that which would have been nice to see ... but the elevation grade at that point was quite substantial ... and we would have had to huff and puff our way back up ... and we still had some exploring to do on a side trail, back up at the top of the pass.

When we took the side-trail, I wasn't expecting much, really.  The word was that there was an old mining camp up there - the Golden Crown Mines.  I figured it would be like the last ones that we explored above Gaylor Lakes, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a half dozen old cabins in various stages of disrepair and the mouth of an abandoned mine about a quarter of a mile above.  The mouth of the mine was still full of snow, so I couldn't see or venture in (which is probably just as well).  But it was exciting, nonetheless.


Artist's Cabin

More fun at the Wawona "Pioneer Village" (although, I've been told by the Ranger in charge, Dean Shenk, that they prefer it to be called the "Pioneer History Centre").  I could give you all a lot of history on the History Centre, but, well, that's what google is for, right?  What I can tell you is that the cabin where I do my volunteer bit on the weekends was built in the Valley around 1900 and moved up to its present location in the 1950s or so.  It's located on what used to be the main road from Frensno and Oakhurst (now hwy 41) before it was re-routed slightly.  The road used to go through the covered bridge, which is still located on its original spot.  Most of the other structures were brought from various locations throughout the park.

I've only spent a few days up there so far, but I'm having a great time.  I share with tourists and do some painting - simple as that.  It's not a stretch to imagine how it must have been in those simpler times.  An hour or two may go by when I don't have any visitors and, in the cabin, I have a peace and solitude rarely achieved in modern dwellings.  There is the occasional clatter of hooves as the wagon goes through the covered bridge a few hundred feet from the cabin, and I hear the driver, Burl, urging the horses to "get the lead out" as he hurtles through the little village.  I can also hear the infrequent sound of the blacksmith hammering away at his anvil, but, other than that, it's the sound of birds and insects as I paint away, using graphite and watercolour sketches as references from which to work.

                                          Watching the stagecoach through the old, wavy glass.

It's taking a bit of adjustment for me to work without music.  Not sure how those guys did it without ipods or stereos. The lighting is also an issue.  I know from photos that Jorgensen had a sky-light in his real studio ~ this cabin does not, although it does have a nice north facing window, it's still rather dim in there -- making painting a strain on the eyes ... and photographing anything in there is kinda tricky too, as you can tell.

I am looking forward to next week when I'll see about getting someone to throw on a costume from the time period and pose for me on the porch of the cabin.

An aside note: I sold a painting of Tenaya Lake yesterday at the Mariposa gallery to a woman from Oslo, Norway; the birth place of Chris Jorgensen (she pronounced it Yorgensen).  So, next week, that piece will be hanging in her livingroom in Norway ~ nice.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Pioneer Village

In the Wawona area of Yosemite National Park, there is a Pioneer Village where they have old buildings that they've restored and brought from all over the park.  One of these was built by Pioneer Artist, Chris Jorgensen (1860 - 1935) who was one of the early artists in Yosemite.  He had a studio down in Yosemite Valley, just north of the "Swinging Bridge" (which doesn't actually swing at all), along the Merced River.

My sketch of Jorgensen from a photo ... made to look like a Jorgensen "self portrait".

At the Pioneer Village one can ride an old stage coach, watch a blacksmith at his craft, visit the old telegraph office and Wells Fargo station, and, occasionally this summer, one can catch me up there in costume pretending to be an artist of yesteryear. I will be at the "Jorgensen Studio" On Friday afternoons and Saturdays, whenever possible.I'll bring sketches and watercolours from which to work, just as those guys used to. 
I'm not allowed to sell anything there, but I'm going to see about the possibility of doing charcoal sketches of people for a donation to the Yosemite Concervancy.
Stay tuned for photos of my adventures.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

On the Easel

About a year ago I painted up at Olmstead Point, and while I was there I started a second painting looking over into Tenaya Canyon and Tenaya Lake.  There was a storm brewing, though, and I didn't get much more than a basic outline of the landscape.  Much, much later, I took some of the photos that I'd snapped off and worked into the composition again.  And there it sat, in my studio, on the floor, leaning against the wall awaiting my eventual attention again.  It's actually not a bad way to work, sometimes.  There are many pieces that I've started that take me a while to come back to.  I eventually finish about 90% of them ... the other 10% probably don't really need to be finished, anyway.

The thing is, that part of me keeps working on these things subconsciously, and when I do return to them, I have a better understanding and a lot more enthusiasm.  Such was the case with this painting of "Storm over Tenaya".  I returned to it a couple of days ago and spent all day "toe to toe" with it, working out some of the spots where I was stuck before.  It's not done ... I'll probably spend another full day on it next week, but it's finally on the right track, I think.  What's more, I'm actually liking it more.  I'm trying to go well beyond the photographs and memories ... and I want to give it a more fantasy, romantic, dreamlike feel ~ like Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Cole, or Frederic Church would give it -- but without ripping off their styles.  It's a tall order, but a fun challenge.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Lilac Painting

In late April I started a painting of lilacs while working at the Sierra Artist's Gallery (see blog from May 5th) ~ I had it about half done ... maybe more, when I brought it back to the studio.  I've poked at it a few times since then, but never with much alacrity.  I kept shifting it from one place to another as it kept getting in my way (done on purpose to remind me to get it finished), and I finally blocked out some time for it yesterday.

I'm calling it complete ... though I reserve the right to rework it over and over until I finally get tired of looking at it or I absolutely ruin it.

The letter in the still life is one that my son, Ben sent to me from Africa when he was on a Teen Mission there in the summer of 1996. On the morning that I set up this still life at the gallery in Mariposa, I had grabbed a bunch of stuff that I thought would go together.  I was kinda running late and put a plethora of things into a box including a letter opener that belonged to my father, a vase that Belinda got for me, a place mat that Mom made for me, a tea cup, and I just picked up a letter from a box of old correspondence ~ it was a happy accident that it turned out to be a letter that is near and dear to me. There were also a bunch of items that I didn't use.
It's always amused me how still life set-ups seem to have a mind of their own.  I actually love the process, even though it can be maddening sometimes.  One can start off with an idea and a bunch of objects and end up with something completely different than the original thoughts.  In this case, I had brought three different vases, several different table cloths, and some other, small items.  The main idea ... the hidden "story", if you will, remained the same, though. 
I sometimes miss doing these kinds of things with other artists; going through the process of arranging the composition and fine tuning the idea.  I especially loved creating still life arrangements with Del.  We had so much fun just trying different things and bouncing ideas off of each other. He is the undisputed master of arrangements, though.

As with many still life pieces, this composition went through about a zillion changes while setting it up ~ not helped by people coming into the gallery ~ and I also started it as a horizontal ... but had to scale everything down too much to suit me.
I've been thinking about putting tea or coffee in the cup ... maybe a tea bag, too, and a spoon.  But it's such a small painting (11" x 14") and already seems a little cluttered.  The story is there, simple and direct, without beating someone over the head with it.
And that's all I have to say about that.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Lately I've been hiking in the high country more than usual.  Man, there are some beautiful places up there in the high Sierras!  Last Sunday we hiked to Bennetville, which is an abandoned silver mining town from the late 1880s.  There are only two buildings remaining (that I think have been restored a little too much ~ they hardly look 150 years old), but there are a few mining artifacts still remaining by the mine.
We hiked beyond that, up past a few lakes, and took a break at Fantail Lake on our way back out, where I worked briefly on a small watercolour sketch.  Mt Dana looked resplendent in the afternoon sun and features prominently in most of the photos that I took throughout the day.  I want to do a few paintings of it and kept thinking that I had the best picture possible from which to work, when we'd round another bend or pass a different lake, and get a whole new perspective of it.  I may have to do half a dozen paintings of that area. Dang, that will mean that I'll have to return.
There are so many great hiking trails around here that it's hard to choose them.  It's nice to go back to some that you love, but -- there are so many yet to explore! I'm going to try to make an extra effort to post pictures of the paintings that I do from our hikes each week.