Saturday, December 21, 2019

The Watchman

Ahhh, the long-promised art of my western adventure!

Since my vacation at the end of October 2018, I've made several art pieces inspired by what I saw in Utah. This one is the first, completed just a few weeks after the trip. The Watchman is acrylic on 18"x24" canvas, exactly how I imagine the sunset setting Zion National Park ablaze.

The Watchman, acrylic on canvas. November 2018.

I waited to share this because it was going to be published in a Utah arts journal, alongside other gorgeous images of the American West. There were some miscommunications and now, a year later, it's safe to say it won't be published. All this time, I’ve wanted to share the finished piece here on my blog, or even on Instagram. I held off, honoring the journal’s rights to publication. Well, the painting is here now! It’s here, published on my blog, where it should have been right from the beginning.

I painted The Watchman following a two-week autumn adventure in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah (check out my Western Adventure for more details about my trip). I fell in love with Zion National Park while hiking the Narrows, a gorgeous up-river hike which was very difficult for a rookie-hiker like me! Despite the ice-cold water and tough hike, it was one of my favorite activities of our vacation.

One of the most famous, often-photographed features of Zion is The Watchman, a mountain that juts up near the park entrance, overseeing the park's 4.5 million visitors each year. The Watchman makes for a perfect sunset shot down the Virgin River, an image many photographers have sought.

One of my initial colored pencil studies. October 2018.
Dad and I were hopeful about catching that sunset shot in Zion, but hungry bellies got in the way and we all ended up getting dinner at a nearby Tex-Mex restaurant instead of waiting for sunset. No worries! I took some reference pre-sunset photos.

Back home in Ohio after the rest of that unforgettable vacation, I got out my paints, palette knives, sketches, reference photos, and a 16"x20" canvas. It was time to recreate "the shot," The Watchman at sunset.

Inspired by Zion's brilliant rock colors and the golden-yellow autumn foliage filling the park while we were there, I wanted to build up the color, each layer brighter than the last. But first, that watery wash to fill in the weave of the canvas!

I forgot to take a lot of process photos... You know how it is. You're in the zone, Netflix is on, hands are covered in paint... so you'll have to trust me for a few minutes here.

My wash was mainly red and blue. Red in the sky, and blue in the ground. Yes, you read that right. Red sky, blue ground!

According to the laws of the color wheel, complimentary colors, which are opposites on the color wheel, cause each other to appear more vivid. Blue makes orange POP, because they're opposites. If any blue were to shine through at the end, it would only make the yellow-orange mountain look more vivid. Color theory, people, I love it!

Over the blue and red wash, I started layering in my dark and light values
in yellow and purple-brown, and laying down my sky. Note that the sky is a
muddy grey right now... Not for long!
Red in the sky... because while I wanted a vivid sky of red, purple, and blue, I also wanted it to feel as if the sky goes on forever. I couldn't risk any stray dots of green or yellow showing through the layers of paint to break that impression of infinity. Instead of a complimentary color, I chose red for the underlying wash.

Over the wash, I blocked in my values. Bright yellow for the light spots, and a mix of brown, purple, and grey for shadows. 

From there, it was just a matter of building up the color. Browns, reds, oranges, greens for the land, and purples, blues, red, and white for the sky.

The sky, dramatic and stormy, took more effort than the ground. I had it going pretty firmly and decided it wasn't working.

I believe that decision went a little like this...

"This sky isn't working. It's just... Off. I'm going to redo it. This sky is really not working for me. Hold on. I need to fix this. It's... It's bad. I hate this sky, I have to redo it before I explode!"

I know, that escalated quickly. Needless to say, I redid it. That's the sky I ended up withfierce, anger-driven, directional paint-knife work. I typically try to avoid emotion-painting, but I'm actually really happy with the resulting sky.

Almost done...
The shot to the right is nearly finished. It's come a long way from the previous picture, eh?

It stayed this way for a while. Not bright enough, and missing a particular tree in the foreground, one I recognized in multiple reference photos.

When I finally got around to it, finishing this painting felt a little like coming home.

In the time since Untitled 37, I made very little art. In many ways, I felt unable to make art. I couldn't connect with it. It almost hurt to think about art. I managed a few drawings and half-begun paintings, including the illustrations for Stars & Seas, but it all felt off. Until The Watchman, art was out. Finishing The Watchman last November really was like coming home, and not only from a vacation. For the first time in about a year, I felt truly connected to art again.

I considered giving The Watchman to my dad for Christmas, but in the end I kept it for myself. I had another, long-promised pair of drawings to make for Dad, and I honestly didn't want to let The Watchman go. It's currently propped on my bedside table where I can see it every day. It's a good reminder of my trip, of the golden light at the end of the day, and hopefully a reminder for me to take action and not allow miscommunication to get in the way of putting my work out into the world. It will not be appearing in that small Utah arts journal, but that’s alright. Utah already has the actual mountain! I’ll keep the painting, and its likeness, here with me.


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