Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fresh Air is Good for a Painter's Soul

Last week, my husband and I returned from five days of hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park. Since we hadn't gotten away from Texas all year and were both suffering from cabin fever in the 100-degree heat, this trip was an amazing escape -- the perfect place to go for some exercise and plein air painting!

We would begin each hike early in the morning, when temperatures were in the low 50s. It only got up to the mid to high 70s during the afternoon. In spite of not being used to the altitude, I wanted to gulp in as much of that fresh air as I could. My nature-starved eyes wanted to remember as much of the mountain beauty as I could, too! After a few days, with quads and calves hurting after every step (we logged a total of about 40 miles, with me carrying my painting supplies on every hike), I still could not complain, because I was so happy to be out in nature, away from the sound of traffic, television, and the distractions of work and home.

Here are a few highlights from the trip, with some commentary on the paintings that I did. A huge thanks to my wonderfully supportive husband for patiently waiting while I painted (even if we hadn't reached our destination yet), and for taking all of these pictures!

Day 1: a short hike to Bierstadt Lake to get acclimated to the altitude.



Above: Bierstadt Lake.
Below: the view as we hiked back down. The sunset was breathtaking, as was the rainbow we could see over the mountains to the east!



Day 2: Our summit hike to Flattop Mountain and the neighboring Hallett Peak (elevation 12,700 feet). That was a long day! I brought all my painting gear but ended up being too wiped to paint (plus an alpine thunderstorm chased us down the mountain on our way back!).


Above: view of Bierstadt Lake (the lake we hiked to the day before), from our resting point about halfway to the summit.

Below: past the tree line! Tired but still smiling. :-)


Below: a marmot we came across on our ascent to the summit. Yes, he was actually talking to us while wearing a rapper hat... haha. Okay, okay. I couldn't help but have a little fun in Photoshop.


At the summit of Flattop Mountain - onward to Hallett Peak!


3 hours from the start: we reached our destination! Such a beautiful view. :-)


Below: Day 3. We decided to do something completely different from the day before and spend our time in the woods, hiking the Fern Lake trail, which follows a mountain stream up to Fern Falls, then up to Fern Lake itself. We stopped along the way so I could paint a small section of the river.


Above: getting set up. I had my Guerrilla 9x12" paintbox, which I can normally mount to a tripod. But this time I opted to use the tripod to support my umbrella, which kept the glaring sun off my canvas.



You can't see him in these pictures, but there was a chipmunk keeping me company up on that rock. Actually, he was just trying to find my trail mix...


I began with a warm wash of medium and transparent oxide brown. I wanted the dark woods in the background to remain pretty transparent to create the effect of sunlight coming in through the evergreens.


The biggest challenge, of course, was all of that moving water... AND the moving light! You have to work QUICK when you're painting plein air. Those shadows change constantly.





Finished after about two hours. I was pretty happy with this one.


We then proceeded to finish our hike to Fern Lake. Here we are at our final destination. This ended up being about a 9-mile hike round trip... and we thought it was going to be our "easy" day! :-)


Later that evening we drove around the park and stopped at this scenic overlook, so that I could paint the peaks we climbed the day before.







Finished just in time, before the sunset below the mountains. I gave the mountains a little more pop by adding in some cobalt blue to the shadow areas.


Day 4: Each morning the mountains had about a 30-minute window where they turned radiant pink. Today Steve and I got up at 4:30 so we could be into the park (and painting!) by 6. The only problem was... I was freezing. Thank God for heated seats!



Here are the mountains in all their early morning glory. And below: a herd of elk in the distance.



I whipped out a VERY quick color study in about half an hour. Loved every second of it. I will be finishing this one in my studio, so more pictures to come...




After the morning plein air painting (well, I guess sitting in my car doesn't really count as "plein air"), we set out for another hike, this time from the ever-popular Bear Lake Trailhead. The waterfall below was one of my favorite places in the entire park. It was so beautiful and surreal, with wildflowers blooming, and butterflies flitting about. Wow.


We hiked up to the Loch, where a family of elk was laying in a green meadow and soaking up the sun. Yes, that actually happened, and we were there to see it. It was like a scene out of Bambi. :-)




Day 5: One more long and wonderful day of hiking, this time up to Mills Lake (below), followed by several other mountain lakes.



We got up to Mills Lake around 7 a.m., and the lighting on the peaks was so irresistible - I had to paint it!


Again, I was freezing, so I borrowed Steve's jacket and kept on working. :-) I worked until my fingers were almost too stiff to move, but loved every second of it!





It's hard to tell from the pictures, but when I set up to paint, the shadows really were that beautiful purple, with warm, radiating yellows in the sunlight.


Onward and upward. Below: we had to climb up the side of a waterfall to get to some of the highest mountain lakes, Glass Lake and Sky Pond. I had to leave my pack behind, but really enjoyed the climb up there. It reminded me of when I was a little kid and used to climb up the rocks and boulders of our bluff in Wisconsin.



Here is the waterfall.


And more falls, coming back down. Except, it was starting to cloud over and we still had four more miles to get back to our car. But I stopped for a quick painting anyway...





And... the rain got us! Actually, it was hail. Pea-sized hail. We didn't mind too much - in fact, the park showed another facet of its beauty that I hadn't seen before. The trunks of the Ponderosa pines turned bright red, and the mountain rocks, hot from earlier sun, let off a lovely mist in the cool rain.




Below: some more little "details" from our last day as we hiked back.




What a wonderful break from the old routine! I will post pictures of the finished paintings soon!
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