Saturday, May 23, 2020

Potomac River - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Potomac River" Colored Pencil

It is a sultry, summer evening in the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Potomac River drifts wearily through the West Virginia wilderness. Situated here, at the confluence with the Shenandoah, Harper’s Ferry is a historical village associated with Southern succession and the Civil War.

Squeezed into a spectacular gorge, the patriotic waterway encourages a slower pace notwithstanding its proximity to the bustle of big city life. The jungle environment is bursting with flowers and foliage that seem to be thriving despite the searing heat and tremendous thunderstorms.

An old railroad bridge, lush green hills and a purple sky are reflected faithfully across the surface of shallow water. The sharpest contrast occurs below the train trestle where the drawing’s darkest shadows are juxtaposed next to the sunniest highlights, creating some drama in the otherwise serene setting.

Patches of color close in value are paired with soft gradients that do not necessarily describe form but become design elements that unify the whole. A tapestry of cheerful pigment fills an abstract arrangement of organic shapes that when fused together give the impression of a bucolic scene.

Finally a dark silhouette of foreground vegetation frames the composition, creating a window into an unfamiliar, eastern landscape. While walking down the Appalachian Trail, contemplating a countryside so different from home, the conclusion must be that the beauty discovered in this place is just as divine as that found on the western frontier.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Simplicity - The Greatest Adornment of Art


“As I grew older, I realized that it was much better to insist on the genuine forms of nature, for simplicity is the greatest adornment of art.” ~ Albrecht Durer

Evergreen, Colorado is that magical place situated over the rainbow. Upon arriving 22 years ago, we discovered a land of silvery aspen where bluebirds fly, red foxes hide and each morning begins with a golden sunrise. Away from the confusion of suburbia, I found more time to simplify my work. The true essence of nature became obvious.

To simplify is difficult. I like to choose a motif and use all of my senses in a thorough examination. Observe the subject intensely and memorize the attractive, essential features. My camera is an indispensible tool in the process. It’s a digital eye that freezes a fleeting moment in time.

I have steep reverence for nature so when I wander alone into a remote wilderness, it’s a spiritual experience transporting me closer to heaven. In order to create an honest representation of the image fixed in my mind, the scenery is simplified while using bold contours and coloring. My drawings are heartfelt expressions depicting the grandeur of the American West.

Spectacular landscapes are much harder to break down because in my enthusiasm to replicate the scene, the inclination is to include every detail. Unfortunately when that happens, the soul of a place becomes lost and the expression becomes complicated and troublesome to grasp.

When drawing a tree, I try not to reproduce every branch and needle. I employ techniques in regards to pencil pressure and color blending while at the same time stylizing the essence of a solitary pine. I break the tree’s complicated shape down into its basic elements, exaggerate the color and capture its personality in an effort to create a more expressive piece of art.

If I’m lucky, I’ll dream about a work in progress. Then it’s almost as if the simplification becomes interwoven into the subconscious. In technical terms, the art theory is surprisingly simple. More contrast and colors equals complex, while less contrast and colors equals simple.

I’ve learned much from a deep appreciation of art history. The first cave paintings are sophisticated simplifications that exhibit a graceful elegance. Creating beautiful abstractions by eliminating unnecessary details while preserving the spirit of the whole is something artists have been striving to achieve ever since.

The temptation to emulate my artistic heroes is irresistible but my artist-father preached from the pulpit of originality. He urged me to stay true to myself and not be influenced by what others are doing. I was challenged to develop interpretations unspoiled by imitation, criticism and greed.

My approach is not formulaic. It’s been a matter of accepting and embracing my natural style while resisting the ever-changing, fashionable trends. An eternal mystery to me is how an emotion conceived in the heart emanates into an eager left hand where it’s delivered by pencil point for all to see.

Spending many years painting commercially to please a fickle audience, I was caught up in the competitive affectations of photorealism. A fascinating movement but if executed improperly the results can be cold and lifeless. I chose to follow my heart and returned to a little box of wooden crayons.

I’ve spent the past couple of decades laboring to uncover a nice middle ground between photo-realism and abstraction. In order to achieve this, I’ve spent countless hours studying nature, art history, science and religion but mostly I’ve worked on drawings. I’ve experimented with different compositions, color schemes and paper, hoping to arrive at a more personal interpretation.

I began listening to the old masters from the past. Albrecht Durer admitted, “As I grew older, I realized that it was much better to insist on the genuine forms of nature, for simplicity is the greatest adornment of art.”

Hans Hoffman instructed, “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”

Vincent Van Gogh revealed, “How difficult it is to be simple!”

The simplification of my style has been a gradual, uncalculated transformation. An arduous process chocked full of confusion, doubt and failure but in the end it’s worth it. For a humble truthseeker like me, it’s been a revelation to discover that the simplest things in life are often the truest.

A deep reverence for nature

The soul of a place

Eliminate the unnecessary

Embracing my natural style

Grandeur of the American West

A middle ground between realism and abstraction

It is difficult to be simple

An arduous process

Beautiful abstractions

A revelation

Stylize the essence

Exaggerate the color
Countless hours studying nature

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Animas Forks - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Animas Forks" Colored Pencil

It’s a warm, summer evening in the San Juan Mountains near Silverton, Colorado where the Animas Forks River is born above the tree line. The turquoise torrent cascades down through a rock-hewn canyon of purple cliffs and into a spectacular basin entombed by towering peaks.

A few rows of dark trees are scattered diagonally across the wide open tundra. A sulphur sun streams golden rays through a verdant sky, bathing the surreal scene in ethereal light.

The color choice is influenced by the high altitude where the blazing orb sears through thin air, tinging the atmosphere with sulphur which gives the sky its green cast. Notice how swirls of this emerald color are reflected in the river current below.

Flush with the optimism that comes from fine weather, the bright highlights sparkle with intensity. Notice how the same colors are being used in different areas of the drawing. Carrying common pigment into multiple places across the surface is an effective way to unify the composition.

The entire picture is composed from patches of flat color which deliver a powerful effect similar to woodblock printing or a stained-glass window. By doing a bit of shading, though, the static atmosphere is transformed into a more dynamic work of art. The soft gradations indicate the direction of light and define the different forms.

For no other reason than sheer joy, the pure yellow is injected into the composition, reminding the viewer that this humble drawing is merely a simple arrangement of abstract shapes and cheerful colors. These exciting hues more honestly express the awesome beauty of summertime in the mountains.

Like a beating heart, the earthen core permeates the landscape with a mineral warmth from the inside out. More than a century ago, this fragile environment was devastated by man’s greedy quest for precious metal and some of the unhealed slopes still bear scars.

Known for its raucous past, the historical location is now literally a ghost town. After spending time in this magnificent wilderness, I know one thing for certain - the wealth extracted from these mountains, today, is measured in beauty instead of silver and gold.

If you would like to read a step-by-step tutorial about how this drawing was created please check out this issue of Carrie Lewis' CP Magic Magazine.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Golden Hawk - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Golden Hawk" Colored Pencil

Perched on a high throne decorated with a wreath of autumn leaves, a golden hawk gazes over a vast empire. The royal color scheme of blue and gold is applied in patches of similar value, resulting in a posterized portrait.

Highlights and shadows are downplayed as the abstract contours exaggerate the drawing’s obvious two-dimensionality. The resplendent creature is static and solid suggesting a timeless permanence that symbolizes confidence, power and freedom.

This piece does not portray a specific individual but it is more of a generic representation of a dazzling species that is so often overlooked. The monarch’s feathers are barely insinuated and the tail stripes are reduced to a simple pattern.

The long, dark wing is devoid of detail, the ochre bib promotes a sand-colored chest and the yellow feet, equipped with sharp talons, melt into the mosaic of foliage. Cut out of a powder-blue sky, the noble profile of a bronze head is adorned with a curved, violet beak.

This memorable recollection of a frozen moment from the past has been transcribed onto a single sheet of white paper. The animal’s dignified spirit expressed by a compact arrangement of interlocking shapes and multi-layered pigment.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Shining Mountains - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Shining Mountains" Colored Pencil

It’s late fall as first light seeps across the Great Divide and floods into the Blue River Valley, illuminating a celestial kingdom. Rising out of this divine realm, the Shining Mountains sparkle like jewels and their jagged profile serrates a docile sky.

The ethereal incandescence reveals a royal tapestry of woven colors that conveys a spiritual loftiness unique to one of Colorado’s most pristine wilderness areas. The golden peaks are modeled by a jigsaw of sharp-edged shadows of the purest violet-blue.

In the field, a barren aspen grove and a few dark trees are scattered remnants of autumn’s last breath. The bronze meadow sits somberly below snow-dusted summits that glimmer with multi-facets of hope.

This merciful period of reflection offers precious time to prepare for the difficulties that lay ahead. The melancholy season’s cold air blows with indifference forcing the high country inhabitants to respond with unyielding perseverance and patience.

The gleaming alps suggest a forbidding tone concerning the hardships suffered during an everlasting winter. An unwavering faith in the predictable cycle of nature is necessary in order to believe these broken hills will someday be brought back to life.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

White Bergen Peak - Colored Pencil Drawing

"White Bergen Peak" Colored Pencil

It is daybreak after a big storm and a white Bergen Peak is like an apparition rising out of an undulating field. Blanketed by fresh snow, the mountain’s bulky form is defined by sharp, gray shadows.

A dormant grove of ochre aspen clings to the pale behemoth’s lower slope while dark trees dot the valley floor in the distance. A receding ridge line is set at an angle as it cuts through the middle of such spectacular scenery.

Cast as the center of interest, a ponderosa pine creates a striking profile against a backdrop of open air. It’s curving, crimson trunk is topped by a bright green canopy whose beautiful blue shadows melt into the heavens.

As the moisture dissipates, an ominous, cobalt-colored sky gradually gives way to sparkling cerulean. A flood of warm sunlight sets the grassland on fire as interlocking shapes of red, yellow and orange sweep across the foreground.

The barrage of bad weather is just beginning so it won’t be long before this whole landscape is buried beneath deep snow. Autumn is on its last gasp but the colorful season is going out in a blaze of glory.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Elk Meadow Mornings - Chasing Bluebirds

Chasing bluebirds

During this wearisome time, my mornings have been spent in Elk Meadow chasing bluebirds. It is early spring in the foothills so the steep trails are slick and muddy and Bergen Peak’s rocky summit is still laced with everlasting snow.

Most of the summer residents are back including the red-winged blackbirds that nest just above waterline in the cattail marsh located at the lower end of the park. The lonely pathway is completely quiet except for the chorus of conspicuous calls made by the elusive inhabitants of this isolated grassland.

Nuthatches make a tapping sound as they peck into the bark of a ponderosa pine while a northern flicker claims territory by emitting his distinctive call from the tree’s top. The sweetest song heard in the countryside is the beautiful melody sung by the western meadowlark and that unique warbling sound made by mountain bluebirds in flight attracts my attention to their variable landing zones.

This season there has been such a profusion of bluebirds that it is as if the sky has shattered and tiny bits have rained down on earth, splashing into our drab meadow. Their photogenic profile captured in low light only enhances their legendary stature as one of America’s most beloved birds.

The female bluebirds have dull coloring that provides protection during the nesting season but the eligible males display bright plumage making them easy to spot. Many of the bluebirds like to congregate on the iron fence attached to an old, abandoned barn.

At first, they were wary of my daily incursions through their habitat and they got spooked by the slightest movement. Over time, day after day, I have gradually earned their trust as they have come to accept my recurring presence, allowing me to observe their most profound behavior.

When hunting, the bluebirds perch on mullein stalks and cock their heads sideways while listening for prey. Once they have acquired a target, they swoop down to the ground and pluck a juicy earthworm from the moist soil.

The mountain bluebirds generously share their grassland territory with robins and western bluebirds. These two red-breasted species exhibit identical behavior as the mountain bluebirds but their sparse populations are segregated into smaller pockets within the spacious field.

Mountain bluebirds dislike the cold and rain but they love warm, sunny days so that's when they are most active. Springtime in the Rockies is notorious for its fickle weather as a fierce blizzard can strike at any time before official summer.

Mountain bluebirds expect this harsh weather and have learned to adapt to the heavy snow and frigid temps that occur this time of year. Maybe we can learn something from how they respond to a disruptive hardship - they retreat to the safety of a cozy nest box and shelter in place until the storm has passed.

A profusion of bluebirds

They congregate around a barn

They swoop to the ground

They love the sun

Hunting for earthworms

They cock their heads and listen

Dull coloring provides protection

Bright blue plumage

A beloved bird

A photogenic profile

Captured in low light

Western bluebird