Sunday, November 10, 2019

In the Forest, Bear Creek - Colored Pencil Drawing

"In the Forest, Bear Creek" Colored Pencil

It is late summer in the Colorado foothills and Bear Creek is flowing steadily through a narrow, forest-filled canyon. The pastoral scene is a study in contrast involving shapes, edges, values and color.

The forest interior is one of the most alluring places on earth providing asylum from the cold steel, glass and pavement found in the city. Life slows down along the creek where earth, trees, water and air create a comforting atmosphere.

The flickering landscape makes a gradual transition towards abstraction as the indistinct edges of the riverbank melt into the rushing water. The calm ambiance is disrupted by an explosion of streaming light that shatters into small shards of pure color.

It is a natural patchwork of opposing pigments where a warm highlight streaks across the creek’s cool surface. The rock cliff’s sharp angles convey action and dynamic movement that spreads across the unusual drawing.

A murky silhouette of pine trees suggests the tangled canopy of a dense woodland. The vibrant palette is scumbled over an orange-toned paper that permeates throughout the entire piece, unifying the intricate composition.

The depiction of this splendid niche in the planet is meant to express the mystery of an untamed wilderness. Just like the white cloud drifting into the background so will the forest’s fiery mosaic fade into the icy tones of winter.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Rocky Mountain Columbine - A Vivid Buttercup

Colorado Blue Columbine

Winter is here now but not so long ago, the snow-covered meadows were blanketed with colorful blossoms that attracted bees, hummingbirds, butterflies and the artist’s eye. The most revered of these lovely wildflowers is the iconic Rocky Mountain Columbine which blooms from mid-May through July.

An avid hiker named Edwin James first discovered the blue columbine while scaling the steep slopes of Pikes Peak. This hardy perennial thrives at high altitude in the mountain west from the foothills up to the alpine.

Because of its magnificent display of blue-violet petals, white cup and yellow center, the Rocky Mountain Columbine was designated Colorado’s official state flower in 1899. The elegant, triadic, color scheme is a perfect fit because the blue symbolizes the sky, white our eternal snow and yellow our rich gold mining history.

Reclusive despite its beauty, the lovely flower favors moist, rocky soil and it prefers to hide along small streams, near an aspen grove or in the shade of a ponderosa pine tree. After an especially wet spring, I find them more showy in the damp gulches where they sway gently in the warm, summer breeze.

Even though the columbine is successfully adapted to growing here, every fall it must still obediently succumb to the natural rhythm of life. We may be descending into the dark season when the fields are barren but I have bittersweet memories of last summer and those vivid buttercups clinging so delicately to the edges of a dusty trail.

Along the edges of a dusty trail

They thrive at high altitude

A magnificent display

Colorado's state flower

Reclusive despite its beauty

A revered wildflower

Showy in a damp gulch

They favor moist, rocky soil

Bittersweet memories

Prefers to hide in the shade

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Deep Snow - Beauty Beyond Comprehension

Deep Snow

On an early-autumn evening, another weather system entombed the valley in blizzard conditions. The precipitation poured down out of the dark sky in a waterfall of huge, white flakes that accumulated indiscriminately onto all exterior surfaces.

A torturous wind whipped down through the meadow, making the intolerable matters much worse. The temperatures crashed to well below freezing and crystallized the foothills into a frozen land of enchantment.

By the next morning, the Rocky Mountains were buried in deep snow while radiating beauty beyond comprehension. Overcast early, the normally rich-hued forest was pared down to black and white.

Ascending the mountain through knee-deep powder was a breath-taking, heart-pounding, sweat-breaking struggle. Upon reaching the summit, blue skies burst through the last remnants of soft cloud cover exposing the storms gorgeous aftermath.

Deep inside the woodland, unavoidable confusion was defined by a wintry mix of strong shadows and filtered sunlight. As the lodgepole pine shook free from their white robes, I got soaked by a cold shower.

From a secluded clearing on the steep hillside, an apparition of gray peaks began to reappear in the vast expanse. The most striking thing about being in the wilderness after a storm is the perfect stillness that exudes an eerie calm.

Going out on a day like that may seem crazy but if I’m going to create honest expressions of the local landscape with pencil and paper, I feel like I have to experience everything the mountains have to offer during the good weather and bad.

While appraising my artwork one day, my college art professor told me that in order to paint the mountains properly, you have to live in the mountains. I took his advice to heart and moved to Colorado, searching for a more personal way to express my passion for the American West.

I’ve lived in the mountains for 30 years now where I’m out in the field every single day no matter what because I want to better understand how snow drapes over the high summits, how rivers shape the lush meadows and how sunlight streams through the deep forests.

A frozen land

Buried in deep snow

Radiating beauty

Inside the woodland

The wilderness after a storm

Good weather and bad

A gorgeous aftermath

The foothills were crystalized

Strong shadows and filtered sunlight

An eerie calm

Blue skies burst through

The gray peaks reappear

Perfect stillness

A passion for the west

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Winter Storm Aubrey - Fall's First Snow

Elk Meadow and Bergen Peak

This year’s first snow was right on schedule as the Front Range Foothills were laid on the fringe of a freak winter storm named Aubrey. It was remarkable because of the precipitous temperature plunge that accompanied the autumnal weather event.

The arctic-cold air bottomed out at a breathtaking seven degrees Fahrenheit while heavy snow fell hard from a steel-gray sky. The flakes were more like icy pellets that piled up on the ground in drifts of gritty powder.

Fortunately, the wind was not a factor as a battle against the north breeze was something that never developed. Blurred edges were an eerie effect produced by the diffused light, exaggerating the atmospheric perspective so prevalent from the apex of a rugged ridgeline.

On the morning after, clear skies unveiled a vision of the countryside in its finest form. Most of the accumulation in the meadow had melted into the warm earth but the big peaks were still plastered with a frosty glaze.

The fleeting mirage was a rare phenomenon that only occurs in late fall when the orange fields, yellow trees, blue foothills and white summits combine to create a sublime kaleidoscope of fading color.

Within a few weeks, the woodland will be abandoned by most visitors but I enjoy spending time in the empty forest during the dark season. Winter in the deserted wilderness is a sanctuary for absorbing nature’s finest details while tramping in a solemn environment of peace and solitude.

First snow was on schedule

A remarkable temperature plunge

The flakes were like pellets

Arctic, cold air

Heavy snowfall

Blurred edges and diffused light

Drifts of powder

Clear skies unveiled a vision

Most of the snow in the meadow had melted

The big peaks had a frosty glaze

A fleeting mirage

A kaleidoscope of color

The wilderness is a sanctuary

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Riverbend Ponds - An Idyllic Locale

Riverbend Ponds in Fort Collins

Nestled below the northern Front Range, Riverbend Ponds is a natural area located on the outskirts of Fort Collins, Colorado. It’s absolutely beautiful this time of year because the surrounding forest is an artist’s palette of autumn colors.

The Poudre River and its nearby collection of crystal-clear ponds is a haven for the 200 different species of birds that pass through this wetlands paradise. Dirt pathways criss-cross between the different lakes offering the spectator a delightful perspective from almost anywhere in the park.

During a quick hike along the looping, main trail there are white pelicans, blue herons, snowy egrets, Canada geese and mallard ducks. The prettiest part of the marshy ecosystem is the razor-sharp reflections that decorate the water’s smooth surface.

The peaceful preserve is an idyllic locale where Longs Peak looms over the picturesque valley. A north wind, characterized by its cold bite, blows down from the big peaks carrying with it a premonition concerning a change in the mild weather - the coming of this fall’s first snow.

A palette of autumn colors

An idyllic locale

The Powder River

A wetlands paradise

Razor-sharp reflections

Fall's first snow is coming

Monday, October 7, 2019

River Landscape - Colored Pencil Drawing

"River Landscape" Colored Pencil

High in the northern mountains, a slow-moving storm has settled in a secluded river valley. Heavy, low-hanging clouds are beginning to consume the purple peaks and it won’t be long before the entire landscape is devoured by a snowy whiteout.

Down below the disappearing mountains, the dark woodland is a menacing border enclosing the billowy moraine. The meadow is a verdant field during the summer but here it’s gradually turning golden brown.

In an aggressive prelude to the drama that is about to unfold, the red willows are portrayed as separate sections of simplified form. The fallen grasses droop forlornly over the muddy riverbank, reinforcing the picture’s already melancholy mood.

You can feel the spirit of freedom in this wild country where the unpredictable elements are beyond your control. Some of the most spectacular scenes occur in the ethereal light characterized by bad weather conditions.

I admire the resiliency of the immoveable boulders that have been polished smooth by the powerful current of a mighty river. The glistening rocks somehow manage to survive even while trapped in the midst of troubled water.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

An Autumn Excursion - The Season of Change

An autumn excursion

September is an unpredictable month that is sometimes warm and sunny, sometimes cold and windy. It’s that slice of the year when the people, plants and wildlife are in an urgent transition as they prepare for the inevitable winter hardships.

The weather this fall in the foothills has been mild so the dried grasses are a warm mixture of orange and brown. Most of the aspen trees are just beginning to change but in the deepest, darkest drainages, the groves are glowing bright yellow.

During our last excursion, along the forest’s edge, we watched as a herd of elk grazed heartily while the bull bugled theatrically. A family of Abert’s squirrels gathered food furiously and horded it safely in the heights of a ponderosa pine.

Most of the birds are gone but a few will stay through the cold including the hardy red-tailed hawk who will extract voles directly out of the snow. It must be the finches’ favorite time of the year as they feed on the seed-bearing thistle that thrives in the meadowlands below.

In the low light of a morning’s unblemished blue sky, the harvest moon still hovers over the mountain landscape. The structured ridge line is an idyllic setting that has served as the main subject for many pictures.

After such a short summer, I want everything to stay the same but I know that it’s just wishful thinking. I’m a rigid creature of consistency, stability and routine so I don’t deal very well with this - The Season of Change.

Seed-bearing thistle

Mild weather in the foothills

Along the forest's edge

The moon hovers over the mountains

Most of the aspen are beginning to change

Some groves are glowing

A short summer

The season of change

Abert's squirrel

Elk herd

Red-tailed hawk