Sunday, February 14, 2016

Drawing the Grand Canyon

For years I've admired the paintings of Gunnar Widforss, a watercolor painter who did the best Grand Canyon scenes ever, in my opinion.  His work is flawless and a lesson to me on shadow and light.  I love to sit and look at it and soak up his amazing instinct for his subject.  His paintings made the Grand Canyon, among other wild places, look easy to capture. I guess the sign of a real master is making one's craft look effortless. Widforss was a master.
The first Widforss painting I ever saw, I couldn't take my eyes off of it- I can see no re-worked passages, no muddy areas, no hesitation.  
 The first time I saw the Grand Canyon as an adult was two years ago.  We parked in the lot at the South Rim and strolled up to the edge. I was looking at my feet as we approached it so I could take it in all at once.  As I raised my eyes and looked, I burst into tears!  I had never seen anything so overwhelming or magnificent in my life.  I felt silly losing emotional control like that and couldn't look at the strangers around- what I was feeling was too private and sudden.  I've wondered about that reaction since then and have heard others say it hit them the same way. Experiencing something so much bigger than oneself sort of puts life into perspective, I guess.
Not only has Widforss captured a very complex scene, his color temperatures are fantastic.  The cool and warm tones together make this one of my favorite.

Of course, I wanted to paint it right away.  We toured for most of the day, then towards late afternoon I got my sketch kit out of the car and crawled on my belly to an edge and began to work.  I tried to work, I should say.  I couldn't do it.  I couldn't even get a line or shape to make sense on the page.  I tried to get the local color, but even that was beyond my skills.  Finally, packing up my bag, I gave up.  And took pictures.  Hundreds of them.
This is what I got as I sat on the edge of a rock and tried to draw what I saw. As you can see, I couldn't make sense of it.  So complex, the Grand Canyon has taken me some real processing to work up the nerve to try and put it on paper.
 At home, I tried to start a painting from a photo, but was quickly overwhelmed by it.  I zoomed in with my computer and started again.  No deal.  I've never tried to draw anything so complex in my life.  Since then, I've been looking at my photos and wondering how to understand this so I can draw it.  I think I finally came up with a solution.

Instead of getting lost in the hundreds of side canyons and gullies, I'm only drawing outside shapes of each section.  I figured if I can get the basic shapes blocked in, I can do this thing.  As I go, I've lightly sketched in a few reference points for each mountain with "l" or "s" marked in them to help me remember light and shadow areas.  It's working.  I have a couple of hours of drawing and figuring to go still, but for the first time it's making sense to my eye.  I might get this.

Thanks for stopping by! Alice

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