When out in the field, I think about building my “palette of place”: my vocabulary of color, climate, and stories. People often ask if I work from photos and I do, but field work is integral to my process. Sketching and painting outdoors allows me to look at my surroundings closely and from different perspectives. I come back to my studio with my field and notes and can develop them, sometimes with photo references, into a painting grounded in my original inspiration.
One painting that was great fun to realize is my “Easton Icefall” watercolor. My original inspiration comes from the Easton glacier on Mt. Baker in the North Cascades Mountain Range of Washington state. Over the past two years I’ve made several trips to Mt. Baker, one with the North Cascades Glacier Climate Project and others with Girls on Ice, an awesome program for high school girls to learn about glaciology, mountaineering, and art. Last summer while out on the glacier with Girls on Ice, we took a break while all roped up to sketch this icefall. Part of what fascinates me about rock and ice are the abstract patterns made of big shapes and shadows. While sitting on my pack, I made a quick sketch using pen, watercolor, and white gouache on a light blue Canson Mi-Tiente paper. I often use these media outdoors since they’re portable and dry quickly.
Once back home in my studio, I leafed through my sketches and notes and recalled the large, blocky shapes of the icefall and the deep blues. I looked through my photos and experimented with cropping this one in photoshop. (I also use the program to render my photos black and white and often “posterize” images to simplify them). After I had a rough idea of a composition, I made small value sketches, considering my darkest dark, mid-value, and brights. The small sketch below was my favorite. Next came the challenge of painting the composition larger and deciding on my palette.
Studio watercolors often take me several “go’s” until I am satisfied, and this one took three. I was so enamored with the dark intensity of my thumbnail sketch that I initially tried painting dark skies. The darker palette did not resonate with me, though, and I moved into a lighter palette based around the Daniel Smith paints cerulean blue, cobalt turquoise, and pthalo blues. Patience was key for my final painting to allow the large washes of the sky and big ice shapes to dry. Waiting is always the hardest part of watercolor painting for me! I try to work on multiple pieces at once or will go make some tea… or take a walk to resist fiddling. And when is a painting “done”? When my small changes cease to make a difference… and before I overdo them! It’s a fine line. Like this painting? Prints are available in my shop.