Posts Tagged ‘South Fork’

Decompressing After a Satisfying Day

June 29, 2016

pine (2)

The virtue of art lies in detachment, in sequestering one object from the embarrassing variety.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Art”


When I began plein air painting about seven years ago, the first lesson I had to learn was to abstract from the visible world that overpowered my vision and intimidated me before my easel.  Robert Motherwell wrote that “abstract” comes from a Latin word meaning “to take from”, and that a painter abstracts every time s/he selects an object and reconstructs it on a two-dimensional surface.

When I stepped out of my vehicle at South Fork, Colorado last weekend, I was overwhelmed at the complex beauty of this mountain environment that I have enjoyed for over a decade now. This was the first time I was determined not only to bring along my art supplies, but to give plein air just as much attention as trout fishing.

The first object I selected was a solitary pine tree directly in front of my cabin porch.  I sketched it in pencil the first afternoon I was here, and mosquitoes chewed me up as I worked quickly.  After several subsequent days of sketching forests and mountain bluffs, I returned to this lone pine and gave it my full attention after lunch today with my friends.

Annie Dillard’s references to the “color patch” in her excellent book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek flooded my consciousness this afternoon as I stared at this tree and attempted to capture the colors threading through the bark and the limbs.  Much of what Annie wrote about the “color patch” reminded me of ideas gleaned from Paul Cezanne and Camille Pissarro in the early days of French Impressionism.  The longer I stared at this tree bark the more amused I was at recalling Jasper Johns’s statement that an artist paints things that other people look at but never see.  It was true that I was indeed seeing the bark of a pine tree for the first time up close in concentrated study. I still have so much to learn.

Looking back over this past week, I can honestly say that I have not been as successful fly fishing in the stream as I’ve been in previous years here, but I’m willing to chalk that up to high waters and very fast currents.  I refuse to feel badly about that because I am delighted that I’ve had the finest opportunities for plein air painting, and I’m so glad I took advantage of those opportunities.  I feel I have learned a great deal, just as I did recently while spending a week on the island in the Laguna Madre.  I’m certain that my studio work will improve as a  result.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.


Two Splendor-Filled Colorado Days

June 29, 2016

Darr 6

Poets talk about “spots in time,” but it is really fishermen who experience eternity compressed into a moment.

Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

A cool, hard-driving mountain rain has driven me back indoors after a day and a half of fly fishing and plein air painting.  So, I’m going to record some of the wonders that have come my way since my last posting.

I rose early yesterday morning to see a group of men standing in the stretch of waters below my cabin, casting spinning reeels in all directions with lures flashing so large I could see them at 100 yards. They talked so loudly I could hear every word from inside my dwelling.   I had planned to enter that space myself, but realized it would be awhile before the area settled down.  So . . . making coffee, I sat at my kitchen table and did some necessary tasks–rebuilding my tapered leader that has taken a beating over recent years. The nine-foot leader had been chewed down to about five feet.  Finding some 3x tippet, I spliced three more feet onto it, then added another two feet of 5x tippet to get the leader back to its desired length.

Hearing the continuing clattering conversation of the three clowns below who were catching nothing, but slashing the hell out of that stretch of water, I decided to make some decisions while sorting through my flybox.  I tied on an elk-hair caddis dry fly, rubbed flotation fluid into its hackles, then added another 18″ of 5x tippet, tying it onto the bend of the hook, and finally tied on a bead-headed Copper John nymph.

Out on the porch, I pulled on my waders and boots, and seeing that the men were still busy thrashing the waters, I decided to hike 200 yards downstream where the river was deeper, darker, and much swifter.  The wading proved treacherous and arduous, and I hadn’t forgotten the soaking I took last Saturday when I tried to navigate these waters.  I did manage to work a couple of decent stretches of stream, managing only a couple of strikes on the dry fly, which I missed, having too much slack in my line.

Finally, the last man left my preferred stretch, so I waded slowly upstream to a marvelously wide, sun-filled flat stretch of shallow riffles.

open waters (2)

The voices of the subterranean river in the shadows were different from the voices of the sunlit river ahead.  In the shadows against the cliff the river was deep and engaged in profundities, circling back on itself now and then to say things over to be sure it had understood itself.  But the river ahead came out into the sunny world like a chatterbox, doing its best to be friendly.  It bowed to one shore and then to the other so nothing would feel neglected.

Norman MacleanA River Runs Through It

Darr 4

It took very little time to land three brown trout, all of them under ten inches, but I was thrilled to see them all take the dry fly.  Though the fish were small, the waters exploded every time they took the surface fly.

small trout

Realizing the sinking nymph was getting no action, I clipped it off, then continued to move upstream, fishing the dry fly only.  For about an hour, I managed to miss about ten strikes, most of them large browns, because I could not strip the slack out of my line quickly enough.  The waters are still very high and fast.  The snow melt is still running its course.  I’ve never before seen so many snow packs in the mountains this time of year in Colorado.  Nevertheless, I found my time on the river very intoxicating, as I listened to the waters flowing swiftly over the smooth rocks.  The wonderful thing about the cabin where I am staying is that it is so close to the river that I hear the sounds of the rushing waters around the clock.  They soothe me to sleep every night, and greet me in my first waking moment of the following morning.

The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time.  On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words and some of the words are theirs.

Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

Today I decided to put off my river excursion until this evening and instead focus on plein air painting throughout the morning and early afternoon.  (Now that the hard rains have arrived, I question whether I’ll get to enter the river today at all.  We’ll see.)  From where I am residing, I look daily across Highway 160 at this line of towering bluffs, and am fascinated with the striations in the rocks as well as the trees that crown them.  The sky constantly shifts back and forth from deep clear blue to cloud-stuffed.  I managed three quick watercolor sketches today on 140# stretched D’Arches cold-pressed paper.  I tried to begin a fourth, because the dark storm clouds framed up a deep colorful composition along the bluffs.  However, I needed to stretch more paper, and after stretching three more surfaces, the first of the hard raindrops fell, and I had to scurry back into the cabin with all my supplies.

bluff in pochade box (2)

number two (2)

number three (2)

three watercolors (2)

The rain has ceased and the Colorado landscape is showing some light once again.  I began a watercolor sketch of the pine tree in front of my porch a few days ago, but never returned to it.  I’m going to resume it now, and see if I can get back into the stream later.

Thanks for reading.  It’s been a magnificent pair of days.

I paint in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.




Fly Fishing Watercolor nearly finished, Halloween 2010

October 31, 2010

Fly Fishing in South Fork, Colorado

After letting this one sit for several months, I took it out this evening, hoping to finish it.  I have another festival coming in two weeks, and would love to complete some of my unfinished pieces lurking in the shadows of my disheveled studio.  This started out as a poured watercolor, and I’m trying to ease off on the brushwork, not wishing to wipe out some of the wonderful accidental effects that came from pouring and salting, mostly on the water and in the background thicket.

Compared to my other works, this is a larger piece, measuring 18 x 24″.  I need to get comfortable once again with larger watercolors.  I’ve been working the 9 x 12″ size for about a year, and fear that I’ve gotten too comfortable there.  I guess that’s a major feature of success in creating art–breaking out of those restrictive “comfort” areas.

Thank you for reading.


Unmasking the Fly Fishing Watercolor, July 8, 2010

July 8, 2010

South Fork, Colorado 1

Southfork 2

Southfork 3

Southfork 4

Southfork 4

I’ve just peeled away all the masking fluid from this piece, and to say I’m excited about what has come to light is an understatement.  I have finally learned how to draw with masking fluid, indeed even to paint with masking fluid.  For years all I had to show from masking was blobs of white on the paper that had to be “doctored.”  Now I pause, because I’m not sure exactly how to render all these white areas.  But I’ll figure out something.


Fly Fishing poured watercolor, July 8, 2010

July 8, 2010

South Fork Flyfishing 2

My studio time has been interrupted daily, but I think that is turning out to be a good thing.  This is a poured watercolor, and I have to walk away from it when it gets all wet and soupy.  It takes a long time for the puddles of watercolor to set and dry, and then I return and glaze over them, and then walk away again.  I think the interruptions have been good.

I like reading of how Andrew Wyeth took months and months to complete a single painting, because he required plenty of “composting” time to look at the composition from different angles and on different days.  It took him a long time to decide whether to go on or sign the painting and leave it.  This is what is happening with this one–I’m looking at it daily, and deciding where to go next with it.  It helps also that I have three other large paintings in progress; sometimes I just work on one of the others, and it also comes with its own set of problems, perspectives, decisions, etc.  So, in this instance, the daily interruptions of business and errands are a good thing–they are helping keep these new paintings fresh.

This particular piece I am truly getting lost in, and enjoying the experience.  Pouring, salting, scraping, dabbing with tissue–all of those instances are proving to be fun to watch.  And then there’s the brush work, the pencil work, the water-soluble graphite pencils, watercolor pencils and all the other wonderful paraphernalia that is sold to watercolor enthusiasts.  And infinite thanks goes to my Eureka Springs Plein Air students of last month who introduced me to the masquepen!  Wow!  All these years I have wrestled (and often lost) with those darned bottles of Art Masking Fluid!  Now I find a masking solution that is applied as if with a pen nib.  What a wonderful tool!

Well, I have to go to a gallery now and submit work for a show Saturday night.  But I will be back, with enthusiasm.

Thanks for reading.