Plein Air at Papago Park

Mixed media plein air study, Papago Park, March 2017

Much better experience with plein air the second time out! A friend and I went to Papago Park in Phoenix in March, and fought high winds to paint the rounded red rocks and desert scenery that is next to the Phoenix Zoo, as well as the Botanical Gardens. At some point it just got too windy, our stuff was flying all over, but we each did some work. I did two and this was the better of them. Here’s some of the scenery:

“Hole in the rock” is a popular urban hiking trail.

We may revisit this spot another time, where we can see the hole from our painting vantage point. We were off to the side of it this time. I haven’t climbed up to the hole since I was in my teens or maybe early 20’s, but want to check it out again next time.

Panoramic shot of Papago Park.

The little painting was done on a SOHO cardboard painting panel (8×10 in.) that I had coated with thinned down white gesso days before. I wanted the surface to have a little “tooth” because I wasn’t sure in advance if I’d just draw, or mix painting and drawing. This ended up being done with acrylic paint watered down a bit to be more like a watercolor wash, (leaves the surface’s tooth intact), and Inktense colored pencil, (any dark shade should do; I used “bark”). This was a very limited palette of SOHO alizarin crimson, and one of SOHO’s light yellows comparable to cad yellow light, and Golden ultramarine blue, and some kind of sap green I think but didn’t really need it. I also didn’t end up using much of the manganese blue I’d taken.

I painted very quickly and loosely, going for big general shapes and blocks of light and shadow. After the last time at Brown’s Ranch, where I had “information overload” from all the details to see, I had vowed to take off my glasses if necessary, to filter out the noise and just go for the basics!

The Inktense pencil was great for roughly sketching in some of the branchy marks where there were trees and bushes, and I just blobbed some mixed greens where the bulk of the tree forms were in the foreground. Inktense is a richly pigmented water soluble colored pencil brand. With a wet brush you can get ink and wash like effects or tone underpainted washes, besides doing line work.

The sky changed so fast that I didn’t focus on any particular clouds but just put grayish, blue, or white, where I wanted it and didn’t worry about it. Using the paint both transparently, and opaquely, I was able to alter things a bit if I didn’t like it as it went along.

By the end, the whole surface was still pretty toothy and I could’ve continued working on it at home, even with pencils, but decided to just keep it as is and move on. It’s the first plein air study I’m satisfied with, so far.

Because I wasn’t sure if the Inktense would smear, I didn’t seal this with brushed on acrylic like GAC 100 like I normally do with paintings. A spray was called for so I used an archival aerosol satin varnish. I don’t like using that kind of product because of the chemical solvents etc, so a can of it lasts me a LONG time. Now it’s almost gone, so I’ll seek out a more environmentally friendly version soon.

Anyone have any favorite less-toxic spray finishes?

Papago isn’t far from where I live so future trips are pretty likely.

The making of Cooties

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COOTIES, mixed media, 10 x 8 inches.

This started as a sketch on colored art paper while watching TV with my husband and our birds. I liked the way it came out, so later in the studio, I mounted it to a rigid wood type painting panel, added cut out letters from magazines, etc, and enhanced it with more colored pencils and thin washes of acrylic paint.  After I was happy with it, I sealed it with a few coats of clear acrylic. This makes it possible to frame it without glass, even though it’s on paper.  Below is a shot of it in progress.

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Cooties in progress.