10/03/2015

Yosemite & The High Sierras, 2015

This past July, I went with my family to the fabulous Yosemite National Park, Lake Mammoth, and Bodie. It was a family trip that was packed with activities and endless inspiration all around. Yet we were surprised when the hot, dry heat suddenly turned to RAIN, THUNDER, LIGHTING, HAIL, and SNOW! In fact, the Tioga Pass had to be closed one night due to snow and slick conditions along the windy, high elevation road.

The weather curbed my painting time since my pastel kit would have melted if gotten wet. I regretted not having brought my oil kit, which can work in any weather. Because of the weather, I managed to sneak in just a few studies, mostly under the threat of rain or the watchful eyes of aggressive squirrels and scrub jays looking for a handout.

One hot, semi-rainy afternoon in Yosemite I went out a long the Mirror Lake trail. I was completely blown away by the massive moss covered granite boulders and pine trees everywhere. 


The scale alone is impressive! 


I stopped along the way off the path in a quiet spot from the huge crowds on the trail, spreading out my pastel kit on my oil cloth picnic blanket only to be visited by two squirrels who came right up to my backpack and sniffed around. 


On another day out we all went along the Vernal Falls trail, which is mostly uphill. It was fortunately a bright, hot, sunny day with great light. On the way back down the trail I climbed up some rocks, found a nice spot and painted this quick 45 minute study. 



I ended up spending more time along the Mirror Lake trail since it had great views of the North face of Half Dome.


This view (above) is the base of Half Dome, while the painting below is a study of the entire North face of Half Dome, a different view of the usual one we see in photos of the park. 


After a full week bike-riding, playing, hiking, and laughing around Camp Curry, we left to make the long drive up to Mammoth Lake, stopping at the historic gold rush ghost town Bodie. A massive thunderstorm was on it's way, making it impossible to do any sketching.

We eventually made our way to a cabin deep in the Mammoth Lakes area near Lake Mamie. We took a shuttle up to the Mammoth Adventure Center, where I found some a-frame chalet style cabins I wanted to paint. 


Just as I was finishing rain drops started to hit the paper, and I raced to cover it all up. 


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What I missed in plein air time I made up for in art viewing.  Hanging on the walls of the famous Ahwahnee hotel is a collection of gorgeous Gunnar Widforss watercolors that are worth checking out, along with the collections of Native American baskets, stained glass windows and hanging textiles. 

The Ansel Adams Gallery on the Yosemite grounds is really more of a store but underneath large prints of his work hanging on the walls, beautiful books, prints and postcards of his work can be bought there. 

I think my favorite art viewing place in all of Yosemite was a small gallery that contained a collection of paintings by 19th and 20th century artists who painted around the valley floor after the landscape was designated as protected by Abraham Lincoln. 

Below is a painting, "Yosemite Valley, Winter" by William Keith (1838-1911) that I looked at for some time. I am always amazed at how little detail an artist can get away with and still create a landscape that says everything it needs to. It also made me really want to visit the valley floor in snowy winter!


The brushy strokes of the trees are so simple. I've painted tons of trees and I have yet to achieve the gesture of one that is as effective as these trees in this snowy landscape.


Careful gestures of the figures and horses - not too much over modeling.



On a plaque next to this Thomas Moran painting (below) was this description:

Thomas Moran joined the Hayden Expedition to Yellowstone and traveled at his own expense to record the landscapes along their route. His paintings and the photographs of William Jackson were used to persuade Congress to protect Yellowstone, much as Carleton Watkins' Yosemite photographs had been used in 1864. He continued to interpret western landscapes - including Yosemite and the Grand Canyon - throughout his life, often on a grand scale. His daughter donated many of his works to the Yosemite Park after his death, and these pieces are now part of the collection of several national parks. 



This Andreas Roth (1872 - 1949) painting impressed me up close when I looked at his brush work. "Inspiration Point, 1933. 


Again, groupings of trees painted with simple masses. I love the negative painting in the shadow areas that create the look of tree trunks too. You see that a lot in watercolor but I've not seen it in oils very often.



I love the washy transparent masses of trees in the distance against the more opaque foreground tree. Works so well.


The watercolors of Gunnar Widforss (1879-1934) are always amazing to me for just the technique alone. The description says they were painted on pebble mat board. It seems the focus of Widforss' work was texture of things like trees, plants, rocks, almost pattern like in their treatment. "Halfdome in Autumn", 1923




Frederick Schafer (1839-1927), "Morning in Yosemite Valley, Cal.", 1887



At first this Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) painting, below, appeared to both my dad and I a bit overly dramatic, but when I looked at it further I began to appreciate the masterful vignettes within the larger painting.  "Night at the Valley View", 1864






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When we went up to Mammoth we stayed at a little cabin that had a nice porch area. On a few showery days my nephews and I sat out on the porch drawing and painting in our sketchbooks. What a cool experience to spend in sketching sessions with your own family. Nothing could be more fun!


Thanks for reading!