I've been going up to Tumamoc Hill to paint for several years now. I've painted in wind, drizzle, cold and heat. But today was perfect. Great weather with just a touch of a breeze. Here is todays one hour painting.
The Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail is a 1,210-mile (1,950 km) National Park Service unit in the United States National Historic Trail and National Millennium Trail programs. The trail route extends from Nogales on the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona, through the California desert and coastal areas in Southern California and the Central Coast region to San Francisco. Here are a few details of illustrations I've done for some of the signs along the trail.
Talk around the campfire
Father Garces instructing the women
In 1775 Anza took 3 Frairs and hundreds of soldiers and colonists with their families. They took 695 horses and mules, 385 Texas Longhorn bulls and cows with them —starting the cattle and horse industry in California. In California the cattle and horses had few enemies and plentiful grass in all but drought years and essentially grew and multiplied as feral animals – doubling roughly every two years. They started from Tubac Arizona on October 22, 1775 and arrived at San Francisco Bay on March 28, 1776. There they established the Presidio of San Francisco, followed by Mission San Francisco de Asís (Mission Dolores) – the future city of San Francisco, My earlier post on the Anza Trail is here.
I first discovered Jan Van Eyck when I was about twelve years old. I fell in love with his paintings and I remember begging my mother to buy me a book about him. She did and I still have the book to this day. In the last almost fifty years since then I have studied lots of types and styles of painting: Abstract, Impressionism, Hyper Realism, Scientific Illustration, Natural History, Portrait, Botanical, Landscape. But still to this day, my favorite painter is still Jan Van Eyck. And in fact, you can find almost all of the above listed styles embodied in his paintings. Especially if you look close. Here are a couple of studies I did of his drapery.
The hilltop next to the Desert Lab with the slopes of Tumamoc in the background. There are lots of saguaros on Tumamoc. Saguaro cactus are found only in the Sonoran Desert and can live to be over 200 years old.
acrylic on panel
The finest bits of desert in the Tucson Region seem like some immense botanical garden...
widely dissimilar plants that ... are mingled with each other in matchless landscape effects.
The latest in my ongoing series of Anza paintings.
oil on panel
In 1775 Juan Bautista de Anza took 300 settlers from New Spain up into present day California and founded the city of San Fransisco. This city was named after Saint Francis who was patron saint of the expedition.
Trichocereus hybrids, sometimes called torch cacti, put on magnificent displays of large, brilliant flowers in early May. Collectors will throw impromptu parties when all their plants bloom on the same day. Although Trichocereus is not native to the U.S. (they are from South America) you can see them blooming all over Tucson in gardens, yards, containers and office buildings.
My painting of a juvenile Pygmy Owl - the bird that helped launch the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. As Tucson keeps growing out into the desert, Pygmy Owl habitat has been destroyed. Pima County launched a conservation plan to protect it and other plant and animal species in the Sonoran desert. This little birdie has just left the nest.
A painting of Soldados crossing the Santa Cruz river. In 1775 Juan Bautista de Anza took 300 settlers from New Spain up into present day California and founded the city of San Fransisco after Saint Francis who was patron saint of the expedition. I have been painting scenes like this for over 15 years for the National Park Service, City of Marana, Arizona DOT and Pima County. Most are used as signs along the Anza Trail as it winds through Arizona and California. The current paintings are for galleries and illustrations for a book I'm writing on the expedition.
I was truly inspired by the spectacular show of Palo Verde trees blooming this spring in Tucson. I can see why it is the state tree of Arizona as it totally dominates this part of the Sonoran Desert. This is one of a series of Palo Verde paintings that I've painted since then. I paint all I can on location, and also take a ton of photos for later work in my studio.
One of my favorite places on earth is Saguaro National Park West near the Tucson mountains. It is a truly magical place. Palo Verde trees are a nurse plant for saguaro cactus. Saguaro seeds often germinate under the tree and are protected from harsh sun and temps until the cactus is large enough to survive on its on. Thats why you often see a saguaro and Palo Verde together.
Tumamoc Hill is one of my favorite places to paint. It is a Sonoran Desert preserve, historical landmark, and archeological preserve surrounded by urban Tucson. I've been going up to Tumamoc Hill regularly to make quick on-location paint sketches. In these sketches I am paying close attention to getting the subtle colors of the "desert palette" which I can only get from on-location painting. Even the best reference photos distort the true colors of the desert. This is a studio painting using my on location sketch as reference.
I'm continuing a series of small still life paintings. This one is a small metal shaman figure I bought in Ouray along with some of my milky quartz crystals. I like the almost pure black and white values in this one. Just a little burnt umber and a tiny bit of yellow ochre for the wood table.
Its monsoon time in Tucson. Amazing storms with high winds, lightening and precious rain. Its really my favorite season here. Everything springs back to life after the very hot and dry early summer. Here are a couple of monsoon sketches. Both casein on panel - 5x7 inches.
One reason I love living in Tucson is that the Gem and Mineral Show comes to town every February. Amazing rock specimens from all over the world all come almost to my doorstep. I have collected a lot of interesting crystals, minerals and objects de arte over the years. Below are a few recent still life paintings with some of my quartz crystals and Zuni fetishes.
Acrylic on panel, 8x10
Geode slice and Fetish
Acrylic on panel, 5x7
Jet Black Bear Fetish
Acrylic on panel, 5x7
Acrylic on panel 5x7
Something that has always bothered me about acrylic paint is that it is a bit translucent. Its hard to get really opaque brush strokes without getting into heavy imposto. I love painting with gauche and casein because the paint can be very opaque. This is really helpful for doing fast sketches and on-location plein-aire painting. With acrylic its hard to get the same opacity. Recently I had one of those "duh" moments and realized that I should quit fighting the translucency of acrylics and embrace it. So I started using glazing medium and soft water washes to build up layers of paint. This technique gives me complete control of luminosity, color and value in my painting. It is definitely not a spontaneous type of painting, but for for me is more like a zen meditation, allowing me to merge into the painting and fine tune it. I've found that I like casein and oils for a more spontaneous approach. You can see that style in my on-location Tumamoc sketches done in casein, and the cactus flowers done in oils.
I got my BFA from the University of Arizona. I painted this self portrait for a college illustration class assignment in '76. I still use it on my Facebook page, even though my beard is all white now...
Tumamoc Hill is one of my favorite places to paint. I've been going up to Tumamoc Hill regularly to make quick on-location paint sketches. All are painted with Casein on 9" x 12" Strathmore paper.
In these paintings, I am paying close attention to getting the subtle colors of the "desert pallete" which I can only get from on-location painting. Even the best reference photos distort the true colors of the desert. Often, I take these sketches back to my studio and create a full blown oil painting using these as reference.
I always learn a lot when I work on historic and science illustrations. I did a lot of research for this one. I talked to scientists, historians, engineers and my Tohono O'odham friends and I learned that Tucson may have the oldest irrigation canals in North America. This irrigation technology was most likely developed right here in the Santa Cruz River valley. This illustration traces the use of water here for the last 4000 years.
This a view inside the old Presidio of Tucson circa 1800. The Presidio was built as protection from hostile Apache raids in the late 1700s. This is the birthplace of the city of Tucson. Although the old adobe wall is gone, there is a recreation on location at the north east end of the old site. I painted a 50 foot mural there in 2007.
This is an illustration of some of the historic houses on Main Avenue north of downtown Tucson. My son Dan did the photos and a lot of the photoshop work on this one.
I did everything on these signs: concept, illustration, design and layout, and prep for printing.
From 1998 through 2007, I created literally hundreds of illustrations for Pima County's Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. I painted everything from native plants and animals to ancient pottery and entire ecosystems. Here is tiny fraction of that body of art:
Each individual item was painted with acrylic on paper. I then scanned them, opened them in Photoshop and used some of them over in multiple illustrations. For instance, the Longhorn sheep is in two of the illustrations here.