A Teachable Moment for the Teacher

October 31- Nov 2

I had a wonderful group of friendly, curious, eager Grand Canyon Trust members who came out to Kane Ranch for a watercolor workshop at the end of my stay there. Many teachers’ valuable voices ring in my head, so I made it my goal to do the same for these folks.

“What is ‘The What?’” (Thanks Cathy Gill). Or as I now put it, “why is should this be a painting and not a photograph? What is it I am bringing to it?”

We did a color intermixing exercise first, and then painted fruits and vegetables. Kate said, “This pepper is voluptuous!” And lo, her painting was rich with passionate color, and bright with reserved whites of the paper.

“Put it down and leave it alone.”

“Nature doesn’t come out of the end of a tube.” That is, most pigments for color in the landscape need to be modified — greyed or softened — for one reason or another.

“Beautiful Paint” (Thanks, Tom Hoffmann and Jonelle Johnson)

“You can lie.” (Thanks, Spike Ress). That is, YOU are the master of the picture, you are not a slave to reality. If the tent looks better closer to Saddle Mountain than it is, make it so.

“Perfection is not my goal. Let it go.” My friend Kate Barber exemplifies this philosophy of painting. Many of us want to learn this in life as well as painting!

“Br-r-rush Str-o-u-kes” (Thanks Alvaro Castagnet. You have to imagine the mix of Uruguayan and Australian accents.)

The real revelation for me was how much my own painting improved while I was giving demos. Repeating these mantras reminded me of everything I know but often lose sight of in the intensity of capturing the scene. I intentionally don’t teach much – life is short and at my age I don’t have a long career ahead of me. I selfishly want to devote as much time as I can to actually painting. But this experience might change my perception!

Suze Woolf watercolor painting of Kane Ranch, Arizona

Kane Ranch from the south, watercolor on paper, 11″ x 15″ This early-morning plein air piece turned into a spontaneous demo. It was windy enough that I stood in the lee of the platform tents, and alas, the wind built all day — not ideal for a landscape painting workshop!

Echo Cliffs Sunrise

Echo Cliffs Sunrise, watercolor on paper, 11″ x 15″. We spent a lot of time observing the cloud formations, figuring out how to convey them without rendering them literally. (Always difficult, since they change so fast around House Rock Valley!)

Driving

October 25

One of the hazards of this area is the sharp Kaibab limestone rocks on the back roads. I fear for my tires. I heard from the owner of Willow Canyon (the oh-so welcoming espresso stand/bookstore/gear emporium in Kanab UT) that the GC backcountry rangers assume 2 flats within 10,000 miles, and 4 by 20,000. (I might have the numbers wrong but you get the idea.) With only one spare I was apprehensive on every drive. So there were a number of places where I gave up and turned around.

But I made it to the Triple Alcove, East Rim and some of the Buck Farm Wash overlooks. It was an emotional moment to stand above the places I’d been in 2010 and look down on The River. Once  through a cleft I saw a raft working its way downstream and I wondered if they could distinguish a watcher on the rim.

Photograph of Suze Woolf painting of the Grand Canyon

Looking south from Buck Farm Wash, watercolor on paper, 15″ x 11″ (and already sold ; – )

And in the Folly-of-Man category I saw the remnant enormous eye-bolts used in preliminary tests for the Marble Canyon dam that was, thankfully, never built. This was the battle that brought David Brower to national prominence (cf. Encounters with the Archdruid). I hope that we will do as well with the Trust’s issues of our day – grazing, public lands policy, threats to the watershed, and alas, many others.

The Wave and Beyond

October 24

My hosts included me on a special-permit trip into the famous Wave formation on North Coyote Buttes. So I made my pilgrimage to that celebrated spot in the company of 3 botanists on a mapping/collecting mission. Normally it requires a reservation long in advance or a win in the previous day’s lottery to be one of the 20 people allowed in daily.

It is indeed a world-class spot—but there are so many spots even in the immediate vicinity. From The Wave we climbed up to the top of the butte to view “The Alcove,” – a wind-scooped, semi-circular, light-bounced, fluted cave with its own resident sand dune; then we went along to “Melody Arch,” – really two arches with a picture window out to the north-east. Along the way we traversed ponds full of primitive life, dried waterpockets with oceans of tiny moki marbles (spherical ironstone concretions), gnarled weathered sandstone looking like crumpled paper, and finally a short, purple, slot canyon exit.

A long day: as near as I can tell, botany is as good a rationale for wandering around looking at stuff as geology or painting ; – )

The three botanists wayfinding across Coyote Buttes

The three botanists wayfinding across Coyote Buttes

Portrait of Suze Woolf in Utah canyon, "The Wave"

The usual Wave photo

Trilobite descendent? About 1/2 to 1-inch long...

Trilobite descendent? About 1/2 to 1-inch long…

Sand Cove Slot - a short canyon in the wash below the Wave

Sand Cove Slot – a short canyon in the wash below the Wave, watercolor on paper 11″ x 15″

Glen Canyon

October 22

I join friends for a boat ride upriver. I fill my entire camera card with photos. It was like a mini-Grand Canyon raft trip, similar spectacular scenery but louder and without all the sand in your food. Ospreys and herons every quarter-mile. However it is well-beloved of fishermen and duck hunters; unlike the Grand Canyon solitude is unlikely. And it was bizarre to round the last corner and see the dam. Also strange to see the Colorado so clear and green: because it’s coming out of the bottom of Lake Powell it lacks the silt and sediment of its enormous watershed. I am reading Tim Egan’s Lasso the Wind; he reminds me of the great irony of the lake behind it named for John Wesley Powell, who argued for climate-appropriate development in the arid southwest and failed.

Photo of Glen Canyon Dam from the Colorado River

Glen Canyon Dam from the Colorado River

 

45-minute sketch of a buttress in Glenn Canyon

45-minute sketch of a buttress in Glenn Canyon

Suze Woolf painting in Glen Canyon AZ

Painting on the beach in Glen Canyon

 

The North Cascades with Color*

October 21

While hiking in the lower Paria River canyon I make the classic tourist mistake. I was boosting myself up a sand bank after crossing the river and put my hand down on a small cactus. In my own defense all the flooding in September covered many surfaces with a layer of grey mud that made it more difficult to see such things. I got most of the needles out with my trusty Swiss Army knife tweezers.

At one point I came around a corner to behold a set of tall towers with giant sand dunes in front of them. I sat down to paint and literally watched the colors change before my eyes. When I began the cliffs and towers were a deep vermilion; within 20 minutes they became a red-brown. Sun angle? Eye fatigue? I don’t know. In any case, I was so struck by these familiar shapes – change the Navaho sandstone to granite and the sand dunes to snow, and they could be the Alps or my own North Cascades.

Suze Woolf watercolor painting, "Lower Paria Towers"

Lower Paria Towers, watercolor on paper, 11″ x 15″

*It is a long-standing joke that Zion National Park is “like Yosemite but with color.”

 

Archeology, Near and Far

October 18

Today just inside the SW ranch gate I found a dried-out old Pink Pearl eraser and not far from it, a broken but beautifully-flaked pink arrowhead (as well as a horse shoe and a rusted top from a baking powder can. How long has it been since baking powder was 25 cents?)

Found baking powder lid, graphite rubbing

Found baking powder lid, graphite rubbing

It says “25 CTS/KC BAKING POWDER/25 CTS/SATISFACTION GUARENTEED”

(And how long has it been since they stopped putting the cents sign on keyboards?)