The world is my studio

I’m completely thrilled to be the recipient of an Artist Trust Grant for Artist Project award. This wonderful Seattle organization funds individual projects, professional development education, and acts as a clearing house for information of all kinds relevant to artists. As one of this year’s recipients, they asked if they could send a photographer to my studio as one of twelve artists for a poster. But I am out in Utah, in Zion National Park’s amazing canyons and slick rock. While I do quite a bit work indoors (it rains a lot at home!), nothing lifts my spirits as much as hard walking in beautiful country. Combining this with painting is as happy as I can be….

Photo of Suze Woolf at Zion National Park's Observation Point

The studio a few days ago: Zion National Park’s Observation Point. I’ve hiked up with my board and paper on the outside of my backpack.

"Fall View from Observation Point" watercolor on paper, 11" x 15"

“Fall View from Observation Point” watercolor on paper, 11″ x 15″


…And grateful. I met one of this year’s Zion Artists-in-Residence, Rebecca Fogg; she’s here  in Zion, despite two strokes that have her wheelchair-bound, unable to speak. She is learning to use her non-dominant hand to work. Her devoted partner gave her talk for her. I am moved by her determination to practice her art, inspired by how much it can mean to a life to have that practice. To have the capacity to pursue both physical and professional expression is grace indeed.


Quilting Zion

I came home from Zion with (17) 11″x11″ square paintings of the fractal landscape I found right at my feet. I called them “The Rock Textures.” That is, on a day when I wasn’t satisfied with a landscape painting, I cast about for something else to do. I went from the macro to the micro. Then I began to think of the squares as a kind of quilt, a fading patchwork of my memories of the colors and textures.Inspired by an exhibit I saw when I went to Southern Utah University to give a talk abo

Suze Woolf painting of Zion rock textures

Zion Quilt, 35 x 35, watercolor on paper, assembled from 12 rock texture paintings

ut the residency, I’ve also gone to friend Nancy Cluts, a quilting artist. Together, back and forth, we’re collaborating on a fabric quilt of same. She’s working on the interstices between the rock squares. We’ve talked about how water shapes all the rocks you see in Zion. I love the paradox of something soft and warm representing cold, hard stone. I can hardly wait to see the next iteration.

An update, May 2013:

Nancy continues to work on fabric versions, but I decided to experiment with a paper version. Thanks to the experts at Dry Goods Design, I used 2 layers of a non-woven viscose intended for pattern-making. I wanted to make a kind of gridded window mat to act as a frame for 9 of the paintings. After a number of tests on small squares and much deliberation, I decided to add color. It took watercolor paint beautifully, still transparent enough that the covered edges of the paintings showed through. Then I became worried the pattern paper would not be stiff enough to keep from bowing from the thicker watercolor paper.

So I soaked it in Golden’s GAC 400 diluted with glazing medium (thanks, Barbara DePirro) and added another 2 layers to the inside of the sandwich. I traced the locations of the painting squares and trimmed out the windows in the top layer, then cut slits in the back layers so I would be able to insert the paintings into their “pockets”.

This is really where my trouble began, because the back layers were now too stiff to go through my home sewing machine and the slits gaped open and caught on anything nearby. Luckily, Nancy rescued me with her long-arm quilting machine, and I discovered heat-reversible Framer’s Tape II for closing the slits. I then made a edge binding out of unpainted “fabric” and considered it good enough.  It won an award in a local competition.

An assembly of square paintngs on paper by Suze Woolf

Rock texture paintings assembled in a paper quilt

I think I’ll be doing this again, having learned these lessons:

  • Don’t use fabric stiffener until after it’s put together
  • Don’t cut into the pockets until after it’s put together
  • Review how to make a corner on a bound edge before binding the edge 😉
  • I will consider using lightweight fusible interfacing to keep the top layer stable, with luck, still transparent enough to see the edge of the paintings underneath.

Tying up loose ends and looking forward

Tomorrow I will pick up Sunset Ranch (Large) from the framer and get it ready to ship to Zion National Park. It’s the work they chose to keep in partial fulfillment of my residency there. I painted it after I got home from a smaller version that I did in the Park.

It’s a good choice — vast like the vistas from the Kolob Terrace Road; it’s where I realized I could use a “live” or “shaped” edge on a landscape painting; and it depicts a parcel of land the Park acquired from a grandfathered in-holding while I was in residence. Feels good!

Last week I submitted my application for residencies on the North and South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Oh, how my fingers are crossed!

Suze Woolf painting of the Sunset Ranch area of Zion National Park

Sunset Ranch, watercolor on shaped paper, 11 x 30


Suze Woolf painting of Sunset Ranch area in Zion National Park

Sunset Ranch (Large), watercolor on shaped paper, 12 x 51.5

Left Zion

I’ve been enjoying the exploration of nearby areas as we work our way back home – at first slowly and now, into the final two-day marathon drive.

Here is the entry I left in the guest book (that I’m guessing Michele Lauriat made?). If you cannot read my handwriting, either because the photo is low-resolution or because it’s my handwriting —  here it is as text:

“September 7 – October 8, 2012

A blissful month as Artist-in-Residence: I have contemplated the nature of Time – and Nature in time, too – with great pleasure. It is certainly my idea of Zion (sanctuary) to spend so much time outdoors in such immense, imposing and infinitely variable surroundings.

At 6:00am I’ve just seen the first headlamp lights bobbing down the road and heard the slats on the bridge clank to their feet. I’d hear the first shuttle whoosh in around 7:20am. The deer will munch around my car under the big tooth maple. The fox will prowl under the picnic tables – several times a day. If no fox, then turkeys. I know when the afternoon sun will disappear behind Lady Mountain, and the evening chorus of crickets (cicadas?) begins. The moths – large enough to pollinate the sacred datura flowers – hit on the windows of the Grotto House so loudly it sounds like rain. The moon will be brighter than dawn. The morning breezes will blow down the canyon and the rhythm of the day will all begin again. Sadly, without me – though as I’ve said to many Park and Southern Utah University people, I’ll do nearly anything to come back.

I painted 33 watercolors, about a third in the field, a third here in the Grotto House, and a third from my detail photos of rock textures. I invited somewhere between 100-200 people in to see what I was working on. I hiked somewhere most days of the week. I have 10 drawings yet to be turned into paintings, and thousands of panoramic photos of landscapes and burned trees that I’ll be working on at home.

I got to see rain in the desert; the pour-off at Emerald Pools was like a muddy Niagara.

My life and work is immeasurably richer for the time I’ve spent here; I am optimistic that I’ve brought the program goals of “insight, enjoyment and understanding” to other visitors.

Suze Woolf
Seattle, WA in life
Zion Canyon in spirit”

Suze Woolf guest book entry at Grotto House, in Zion National Park

A last canyon watercolor in the guest book

Leaving Zion

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion (Psalms 137:1 and Bob Marley 😉

Only one more day open to hike and paint in this incredible environment. Then I will spend a day packing and cleaning the Grotto House for its next inhabitants.  I gave my  talk at Southern Utah University in Cedar City last night, and will speak at Zion Lodge in the Park tonight. Here is my slide deck:

Suze Woolf Zion Artist in Residence, October 2012

A Rant about Litter in the Frontcountry

It seems to me that the closer one is to a road, the greater the likelihood you will see cast-aside tissues. I’m no fan of any garbage in the wrong place, but tissues cast aside in places that are World Heritage sites, jewels of national park systems of any nation, are just plain unforgivable. Don’t they know they take 2-3 years to decompose? (And probably longer in dry environments like this one in Zion.) It’s not as if they get any better-looking with time. Who do they think is going to clean them up?

What could we do to change this horrible – and I hope unconscious – habit?  Nothing takes me out of my deep appreciative and serene meditative state in the wilderness more than seeing these ugly reminders of unthinking carelessness.

Fall on the Rim

Suddenly yesterday I knew it was autumn. It’s not light until 7am and gets dark at 8pm. And the quality of the light is different – sharper, lower-angle. The nights, down in the canyon, are below 60 degrees – probably below 50 on the rim. It takes longer for things to dry. Hiking up on the East Rim, I saw shrubby oaks and big-tooth maples turning. Even though the two are unrelated, it’s the autumn of the residency, too: only one week more. I will miss living surrounded by such intense beauty that several times every day I have to stop dead and gawk.

Over the weekend I tried to get to parts of the Park I hadn’t seen yet — the East Rim trail from the east entrance, Kolob Canyons. Since I was at the east entrance on Saturday, I drove over to Mt. Carmel and visited Maynard Dixon’s summer house. The view of the Pink and White Cliffs of the Paunsaugunt Plateau was another stop-dead moment. In this case I pulled over near a dirt road, got out the folding chair, camera, painting kit and water. I walked a few hundred yards off the road. For an hour and a half I was lost to the world, concentrating on the placement and forms. The light shifted constantly as incipient thunderheads built up to the north. Breezes and a few raindrops made it tolerable to be out in mid-afternoon without shade. If it hadn’t been for a persistent yellow jacket, I’d be there still.

I’ve realized it’s the landscapes that I have to do while I’m still here. My library of rock textures is extensive, but to really get genius loci in a landscape painting, I need to do it either from life or very soon thereafter.

I’ll be giving my talk at Southern Utah University soon, so I’ve been working on the presentation. I was very pleased to have a studio visit from Superintendent Jock Whitworth, who seemed pleased with what he saw. And on October 5 I’ll be speaking and showing my work in the Park at Zion Lodge. Winding up!

Exploding Views

If I really work at it I can make a scene fit my sheet – really I can. The board in my little plein air kit (gator foam covered with adhesive plastic) fits a quarter-size watercolor sheet (11 x 15). As a consequence that’s the size I generally do outdoors, even when I all I do is a drawing on the sheet, and paint it later. But here in Zion Canyon, the views are so expansive I can rarely contain the scene on a sheet of that proportion – it demands to be wider or taller than “normal”. Over and over I end up continuing the drawing onto a second and even third sheet.

Two days ago while hiking up Observation Point I started thinking about shaped sheets. One of the beauties of work on paper is that one is surely not bound to a rectangle.  This is looking down on the canyon floor, Mt. Moroni, one of the Patriarchs, and the top of Angel’s Landing,

Painting of Zion Canyon

Shaped-sheet painting “Observing Zion” ~30″ x 11″, watercolor on paper

Further update:  similar viewpoint to Maynard Dixon’s painting of Angel’s Landing and the Great White Throne (a double-quarter-sheet diptych, 15 x 22).

Painting of Great White Throne, Angels Landing, Zion National Park

My version of the Great White Throne and Angels Landing, similar to Maynard Dixon’s

The newest rock texture, from my day of painted desert hiking on the southwest side of the park.

Painting of gypsum, limestone and shale in Zion National Park

Gypsum and shale in Scroggins Wash, watercolor on paper, 11″ x 11″

And another update: a better tarantula photo (second sighting).

Photo of tarantula in Zion National Park

About two-thirds the size of my hand.

“Insight, Enjoyment and Understanding”

These are the benefits of the Artist-in-Residence program, so says the sign at the Grotto shuttle stop with a picture of the little house/former museum/original visitor center. I hope I have given them to some of my visitors and observers.

For the artist, the benefit of immersion in a new place can’t be quantified. Instead of a quick study or a slideshow of photos, I slowly begin to understand the place. I recognize landmarks that I’ve seen from being at them and seeing them from many vantages. I know where I want to draw the next picture when I head up to the east rim again, or where the rock with the interesting desert varnish is on the trail.

And then, the opportunity to carry myself into such country also indirectly affects the art produced. Of course, who can resist painting such scenery? But I also find the act of walking long distances is a meditation. I get ideas to take back to the studio. (Why is it more often going up than down?) Next up, shaped-canvas landscapes.