Journey to the Center of the Earth

Imagine spending five days studying and painting the terrain, flora and fauna of the Grand Canyon with 32 other inquisitive souls. My husband Norman and I decided to go on our first Elderhostel trip to a remote area of Arizona where we would explore the Grand Canyon from vantage points seen by few tourists.

Let the Atmosphere Dictate Technique

Although it was not designed as a painting trip I decided it could be one, if I worked on a small scale with my favorite watercolor travel kit. To that kit I added a box of Grumbacher Deluxe Opaque Watercolors which are in the form of round dried pans. I also bought an additional tube of white gouache. My previous experience of painting at the canyon gave me the idea to work with gouache to suggest the dry texture of the landscape. In the course of painting around the world I?ve found that you have to let the landscape speak for itself. Keep in mind that what works in Maine won?t work in Arizona. You can?t paint wet-into-wet in the desert! Don?t even try! With 10 percent humidity the paper dries instantly. This may sound limiting, but it really isn?t. You can glaze many layers without waiting for a drying period. You probably know that when you use white gouache the underlying layer must be dry or it won?t look really white. In the desert this is no problem. And when I use gouache, I?m not worried about transparency, so I can use black to darken colors. Most gouache colors start with white as their base; as a result, it?s hard to mix darks. Black mixed with the other colors will do the trick.

The Adventure Begins

Laden with our hiking boots, my cameras (one with print film, one with slide film), painting gear, and my trusty little chair we flew off to Phoenix. There we took the Mountain High Shuttle from the airport to Prescott, a charming town that was not once but twice the capital of the territory of Arizona. (Arizona had a funny law that said lawmakers could move the capital every year if they so desired.) We spent the night in a historic hotel, strolled through the Victorian city and watched a square dance in the central park. In the morning I did a painting of the old Rough Rider, Bucky O?Neill. That afternoon we caught the Yavapai College shuttle to the Grand Canyon Caverns Inn, a few miles from Peach Springs, which would be our headquarters for the next five days. The remote location on the edge of the old Highway 66 immediately turned my painting instinct on. Being still on Eastern time I was up at dawn and out painting the western landscape at 6 a.m. What fun it was to walk down the middle of the highway with no car to be seen for miles. Walking to breakfast a mile uphill I found some wonderful subjects: an old corral straight out of the wild west movies, jack rabbits bounding across the path and magnificent light under the brilliant blue dome of the sky. I vowed at that moment that I was old enough to play hooky and skip the lectures. I just couldn?t stay inside when the world outside was so beautiful. The old corral was calling me. I decided that gouache would best describe the dry texture of the weathered wood and scrubby bushes.

Geoffrey Gorman is a career coach for artists and a former gallery director. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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