Living in a Painting…

FirstCut

First Cut

“You live in a painting!”

That’s what my friend Nina said when she saw this photo of the pasture after the first cut of hay.

It’s true. I live in a beautiful landscape of mountains, hay meadows, peach orchards, and small farms on the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains.

That’s Lamborn Mountain on the left, behind the tree branch, and Landsend Peak on the right; the two peaks form an iconic backdrop to the North Fork Valley—the North Fork of the Gunnison River.

Lamborn Mountain and LandsEnd

Lamborn Mountain and Lands End

Lamborn Mountain rises 11, 397 feet above sea level, and almost 6,000 feet above the valley. The two peaks are part of a laccolith—where hot magma oozed up and intruded the Mancos Shale, an organic-rich clay layer, and baked it into coal. Erosion over the millennia has removed a lot of the Mancos Shale, revealing the igneous core of Lamborn Mountain.

Nearby and up the road, the geological picture includes three coal mines, though they’re not in this painting. But chances are good I’ll be taking my camera up the road toward the mines in the very near future.

By the way…diamonds are not formed by squeezing the bejesus out of coal. Click here for more…

Freeze

Irrigation Water Ice Cubes

Spring run-off was pretty incredible this year, starting in mid-April with more snow meltwater than anyone has seen in 40 years.

It still freezes around here in mid-April, though not hard enough to freeze the water in the irrigation pipes, it got cold enough to turn it to ice cubes as soon as it spewed out the gates. There’s just a little snow left up in the high country. Now our hopes are on the monsoonal rain.

Mount Lamborn

Mount Lamborn

 

 

Lamborn and Landsend are photogenic at any time of year, or day. And totally paintable, though I have not. Yet.

Lamborn and Landsend at Sunrise

Lamborn and Landsend at Sunrise

 

 

 

En plein air, for sure.

Landscape Paint and the Chemistry Blues

419px-Johannes_Vermeer_(1632-1675)_-_The_Girl_With_The_Pearl_Earring_(1665)Alchemy reigned at the time Johannes Vermeer painted Girl with a Pearl Earring in 1665. Back in that day, before the Periodic Table of the Elementswhich didn’t show up in until 1869—painters made their own paints from the powders of ground minerals by mixing them with linseed oil.

lapis-lazuli-rough

Lapis lazuli

The pigment in the blue scarf around the head of the Girl with a Pearl Earring, for instance, was made from lapis lazuli, a beautiful but rather expensive mineral to be grinding to a powder.  Unfortunately, linseed oil made the fabulous blue color of this beautiful mineral a bit cloudy.

Linseed oil did that to most of the mineral powders, but there was no way around that in 1665. The mineral powders would be chalky-looking and would not flow onto the canvas smoothly without being mixed with linseed oil.

Better Living Through Chemistry

The Periodic Table going public in 1869 moved the job of creating paint from artists to the laboratory chemist. These days, few artists mix their own paints, or even know what’s in them. I’m a big fan of chemistry, for without it, there is nothing. No rocks, no clay, no paint. And I wonder how they make vivid yellow as well as intense red paint from the same thing. Not a mineral, but an element from the Periodic Table: Cadmium.

Modern painters can thank French artist, Yves Klein and a few French chemists, who created a rich luscious blue paint that retained the brilliant blue hue by suspension of the dry pigment in a synthetic resin, avoiding the murkiness of linseed oil.

They called it International Klein Blue. Yves Klein used IKB, as this patented pigment is known, to paint Blue Monochrome, part of a series of one-color paintings he had been creating for several years.

BlueMonochrome

Blue Monochrome, Yves Klein, 1961

IKB represented something profound to Klein: le Vide-the Void. Not a vacuum or terrifying darkness, but a void that invokes positive sensations of openness and liberty, a feeling of profound fulfillment beyond the everyday material world. Standing before Klein’s huge canvases of solid blue, many report being enveloped by serene, trance-like feelings.

That’s how the Southwestern desert landscape makes me feel.

the-surreal-rock-formations-were-created-over-thousands-of-years-as-water-and-wind-eroded-the-navajo-sandstone

The iron-stained colors of my native land inspired me to make paint from it, in the old way—grinding the minerals to a powder and mixing them with linseed oil. Perhaps because these paints are made from desert clays (see my previous blog Desert Paintings), linseed oil did not make them murky.

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Crows Across the Sky, Mary C. Simmons, 2010

 

Rocking the Paint

Making Paint From the Rocks

I can easily IFlose myself in Earth’s landscapes, especially the rocky ones. The textures and colors tell a story of chemistry, weathering and erosion. And, if providing a scenic backdrop to my life is not enough, with these rocks I make pottery and glazes.

And paint.

The color palette is generally limited to oxides of iron: brown, reddish-brown, tan, yellowish tan, greenish tan–e.g. Earth colors.

Occasionally a little copper shows up, coloring the clay softly green or blue. Pottery glaze colors depend on these denizens of the Periodic Table. And so did paint, once upon a time before IKB.

I started with several gallon-size zip-lock bags of reddish, greenish and one highly yellow clay. The colors are the result of a certain degree of iron oxidation, and finely ground turquoise, which is a copper mineral.

I sifted out all the rocks, twigs, animal bones and other detritus, and let the colored clay settle in large jars of water. After siphoning off the excess water, I poured this clay slurry onto large pieces of gypsum board to dry. The mud cracks were amazing art pieces in themselves.

CuMudHLimonitePM

Painting with Clay

After the clay slurry completely dried, I crushed and sieved each into a fine powder. I added a little linseed oil to the colored clay powder and in a frenzy of inspiration, I painted

The Paintings

SandiaSunset2 What else can I say? Inspired by rocks, enchanted by Earth’s landscape…

Follow this link to Desert Paintings…http://wp.me/P3Fsq9-in