Dreams on the Pacific Crest Trail, Finished Painting

This is one of my more personal painting stories.  Nine months pregnant with my first child, I had a vivid dream of climbing up Forester Pass on the Pacific Crest Trail, in the high Sierra mountains of California.  This pass, also part of the John Muir trail, is the highest point on the PCT, which I had hiked several years earlier with my husband.  In my dream, I reached the top of the pass, pregnant and exhausted, where I found my baby safe and brought him home.

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I woke up inspired to paint the place in my dream, secretly hoping that it would somehow bring on labor.  It worked!  Twelve hours after finishing the painting, labor began.  Just like in the dream, I finally met my baby after a difficult journey that took several days.  I like to imagine that this place is where he came from:

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Origin, 30″x 40″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © Kathryn Beals

I decided to keep the surreal, dreamlike aspects of the scene, over preserving the realistic details and colors of the pass.  This is probably my very favorite painting now, although just looking at it made me sick for a few weeks after the birth, since it brought me right back into the dizzying feelings of labor, mixed in with memories of altitude sickness.  I like it when I can harness a powerful memory into a piece of art.

Here’s the southern approach to Forester Pass, the place in the Sierras that the painting is loosely based on.  We spent a day walking towards that pass, wondering how we would possibly climb over it since it looks impossible, but when you get right up close, you can see the steep trail zigzagging up the rock.

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This is me, hiking down the other side of the pass quickly just as a storm rolled in.  You can tell it’s a high pass (13,153 feet) when there’s snow, in California, in July. The high Sierras have such an otherworldly feel, and I find myself coming back to paint them again and again.

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I also filmed video of the painting coming together.  The video quality’s not great since I didn’t have my new camera and tripod then, but I’m glad I filmed it anyways.  Look how pregnant I am!

This painting is available in my Etsy store as a photo print or canvas print.  The original is not for sale.

Montana Valley after a Fire, Finished Painting

This is a painting from a trip I took several years ago to Montana.  We visited a valley ten years after a fire, facing the Beartooth mountain range:

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Regrowth, 24″ x 30″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © Kathryn Beals

My former career is in forestry, so I have particular interest in forest fires and the changes they can make to landscapes and plant communities. This area was so beautiful and vibrant, and the open space supported a huge diversity of  wildflowers and small animals.

I took video of the painting from start to finish.  The quality is not the greatest since it’s my first video, before I got my new camera, but you can still get an idea of the process:

Here are some detail shots, since it’s a big painting:

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Pacific Crest Trail Painting in Progress: Painting Stars

I took progress photos of the second half of my Pacific Crest Trail painting, and turned them into a GIF, so you can watch the sky coming together:

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After filling in the background colors with a large brush, I started putting in the stars.  I had a breakthrough in my starry sky paintings when I stopped using mostly black, and used a mix of blues instead for the background colors.  This painting has very little black.  The main sky color is Anthraquinone Blue, a strong transparent blue, with some Phthalo Blue and Titanium White.

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Another trick I’ve learned: use the handle end of the brush to make the stars.  They come out rounder, and you can adjust the pressure to make bigger or smaller dots.

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I like to vary the colors of the stars to add depth as well.  For some, I used a mix of Titanium White and Phthalo Blue, then added white dots over top after the first dots had dried.  For others, I used a bit of Titan Buff instead of white, to make the stars yellower.

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After putting in most of the stars and letting them dry, I experimented with the colors in the sky by adding in a bit of Quinacridone Magenta and transparent Zinc White here and there over top of the stars.

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I also added a bit of the magenta to the snow on the mountaintops below to tie it together. Here’s the finished painting:

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This painting is in my Etsy store as a photo print and canvas print.  The original is for sale through my website.

Starry Night on the Pacific Crest Trail, Finished Painting

I just finished this one this morning.  This is my painting of the area below Mather Pass, on the Pacific Crest Trail:

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Amazed, 20″ x 24″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © Kathryn Beals

I paint a lot of night scenes, because night skies are one of the most amazing parts of backpacking trips, but the hardest to photograph.

I have an emotional connection to this pass from our experience hiking the high Sierra section of the PCT several years ago.  I’m somewhat prone to altitude sickness, and this spot was our highest campsite on the trail at just over 11,000 feet.

That night however, I slept better than I had in months. In my dream, I found myself going underground, entering a room and finding everything I had ever lost.  I know that many others have drawn strength from this trail, and the feeling lasts long after the exhaustion and bug bites are gone.

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I took progress photos throughout the painting, and I’ll do a technique post soon.  I just added this image to my Etsy store as a photo print and canvas print.  The original is for sale through my website.

Alpine lakes painting in progress

I’ve been working on this painting of an alpine lake scene from the Pacific Crest Trail in the high Sierra mountains of California.  This one is loosely based on the area south of Mather Pass. We encountered it on the PCT, but it is also part of the John Muir Trail.

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I need to make adjustments to the composition of the foreground with the lake, but the basic colors of the painting are coming together.  I’m really into starry skies right now and I plan to make a sky similar to this painting. I’ve painted alpine lakes several times and I enjoy the chance to use really intense colors.

This is where my husband and I camped just below Mather Pass, at just over 11,000 feet, our highest campsite on the trail.  This was one of my favorite spots on the trail and I’ve always wanted to paint this amazing place, since the photos really don’t do it justice.

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Snowshoeing in the Coast Mountains, Finished Painting

This is a painting from a winter camping trip I took in Garabaldi Provincial Park in British Columbia.  My husband and I snowshoed up a steep trail and camped in view of the Coast Mountains.

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Alpine Trail, 16″ x 20″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © Kathryn Beals

This is one of my older paintings, and I was still in a beginner phase where I tried to copy photos too closely without improving the composition.  However, I’m glad I turned up the intensity of the blues to capture the shadows on snow.  This is the original photo that I worked with when I got back:

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This was another one of those trips where, due to bad snow conditions and overly optimistic planning, we arrived long after dark.  We did get to see this amazing sunset over the mountains, and I’m glad we stopped to take photos: Continue reading

Blue Skies in the Sierra Mountains, Finished Painting

This is another one of my paintings from our trips in the high alpine trails of the Sierra mountains. My husband and I have backpacked the highest section of the Pacific Crest Trail, including the John Muir Trail, and many other areas in Yosemite and Sequoia national parks.

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Stairway, 24″ x 30″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © Kathryn Beals

This painting isn’t of any particular mountain pass.  I more wanted to capture the unearthly feeling of being up there above the treeline, looking down at the cloud banks and brilliant blue alpine lakes.  As Mark Twain said of the Sierras:

“The air up there in the clouds is very pure and fine, bracing and delicious. And why shouldn’t it be?–it is the same the angels breathe.”

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Here are some detail shots from the painting.   That’s us on the rock, looking down:

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Photos of my Canvas Prints

I spent today unpacking a few canvas prints I ordered for a fundraiser auction, and thought I’d take some photos of them.  I’ve been selling canvas prints for a while through my Etsy store and my website, and I have them made by a professional lab.  I’m always a little taken aback when I open the box and see how much they look like my originals!  I put the captions on these for my Etsy store photos so that people know it’s a print.

My current most popular tent painting, Wonder, in the Etsy Store.  This one is currently in a juried exhibition in Palo Alto:

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My personal favorite, starry night painting Beyond, in the Etsy Store:

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From my sunrise painting, Glory (also check out the video) in the Etsy Store:

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My professional printer does them with “mirror edges” to make it look like the image wraps around back, similar to the way I paint the edges of my originals for display.  The canvas is ready to hang without a frame, and comes with the hanging hardware attached.

I love having this option for my collectors as well as for myself – it’s easier to sell one of my favorite originals if I know I can keep a good quality print.

Getting Started: Setting up your Painting Space

Welcome to my series for beginners learning to paint, based on my own trial-and-error experiences as a self-taught artist.  

Once you’ve got your paint, brushes, canvases and other supplies, you’ll need a place to set up.

While an easel is great for serious painters, it can take up a significant part of your budget, and you don’t really need one when you’re first starting out.  My recommended canvas size for beginners is something in the 9″x12″ to 16″x20″ range, and this size is manageable for working flat.   If you’re sitting at a desk or the kitchen table, try propping up one end of your canvas on some books (protected with a rag) to see if you prefer working at an angle.  If you do, you might want to invest in a table easel at some point.

Try to keep your most used supplies within easy reach, so you don’t set yourself up for back or shoulder pain.  This is my current setup in my garage where I paint:

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Winter Night Sky Painting: Wander

This is another painting from a snowshoe trip in Yosemite a few years ago.  We had a long trip in to a stone shelter hut, and due to bad snow conditions it took much longer than we expected.

It was close to midnight when we were still a mile or two from where we needed to be, and we had that exhausted tunnel vision that comes at the end of a long hike at high altitude.  Suddenly we looked up from our plodding snowshoes and saw an amazing sight around us – a burned forest covered in snow, silent, under the moon and stars.

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Wander, 30″ x 40″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © Kathryn Beals

Sometimes I need these moments to remember why I love the backcountry, and why it is worth it to be out in the cold in these amazing places, and not home in my warm bed.  We stopped and looked at the stars for a long time before continuing on.

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