Dreaming of the north: My finished sunrise painting

New painting finished!  This one is kind of a mix of camping memories from northern Canada and Alaska.  We’ve had so many good camping trips in the north during our marriage; camping in a hailstorm on Denali when I was four months pregnant, fighting off bugs in Peace River, and seeing grizzly bears in Bella Coola.  The sunrises in the north are so beautiful:

Northern Sunrise, 20″ x 24″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © 2017 Kathryn Beals

I’ve been trying to work more with yellow lately.  I find it tricky to use, but it looks so good in landscapes when done properly, so it’s something I’ve been learning through trial and error.  Here are a couple detail shots:

I’ll post the progress pictures soon, but for now check it out as a paper print or canvas print in my Etsy store.

Goodnight Moon and the North Star Painting

This is the latest in my starry night camping series, just finished today:

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North Star, 24″ x 30″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © 2015 Kathryn Beals

For this painting, I decided to experiment with more of a turquoise blue.  I have always loved the night sky in Clement Hurd’s illustrations on the last page of the classic children’s book Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, a book I enjoyed when I was little and now read to my children.  The room gets darker and darker on each page until the last page when the lights are out, little bunny is asleep, and the stars are shining through his window:

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“Goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere.”(Photo from our copy of Goodnight Moon, 1947 by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd, Harper Collins)

I always liked the way the night sky in those pictures is not black but actually a bright turquoise blue. As an artist, it inspired me to try painting a night sky using little or no black.  I want my night sky paintings to have the same calm, wondrous feel as the sky in Goodnight Moon, even in the very different setting – sleeping on a cold mountaintop, instead of safely tucked into a warm bed.

For this painting, I used my usual combo of Anthraquinone Blue, Paynes Gray and Titanium White, with clear glazes of Quinacridone Magenta, but I also tried adding Turquois (Phthalo) in areas to make it more of a greenish blue like in the Goodnight Moon illustration.

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The tent is something I like to add to bring more emotion and connection to a landscape.  This scene isn’t based on any particular mountain or trip, but it reminds me of the feeling of camping in the high Sierras or the Rockies, above the treeline and under the stars.  I didn’t plan on it being a snow painting, but like many of our camping trips, sometimes it turns out that way.

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

Dreams and the Pacific Crest Trail, Finished Painting

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.

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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Finished Painting: Lupines in Bella Coola

This is a painting I did several years ago after a trip to Bella Coola, north of where I grew up on the coast of British Columbia:

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Bella Coola Lupines, 16″x 20″ acrylic on canvas, copyright © Kathryn Beals

This is one of those paintings that just came together quickly without any planning.  I painted it on my mom’s kitchen table with her paints and brushes and a borrowed canvas, and it took about 45 minutes.  If I were painting it again, I might have planned the composition a little better so that the end of the tallest flower had more contrast against the sky or mountains, but I like the unstructured quality of it and it’s a nice memory.

Here are two photos from the place we visited:

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You can find this painting in my Etsy shop as a digital print or canvas print.  The original painting is not for sale.