My trip to the Southwest in the fall of 1995 included a visit to Arches National Park in Moab, Utah. There are unusual sandstone formations, turrets, and arches there, many of enormous size. One of the more memorable ones is Delicate Arch. We began our hike to Delicate Arch in mid-morning, a bit of a mistake in the 100 degree heat on a trail with no shade! We carried plenty of water and moved determinedly up the path, which climbs gradually enough to provide a pleasant challenge.
Along the way, we came upon a relatively small arch (human-size in scale) through which we looked to see Delicate Arch in the distance. It appeared small from that vantage point, and quite beautiful in its solitary stance. We still had a few kilometers to hike before reaching our goal.
Upon arrival, the scale is much grander and more impressive. Delicate Arch is 52-feet high! It stands on the edge of a large bowl as if it were a sentinel looking out over the serene vista. It is welcoming, soothing, and mesmerizing. I took pictures, of course, and did a quick sketch for future reference. I wasn’t yet working in pastels, but was thinking perhaps I’d do a drawing in colored pencil, my preferred medium at that time.
It actually took me several years to return to my references and paint this scene. Since I now work primarily in soft pastels, which generate a lot of “dust”, I do my painting outdoors during the warmer months of the year. One day this past autumn, I wanted so much to paint, but it was raining and cold outside. Instead, I revisited some photos and came across the Delicate Arch images. Inspired, I prepared the surface of some watercolor paper (Arches Aquerelle) by toning it and blocking in the scene with gouache (an opaque watercolor medium). I waited until the next day for it to dry, hoping that the sun would emerge by then and I could paint outside. My wish came true and I was able to continue the painting with pastels the next day.
Watercolor paper, particularly cold-pressed, has a lovely texture and thickness. Something magical happens for me when I do an underpainting with gouache and layer over it with pastels. The pastels’ hues interact with the gouache tones and paper texture to create a lovely velvety effect, which I love.
Another aspect of this painting is its wide format. I really enjoy working in exaggerated widths. They provide compelling, interesting perspectives that are a refreshing departure from standard-sized formats. Below is the completed painting, which I hope you enjoy! It is available for purchase; more details are on my website.