Grand Canyon art in watercolor and acrylics

Judy painting on South Rim of Grand Canyon

A wonderful art challenge for me has been painting the Grand Canyon.

Recently I hiked and painted at the Grand Canyon and had many opportunities to paint en plein air (on location) at the Canyon’s edge and on trails in the Canyon.

Sitting on the edge of the Canyon with my paints, I could see the vastness of the Canyon and so many factors in the Canyon’s beauty.

Grand Canyon Sunset, watercolor
Grand Canyon Sunset, watercolor © 2019 Robinson

The rock formations had many different angles. The light constantly changed with passing clouds or the time of day. Some days the sun made the rabbitbrush bright yellow, and some days the rabbitbrush faded into the surroundings.

I primarily painted with watercolors, pen and ink. I enjoyed viewing the Canyon and then assessing my paints to decide which colors to use or what colors to mix for the right hue of purple or gold or orange.

One evening, I sat on the South Rim at sunset and painted on location with watercolors, pen and ink. I mixed colors to capture the purples and blues of the Canyon and the color of the cliff edges catching the descending sun.

But the water and the paints dried very quickly in the heat and dryness. Some of the techniques I’ve used successfully in doing watercolor painting in Florida didn’t transfer to the desert conditions of the Grand Canyon.

When I discussed that plein air painting challenge with Kathy Duley, the Grand Canyon Conservancy Celebration of Art Coordinator, she encouraged me to try acrylics or oils. Acrylics and oils are used by most of the artists in the Celebration of Art Quick Draw because the paints stay wet longer than watercolors do.

Acrylic Grand Canyon Sunset
Acrylic Grand Canyon Sunset ©2019 JRobinson

Then back home in my outdoor studio, I imagined sitting in the same place on the South Rim, remembering the view, the feelings, and the heat.

I painted with acrylics wet-in-wet and “alla prima” with a palette knife. That is I painted in one sitting, without waiting for the paint to dry and before adding more layers. There is a carefulness to be employed when doing this.

For the acrylic painting, instead of using a paintbrush as I do with watercolor, I used a palette knife.

With the palette knife I could capture the cliff edges, creating the shadows of the Canyon. I created a three-dimensional quality that I couldn’t do with watercolor.

I had used acrylics before in painting wood ornaments and wood dolls I had carved. So I was familiar with mixing the paints and creating a wet palette.

Looking up from Indian Gardens in the Grand Canyon, acrylic
Looking up from Indian Gardens in the Grand Canyon, acrylic

At a recent art show, I sold several prints of my watercolor, pen and ink versions of the Grand Canyon rim view.

My acrylic “Grand Canyon sunset” drew many positive comments.  I am fond of both the painting and the memory.