Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Mount Princeton

Mount Princeton is one of the "Fourteeners," one of the highest peaks of the Rocky Mountains. I painted it from across the valley, with Buena Vista far below. 

I'm proud of my son Frank for climbing all the way to the 14,197' summit. Even in the valley below at 8,000 feet, I'm breathless after a flight of stairs.

Mount Princeton by James Gurney, watercolor and gouache, 5x8 inches, October 2013
I feel that mountain painting requires a different mindset from other subjects. For one thing, I believe it's essential to draw all the forms as accurately as possible, as if I'm on a 19th century survey expedition, and lives depend on my getting the forms right. 

To get a feeling of scale, I tried to set up an extreme contrast between large and small touches. A barn in the valley is the size of a pinhead in the painting.

Detail of Mount Princeton, about 1 inch wide. White accents in gouache over watercolor.
Gouache and watercolor lend themselves to this kind of subject, because they allow for extremely small accents, contrasted with larger softly modeled forms. One of the keys to achieving a sense of scale and atmosphere in mountain painting is to keep all the values of the distant space fairly high key. 

The way I was set up, with the sunlight streaming directly onto the painting, I had to watch out that I didn't distort the values, because the direct sunlight makes all the painted passages appear lighter and more colorful than they would look in indoor light.

6 comments:

David Webb said...

James, you're so right in what you say about getting the forms right for this type of painting. Whenever you paint a subject, which attracts enthusiasts, as in mountain climbing, sailing or birdwatching & wildlife, there will be someone out there who'll tell you if it's not right.
Best wishes
David Webb

Greg Shea said...

James, if you return to the British Art Center, I'll have to show you some of the travel watercolors of Edward Lear. If you don't already know his work, it will be a great experience. He did a lot of travel through Egypt, India, and other parts of Asia. We have hundreds of works, many with the exact date, time, and location noted (much like your "sketches") Some of my favorites are from the same location at different times of day, showing the changing light. Amazing stuff, almost as good as yours.

Adina Henderson said...

It's so fun to see you painting MY stomping grounds! You're practically in my backyard! They're stunning mountains, aren't they? You, of course, portray my state beautifully.

Seth Rosamilia said...

Beautiful painting–I love the blues you captured in the shadows.

Diana Moses Botkin said...

What a lovely study!

Thank you for sharing all your helpful tips. Your comment about painting in the bright sunlight (with light on the painting surface) is a good reminder.

It is often difficult on location to find the best angle for the painting panel. Do you have suggestions on what is ideal?

Scott Suitts said...

Cool Painting, this was my first Fourteener about 30 years ago. Try to get down by the Arkansas river, great views and beautiful water.