30" x 36"
The semi-arid mountains of the American Southwest are among my favorite hiking places. Low rainfall prevents the lush growth that would otherwise blanket the mountains. Instead, trees are spaced out, leaving wide-open vistas such as the one I have painted in this composition. In these dry hills the Ponderosas thrive. They stand out like massive cinnamon sticks adding red-orange exclamation points to the scene.
The word “ponderosa” in their botanical name, Pinus ponderosa, refers to their massive size. They grow over 100 feet (30 meters) tall, out of what appears to be sheer rock. The record for the species is 268 feet high. I don’t know how they do it in such thin soil and sparse water.
When I saw two Ponderosa trees at the edge of a cliff overlooking a valley, I thought this would make an excellent composition. I particularly enjoyed the graceful curves of the branches and rich, textured bark. The broad plates of orange-red bark separated by dark cracks echoed the dramatic crevices in the distant rocks.
In painting the bark, I first made the cracks, with the edge of my knife, following the sketch I had drawn. I did this because I wanted to maintain the natural pattern of the bark. After the paint forming the cracks had dried, I skipped my knife over the surface with orange and red paint to form the plates of bark. I made the needles by loading the edge of the knife with a very viscous paint, and then planting the tip of the knife on the panel while rocking the knife back and forth, the way a chef cuts vegetables. This technique produced a 3-dimensional surface; the needles stood out from the panel.