I drove north out of Byron toward Bridger Montana to this area of interesting rocks and trees and started this 24x36 inch painting in the field. It's called Plein Aire painting. Some purists like to start and finish out on location. Sometimes that happens, but I brought this one back to my studio to finish it up.
What happens is that the light changes on you after about an hour to an hour and a half, so you might as well pull out another canvas and paint or pack up and go back to the studio and work there.
I'll post a video of the experience soon.
Here you will see the progress of a 48 x 60 painting representing the young prophet Joseph Smith baptizing Oliver Cowdry as the restoration of the Church of Christ began to unfold. This painting is scheduled to hang in the LDS Church Museum when it opens in October. As you can imagine I'm quite excited to be able to do this painting.
Years ago, along with my daughter Heather Hopkinson Nielsen and three of my granddaughters, Chloe, Lily and Lavender, we waded into these clear waters at the Susquehanna River in northern Pennsylvania at the place where I think Joseph and Oliver were visited by the resurrected John the Baptist and commanded to baptize each other with the authority of the Aaronic Priesthood which John had bestowed upon them. This experience happened to them as they were finishing the translation of The Book of Mormon.
As I finish the painting I place it in the frame. Doing so helps me to determine if I need to do more. I believe it works well as a beautiful painting and, in a small way, it helps to depict the emotions and many feelings the Mormons (members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) had as they left their homes.
They knew that their neighbors were willing to kill them if they didn't leave. Some, including their Prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum, had already been killed. And yet, they overcame their fear, anger, sorrow with a desire to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and they faced the future with faith and hope and generally a joyful and positive attitude. I am personally grateful to those people which included some of our own (Pam and myself) ancestors who were willing to sacrifice so much so they could practice their religion.
Take the opportunity to visit Nauvoo. The LDS Church has turned about 30 of the buildings built in the 1840s into a "living museum" and the LDS Missionaries there tell the stories of the people who lived in Nauvoo at that time. John Browning was a Mormon and his gunshop is set up just as it was when he built some of his famous weapons. You have to visit the Family History Center and let them show you your ancestors who lived there. At its peak Nauvoo was the home to about 18,000 people, the second largest city in Illinois at the time. I believe if you were born and raised in the West there is a good chance one or more of your ancestors lived there in the .1840s
At this point in the painting, I'm feeling pretty good about how it is coming along.
I was invited to Nauvoo, Illinois to talk about my paintings. It was the 169th Anniversary of the departure of the Mormons from Nauvoo on the long trek to the West. They left voluntarily...because they HAD to. Anyway, I joined a large group of celebrants on the walk down Parley Street that ends at the Mississippi River and where so many people left the United States in 1846. I'm always inspired when I visit Nauvoo and now they have an LDS Temple there as well. When I returned I jumped right into this painting and this shows they quick lay in of the painting.
A few months ago on a painting trip I stopped at a great rock formation along the pioneer trail on I-80, a place that I had wanted to paint many times as I sped along the highway either coming or going, and painted this 16x20 painting. It has wonderful lights and shadows I think I'll get around to painting a large scene with pioneers or mountain men or Indians moving along the trail along its base.
This nice 12 x 36 inch painting is going to be showing in the 28th Annual Dixie State University Sears Invitational Art Show in St. George, Utah January 13 thru March 29th.
I've been driving by this place between Powell and Byron in all kinds of weather and in all seasons and have thought nearly every time; "I've got to come and paint that place sometime."
Sunday, coming back from Cody, I saw the yellow tree and Monday morning I drove into the yard to get permission to be there and paint. So I met Dianne McCloud and have learned that she and her husband have this great looking ranch and it is appropriately named "Bar M C Ranch". The next couple of hours were enjoyable. They've got some beautiful horses that I'll come back and paint later.
I finally finished this portrait of Louis Hamblin, who was a fighter pilot during WW II over the Pacific. He was my mom, Vivian's younger brother and he had two other brothers that were also fighter pilots in the same theater of war; Len Spencer Hamblin (I was named after him) and Darwin Hamblin. During the war my dad, Harold, was on a battleship somewhere below them in the Pacific.
Uncle Lou liked kids 'cause he had a whole bunch of them and interestingly enough they are all cousins of mine! After the war and a college degree, Uncle Lou taught here in Byron for a couple of years and then for a time in Powell, but he spent a lot of years teaching and coaching in Mt. View, Wyoming.
Uncle Spencer didn't make it back and Uncle Lou got permission from the Navy to look for him or his plane where he was last seen flying as his flight group was finishing a mission. That was somewhere near Palau. When you think what they all did for us (that generation) and then came back and lived humble but very important lives...it kinda brings a lump to your throat.
This bright little painting (7x12) is kind of a masterpiece (I can't say that of my own work can I?). Here's how it began: In my studio I have this small fridge and freezer. The freezer is no more than a little cubbyhole about 13 inches wide. After I have spent the day painting I usually still have globs of fresh paint on my palette. I'm pretty frugal and so I'll slap those globs of paint on a smaller palette and put the paint in the freezer so when I take the frozen paint out the next day it will still be fresh.
After weeks of slopping paint on and then scraping paint off the little 7x12 palette board, some wonderful colors and shapes began to emerge and a winter sunset was born. I added the man, his wife and child on a horse and then the brush took over until I had this nice little painting!
I have several other little palettes that I'm letting "mature" and we'll see what happens with them.
By the way, if you don't have a freezer handy you can keep your paint from drying up by submersing your oil paints in water until you want to use them the next day or so. If too much time passes with either saving method just throw the paint away and start over. Up here in Wyoming with the weather being dry and very cold, or dry and cold or dry and not too warm, the paints will stay fresh during a painting session. However, down in Arizona many of my darker colors would begin to dry before too many hours. One famous artist I know would leave his paints out and the next day would peel the drying "skin" back and continue to use the paint. I don't recommend that.
I spent Christmas morning just below town painting this scene of Coon Creek (yes we have an abundance of racoons around here). Coon Creek runs into the Shoshone River right next to the Byron Bridge. After I finished the Prayer Rock project and a couple of other pending things I pulled this canvas back on the easle, finessed it a little bit more and here it is...waiting for the signature. A nice 16x20 Wyoming winter scene. To see the start, just scroll down and you'll see me as I painted it on location.
A few months ago Steve Hitz and his wife Ginger came into my studio. In my last years of high school in Byron, Wyoming, Steve's Grandpa, Chris Hitz lived next door and Steve and his family lived a couple of hundred yards down the same road. I think Steve was in 4th grade the year I graduated. His older brother Mike and I lived in the same house for a short period of time in college at BYU.
In my studio looking at paintings Steve and Ginger recounted a very short version of their family and business lives. They raised 5 children and built a tremendously successful business. There is much that I don't know (well maybe I should revise that to: there are a FEW things that I don't know) and what their company US REPORTS, INCORPORATED was one of those things. The business has to do with helping insured businesses safety concerns and loss control efforts. They built it into a huge national corporation, sold it and are now involved in mentoring entreprenures by teaching correct principles. Steve, along with James W. Ritchie have written a great book entitled "The Ministry of Business; how correct principles magnify buisness success".
Since Steve and I both grew up with the dramatic Prayer Rock with the Lincoln Head perched near the top, I was very pleased that he and Ginger commissioned me to do this painting.
Scroll down to see how the painting started and the progress it made.
These two fine paintings will be displayed at the Dixie State University Art Show in St. George, Utah from February 14 until March 30th. Each painting measures 24 x 12 and each will sell for $2400. As usual, I do my best to research the clothing and in the case of the Soldier his weapons and gear.
500 men of the Mormon Battalion were conscripted to join in the war against Mexico. They sent their pay and alowances for uniforms back to Winter Quarters (Council Bluffs on the Missouri River) where their friends and families were preparing and starting on their journey west to Utah.
Christmas Morning I said to Pam; "Do you want me lurking around the kitchen while you prepare the dinner for the family or do you want me to go down to the river and paint a picture?"
Apparently she didn't want me "lurking" so I had a lot of fun doing this piece. I love painting winter scenes!
In the movie (long ago) "The Agony & Ecstacy" starring Charlton Heston as Michaelangelo and Rex Harrison as Pope Julius, Michaelangelo (Chuck) would be up on the scaffold painting the Sistene Chapel ceiling and Pope Rex would come in with his entourage, look up and holler, "When will you be finished?". And Chuck would call down (kindly at first) "when I am done". This was repeated frequently until Chuck had lost his patience and was infuriated. Well, Pope Julius (Rex Harrison) was pretty frustrated as well and was hostile, "WHEN WILL YOU BE FINISHED!!!" he would roar. Michaelangelo (Chuck Heston) would bellow back from above, "WHEN I AM DONE!!!". And then he "accidentally"dropped a hammer from high up on the scaffold that landed near the Pope's feet, to emphasize the point. From then on El Papa would stick his head in the door (the entourage would not enter) to see the progress.
With this project (as with many others in the past) I have been both the Pope and the Painter. In my mind, when I come into the studio I shout, "WHEN WILL YOU BE FINISHED?". And I holler back (in my mind of course), WHEN I AM DONE!". And then I feel like dropping a hammer.
In this painting I have made quite a few changes with people and things in the foreground. You can see that if you compare it to the earlier photos of the painting.
For me the creative process demands that I continue to be open minded about what is best for the painting. Often I have to destroy a good thing for a better thing. The bottom snapshot shows the painting as it was when I brought it back into the studio from a painting session on the canal bank where the colors of the rock and sky were laid in.
In the middle photo one can see that I have scrubbed in a warm red oxcide underpainting over the lower half of the canvas and I have finished the sky and much of Prayer Rock (as finished as anything gets while there is paint in my brush and the painting is on the easle). The standing couple in the foreground are probably not going to make it and I have replaced the small scraper with a wheeled scraper and a team. In the distance is a wagon and some workers. Even as I work in color I am still pretty loose and sketchy, including the guys on the lower right and the one character pulling the other out of the way of the oncoming water.
Further along as the painting progresses (top picture) there are even more changes. I decided Byron Sessions, the leader of the project, needed to be on horseback and so he replaces the scraper and the team in the lower left corner. That scraper and team are being moved to the other side of the canal (you can barely see them). The wagon in the distance is being replaced by a workman, scraper and horse and the people on the lower right hand side are taking shape. The running children are still little ghosts.
I'm crazy about painting rock formations, cliffs and mountains. Prayer Rock is a facinating formation for several reasons and the Mormon Canal building story is just one of them. It faces south, generally, and the sunlight and shadows are always dramatic (even when the sun is behind the clouds).
A bunch of years ago, accompanied by my daughter Heather, we took our paint boxes and each of us had a 24 x 30 canvas and we stood on the canal bank and painted Prayer Rock from this angle looking east. The bottom picture is my location sketch (that's what us "painters" call a painting done on location; the more artsy people call them "plein aire" paintings). Heather Hopkinson Nielsen's painting turned out well also.
The top painting is a 30 x 40 painting completed in my studio from the location sketch. The painting sat in my studio for a period of time. As I was reading journals of pioneers and some family history it occurred to me that my wife Pamela's great grandfather John Cozzens who was an original 1900 Byron Pioneer, crossed the plains as an 18 year old in 1856 pulling one of those handcarts. He and his cousin Martha were in the third handcart company under the direction of a Brother Bunker. They started out few days earlier than the Martin and Willey handcart companies and missed being part of those companies that were stranded on South Pass Wyoming losing over 200 lives.
So, the story I'm sticking to as to why I painted handcart Pioneers in front of Prayer Rock in Northern Wyoming, 250 miles from where the actual events happened was to honor those people who sacrificed so much to bring us to where we are...that, and also to make an exciting painting.
One day last week the light was just right so I took my portable French Easle and my 30 x 40 canvas out to the canal at Prayer Rock and Painted in the colors, lights and shadows of that awesome formation. These cliffs at this place in the canal have always appealed to me and I have painted Prayer Rock and the adjacent cliffs many times. I'll share some of those paintings and sketchs soon.
If you look close, up near the top you can see Lincoln's face.
Another great project has come my way. About 5 miles west of Byron is a place called Prayer Rock. Some refer to it as Lincoln Head Rock because of a small formation near the peak resembles Lincoln's head on the penny. Anyway, Prayer Rock got it's name from the Mormon Pioneers who settled Byron in 1900 and began digging the Sidon Canal which to this day waters the farms of the North Big Horn Basin. It was and is quite a tremendous engineering project as they used teams pulling scrapers and diggers and wagons loaded with desert sand and rocks. They came to this great rock formation that was in the way and in order to maintain the necessary downward grade they needed to dig under this great overhang...a very dangerous proposition for those workers.
A lot of prayer went into the project asking for protection and safety. On a particular day, Byron Sessions, the ecclesiastical and project leader called all the workers who were working under the overhang to quickly gather up their tools and come up out from under the rock. Within minutes the great formation broke apart and down came hundreds of tons of sandstone and yet everyone was safe. Everyone there felt they had witnessed a miracle and gave thanks to God for His protection. There is also an eyewitness account that said that a day earlier Byron Sessions prophesied that within 24 hours the rock would come down. I think his skeptical son Bynie Sessions, pulled out his watch to see if "the old man" was a true prophet. And he was.
So what I have chosen to depict is not the crashing of the massive rock but the completion of this section of the canal and the first flowing of the water. A few weeks ago I sketched this charcoal drawing on a large canvas. Since Prayer Rock is so close to my studio I go out there frequently and stand on the canal bank making sketches of the lighting on the rocks at different times of day and of different angles.