Ranch in Elk River Valley
Watercolor Painting by Dennis Pendleton. In a few days I will be heading up to Steamboat Springs, Colorado to teach a plein air watercolor workshop and, because I lived there for ten years, it will be like going home again. The Yampa Valley with the two rivers, ski area, mountains, ranches and, most of all the people, always makes for a fun trip. This painting was done on one of the ranches along the Elk River and I remember the excitement I felt when I parked my car and set up my easel. The old fence and giant hay bails leading back to the ranch buildings with the ski mountains behind was such a handsome setting.
Starting with the background, I painted the sky with a light wash of cerulean blue leaving a few unpainted areas for the wispy clouds. While the sky was drying, I mixed a warm gray with cerulean blue and red then painted the underside of the clouds. The most distant mountain is a darker version of the same gray with lighter areas for the ski runs. Moving forward, two more mountains were painted with gray and strips of green mixed with olive and perylene. Finally, the closest two mountains are olive green and terra verde for the one on the left.
Painting the middle ground was next with the trees, ranch buildings and distant hay bails. The middle ground is usually where you find the most interest with more colors, value changes, temperature changes, details, and more often than not a focal point. You can see how the mountains drop down as if they are pointing into this area. The light roof tops against the dark values of the mountains and trees creates an "effect" with light against dark. This is the biggest value change in the painting and that always commands attention. The red barns against the dark green mountain, complimentary colors, also attracts the viewers eye. The trees were painted with olive green and lemon yellow.
Moving to the forground, the bails of hay were painted with yellow ochre and burnt sienna and the same colors were used for the ground. The largest bail of hay was pinned up against the barbwire fence which I found interesting. I enjoy using juxtaposition in the forground with small objects contrasting with larger objects. In this case, the large hay bail compared with the fence posts, barbwire and tall grasses.
Seperating a landscape into background, middle ground, and foreground breaks the subject into sections and gives you a guide for completing your painting. Think about using cooler colors in the background, a combination of warm and cool colors in the middleground and warm colors in the foreground. Happy Painting! Dennis Pendleton