Break Free From Your Comfort Zone

Last spring, nine top artists, including Brienne M. Brown, shared a house in the heart of red rock country to capture the iconic views and enjoy the camaraderie of friends and like-minded contemporaries. Here’s her story.

“Colors of the Reef” (watercolor, 10 x 14 in.)

“I grew up in Salt Lake City, and we vacationed in southern Utah every year,” says Brown. “I’d never painted in Capitol Reef before, but I’d painted a few times in Arches and Zion National Parks, so painting red rock wasn’t new to me. Although I’d not been back in the area to paint since moving to Pennsylvania 10 years ago, returning felt like coming home. 

“Hiking the Wash” (watercolor, 14 x 10 in.)

“Very different from the landscape I’ve grown accustomed to painting in the East, red rock country presents unique challenges. Because of the high cliffs, warm colors of the rocks, and the various angles of broken boulders, the light and reflection of light would drastically change in a short period of time as the sun moved across the sky, making it difficult to judge the colors of the shadows and reflected light. Also, the color dominance of the land was of course very different from the tree-covered landscape of Pennsylvania.  

“Desert Compliments” (watercolor, 10 x 10 in.)

“I was inspired by the entire area, but especially the size and scale of the bluffs, canyon walls, and boulders piled at the base of the cliffs. When faced with so much grandeur, it can be hard to know how to capture the scale. I tried in a few of my studies, but in most of my paintings I decided to focus on the colors and shapes of the shadows created by these massive walls and the fascinating textures of the bluffs.  

Brienne M. Brown painting in the Capitol Gorge Canyon

“I used more orange than usual. I also used a red and magenta I rarely need for other landscape paintings. There were just so many wonderful, subtle shifts of warm color that I wasn’t used to. Those variations in color — and also in texture — in the layers of the canyon walls posed a significant challenge. How do you create the correct value shapes to maintain the illusion of form with so much color and texture variation? 

“Edge of the Light” (watercolor, 10 x 10 in.)

“Another unique challenge we had during the week was weather. The temperatures were pleasant enough, but the wind was brutal for many of the days. Even though the wind was frustrating, we worked through it and had two perfect days at the end. Plein air is all about adapting and that’s what we did. Also, with no pressure to produce final products, we could enjoy our experiences — both good and bad.  

Brienne M. Brown, Jane Hunt, and Chula Beauregard

“As a group, we had great conversations about the successes, stresses, insecurities, challenges, and inspiration we all feel as artists. We got to geek out together over the technical side of art-making and delve into deeper philosophies of our lives as artists. These experiences are hard to get while working alone in my studio or even at events with other artists when we don’t have much time together.”

Zapped your travel budget until next summer? No worries! Plan to paint along with world-famous watercolor artist Amit Kapoor and other artists from around the globe at the 5th Annual PleinAir Live, March 6-8, 2024, all from the comfort of your own home studio!


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