Posts Tagged ‘Zion’

What’s in a name?

Sunday, March 15th, 2020

A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but the wrong title for a painting can stink.

"Zion, Face to Face" by Charlotte Mertz (9"x12" oil, 190701-o)

“Zion, Face to Face” by Charlotte Mertz (9″x12″ oil, 190701-o)

Initially, when seeking a title for this painting, I had been concerned that there might be some question regarding what was casting the canyon wall into shadow. But, by titling this painting “Silhouettes and Shadows” as a clarification, I inadvertently misdirected the viewers’ attention to unlit sections rather than to the sunlit area of the painting that the shadow underscored.

After allowing the painting to rest and resonate with me for some time, I knew that I needed to find a more appropriate title that would both identify Zion National Park as the specific locale the scene depicted and emphasize the lighted portion of the stone wall rather than the supporting features of the shadow and silhouetted trees.

In many instances, artists find it preferable to avoid citing specific locations painted, allowing the viewer to imagine a location based on their own background and experiences.  In the case of a well known or iconic location, however, it is often advantageous to specify it in the title.

In Zion National Park, the names of many of the geological features allude to biblical references.  The new title I selected, “Zion, Face to Face,” specifically cites the name of the park. “Face to Face” may be understood in either of two ways—first by suggesting that the viewer is seeing Zion “in person” through the eyes of the artist, and second by suggesting that the shadow is cast by a second wall facing the one illustrated. In either case, it draws attention to the textured rock face of the canyon wall instead of to the peripheral, shadowed areas.  The phrase “Face to Face” also alludes to a biblical passage in I Corinthians 13:12. For those familiar with the passage, this, in turn, underscores the brilliant light and clarity of the park’s atmosphere.

So the new title, rather detracting from the painting, now contributes to and enhances the intended concept of it.  Can it get any sweeter than that?

Scaling the heights

Saturday, June 1st, 2019

As I began planning some studio paintings of our most recent trip to the western U.S., I was drawn repeatedly to a scene from Zion National Park, in Utah.  At the beginning of our riverside walk along the Virgin River, the sun and shadows had crept slowly across the canyon walls towering overhead.  Heavy snows over the past winter led to a heavier-than-normal runoff this spring, resulting in a fine-line waterfall over the precipice, further feeding the swelling river, and rendering the Narrows (a twisting, normally wadable section of the stream) impassable on foot.  So although we were unable to hike the Narrows on this trip, we were treated to this rare view of the falls.  I thought it was worth commemorating in paint.

Hoping to capture the early morning light on the majestic stone walls, my first effort was in oils. I realized how critical it would be to include figures within the composition:  Something was needed to provide a sense of scale to the scene.  Without including any figures in the image, the trees in the foreground might be assumed to be roughly the height of a person, which would minimize the apparent height of the canyon walls.  With the figures in place, however, the viewer realizes how comparatively tall the trees, in fact, are, which in turn provides a more accurate scale for the towering walls of the canyon.

"Springtime Fall, Zion National Park" by Charlotte Mertz, 12"x9" oil on panel.  190501

“Springtime Fall, Zion National Park” by Charlotte Mertz, 12″ x 9″ oil on panel

But despite this preplanning, for several reasons I still wasn’t entirely happy with the resulting composition.  So I rethought the concept and reconsidered how to more effectively express it, ultimately placing more emphasis on the towering height than on the sunlight’s influence on the stone.  This time I chose an elongated format in watercolor to emphasize the verticality of the scene.  Another technique I used was to emphasize the vertical fissures and de-emphasize many of the curving and horizontal cracks, except where they were needed to describe the broken character of the wall and the interrupted fall of water. Once again, it was critical to include figures in the foreground to provide a sense of scale.

"From the Heights," by Charlotte Mertz (12"x6" watercolor, #190502w)

“From the Heights,” by Charlotte Mertz
(12″x6″ watercolor, #190502w)

The resulting composition much more closely approximates the overwhelming sensations I experienced at the site.  Ironically, the sense of light improved in the second composition, as well, due primarily to my choice of a warmer dominant color to describe the hue of the sunlit stone.