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The Painting That Sold Before I Finished It

Below Lodge Trail Ridge

The Ranch Below Fetterman's Masacure (watercolor) 9 x 16 SOLD


I began painting it at the Oregon State Fair this summer. When the light got bad in the evening I switched to clay and propped the painting up behind me. It caught the attention of a lovely woman and her teenage daughter. It reminds them of a ranch they know. After much discussion she bought another two big sky paintings and asked to purchase this one on completion. Last week she saw the completed painting for the first time and bought it. I’ve never been quite so pleased with a sale.Visiting the mountain west this summer, my husband and I toured two American Indian War Battle sites.  The first was that of the Fetterman Massacre which happened about ten years before Custer’s Last Stand.  The view is from but not of the site of the Fetterman Massacre in Northern Wyoming near Fort Kearney.

Fort Phil Kearney was set up in the northern Rockies to guard the Bozeman Trail. The Bozeman Trail (northwest from the Oregon Trail), passed through Wyoming, and on to the gold diggings in Virginia City, Montana. Unfortunately the trail crossed traditional Sioux hunting grounds. Sioux war chief,  Red Cloud, vowed to defend the territory. Washington, however, ordered the trail kept open at all costs.

In 1866, Colonel Henry Carrington, in command of the 18th Infantry Regiment, was sent to build and garrison a series of posts along the trail. Captain William Fetterman joined the regiment.

The Sioux harassed the fort and posts, particularly parties detailed to work outside the fort and those traveling between the forts.  Red Cloud and Roman Nose of the Cheyenne assembled several thousand warriors to remove the U.S. Army from the trail. Red Cloud’s plan was to send small parties of warriors to attack the wood trains and lure the soldiers off to meet the main band of warriors.

On December 6th, a wood train was attacked by a large party of warriors. When Carrington came out to retaliate he was met by an imposing force of Cheyenne warriors including Red Cloud and Roman Nose. He retreated to the fort, leaving too dead and five wounded. Carrington forbade any of his men to pursue fleeing Indians in the future.

Two weeks later, Red Cloud staged another strike on the wood train. But this time, Carrington was not sucked in. There was just one day of wood cutting left for the winter. Carrington prepared to send out a Captain Powell to reinforce the wood train, but Fetterman demanded the right to lead the rescue. Carrington yielded. Fettreman rounded up 79 men and – with the exact number he had bragged that he could wipe out the whole Sioux nation – set off to meet the foe. Carrington’s orders to him were, “Relieve the wood train. Under no circumstances pursue the enemy beyond Lodge Trail Ridge!”

As Fetterman’s men approached the the wood train, the warriors began to break off from the assault and flee from Fetterman’s approach. The soldiers chased them up the side of Lodge Trail Ridge. As they reached the crest of the ridge a second party of warriors, swung around on Fetterman’s rear. Fetternan and his men were surrounded by nearly 2000 men.

Fetterman attempted to ascend the ridge he had just come over and hide behind the cover of some rocks. But Indians were massing up that side of the ridge too. Within minutes all 80 of Fetterman’s men were dead.

Lodge Trail Ridge is now Wyoming State Historical Site.  (More information about the massacre, Fort Kearny, and the Bozeman Trail can be found at the official site for The Fort Kearny State Historical Site.)  A hiking trail leads along the ridge, and despite the markers and other information about the massacre remains beautiful. This is the view west from the lower end of the ridge.


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Wyoming Glow

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Wyoming Glow, a painting of a Western Morning by Jenny Armitage

Wyoming Glow (watercolor 15 x 18 inches) Available

Back to Wyoming in the morning.  I used the same reference photo for this painting as I did for my last pastel.  I didn’t mess the seasons this time but it looks like spring rather than summer to me.  That’s because it’s been such a wet year.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen Wyoming so green.  The early morning sun on the grass was simply spectacular.

The problem for me was not to lose the forest in the trees.   It’s much too easy to get mesmerized by detail and try to paint every tree.  Yet the painting must still suggest individual trees  and I wanted the emphasis to remain on the sunlit grass.  My solution this time was to eliminate detail by using a big brush.  The entire painting is done with a number 14 round brush (about three eights of an inch at the shank but coming to a fairly tight point).*   Usually I work in numbers 12, 10, 8 and finish with 6  (the smaller the number the smaller the brush).

I did not use mask either.  Painting carefully around the lights rather than reserving them with mask forced me to keep them big.

I also used a fairly limited palette:  winsor purple, phthalo blue, cobalt blue, quinacridone gold, and burnt sienna.  This not only helped unify the painting, but helped me concentrate on big shapes.

But I have my husband to thank for the key to this painting.  He came upstairs and looked at it in progress.

“Too fuzzy.”

“But where would I put the detail?”

“I don’t know.”

Stephen is not good at seeing what to do to a painting, but he’s very good at seeing problems.    It pays to listen to him.  I thought about it.  One classic maneuver is to put a lot of detail into the foreground.  I used that approach with my pastel.  But my painting was already too abstract to allow much real detail in the foreground.  In the end I did two things.  I added texture to the foreground and sharpened up the trees just where they intruded on the distant grass at the center of interest.  Together the changes created instant depth.


*Actually, I used one other brush, but only for my signature.  For that I used a number 2 rigger.  Riggers are very long thin brushes designed to make long thin continuous lines without having to repeatedly re-dip then in paint.  The name comes from their usefulness in painting sail rigging.


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Autumn Landscape of the Mind

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Pastel of Autumn Morning Landscape Near Grand Tetons National Park

Autumn Landscape of the Mind (pastel 12 x 17) SOLD

This pastel is based loosely on a photo I took just east of Tetons National Park in Wyoming. The early morning light made the grass glow almost yellow against the darker hills. I drove my family slightly batty stopping the car over and over to take yet another picture of light on the hills. I was actually pleased when when had to wait twenty minutes twice for construction. I liked this view in particular because of the way the beckons you in.

But my pastel could hardly feel less like early Wyoming summer. It seems we’ve never quite gotten summer here in Oregon this year and my mind has moved right along to fall. So I went where my mind is, and left June behind, converting dying pines into turning foliage and taking the grass even further yellow. But I left the morning light.

Working on the rough side of peach colored Canson Mi-Teintes I used almost entirely soft pastels. Only the foreground grass went in in hard pastel. The shadows in the grass are more soft pastel.

The blues, greens and oranges came very naturally. I added a few hints of purple in the shadows to set of the yellow grass.

This painting has sold, but you may purchase a print through my gallery at Fine Art America.

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