Blazing Cottonwoods, Yosemite Fall
Original Oil Painting | En Plein Air
Medium: Oil on Canvas
Dimensions: 20" x 24"
Signed: Penny Otwell
Exhibition: High Spirit is now at The Ansel Adams Gallery
I have a deep connection with Yosemite National Park that has stretched over 60 years. When I was 18, I jumped on a Greyhound bus that brought me from Los Angeles to my first job in the park, working at The Ahwahnee hotel. In those first years, I spent days off backpacking in the high Sierra with new friends, which ignited my love for the natural world. Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada have been my home ever since.
Collectors have described my work as “expressionistic, colorful, and even whimsical,” but I choose not to identify with a single painting style. I primarily work “en plein air” – outside in the place I am painting – which inspires me to paint from my heart using a “fresh ala prima” (wet-into-wet) interpretation that is uniquely my own. As I feel the light, colors, and breezes of a place and hear moving water, birds singing, and wind through trees as I paint, my work becomes very spontaneous and connected to place.
As I arrive at my selected location for the day, I set up, squeeze out my oil paints, and spend a few moments appreciating where I am to help define my focus and intent. With a goal to make a good composition with appealing color harmony, I design each piece with a simple idea. By carefully studying Yosemite’s granite forms, my drawings are faithful, but my own intuition is the strongest component of my working style.
Starting with an abstract block-in underpainting, I nail down moving light, then slow down to complete the design. My sturdy easel allows me to work with large canvases (up to 36” x 48”) as well as smaller panels. I use large brushes and palette knives for thick texture to start and progressively use smaller and smaller brushes and knives to complete each slightly abstract painting. Most of each painting is completed in the field, but I usually give each piece a good, hard look back in my painting studio in Mariposa.
Being a plein air painter comes naturally to me and I love sharing this very special place with others through my work. I am so grateful to have the best job in the Park!
This studio painting was made from a 9x12" plein air painting done in 2021, fall. The fall color peaked on this day but the most unusual thing last fall was the amount of rain we had in the Sierra which brought all the waterfalls to life -- almost to spring-size! I don't recall this every happening to me before, but maybe when rain was a more regular part of mountain life like in the 1960's. Spring-like water and fall color! This comes framed in a pale wood float frame.
Penny Otwell's Biography
High Spirit by Penny Otwell is on exhibition at The Ansel Adams Gallery from September 24th to November 5th
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