“Snowy Peaks on the Rio Grande” by Lindy Cook Severns 2015, 14″ x 20″ pastel on archival paper. This landscape painting of winter along the lower Rio Grande is a studio painting inspired by being there and being cold.
West Texans brag “If you don’t like the weather, just stick around awhile—it’ll change.” That’s especially true of the borderlands, where every crevasse, every peak, every riverbank enjoys a personal microclimate. The Chihuahuan Desert means “river” as much as it defines the flats and mountain peaks. The varied Big Bend landscape that makes Big Bend National Park a treat to visit also makes it fun to photograph and delightful to paint.
Usually, I can set up and paint on location in Big Bend most every January day. This year, though, a series of cold fronts brought rain, snow, ice to the desert. Being a painter addicted to comfort, unwilling to stand at my easel and lose my toes to frostbite, I photographed more than I painted.
Photography is serious business for me. My landscapes are authentic places, so I keep meticulous photo files, each folder a location I’ve visited: “Burro Mesa Pour-Off”, “Lost Mine Trail”, “Terlingua Ghost Town”. Most of my photos aren’t anything special, but I save them anyway, because even mediocre shots remind me what surrounds the scene I choose to paint. These folders allow me to revisit a locale—sometimes, years later—to regain a sense of that place.
These trips aren’t all work. Jim and I love to pack up the “kids” (two rescued terriers and one spoiled African Grey parrot) for long, destination-free drives. One frigid dawn, Jim pointed the truck toward Lajitas, where the mountains were still obscured by somber clouds. While I didn’t anticipate getting any photographs, the Thermos sloshed with hot coffee as our little family set out for adventure. And in the serendipitous way nature has of accommodating artists and photographers, the pale sun broke through the clouds.
On either side of the River Road between Lajitas and Presidio, mountains wore caps of snow, while the Rio Grande, untouched by winter, flowed lazily through golden cottonwoods, green-shooted willows, clumps of wildflowers. Jim inched our big truck onto narrow, muddy shoulders so I could roll down the window and snap yet another shot. More often, I got out, a curious parrot clutching my wrist as I hiked to photograph the landscape from a better vantage point. (If I did this too frequently, the bird would mutter, “Brrrr!”. He’s quite weather hardy, but does complain a lot.)
It wasn’t as if we’d never seen snow before, but the unexpected contrast, the patchwork of seasons, the soft cloak of snow on the rugged desert mountains, the unexpected weave of color gripped our souls that morning.
Our African Grey parrot appreciates beauty, and loves surprises too. He was on my wrist as I photographed the River Road through Big Bend Ranch State Park. I don’t necessarily recommend having a large bird on your wrist when you take pics with a big digital SLR camera, but it’s what we do!
Artists zero in on the unexpected. A splash of surprise can render the ordinary extraordinary. I never tire of painting the River Road, but this winter’s drive inspired new connections to the landscape. Back in my studio (with warm feet) I mapped in mountains, then delightfully made snow fall into their rocky crannies.
For my winter on the Rio Grande landscapes this year, even my tools were different. For snow, I ordered new paints (30 soft pastels in colors called Terry Ludwig True Lights; they all look white, but each is actually a pale pale color, fun for me and tons more interesting to the viewer than pure white snow). To paint the rugged mountains and create cracks which I could later fill with snow, I used pastel paper so rough, my iPad and iPhone refused to recognize my thumbprint for a week or two.
As of this writing, I’ve already revisited the River Road from my studio twice, creating two new pastel landscape paintings from that morning’s family adventure.
Security is what allows me to spend my time painting. The fellowship of family, the comfort of a warm studio, the anticipation of a familiar view out my window bring joy to my days. But the unexpected—stepping from a warm truck into icy air; sneezing as pollen floats from budding trees along the river, then looking up and seeing rocky peaks softly sprinkled with snow—the things that don’t quite fit are the things that inspire me to paint them.
May the surprises of today be good ones.
“Snowy Peaks on the Rio Grande” 14” x 20” pastel landscape painting by Lindy Cook Severns 2015
$3700 custom framed under non-reflective museum glass
“Snowy Peaks on the Rio Grande” is a 14″ x 20″ image, an original pastel landscape painting by Texas artist Lindy Cook Severns. Here it is custom framed under non-reflective museum glass at Midland Framing and Fine Arts, Midland TX. (Gallery and framer Ramon Gonzales does all my custom framing.)
The original landscape painting is represented by Ramon Gonzales, Midland Framing and Fine Arts
1028 Andrews Highway Suite A, Midland TX , 79701
To see more of my Big Bend landscape paintings and others, visit my website, OldSpanishTrailStudio.com