Portraits of Rivers: Rivers of Colorado

Portraits of Rivers: Rivers of Colorado

Rivers of Colorado 
Acrylic on canvas

A few months ago my brother, who has relocated to Denver, commissioned me to paint a portrait of the rivers of Colorado.  He liked the idea of working in the colors of the state flag but otherwise I was free to follow my flow when composing this piece.  

I’d been wanting to bring more of an awareness of watersheds into my series of paintings and decided Colorado would be a great region to showcase this way of considering landscape.   Since most of the painting contained the Rocky Mountains it seemed like they should be represented somehow as well.   
While looking up the meaning of the colors in the Colorado state flag I learned (from Wikipedia) that the red represented the ruddy earth, the blue the expansive sky, the yellow is a reference to the mining of gold and the white was the snowy mountains.   
To work with these themes I decided to overlay a topographic relief map on top of the rivers and color highest snow capped peaks with white.  Then I used gradients of color from light to dark to show the descents in elevation.  Finally I divided the map into watersheds by using a different color for each one.  
Up until this point in the progression of my Portraits of Rivers series I had transferred the maps onto canvas freehand using a printout onto which I put a grid and then transferred a drawing of the map into a larger grid that I had penciled onto the canvas.  But the details of the Rocky Mountains proved to be to mighty and I had to use a projector to get the first layer of sketching done.  It made my work go so much faster and I’ll probably keep using one for future Portraits of Rivers paintings.  
It was so fun to watch this painting come together.  I first figured out which watershed would be red, yellow and blue.  Then I spent a few weeks working out the colors for the other sections.  
Paintings in this series take me a long time.   I think of them as deep listening exercises as each color changes both the tone and frequency of the whole composition.  I add a color and then need time for it to settle in.  Sometimes I’ll get a few pieces of clarity and direction at once but most of these paintings have needed days or weeks of time spent looking at them before I feel ready to continue with their colorful journey.  
This one had a few of those meditative lulls.  
But I scaled this mountainous river project.  
And voila!   
It’s done.  
(Detail photo showing the colors on the sides of the canvas)

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