The Dawn Wall

 

This is a painting I’ve been working on for a while.  It’s quite large (A3) and went through a lot of iterations before it was finally complete.

I first came across this particular rockface while watching some climbing videos.  The first was about a couple of climbers climbing a particular route on the rock face El Capitan in the US.  The section they climbed is called “The Dawn Wall”.  Then I watched the amazing Alex Honnold, in another video, climb the whole thing, free solo.  It was extraordinary!  My hands kept breaking out into a sweat just watching that chap.  Later the same week I was looking at some more beautiful woodblock prints from Japan.  I looked through a lot of Yoshida’s work and came across this beautiful print he made of El Capitan…

By Horoshi Yoshida, 1925

It just blew my mind.  If I were rich I would attempt to get an original copy of this.  I find it really beautiful.  Having seen this I made a couple of sketches of El Cap using photo reference…

 

I liked the feel of this sketch, so rather than sketching it again I decided to enlarge and transfer the sketch onto my watercolour paper.

  • First I scanned in my image and then printed it out 141% larger so it would fit to A3 paper.  Because my printer will only do A4 I printed 2 sections and then joined them like this…

  • Next I used a nice dark pencil to cover the back of the paper with graphite…

 

  • Then I got my Arches paper and laid the sketch over the paper and drew over my lines.  This marked the watercolour paper very lightly with my sketch…

 

Then I began to paint.  I began with a watercolour sky…

 

Then I blocked in some of the main light and dark areas on the rock face…

I built this up until I had a basic underpainting…

Then I began to layer on my gouache.  I thought the contrast between a hazy watercolour sky and the clear and definite strokes of gouache would make the rock seem harder.

After the first wash with gouache the painting looked like this…

 

Then I did the bulk of the actual painting – all the medium level tones

and colours…

 

Then I was ready for my favourite bit – the details.  Here’s the final painting…

 

 

9 thoughts on “The Dawn Wall

  1. Yeah, been there myself many times, particularly when you are combining different images for a painting. Looking at your reference it also seems that your foreground is deeper, pushing the front trees back and upsetting the illusion. Still, nothing that couldn’t be corrected if you wanted to.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yeah, I do have a tendancy to follow my photo reference a bit to closely sometimes rather than changing it to express the subject with more imact. Here’s a picture of my reference vs my final painting. I think I did make the tree a little smaller but doing that more might have been better…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jo, by placing those trees at the size they are, close to the face, you have reduced the relative proportions of the cliff. It is actually immense and the trees at the sizes they are, reduce the impact. If you look at the woodcut, the tall trees are close to the viewer and he has reduced the trees markedly close to the cliff.to display the enormity of the rock face.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think it was about 10 -12 hours actual drawing/painting time. But there is also time when you’re trying to understand how to go forward with the painting. This part of the process takes a bit longer. You have to kind of feel your way forwards sometimes. I did it over about 7 days but with fairly big gaps in between each period of painting. Thanks for your encouragement!

    Like

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