Mount Princeton

Mount Princeton is one of the "Fourteeners," one of the highest peaks of the Rocky Mountains. I painted it from across the valley, with Buena Vista far below. 

I'm proud of my son Frank for climbing all the way to the 14,197' summit. Even in the valley below at 8,000 feet, I'm breathless after a flight of stairs.

Mount Princeton by James Gurney, watercolor and gouache, 5x8 inches, October 2013
I feel that mountain painting requires a different mindset from other subjects. For one thing, I believe it's essential to draw all the forms as accurately as possible, as if I'm on a 19th century survey expedition, and lives depend on my getting the forms right. 

To get a feeling of scale, I tried to set up an extreme contrast between large and small touches. A barn in the valley is the size of a pinhead in the painting.

Detail of Mount Princeton, about 1 inch wide. White accents in gouache over watercolor.
Gouache and watercolor lend themselves to this kind of subject, because they allow for extremely small accents, contrasted with larger softly modeled forms. One of the keys to achieving a sense of scale and atmosphere in mountain painting is to keep all the values of the distant space fairly high key. 

The way I was set up, with the sunlight streaming directly onto the painting, I had to watch out that I didn't distort the values, because the direct sunlight makes all the painted passages appear lighter and more colorful than they would look in indoor light.

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