The Story of Red Rock Crossing ....
by Barbara Single

Empress Books
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Newsletter, Spring 2003

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Red rock Crossing by Barbara "Pastelgal" Single.

The Medium: Pastel on paper. The Subject:  According to Barbara, the landmark is commonly called "Red Rock Crossing". The geological formation is formally known as the Cathedral Rocks, and is located outside Sedona, Arizona, USA. (Original pastel art Red Rock Crossing copyright © 2003 Barbara "Pastelgal" Single.)

Early in our marriage, when the gloss was still on the peaches, and the rosy glow of newlyweds was still evident, I talked my husband into a trip just for me to the red rock formation which is the most photographed and painted area in Arizona. I told him I thought it was simply incongruous that an artist (namely me) would not paint the famous landmark. So we loaded the truck with sandwiches and pads of paper, a huge box of pastels, and a hefty hardwood drawing board, and took off way before dawn because I wanted to catch the first rays of day on the rocks and their gorgeous, natural reflecting pool.

We arrived well before dawn's first light; in fact it was so black we had trouble finding a place to park. We enjoyed coffee out of a thermos for about an hour and a half, waiting. I had forgotten how long it takes for light to penetrate the canyon. It took even longer to see the first rays actually strike the rocks. I was set up and ready to paint, even though I had little "plein aire" experience -- a term meaning to capture those moments when light and atmosphere turn the "ordinary" into the "pleasurably extraordinary" -- and had brought all the wrong equipment. We hadn't yet found the reflecting pool.

As dawn crept upward, I started to sketch, slowly, bewildered.  They were red, the rocks, weren't they? No, not always -- and then I almost couldn't believe what I was seeing. Green, pale, but definitely green, at the top, and lavendar blue in the body of the monoliths. A colorless sky and gray shadows. Well, I did the best I could, the time spent being not so much a disappointment as a learning experience, and those ancient red rocks are a touchstone I go to even now.  As "plein aire" it will certainly be remembered.

I was able to do about three sketches that morning, and with some adventure. At one point sitting beside the stream, the pastels rolled down the bank into the water, and I jumped in to rescue them. We met a park ranger about ten in the morning, and asked him where the reflecting pool was. Well, it WAS right about where we had been standing -- until the most recent rainstorms and the resulting floodwaters had destroyed it.

Finally, many years later, armed with a new box of pastels with the perfect red-orange earth, and a new scanner, I was able to do the finish on Red Rock Crossing that I was hoping for, but didn't get the first time. And now I know artists don't always sit by the stream, dreaming about their masterpiece. Sometimes they bring the "plein aire" inside the home or studio, and finish it on the kitchen table like realists.

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