Painting the Grand Canyon

Moran Point ~ Grand Canyon

Moran Point ~ Grand Canyon

During the spring of 2017, I was fortunate to go on a painting trip to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, with dear artist friends. There were 6 of us in two cars, driving from Santa Cruz California, and a few more met us on location. Sharing this kind of adventure with other artists is not only great fun, it also adds safety, support and inspiration along the way. We broke the 750 mile trip into two segments, and spent a couple nights on the way. This also gave us a chance to paint in Sedona, which I will share in a separate post.

Driving into Grand Canyon National Park we were surprised by a snow storm. What started as a few flurries, rapidly turned into a few feet of visibility. The ground was quickly covered by falling snow, including the road. Good thing I had my years of growing up in Germany and driving icy roads in the winter to draw on! The Drive became a meditation of focus…following in the “footsteps” of the car in front of us, one breath at a time.

IMG_1462IMG_1427However, the dusting of snow added a magic glow to this already awesome place. After quickly settling into Yavapai Lodge (which we loved by the way, a quiet retreat away from the hustle and bustle of Grand Canyon Village), we hurried to the Canyon rim to catch a glimpse of the setting sun. Wow! I was truly speechless, overpowered by the beauty of the place.

GRAND CANYON – MORAN POINT ~ Tuesday April 4th, 2017

The next morning, we awoke to brilliant sunshine reflecting off fresh fallen snow. Despite being hit by a bad bout of altitude sickness and a sore throat, I could not contain my excitement, and ventured out with the group.

IMG_0710As our first site, we chose Moran Point, which is named after the famous landscape painter Thomas Moran. I so admire his work, it was exhilarating to stand in the same place he did, and to take on this awesome view.

IMG_0785Though I have been to the Grand Canyon several times, and did research on how to paint the grandeur, nothing can truly prepare you for standing in front of this jaw dropping window into earth’s history! Attempting to translate these awe-inspiring vistas into convincing paintings is truly a GRAND challenge.

IMG_0714Being a California coastal painter, I am used to rocky shores, however painting the ocean is infinitely more forgiving than attempting these vast vistas, and endless layers of geological formations. As an artist, especially one rooted in impressionism, I strive to simplify nature’s complexity, while communicating the essence, soul and spirit of the place. The Grand Canyon is a demanding and powerful teacher on this journey.

Along Desert Drive, Grand Canyon

Along Desert Drive, Grand Canyon

Wed April 5 2017, morning

The next day, we drove along desert drive, scouting for a morning painting spot. This awesome vista stopped us in our tracks, and we quickly set up our gear (as quickly as it ever is for me, never the fastest of the pack…). The blues and purples in the shadows were stunning, as was the contrast of the forested foreground mountain, and the distant atmospheric layers.





Stunning – and CHALLENGING! The beauty of this place is overwhelming and complex, and the quickly changing weather and cloud formations vary the light constantly. Sure, as plein air painters we are used to this, but at the Grand Canyon the countless rock formations are like chameleons in the changing light. Just when you think you’ve established a workable pattern, it transforms…

IMG_0716What helps? Of course, as always, working quickly, and staying with your design of light and shadow, even as it changes. And, in my case, I finished my paintings in the studio, from reference photos. This allowed me to relax into the experience of painting this awesome place, without the added pressure of having to finish. Being a slow painter to start with, I have learned that going at my own pace is what I enjoy.

GRAND CANYON – AT MATHER POINT ~ Wednesday, April 5th, 2017, late afternoon

Sunset At Mather Point, Grand Canyon

Sunset At Mather Point, Grand Canyon

IMG_0739After taking a much needed break, we tackled Mather Point in the late afternoon. By tackled I don’t just mean the challenging views, but also the unimaginable crowds! This spot is so beloved (understandably) that it feels like the “Disneyland” of the Grand Canyon.

IMG_0737My friend and I climbed up on a ledge, to escape the constant stream of folks, just so we wouldn’t get run over. From our artist’s perch, the view was spectacular, and awe inspiring.

Painting is a spiritual experience for me anyway, yet witnessing the evening glow and glorious sunset along with everyone else, and doing our best to capture this spectacle on canvas, was truly a high point.

GRAND CANYON – GRANDVIEW Thursday, April 6th, 2017

Grand View, Grand Canyon

Grand View, Grand Canyon

Grandview point is amazingly gorgeous.  We found the perfect painting location, nestled among the trees and away from the crowds.  Heaven, especially after busy Mather Point!

My friend Jean and I picked the a special spot, opening up into a grand vista, while my friend Eunice painted the magical dusting of snow on the towering canyon walls.

The view was so breathtaking, I wish I had wings and could just fly over it.  The earth spirit of this place is so powerful, we almost belted out Indian chants.  Fortunately for any bystanders, I just sang in my head instead, and moved my paint brush to the soulful rhythm of the canyon.  

IMG_0822 IMG_0809







IMG_0767This was the last painting of the trip. I finished these works in my studio, from reference photos and awesome memories.  Touching them up at home brought me right back to the wild beauty of the Grand Canyon. I hope to create some larger studio paintings from all this inspiration as well.

We finished this wonderful adventure with a lovely group dinner at the majestic Grand Canyon Lodge, sharing our stories and a fabulous meal.  These precious memories will last a life time!

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National Parks Foundation Feature

Thank you so much to the National Parks Foundation for featuring us in their September newsletter (scroll down):


Centennial Month Recap — This year has been full of amazing events, programs, and celebrations in honor of the National Park Service Centennial. Hundreds of celebrations took place across the country with some of August’s highlights including a Park Exchange event in New York City at Thomas Edison National Historical Park that lit up the New York skyline and a giant living arrowhead on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Obama’s Weekly Address — President Barack Obama addressed the nation in a Youtube video on August 20 in anticipation of the National Park Service’s Centennial birthday. The President commemorated the 100th anniversary by sharing his family’s incredible experiences in national parks. President Obama described the importance of parks to himself and his family, as well as to current and future generations of Americans. He encouraged all Americans to explore the outdoors and “Find Your Park.”

Centennial Commemorative Coin — The United States Mint is selling commemorative coins that honor the National Park Service Centennial. These are beautiful collector’s items and every sale benefits the parks through funding for NPS signature projects and programs. As the official nonprofit partner of the National Park Service, the Foundation will collect the surcharges from sale of the coins to be used for vital projects and programs throughout the park system. The coins are available for purchase in select parks and online through December 31, 2016, so be sure to order yours soon!

National Park Centennial Challenge — The National Park Foundation teamed up with Humana and Charity Miles to create the National Park Centennial Challenge. Charity Miles is an app that allows people to earn money for a charity when they walk, run, or bike. The results of the Centennial Challenge showed that people logged over 100,000 miles during the course of the centennial week, making the National Park Foundation the number one charity on the app! You can learn more about the National Park Centennial Challenge here.

A New Century and A New Park! — Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument was designated by President Obama as the newest park on August 24, 2016. It is the 413th park, covering 87,500 acres of rugged terrain in Northeastern Maine, including mountain ridges and wild rivers. The parklands are home to a wide variety of animals like moose, bobcats, bald eagle, salmon, and Canadian lynx. Philanthropist Roxanne Quimby donated thousands of acres and millions of dollars to the creation of this monument.

Find Your Park Expedition 2016 Updates — Eight social media personalities, bloggers, and online influencers will be adventuring through San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Rosie the Riveter WWII Homefront National Historical Park, and Yosemite National Park this month. The Find Your Park Expedition is a great opportunity to connect millennials and diverse audiences to our national parks. By taking online influencers to parks, we’ll bring the parks to people everywhere! Keep following #FYPx on social media for the latest updates.
Wrapping up the Park Exchange in New York City — The Park Exchange event series celebrated its final event in New York City on August 22. The all-day event boasted hundreds in attendance, celebrity appearances, and lots of media coverage. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, National Park Foundation President Will Shafroth, and Bill Nye ‘the Science Guy’ joined in on the fun, while DJ Questlove played a set into the night. Media coverage included CBS News, CNBC Squawk Box, and All Hip Hop.

Obama Administration Launches Second Year of Every Kid in a Park — The Obama Administration announced on Thursday, September 1, that the Every Kid in a Park Program will continue for a second year. In addition, the National Park Foundation announced 129 field trip grants that will make it possible for 250,000 4th graders to visit national parks during the 2016 -2017 school year.

Yosemite Valley

Paint the Parks! — What better way to celebrate the National Park Service Centennial than with painting your favorite outdoor spaces? Paint the Parks is a project for artists and nature lovers alike. Artists from around the country can paint scenes from their favorite national parks and then donate 10% of their proceeds from the sale of the painting to the National Park Foundation or to a specific park. You can find, purchase or get more information about these great pieces of art online at

National Public Lands Day — Celebrate our public lands by participating in a volunteer event on September 24. There are thousands of public land sites nationwide that need a little of your time for National Public Lands Day. People of all ages are invited to give back to their local community. There are lots of options to choose from. You can pull weeds, pick up litter, maintain trails and so much more. National Public Lands Day is a free admission day for all federal public lands and many state parks. Check out the National Public Lands Day website for more information.
2016 Fall Friends Alliance Registration and Updates — Registration is still open for the 2016 Fall Friends Alliance meeting at Grand Canyon National Park. This meeting will focus on sustaining and growing support for our national parks into the next century. Topics covered will include updates from the National Park Service, the National Park Foundation, and networking opportunities for partners. The upcoming Fall Friends Alliance meeting is quickly approaching so be sure to register, coordinate travel plans, and signup for field trips today! For questions, or interest in carpooling to the Grand Canyon, please contact Marya Skotte at 202.796.3115 or

A Warm Welcome to Chrystal Morris Murphy at the National Park Foundation — The National Park Foundation is excited to welcome Chrystal Morris Murphy as Senior Vice President of Community Partnerships. Chrystal is a community leader with over 10 years of constituency building and public relations experience. In her most recent role as VP and Senior Director of Community Engagement with America’s Promise Alliance (APA), Chrystal successfully created national partnerships, campaigns, and networks that galvanized communities to action. We look forward to the engaging work that Chrystal will be doing at the National Park Foundation!

Have Any Upcoming Find Your Park Programs, Events, or Volunteer Activities? — Please let NPF know if you have any events and/or volunteer opportunities you’d like us to share on social media. Please send details to Alanna Sobel, Senior Communications Manager, at at least two weeks before the event date.

We sent you this email because you requested our monthly newsletter about national parks. If you’d rather not receive GoParks from the National Park Foundation, you can delete your name from our subscription list by contacting Marya Skotte at In addition to our monthly newsletters, the National Park Foundation may periodically send out special editions of GoParks to alert our readers of news and events. Please see our revised Terms of Agreement here.

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The Artist’s Journey: Solo or Group?

Soberanes Canyon ~ 18x24, Oil

Soberanes Canyon ~ 18×24, Oil

Being an artist can be a lonely endeavor. Painting is for the most part a private process, and often means spending long stretches of time by yourself.
Many artists, including myself, are fortunate to have community, in the form of art groups and associations. I have been very lucky to be part of a fabulous and thriving group of painters myself. We paint together, critique each other’s work, go on art trips and events, and meet for social occasions. Fantastic support, camaraderie and companionship! In addition, through, I am part of a wonderful worldwide network of artists painting and supporting parks.

group painting

Santa Cruz oil Painters on the Big Sur Coast

Painting with others, especially plein air, also provides the safety of the group. Being with the “tribe” is deeply installed in our consciousness. Much of early human history and evolution was possible because of collective collaboration. Being out there painting plein air, subjected to the elements and unknown dangers, being with others provides great comfort, in addition to being fun and inspiring.

Nonetheless, while community is fabulous, following your personal muse and inspiration is still at the core of the artist’s soul. So what is the right rhythm for you, between painting by yourself and sharing your journey with others?

Wetlands Inspiration

Wetlands Inspiration

Setting out on your own “heroes journey,” to venture into the unknown and find out what you are made of, is an essential aspect of being an artist. Even if the “unknown” is simply a blank canvas (and that is uncharted territory indeed!). Being separate from the group fosters independent thinking and innovation – the pressure, however small or unconscious, of “fitting in” is gone. Suddenly you measure your work against your own progress, rather than other group members.

So what is the right balance? The rhythm of flying solo versus painting with a group is different for each artist. Some are almost completely hermit like, while others thrive on constant collaboration. Finding your own rhythm, between your soul’s quest, the passionate drive of your muse and the fertile exchange with others is an ever evolving mix. How will you know what works for you? Discover your own markers for the best mix – are you inspired, growing and fulfilled, as well as feeling supported and connected to other artists? Keep discovering your sweet spot, and have fun in the process!
Yours in the Fellowship of the Paintbrush,
Karin H. Leonard

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Meeting Julie Packard at Point Lobos Member Event

Point Lobos Cypress

Point Lobos Cypress

Recently, I had the honor of meeting Julie Packard and hearing her speak, at the annual member meeting for the Point Lobos Foundation.  This amazing lady is a great philanthropist, and in addition to her fabulous work with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, she is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, was named a California Coastal Hero by the California Coastal Commission and has received the Audubon Medal for Conservation. Wow!

Ms. Packard’s talk added so much to the meeting, and gave great insight into the newest for our State Parks, including her groundbreaking work with California’s Parks Forward Commission to help develop a sustainable path for California’s state parks.  Very inspiring!

At the break I had the opportunity to chat with Ms. Packard about the role of artists in supporting our parks. Julie was excited to hear about, and the great opportunity we have to create powerful synergy between the arts and parks.

Point Lobos is one of my very favorite parks, and attending the member meeting was a wonderful way to learn more about the organization.


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Condors at Julia Pfeiffer Burns

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and McWay Falls, about 36 miles south of Carmel, is worth a visit any day. Along with dramatic coastal vistas, this is the only major California waterfall to tumble into the Paci?c – and no post card can translate the wild beauty of this place.

When a group of us artists headed towards the falls to paint this picturesque sanctuary,  on a late spring afternoon, we were surprised by an additional gift:

Over 10 Californias Condors  blessed us, circling above and swooping down to the trees while we painted there…Read More


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Toro Park in Spring

Spring at Toro Park, o/c

Spring is in the air, and wildflowers are popping up everywhere.  Since we did not have much rain, this is not a record bloom year.  However, don’t let that deter you from venturing out into the verdant beauty of our parks.

Indian Warrior

Though there may not be wall to wall flowers this year, there is great variety.  In this recent hike we saw Footsteps of Spring, Indian Warriors, Owl Clover, Poppies, Lupines, Johnny Jump ups…. and many more.

“Spring at Toro Park” is the result of another fabulous day spent in this park, painting on location with friends.  We drove up towards the guided nature trail, finding this glorious vista with oaks and lupines.  Little did I know I signed up for a VERY demanding composition.  Like many creative ideas, this inspiring view turned into a challenge fast! Continue Reading

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Paint Parks in the Winter

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Painting Yosemite in the Snow

Painting Yosemite in the Snow

Yosemite in winter is a magical treat.  After January snows, we captured a couple sunny days.  Staying at the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls is wonderful – when you step out of your room the magnificent Yosemite Falls are right there, beckoning to be painted. So I didn’t have to walk far to have a fantastic view of the entire falls, brilliant in the winter sunlight.

Setting up my ever-ready 4×6 Guerilla paintbox… continue reading 

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Painting the President’s Park

The White House, Presidental Park ~ o/c

During a visit to Washington DC this past week, I took the opportunity to paint the White House.  Surprisingly, the White House and surrounding areas are part of the US National Park System, called the President’s Park.

Precious Cargo

When I arrived, painting gear in tow, I found a crowd, and the whole area closed of.  Why,  I asked?  Well, there was a good reason:  the presidental helicopter was just about to arrive at the White House!  I joined the other on-lookers, and we were soon rewarded with exciting close up views of “Marine One” descending onto the south lawn of the White House.  Pretty cool!

After a few minutes the helicopter took off again, and we caught another glimpse.  Waiting for the crowd to clear out, I dropped by the White House Visitor Center (currently being rennovated, so there is a temporary one), where you can find the NPS, as well as the WHite House HIstorical Association, and watch a 30min movie about the WH.

Finally, I set up my easle and did a quick sketch of this world famous spot.  It was exhilerating to be in the middle of all the activity, and visitors from all around the world ~ especially so close to the election!

Washington DC is a fabulous and exciting city to visit ~ and so much to explore for artists.  The National Mall with many memorials, beautiful parks and water features is part of the National Park Service, set aside for all of us to enjoy.  Springtime, with the Cherry Trees in bloom, sure is a highlight.  In addition, there are the wonderful Smithsonian Museeums, including the fabulous National Gallery of Art.  An added plus ~ all the Smithsonian Museums and memorials are free of charge!  If you’ve never been, or ready for another visit, Washington DC is worth the journey.

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Painting our Parks Exhibit

Our local Santa Cruz Oil Painters   group is hosting an exciting of show of Parks Paintings at all Branches of the Santa Cruz County Bank’s Art Collaborative

20% of sales made during this exhibition will benefit the parks.

Painting our Parks, check features over 100 plein air paintings of County, State and National Parks in California, from the quiet beauty of the pond at Quail Hollow, the grandeur of the rocky coast at Garrapata, to the majestic cliffs of Yosemite. The paintings were produced by fourteen Santa Cruz artists, all members of the Santa Cruz Oil Painters. Their images have captured the magic and the treasure of California’s natural beauty, preserved for all by our State Parks.

Artists’ Reception: 5:30-7:30pm on Thursday, September 27th Santa Cruz County Bank, 720 Front Street, Santa Cruz. Meet the artists, purchase artwork and network with other art lovers.

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