I had been fortunate to have visited Zion National Park several times since my first visit in 1982. But time constraints always limited those visits to, at most, three or four days. My "Artist-in-Residency" in Zion gave me the wonderful opportunity to remain in the Park over an extended period. That time period, late January to early March, promised the possibility of some "inclement" winter weather. Little did I know that February of 2019 would provide a string of three snowstorms over a span of eight days or so. As one Park Ranger said to me during the first of those snowfalls, "You hit the jackpot!"
This photograph was taken at Canyon Overlook as the first of those three storms was closing in. As moved as I was by the drama of the approaching storm, I was equally affected by the tenacity of this lone Piñon Pine tree, somehow finding enough soil to take root on this sandstone precipice above Zion Canyon.
Living in Zion National Park was a unique and rewarding experience. The rushed urgency of a typical visit was absent, and I was able to work and explore at my own pace. One cloudy day I hiked up to the Lower Emerald Pools, enjoying the cool weather. On the way back down the trail I stopped to observe the view across the valley. I was particularly drawn to Red Arch Mountain, a formidable monolith of sandstone I had barely noticed on previous visits, but which now I lived directly beneath. Suddenly the sun broke through, highlighting this natural monument and its namesake arch. The inspiration was inescapable.
I painted this canvas en plein air (on location and in the field).
Two adult Condors were raising their one fledging all summer  and in October I arrived in the Park and I set up my studio at the Grotto House. I went every morning with my watercolors to paint and observe. I also went most evenings to see the three condors, although they were rarely all there at the same time. The chick would take short flights across the Virgin River and one day it perched on the corner rock across the road and above the bus stop. Because it did not move for hours, while waiting for food, I set up my easel in the pull-out before the bus stop going up canyon. I had a panoramic view of the fledging (lower right in the painting), with the adult soaring along the canyon wall below the last pitch of the trail to the top of Angels Landing (upper left in the painting). Its shadow was often easier to spot than the condor.
It took about six hours to paint the oil. I started with a warm light, yellow orange to lay out my composition. I used a vertical format because I wanted to depict the depth of field but also the height of the vertical sandstone wall. Most important to me is capturing the exact feel, using all five senses, of this moment. I believe it does capture the feel of these great birds in the wild.
- Joan Hoffmann
Last updated: November 2, 2020