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Surviving the Rapids

North Cascades National Park is rich in cascading rivers, waterfalls and pristine, glacial-fed lakes. While hiking in the North Cascades in July, 2022, I came across this spectacular series of rapids and waterfalls. What a great subject for a pastel painting to go along with my hiking and travel theme.

What I like most about painting rapids is the "action" they convey, and depicting this movement in a landscape painting is tons of fun!

"Rapid Transit" is a 9x12 pastel done on Uart 400 sanded paper. The pastel conveys a variety of landscape painting concepts which are discussed in detail in my YouTube video on the StudioSense Channel. You can see the complete demonstration from initial sketch to completed painting, by clicking here.

The pastel painting demonstration covers these key concepts:

  • Monochrome underpainting to convey the values (lights and darks) in the landscape.

  • Atmospheric perspective; how distance is depicted with neutralizing hues and reducing their color temperature.

  • Planes. Various layers of tree lines, hills, mountains and cloud edges, all conveying a variety of planes, contributing to the rhythm of the vista.

  • Linear perspective. Using landscape lines to draw the viewer's eye through the painting to the desired focal areas.

  • Lost and found edges, light and shade, and a bunch of other pastel painting tips.

Notice the pastel painting rendition of the reference photo. The planes are represented by the declining edges of pine trees, mountain edges and the simple cloud bank. Lines are captured with the direction of the rapids, wide at the foreground and tapering off in the

distance, as well as the highlights in the water. Action is brought about with the bold strokes of the water's lights and darks. Sharper, more local color is seen in the foreground, then fades out as we gain distance.

Notice how your eye travels through the painting. It bounces back and forth from the large boulder on the lower right, across the river up toward the more pointed rock, then up the cascades and eventually exiting at the top of the painting.

The vertical format of this scene was chosen to capture the height of the river as it climbs up the mountain toward the sky.

The StudioSense pastel painting workshop on YouTube includes a growing list of pastel painting demos and tips. Please visit, have fun painting, and ask me any questions.

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