Utah painter Michelle Condrat says her favorite place to paint can be described as the opposite of the Grand Canyon. Why?
“This past year I painted at the Grand Canyon, and it was so different from my favorite place to paint, Zion National Park,” says Condrat. “The Grand Canyon is vast and big. Zion is the opposite of that. It’s a lot more intimate. You can home in on one rock structure. Sometimes you don’t have much sky visible above you. The actual canyon in the park is narrow and creates an intimate atmosphere. The rock walls are really close to you. You are part of the canyon.”
Small scenes abound in Zion, but even before you get into the canyons, the landscape is compelling. And it seems tailor-made for Condrat, who lays down blocks of color like pixelated impressionism. “When you are there you feel like there’s so much history,” Condrat says. “You note the river cutting so deeply into the rock to create all that. When you approach it, you can see all that and can focus on the really different layers of rock. You’re not going to find anything like it anywhere else. It can be hard to capture all of it, but with my style it is easier. All the horizontal and vertical lines fit my approach well.”
Zion National Park has been a favorite of Condrat’s since she was a girl. “Zion holds a lot of really good memories for me,” she says. “I often went hiking and canyoneering when younger. Now when I go, it’s not so much to hike but to paint.” Condrat says visitors should do their homework before going to Zion. It can be crowded in the summer, and hot enough that a visitor should carry more water than seems appropriate. Rain can create flash floods that are dangerous at the canyon’s bottom. Rockslides are not uncommon. But the rewards are worth it.
Red rock and steep canyon walls make for a delicious plein air painting challenge. “The lighting changes really fast,” Condrat confirms. “The colors and shadows change so fast that it’s like a new scene within an hour. You could stay in the same spot all day and get different views. You get the warm rocks, but shadows will be darker blues. In summer the shadows are not going to be as dark because of the light.”
Condrat says she goes there about once a year, because it is so close. She is speaking in American West terms — Zion is about four hours from her home. “People travel from around the world to get there, but I can get there fast,” Condrat says. “Every time I go there it’s like it’s new. I can always find more things to paint. You can turn around 360 degrees to paint in any direction. It makes me really happy to go there. I love the colors and the people.”