Sunday, September 28, 2008


I’m in Hood River to see the Gorge Plein Air exhibit. There are stunning paintings, some by friends and acquaintances of mine, and I am admiring everything so much that I go through the exhibit several times. I particularly notice brush strokes and the way the artists use color. My own eye prefers a lot of variety in color notes, and the simple shape-designed paintings just don’t do it for me. How many color notes? The more the better, I think, until it becomes too blended, or too chaotic.
Once I leave the exhibit, I’m inspired to go paint. But first, some lunch. And there are peach farms, just across the river. I head across the bridge and drive up the White Salmon valley until I find a farm stand with peaches, the last of the year. They are ripe and juicy, yum! And look, I’m just a few miles from Husum Falls.
Back in the day, I used to paddle whitewater kayak. The White Salmon has a cold but fun section that ends up at a waterfall just before a bridge. There was a log jammed in the base of the waterfall, so we thought that anyone who ran it had a death wish, but it was always fun to speculate about it. Some years back, someone or some storm yanked the log, so now the falls has what appears to be a clear channel. So the boaters of today seem to take it as a routine rush. (Never mind that there is some rock down there, or the log wouldn’t have wedged there in the first place, and we hear rumors of boats hitting bottom now and then when they run the falls.)
Today, the waterfall is a perfect place to paint. There is shade under the bridge, and I have a great view with just enough river above the falls to make an interesting design. And I have the added entertainment of watching boaters come through from time to time.
This is really fun, but I’m hit with fits of jealousy. These twenty and thirty-year-old kids don’t even have very good technique. They drift over the falls at odd angles, with sloppy paddle strokes and plunge into the foam, disappearing into the white. They pop up, right-side up or upside down, execute some of the weakest rolls I’ve ever seen, and come out smiling. I could do better than that. Of course, I can’t do better than that--I can’t fit in my boat, but I want to be twenty-five and kayaking again.
Painting will have to do. And today, it does quite nicely. I enjoy coloring in the patterns of rock and water. About the time I pack up to leave, a retired couple comes down with some beer to watch the local entertainment.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


Painting on the bluff with my class. We start out with morning clouds, and a view of Oaks Bottom. Sounds of birds and local wildlife (Screaming kids on roller coasters at Oaks Park, just below us.) I’m enjoying the September temperatures, which are comfortable in a light windbreaker.
The sun burns through the clouds. I keep hoping that Mt. St. Helens will peek through the clouds, as it did the day I scouted this location. The horizon remains stubbornly hazy.
Every once in a while, birds rise from the pond, circling in the river valley and rising toward us. Egrets look white as paper in the sunlight. A small raptor that I can’t identify swings overhead. Kids’ screams and laughter rise in waves, with the train-like roar. We share our paintings and they are as individual as tropical fish.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Was going to paint at the river this evening, but I forgot my wallet at Trader Joe’s, had to go home and get it, then back to Joe’s for the groceries. I walk out to the car and the sun is settling into a bank of colorful, corrugated clouds. Shoot! I will never make it to the river before it sets. And, hey, there’s a good view here. Why else am I carrying paints around in my car? I set up to paint in the parking lot.
Trader Joe’s customers stop to see what I’m doing. "You going to put that Safe Lipo billboard in?" I explain about artistic license. I’m painting on a 6 by 8 canvas. How much do they think I can fit? A white-haired lady stops by saying that she used to paint. Watching me, she seems to want to paint again. I am standing, separated by a fence and ten feet of hillside from the freeway. We can barely hear each other.
As always with a sunset, the sky is changing minute to minute. I keep reminding myself: paint the parts that will change the fastest first. The clouds become more orange, then more rose as the sun lowers. It angles sharply across the horizon. Maybe that is why the sun seems to set more slowly in these latitudes than in the tropics.
After the sky is finished (frozen just before sunset), I cover the bottom edge with a dark line of silhouetted trees. The white-haired lady comes back out with her groceries just as I am packing up. "Oh, those trees really make the picture. Otherwise, it’s just blobs of color."
It is always blobs of color. But never "just".

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Back to the Willamette River on a gray, cloudy day with my paintbox. I have barely an hour, so I set up on the near bank. There’s a lovely swoop of clouds pointing where the river rounds a bend. I like the movement, so I set up there.
The clouds shift subtlely, but it’s early enough in the afternoon that the changes are slow. Paint the sky first. The blue-gray overtones of the sky overshadow everything, influencing the colors of rock, plants, water.
I hear the buzz of a hummingbird behind me, catch a glimpse of his silhouette over the blackberries. I was gone for the last week of their plumpness, and now they are shriveled and drooping. This may be my last summer painting down here this year. Before long, leaves will turn color. The river will rise and I won’t be able to get out to the island. I am filled with the desire to paint every day, tomorrow will be changed.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

HAWAII, Rainbow Falls

My family is at the farmer’s market looking at crafts, but I get dropped off at the waterfall to paint. The falls itself pales next to the wonderful plants. I walk along a trail that leads to a huge banyan network. It’s hard to tell where one tree begins and the next one ends. Back at the waterfall I climb over the barricade to where I can sit on the rocks and actually see the falls. (Why do they always put barricades where the view is no good?) I make a twenty-minute sketch that does little more than remind me I was here. My ride shows up. Time to go. Isn’t there a law against hurrying this much in Hawaii?

HAWAII, Black Sand Beach

We have come to a black sand beach merely because the sand here is black. The sand is black. Not just dark, but particles of what was black rock. It’s just like any other beach in Hawaii except for this quirk which seems somehow wrong. Is it my imagination, or is the sand more gritty, like walking on a bed of nails? Anyway, I have a grass mat to sit on and spread out my paints.
A little girl comes over and asks what I am painting. I point out the water, the sky, and the promontory in front of me. She looks, carefully, comments on the colors. I begin talking with her as I mix. "What color should I make the sand?" "Black," she says, quite reasonably. "Ah, but what kind of black? It looks orangey in the sun, and blue-ish in the shade, see?" I mix the colors, and ask how she likes it. "I think it needs more red." And she is right.
She chatters and helps the whole time I am painting. She lives in Hawaii. She has never been off the island in a plane or a boat. It’s good to live in Hawaii. She lives with her mother, and her dad lives next door. She goes to a charter school. Every week her class goes on a field trip. Next week they are going to some fabric place to get fabric so they can make bags. She is petite and bright-eyed, and her lashes curl tight against her eyelids. I am enchanted.
Her brother joins us. He is smaller and has reddish hair. He watches, wide-eyed, as she keeps up her chatter. Two more kids join us. I have become a travelling circus. I put away my painting, and sketch on demand, a fish, a star, some rainbows. As I give them away, I explain about how to hold them to not get paint on them, wishing for watercolors. The kids dance away with the paintings. I have been given a gift.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

MAUI, view of nearby Island

We snorkel early today, while the water is calm and the beaches aren’t crowded. See a lovely large octopus, trying to hide behind a coral flake that he is much too big for. I’m surprised he doesn’t squeeze himself out of sight, because they seem able to compress themselves infinitely small.
After lunch, we brows art galleries in Lahaina. It’s wonderful to see all the strong painting styles, and different approaches to handling paint. My favorite gallery is full of local artists’ work, very fine landscape painters and a few botanicals. I am really curious how much Hawaiiana people buy and take home with them. Memories of the wonderful vacation? A lovely place to retire to? There arevalso paintings of Venice. In fact, that is the number two location. Go figure.
We stop at a beach on the way back, and I paint a view of the next island over. (Will have to look at a map to see what it is.) I’m always amazed at how many of the islands you can see from one another, as if they were just down the street. I have trouble capturing the exact color of the hills. Again, I indulge my endless fascination with the colors of the water and the light.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

MAUI with Palms

Our last dive day, because we fly on Thursday. We went to Ulua Beach, and I though it was so lovely, I am back for my afternoon painting. I sit in the pokey, flat-bladed Hawaiian grass under a tree that gives a kind of sketchy shade, and paint the colors of water and clouds, which are completely different from yesterday’s. Of the bushes in front of me, I choose a few to put in the foreground, along with a couple of palm trees I can’t resist. It’s almost too bad, because now you don’t quite notice all the colors I put in the clouds.
Today I am the bird lady, or at least the birds think so. They come right up to my feet and peep or squawk at me, depending on their respective voices. I get a close look at a dove, and a brown quail-shaped bird with a v-necklace. And a little brown job. I know the bird guy told me what these are, but I just don’t remember. It’s all I can do to remember the fish, who are my old friends from previous dive trips.
So maybe I’ll go back in the water, where I belong. I spend an hour snorkeling, and return to the hotel, and my family wants to go shopping! I mean, really!

Monday, September 15, 2008

MAUI Clouds

The weather has changed and a stiff gusty wind is beating the park. I paint from our balcony (lanai?) Hoping it will give me a little shelter.
Today’s painting is an experiment. I have a piece of 18 by 24 canvas that I primed, let it dry, took off its support, and rolled for packing in my suitcase. My idea was that I would clip it to cardboard after we’d been to Costco. Well, Costco only had small boxes and it takes two to make my 18 by 24 board. Which leaves me with a ridge in the middle. I can see immediately that I am going to get blips in my paint from the ridge. So I discard the board and lay the canvas directly on the glass table. Once I get that far, I enjoy painting, standing over the table the way you do with watercolor. I have posted a very poor photo of this painting, which shows the wrinkles in the canvas. I have faith that they will disappear when I restretch it.

The clouds over West Maui are my subject. I can’t believe all the colors in them. Even the colors of the ocean are so varied, I never get tired of adding new notes. As the sun sinks, the clouds warm up. When I finish the cloud painting, I have time for a small sunset sketch.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

MAUI Afternoon

After a walk on the beach and snorkeling (snorkeling always comes first), I head to the park with my paints.
It is a humid, hazy day. The most striking feature is the clouds, huge puffs of pink and powder blue. I set up a composition with a couple of trees, the blue, blue ocean, and a hint of West Maui under the clouds. By the time I get to painting the clouds, the sun has lit the cloud tops with gold.

I take a break and walk around. A guy has a towel spread out in front of him and has sprinkled bird seed on the towel. He is surrounded by birds. I ask what they are and he tells me... not one name but about ten. He knows the birds. It occurs to me that we all do that... learn a lot about one little bit of the world. Not often that anyone even asks about our little bit of knowledge, and it’s fun to share it when we get a chance.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

MAUI Sunset

Had a pleasantly uneventful trip to Maui, leaving not too early in the morning, and arriving early enough to settle into our room and snorkel a bit before sunset.

Kamaole Sands Park is just across the street. I carried my paints over to the lawn and set up while the sun was (I thought) still two hours above the horizon.

The sun sets faster here. There wasn’t as much painting time as I thought I’d have, and the colors changed quickly. I’d lay in some oranges and pinks. Then the sun would slip behind a cloud, and the light would disappear from the water. This happened several times, so that the colors I saw in one part of the sky were gone when I painted another part. Rather than chase the light, I just painted areas one at a time, creating a sequential record of the sun going down.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


I park at the end of the street and drag my rolling paint box down the hill to the Willamette River. The tide is out. I head across the gravel bar toward a small blackberry island. Midway across the channel, the wind picks up, but back on shore the view that I want is blocked. So I set up as close to the berries as I can, trying to get a little shelter from the wind.
I struggle with my equipment. I have chosen to paint an 18 by 24, the largest piece I’ve ever done on location, but quite a bit of canvas for today’s wind. The easel is plenty stable with its legs spread to their widest, but the bottom canvas holder isn’t doing its job. I have to keep pushing the bottom of my canvas back in, and I worry that it will sail away.
The afternoon is enchanted. In September, the sun sinks behind the line of trees to my left, sending slanting shadows across the riverbank, backlighting the maples. A hint of clouds lights the horizon, promising an interesting sunset. "Paint first what will change the fastest," I have been taught. It is all changing ridiculously fast. I block in the shore first, hoping to set the patterns of slanting light. Orange light in the distant shore, golden sunlit trees.
A heavy splash in the river ahead: an osprey has caught a fish. It climbs to my right, over the trees and away from the sun. Two teen-aged boys arrive on bicycles, watch for a while, then take off after blackberries.
The sky fills with color. The clouds that I could barely see are now declaring themselves in yellow and orange. I block in the sky and settle into a rhythm, finding colors, adding them in wet into wet.
I am putting finishing touches on the painting when I look toward the path I came down. Oops. The tide came in while I wasn’t paying attention. There’s no rolling my box back across, and the water is deepening fast. I whip out my cell phone for help, then frantically pack my stuff. When Rick arrives, we carry my box across the inlet of knee-deep water. Ah, the sacrifices we make for art!