Painting on the Road

Painting pleine aire, even when there are amenities (water, bathrooms, shelter) isn’t always easy.

Having gotten a late start on our way to Fossil, Oregon, we stayed overnight in Prineville, a town of about 10,000. It rained. and rained. and rained some more. For the most part, neither oil paints nor artists do well in the rain.

However, at our motel, the corridor ended in an enlarged hallway with a window. Across the parking lot, the little railroad, and the highway could be seen a shopping complex with a barber shop and a sub shop. Painting it was better than laying about in a motel room, wanting to paint. And the scene was typical of Prineville, at least as we know it.

Quizno Subs, Prineville (OR), oil on board, 12 x 16.

I’m particularly fond of the bluff above the shops — they surround Prineville and give the town its high-desert character.

The next day we went on to Fossil, stopping at the Painted HIlls (in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, near Mitchell, Oregon) where I did another attempt at capturing that weird and wonderful landscape:

The Painted Hills Overlook, John Day Fossil Beds (May, 2008), Oil on board, 12 x 16

The photo here isn’t of the finished product; I did a bit of tweaking after we got to Fossil but sold it before I could photograph it.

On Friday, we headed off to another unit of the John Day Fossil Beds, the Clarno Palisades area. And there I did my favorite of these sessions:

Clarno Palisades and Ranger Station, oil on board, 12 x 16

The winding road sign took on a snaky resemblance, which delighted me, since rattlesnakes, my bete noir, are habitues of these rocky climes. And the slightly off-kilter ranger station came out of my desire to fix what I was actually seeing. I’ve been reading Rackstraw Downes on visual perception and the odd visual things that we actually see, as opposed to what we think we see. So here’s the evidence:

This photo was taken from where I sat to paint. The camera, and our eyes, would tilt the horizontal base of the building upward a bit, particularly because I had the camera set for the widest angle photo I could manage. In the painting, I had to crunch the elements together a bit because of the verticality of the surface and that changed the way the building sat on the ground. I keep learning more and more about empirical perception versus “scientific” perception and what our minds tell us we are seeing. –June

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5 Responses to Painting on the Road

  1. June says:

    Hi Sheila and Janet,

    Right now I’m tweaking the Palisades painting and trying to decide what to do about the telephone wires that visually would come right into the top front of the painting, over the head of the artist. I am reading Rackstraw Downes (a contemporary urban landscape painter) and he notes that telephone wires supposedly sag from pole to pole, but when they come at you, they loom very large. I think I may have to rig up something to see what it would look like before I commit. But if you have any thoughts……


  2. Janet says:

    I was going to post a comment with my original observations about “Clarno Palisades and Ranger Station”, but then I read Shelia’s comment — so, what she said!


  3. Sheila says:

    Oh, yes, love the strong colors in the last one, and the vertical orientation. Your condensing so much more interesting than the photo of the actual view. Powerful upward thrust giving much more of a sense of standing right there at the base of that crag and of the crag being huge. A fine example of doing something other than just reproducing in oil what you see, of turning reality into your own vision.


  4. June says:

    Hi Del,

    I was very proud of my resourcefulness in the motel, too. Although I must admit that I got some really strange looks from the other roomers.

    The Palisades have been so heavily photographed and postcarded that there the challenge was to present an image that would be both representational and fresh. I liked the silly little ranger station, hardly more than a refrigerator box in a parking lot and hoped it would add a bit of new material to an old subject.


  5. Del says:

    The Palisades/Ranger Station is a good one. It is so representative of the ‘wild’ west I feel that I have been there. Maybe I have been in the distant past, but I think it is just evocative of bygone journeys. I can picture you ‘pleine aire” painting in the motel hallway – such resourcefulness!


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