The Most Magical Place on Earth

This past week Bryan and I took a van crammed full of teenagers on a Bible retreat to the Olympic National Park in Washington. We had visited before during a cross country trip across the US about three years ago, so we were eager to share this magical place with our youth group hoping their young innocence would draw out all of the unicorns hiding in the misty rainforest skirting the Pacific.

I love traveling. There’s the thrill of anticipation on a long road trip that pushes you to keep driving. This trip was especially memorable. Nine teenage girls belted out the soundtrack to Pitch Perfect for almost the entirety of I-84.

There were a lot of “firsts” too. Many of the teens had never traveled beyond Utah or Idaho while others had never even seen the ocean. Someone saw their first shooting star. For another, their first starfish. We saw seals and otters playing in the undulating grey water.

The landscape is surreal. Seastacks, obscured by a cold white fog, rise out of the ocean like shadowy giants. Pockmarked tide pools, berated by the wind and frozen surf are teeming with bright star fish and underwater flora and fauna.

I brought my pochade box along for the 15 hour journey hoping to do a little plein air painting.

Here’s my setup with the initial underpainting. My palette included (from left to right) Gamblin’s Radiant White, Ivory Black, Raw Umber, Asphaltum, Transparent Oxide Red, Cadmium Red, Yellow Ochre, Ultramarine Blue, and Viridian. I tried to bury the legs of the tripod deep in the sand, but the wind still blew my setup over multiple times. It’s not visible in the photograph, but I have a hook on the bottom of my tripod to weigh it down for such blustery occasions. I hooked my backpack onto it and tossed the camera in the bag and that helped weigh it down.

Here’s the finished painting. I would have liked to have spent another hour or so finessing, but the tide was changing and it was very, very cold.

It was a stunningly beautiful and uplifting week and I am sad that it’s over. Especially since I did not get to see a unicorn.

Plein Air Video Competition

A month or so ago James Gurney, best known as the author and illustrator of the Dinotopia series and his incredibly informative artist blog Gurney Journey, announced a plein air video competition.

The rules were simple: Compose a video one minute or less describing the challenges of painting outdoors. The top five entries would be chosen and I made the cut!

Here’s my entry:


The winner will be chosen by popular vote. To vote, visit the page here. All of the entries are fabulous and are both inspiring and comical. When painting en plein air an artist is leaving the safety of a light and temperature controlled studio to venture into the wild unknown. Light and shadows change rapidly and an artist must be quick and instinctive, relying on past study of how light works (it’s not always about what you see in front of you. Our eyes can trick us!). And then there’s the danger of the elements. I have painted in all sorts of weather from the bitter cold to torrential downpours to the unrelenting heat. I’ve been frostbit, stung and bitten, severely sunburned, and chastised for trespassing.

Sometimes the most difficult part is interacting with curious onlookers. For one, I’m already a very quiet, slightly awkward person. Being an artist makes me even more odd as I certainly don’t follow the expected norms for someone my age (settling down, having kids, getting a normal job…). For the most part people I have met along my outdoor painting adventures have been lovely…But then I’m asked to explain why I’m painting stuff. It’s hard to put into words…

Describing the adventures of painting en plein air though, that’s easy! If you want to get your vote in, be quick as voting concludes this Sunday at midnight.

A special thanks to my amazing and incredibly talented brother over at Rise Up Productions for filming and editing my entry!