Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Palouse

The free four-day car wash in western Washington set me on a quest to find a drier climate for my two-week plein air painting odyssey.  Waiting out the big soaker in Packwood, "please come to Washington" magazines all  featured sunny, brightly colored images of the Palouse Hills.  While the photos were obviously taken in the spring or summer, surely autumn would have it's own enticing color scheme.

                                               View from the Colfax, Washington cemetery. 

With destination set, I motored east.  Now, one thing the magazines failed to note is that all crops in the Palouse are artistically created equal after they have been harvested.  Each field of stubble was a Naples yellow hue with a bit of burnt sienna added at the edges of the day -- unless the farmers had plowed their stubble under, thus turning them into a uniform Van Dyke brown -- which they all seemed to be in the process of doing.  The saving grace was shadows of which the rolling sea of hills, like a sandless Sahara -- abounded in -- complimentary hued shadows accented with scattered farm houses and barns, usually shaded with a handful of trees.  

 I was drawn to morning shadows accentuating the rolling hills when I painted  After the Harvest  in plein air:  9 x 12 inches   Alkyd on Raymar Panel

Another bonus, it turned out, is the attitude of the local inhabitants.  Being used to seeing barbed-wire fences and "don't you dare tread on my land signs" in so much of our country, it was quite a shock to see the scarcity of both.  And even when there were signs, most only featured the words, "No Hunting."  I figured that didn't refer to artists hunting for painting subjects.  Another added feature was the cleanliness of the countryside.  Where had all the litterers gone?  I had begun to think that litter was as ubiquitous in America as McDonald's and Walmart.

So, with two weeks to just follow my whims, I followed the lead of the trappers and prospectors who explored the west.  Here's a road, I wonder where it goes?  It would driven Karen nuts, but she was off visiting her cousin in Iowa, so...

       View from the Colfax, Washington cemetery during one of my side trips back to Palouse, Washington.

One such road lead to the town of Palouse, Washington, where I made one of the most significant discoveries of the trip -- Mimi’s Bakery.  Now, one difference when I’m not traveling with Karen is the lack of my external conscience warning me of the pitfalls of over indulgence.  So, on my pass down the several block long Palouse main street (that’s the size town I like), I spotted a small sign with an arrow pointing down a side street -- Mimi’s Bakery. 

Oh my, what Mimi’s lacked for in size it made up for in quality.  I ordered a scone which was probably a mistake because I like and often order scones.  Now the bar has been set so high I fear I’ll forever be disappointed unless I make Palouse a regular side trip during future road trips.  I even made a second detour through Palouse
a few days later, just to buy another scone with yet another one for the next day.

The Palouse country seemed prime for my abstraction style genre so I wandered a lot and painted a few subjects as fodder for potential abstracted pieces.  However,  a sortie further east into forested land told me I would need more time to develop a niche as a farmers artist.  That said, one farmer spotted me as I was wrapping up one piece.  For the record, I'm shy about painting where I can be discovered, but this time I got caught.  The result -- he bought it on the spot.

Autumn in the Palouse is my first plein air painting in Idaho.  At one point I thought an exciting project would be to complete a plein air painting in every state.  Upon a bit more rational reconsideration I narrowed it down to every state west of and including the Rockies.  Only Arizona, Wyoming, oops, and Hawaii, remain.   9 x 12 inches   Alkyd on Raymar Panel.

The colorful photos that lured me to the Palouse were taken from the top of Steptoe Butte where a narrow road -- a poor choice for those with acrophobia -- winds to the top.  That had been my goal from the moment I focused on the Palouse Hills.   However, on top of the Butte I ran into a retired logger who saw our Alaska license plates and wandered over for a chat.  It turned out he had logged in Kake, a village near Petersburg that hardly anyone seems to have even heard of.  Ultimately he asked if I would mind if he watched me paint.  "Of course not." I responded verbally while freezing up internally.  After a frustrating struggle until he departed, I wiped my canvas clean and snapped a few photos.  Maybe this one will work best as a studio piece,

Rolling Hills Above the Clearwater   9 x 12 inches  Alkyd on Raymar Panel   From the route I took it seemed the gateway to the Palouse was a steep winding drive out of the Lewiston, Idaho/Clarkson, Washington metropolitan area.  Oh my, what a beauty, although places to pull off the 4-lane highway were less than abundant.  However, all I needed was one, so I savored the kind of experience that makes plein air painting so attractive -- warm sun, no wind, and an inspiring vista.  What a spot to indulge in my last Mimi's scone.


Diane Eatherton-Watt said...

Awesome expanses. I love how the light and shadow really changes the hues and adds so many other colors. I can hardly wait to see your abstracts!!
As for Mimi's scones...I'm that way for croissants!
Thanks again for sharing :)

Terri Mappin (Seasons 365 Project) said...

Oh my! These are so beautiful!!!!! It might be my love for the prairies but you captured the essence in my opinion ... 'perfectly!' I can see why the farmer bought your painting on the spot!!! I'm glad to hear I am not the only 'shy' one out there! Although not painting, I dread being caught photographing scenes! I'm not sure why. Thank you so much for sharing these exquisite paintings and images! Hmm ... scones. My mouth is watering for some fresh baking!

Don and Karen Cornelius Artwork said...

Thanks Diane and Terri: It really is a unique and exciting area.