I’m just back from a pleine aire, oil painting workshop and it seems that my topic — to paint in the middle in the muddle or to recollect in tranquility — has arisen again on A&P. Hi Sunil…..

Obviously I’m fascinated with the immediate ambiance as much as I am with the final product. The milieu from which I just returned, however, had its problems. The big one was the lack of focus within the landscapes we were asked to paint. So the topic of the day is — how do you find your viewpoints and hold them?Even you, Sunil, must have a focus, an idea of “character” that you are working toward. That was the big question which the landscape I just painted held for me — what do I choose to paint and why.

The workshop was held in Diamond, Oregon, back of the outback, southeastern Oregon, where cows and rattlesnakes outnumber the humans and the coyotes outnumber all. It’s range land verging on desert. Parts of it are desert.

The hamlet of Diamond has a population of 5, as well as a hotel, 8 rooms to let, baths down the hall, fantastic dinners, good innkeepers, in the middle of nowhere.


This photo, taken across the road from the hotel, is a sample of the kind of landscape we were to paint.

The first day we got started late — the caravan left at 8 AM and stopped at the view below. Jef Gunn, the instructor, said he chose this spot because it was “easy.” (Actually the view is much much much wider than what my camera would permit me to depict — imagine 5 or 6 more photos set up side by side, all of which look pretty much like this one).

I chose the ravine but captured nothing but sunburn.

The next day we left at 6 AM, to catch the shadows. Or, as I quickly learned, “to chase the shadows.”

It is true that the scene was charming in the early sun. But one still had to paint it. I quickly got confused because every time I pinned down a spot to paint, a shadow changed and I lost my place. I finally painted a painting of a landscape, some landscape, but clearly not this landscape. This is how the scene looked some hours later — the gear is mine.


our biggest excursion and presumably the biggest challenge was set for the last full day of the workshop. It entailed driving about 60 miles (half on gravel roads) to Steen’s Mountain, a great escarpment, uplifted, which on its eastern side falls abruptly 5000 feet to the Alvord desert below.

Before we reached the top of Steen’s, however, in a glacier-scoured bowl off one of the sides of the uplift, Kiger Gorge drops, sending its icy waters back west to Diamond. We weren’t permitted to paint there as there was only one thing, according to Herr Gunn, to paint. Too easy, he said.

Further up the gravel road was the top of Steen’s Mountain, where the uplift found its downside. The wind was blowing hard, the dust was furious in our eyes, and the sun blazing hot. I found a spot in front of Jef’s pick-up truck, hunkered down, painted with the canvas flat so it wouldn’t turn into a sail, and did the best painting I had done all week. Here’s the view, hasty photos taken when we first arrived.

diamond7ap.jpg center
diamond8ap.jpg left

diamond9ap.jpg right

I painted right down the center, using the triangles of the sides as ways into the canvas. At least that’s what I think I did. I haven’t looked at the canvas since the critique, held when we returned from Steens.

What astonished me most was that a landscape which I would have said had no focus came into focus once I had to find one.

Has this happened to you? Is it easier to paint human characters than undifferentiated landscapes, not because of the rain and wind but because of the indifference of nature to meaning? Does the necessity of finding a focus or a point of view bring one about? These are not questions to which I have answers.

I haven’t yet unpacked the paintings and thus don’t have photos of them. My recollection is that I got 3, perhaps 4, decent paintings from the 8 I did in that 3 1/2 days. But I’m not sure what I learned is encompassed in any of them. Tomorrow I guess I’ll unpack.