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                             Don's PLEIN AIR Gallery


Left:  Driftwood Resurrection  9 X 12 inches   Alkyd on canvas   $195 framed
Right:  After the Resurrection   9 X 12 inches   Alkyd on canvas panel   $195 framed

With an upcoming art show as part of Petersburg Lutheran Church's 100th anniversary celebration in the back of my mind I chanced upon a driftwood log at one of our favorite beaches at Green's Camp.  There to my delight I discovered a cross shape within its roots.  Perfect!  Sitting on a comfortable log on a warm, sunny, bug-free day I painted "Driftwood Resurrection."   Plein air painting doesn't get any better than that.

Bringing "Driftwood Resurrection" back to my studio I was "greeted" with another plein air painting I had completed several years ago.  Yes, another cross.  Thus, "After the Resurrection," a subject I had painted of logs left high and dry (mostly) during floods in City Creek received its name and a place in the anniversary show.


                       Cabbage Patch    9 X 12 inches    Alkyd on Gessoboard Panel    $195 framed

A picnic on a warm sunny day at Greens Camp this summer (2013) provided Karen with a chance to explore one of her favorite beaches while I dug out my paints.  There an upland scene, an extensive patch of skunk cabbage, beckoned to be painted.  I can't say I got a sun tan that day, but I sure had fun.


Left:  Three Lakes Meander 1   9 X 12 inches    Alkyd on canvas     $195

Right:  Three Lakes Meander 2   9 X 12 inches    Alkyd on canvas     $195

I made a couple of sorties out the road this spring (2013) to one of my favorite wetlands. For perhaps half a mile the Three Lakes Loop Road here on Mitkof Island parallels a meandering stream heavily influenced by our local beaver population.  New compositions await artists and photographers with every bend in the channel.  My biggest challenge was the sun dropping below a neighboring ridge in mid afternoon.   While very frustrating, it's certainly one way to keep an artist from over-working a subject -- and suggesting that maybe he should head out the road earlier in the day.

With snow covering virtually all side roads this spring (2012) I still managed to get out to paint a few days during my favorite season.  Here are a couple of those subjects.


    Turn of the Season   9 X 12 in.   Alkyd   $195         Beckoning Muskeg   9 X 12 in.   Alkyd   $195

Turn of the Season depicts the view I had as my Daniel Smith chair slowly sunk into the mud of Blind Slough.  Fortunately I was able to complete the painting before I had stop and repaint it from a lower perspective.

Beckoning Muskeg does not portray the reality of our island this spring.  It was one of a limited number of places I could drive to before getting turned back by snow covered roads.  But here, the sun and warmth of fermenting vegetation below the muskeg's surface had done its work making a hike across this muskeg a strong temptation.

Summer in Petersburg and our island, so dominated by the color green, turns even greener.  For a plein air painter the music of bird song and excitement of chance encounters with large carnivores adds flavor to the outings.


                                        Rugged Shoreline   9 X 12 inches   Alkyd   $195

Most people spend their time on beaches gazing towards the sea.  I broke the mold because I spent this day on one our favorites beaches with my back to the ocean, painting the adjacent forest.  It may be rugged, but has a beauty all its' own. 


       Coho Country  9 X 12 inches  Alkyd  Sold            Beyond the Bend  9 X 12 inches  Alkyd  $195

We had a little summer in 2011.  Not much, but some.  I took advantage of a bit of it to head out to the upper road crossing of Falls Creek.  Years ago, when I was out to capture our island in 35 mm images, I set a minnow trap here.  It quickly captured juvenile coho salmon and Dolly Varden char which I plunked into a home-made, ant farm-sized aquarium.  What fun I had photographing those captive salmonids with all kinds of  backgrounds -- including a photo of a living room torn out of an issue of Better Homes and Gardens.  This year for three days running, I headed to this old hangout with my easel.  The sun proved illusive, but here are two of the resulting paintings.


    Cabin Creek Crossing  9 X 12 inches   Alkyd   $195               Alder Way   9 X 12 inches  Alkyd   Sold

Cabin Creek Crossing:  Two roads wind their way down our Island, only connected by a couple of cross roads.  There's the paved Mitkof Highway and then there's a gravelly back way -- logging roads on the east side of the island and, at the northern end, the Cabin Creek Road portion constructed to access a new reservoir.  The road may be rough, but I love where it takes us.

Near the northern end of the Cabin Creek Road a spur leads to an older reservoir, our water treatment plant, and what must be the most scenic dump in America.  Anywhere else it would be primo real estate.  But this is Petersburg.  Beyond the dump another old logging road leads to City Creek and beyond.  
Alder Way depicts that road, now overgrown with alders that have turned it into a vegetative tunnel.  The alders are heavily scarred by the claws of black bears -- a vestige of the days before the dump was fenced, when dozens of bears grew fat on Petersburg diners leftovers, then marked their territories along the road.


                 Favorite Meadow                                                    Deep into the Forest

Favorite Meadow    9 X 12 inches    Alkyd    $195    

A trail on the southern end of our island passes an extensive wetland meadow and beaver pond.   The edge of the trail is a comfortabe place from which to paint, but the composition I most liked this day involved standing in a waist-high blueberry thicket so unstable that sometimes I had to hang onto my easel to keep it from falling into the stream.  I've often bragged mosquitoes are not frequent fliers in this corner of Alaska, but on this day they made a liar out of me. 

Deep into the Forest  12 X 16 inhes  Alkyd  Sold

Taking advantage of a rare sunny day, I headed down a road on the east side of our island.  Setting up in the sun alongside the fresh scat of a large carnivore (actually bears are omnivores) I longed for the shade of the surrounding forest that this road invited me into.  But the only wildlife I saw this day were a few bees attracted to the colors on my palate.

Last Watchman    9 X 12 inches    Alkyd    Available at Wild Celery    Detail on Right

The subject of our plein air painting group's 2010 show at Wild Celery is "Canneries."  After four trips without making an emotional connection with the subject, I decided to pass.  Then, after a few queries I learned the local Beachcomber restaurant sits on an old cannery site.  OK, one last try!  Sure enough I found the surviving remains of a once roaring engine.  Peering into the encroaching brush behind the machine I'm sure I spotted the last watchman -- dutiful to the end.


                                           Unexpected Delivery    9 X 12    Alkyd    Sold

During my first four sorties in quest of cannery subjects I about froze sitting on the end of a dock wrestling with the straight lines of Petersburg's Icicle Seafoods Cannery.  A month later I tried again and was soon involved in a long conversation with a delightful yacht owner.  The downside -- I couldn't concentrate on painting.  Ultimately I finished this one in my studio using photos as reference.  For fun I added the Viking ship making an "unexpected delivery."

Life got away from us this winter and spring.  The result -- we never got off the island for our traditional spring road trip.  No problem!  El Nino brought the weather we seek on our road trips to Alaska. We could drive most of the low-elevation roads on our island from early January on.


                                 Brave Pioneers     9 X 12 inches      Alkyd on Canvas      Sold

Driving out the road on a February day to no particular destination I was drawn to sunlight streaming across the wetland meadows of Blind Slough.  What a gift that day was.  Warmed by the winter sun and bathed in the warm winter light, I was drawn to a group of alders, brave pioneers moving out into the grasslands that dominate the Slough.

L:  Road to the Ridge   9X 12 inches   Alkyd   Private Collection

R: Springtime on the Beaver Meadow   9 X 12 inches   Sold

Road to the Ridge:  My American Back Roads series needed more depth in the Alaska segment.  So, I headed out the Snake Ridge Road at the south end of Mitkof Island to paint this scene -- one I had spotted during a previous foray.  Leaning against the back of my car in the unseasonable warm sun I felt I was anywhere but in Alaska on a January day.

Springtime on the Beaver Meadow:  January and February may have been clear of snow in some portions of Mitkof Island, but not all.  I had tried to reach the trail head of the Crane Lake Trail during that period only to be frightened at the prospects of walking 20 miles home if I got stuck when I turned my car around on the ice.  Still yearning to paint the area, one of my favorites on this island, I returned in April just as the newly sprouting grasses were lending their hue to the flats.  Here, beaver keep the water table high holding the old-growth forests that dominate our island at bay.

   At the Edge:     9 X 12 inches     Alkyd      $195        Hidden Treasure  9 X 12 inches  Alkyd   $195

At the Edge:  A cold January day on the surface, but warm in the sun against the marge of Blind Slough.  These alders seemed to know the best place to "take up housekeeping."  A taste of spring in the middle on an Alaskan winter.

Hidden Treasure:  I always drive past a turn out along Blind Slough.  There didn't seem to be any reason not to.  But this February I didn't and fought my way through the old-growth along Blind Slough to discover this scene -- a long-hidden treasure.  Available at Wild Celery.


                                           Winter Pond    9 X 12 inches    Alkyd     $195

Ponds are frozen in January in Alaska.  Guaranteed.  But not in 2010.  El Nino kept this one, a flooded rock pit, open.  I began it in tentative sun, but finished it in shade -- half frozen, but happy for the discovery of a place I normally drive past with barely a second glance. 


                                 Icy Retreat           9 X 12 inches            Alkyd            Sold

T'was a sunny day in April at Man-Made Hole -- a pond created from a gravel pit which has become a major over-wintering area for juvenile salmon and trout that like to dine on them.  I set up on a gravel bar that stretched out into the pond, Niko laying in the sun at my side.  The ice was retreating right before my eyes and I started to chase it on my canvas until I paused, realizing it was a part of the scene that drew me to the location.  This turned out to be my favorite plein air painting from the "out-the-road trip" series from this winter-spring.

           L.:  A Glimpse into Our Weathered Past    12 X 16 inches     Alkyd on Canvas     Sold

           R.:  Our Painted Town    9 X 12 inches      Alkyd on Canvas     Sold

These are the other two paintings I displayed in our plein air group's 2009 show, entitled "Paint the Town."  One of our group, Alice Young headed for Hammer slough, an estuary rimmed by historic boat houses and homes.  One look at her paintings and the rest of us headed up the plank road that parallels the Slough.  For me the major attraction is that most of the structures are unpainted with some of them having a bit of a list.  Several have already collapsed as some fungus or shipworm took one last fatal bite into a piling.  It's just a matter of time before the face of Hammer Slough changes.

The second depicts downtown Petersburg from across the South Boat Harbor.  I intended to let this one rip and exaggerate the color, forgetting the windows and going for colorful shapes.  Bright reds, bright blues and yellows.  I just couldn't do it.  Maybe next time.

The Shed We Were Talking About   

12 X 16 inches         
Alkyd on canvas

Private Collection

We had guests over for dinner the other night and a topic of discussion was how long the Trask's shed would survive.  It has settled a bit and the life forms responsible for rot are having a grand time.  The conversation seemed to be an answer to a dilemma for me since the subject of an upcoming show for our plein air group at Wild Celery is "Around Town."  Since I struggle with straight lines and prefer wild places, the subject matter is a bit of a challenge for me.  The Trask's shed is about as close as being a wild place as our local urban dwellings offer.  Of course the shed needed a bird perched on it, so I added the Steller's Jay back in my studio.

Below the Fishin' Hole  9 X 12 inches  Alkyd  $195

Like the title suggests, I painted this subject in the forest below the fishin' hole, better know as Man-Made Hole.  Here alders still dominate the area logged off during the hay day of logging in Southeast Alaska -- days when the biggest, most valuable trees were nourished by the carcasses of the salmon that spawned in streams such as this one -- days when logs were dragged through those streams.  Someday the alders in the background of this painting will be replaced by spruce and hemlock forests but the healing process is slow in this fragile ecosystem.  

L:  Dark Hollow            9 X 12 inches         Alkyd on canvas          $195

R:  The Other Falls       9 X 12 inches         Alkyd on canvas         $195

I painted these two tributaries to Twin Creek on two successive days.  The week had been a rarity in southeast Alaska, a week where I needed to find shade to paint.  That need was brought home when I set up in the sun for the right hand painting and broiled.  The next day I went into the hollow where the cool shade was more to my liking.  I must admit, I reversed their relative position along the road (where I discovered them) on this page. 

Redwood Nursery

9 X 12 inches

Alkyd on Canvas panel     $195

While exploring the redwoods in northern California last fall I stumbled upon a giant fallen redwood.  Scattered along the length of this ancient monarch were numerous young trees where seeds had found a toehold on top of the nurse log.  As it was almost dark at the base of the progeny of their fallen comrade when I began this painting, I couldn't quite complete it on site.  Nor could I photograph it in the dark.  Thus, it wasn't until this summer that I gave it a final touch up.

Gentle Snows

9 X 12 inches           

Alkyd on Canvas Panel    

Fresh Air braved falling snow early in January 2008 to spend a few hours at Sandy Beach with our paints.  Focusing on the nearby shoreline of Frederick Sound I selected a site under a sheltering Sitka spruce and painted most of this work.  A few touch ups back in the studio, such as the snow flakes after the under-painting dried, completed the subject.

Northwoods Abstract

9 X 12 inches

Alkyd on Canvas panel     $195

Believe it or not, this is actually a plein air painting.  I had painted a more realistic version of a pond with a birch tree displaying it's finest colors on the far shoreline the previous day. Taken by the scene, I returned the next day for another try at the pond.  Somehow, my desire to be more impressionistic merged with my mood that day and I let this one rip.  It may have been due to pent-up-agression because I crossed paths with a guy on a tractor dragging a tree across the road on my way to the site.  I slowed and he stopped, so I drove on by.  He ripped me apart verbally as I passed for not waiting for him.  At least he could have signaled.   I think I'm the only one who likes this painting, but that's enough.

Green before Green-up

9 X 12 inches

Alkyd on Canvas panel     $195

This is one of my earliest plein air works -- the mossy base of a cluster of alders along the shoreline of Wrangell Narrows.  Painted in early spring with
Fresh Air, our local plein air group, it's a fond memory of how nice a fair spring day can be in Southeast Alaska.

Out of the Depths

9 X 12 inches

Alkyd on Canvas panel     $195

Later that first year of plein air painting, the only member of Fresh Air I could lure out one threatening Saturday morning was John McCabe.  A shelter at Man Made Hole gave us refuge from which I painted this fallen log.  Man Made Hole was a gravel source for the construction of the south Mitkof Highway.  In the days before mitigation became the password to permit construction projects, an unsung hero of local sport fishers suggested an arm of Blind River, an adjacent salmon stream, be rerouted to cover up the gaping hole in the ground.  Today, the resulting pond is an overwintering area for cutthroat trout and Dolly Varden char as well as a rearing area for juvenile coho salmon.  I added a trout to the foreground of the painting back in my studio.

Stranded Sandy Slough

9 X 12 in

Alkyd on Canvas panel
     Private Collection     

Blind Slough appears in a number of my paintings.  It’s a natural with its wilderness backdrop dominated by Crystal Mountain.  At medium and low tides, a pair of rubber boots are all that’s needed to cross a small side slough on the way to the main watercourse.  At high tide it’s another story.  Fellow plein air painter, Sandy Wolf, found that out during one of her outings across the slough.

Beckoning Route 

9 X 12 inches

Alkyd on Canvas panel     $195

Frederick Point Road on the north end of Mitkof Island winds through old-growth forests and muskegs that provide views of those forests.  On the south side of the road the valley depicted in this painting looks deceptively easy to reach.  It isn’t.  Beyond the muskegs fallen spruce and hemlock trees, mazes of the plant from hell -- Devil’s club -- and rock ledges create as wild and difficult an area to traverse as southeast Alaska offers.  What a blessing to have a place like this so close to Petersburg.

Long Run at Low Tide  

9 X 12  inches             

Alkyd on Canvas panel   
The annual Art for Alaska Parks competition includes State Public Use Areas as well as State Parks.  The only qualifying location on Mitkof Island is the Ernie Haugen Public Use Area.  Access to the area, also known as Green’s Camp has only recently been restored with the replacement of a failed culvert.  So I set out to find some paintable scenes in that corner of our island.  What a happy discovery.  Once off the main highway (a gravel road) I turned around to see this scene.  So far I have painted subjects in three different directions from this spot.

The Road Back

9 X 12 inches

Alkyd on Canvas panel     Sold

I guess I should have named this Read the Instructions First.  It was the second of a series of plein air paintings I made to enter in the competion, Art for Alaska Parks.  The first two were 9 X 12 inches in size.  Then I read the instructions and did some math.  The minimum size for the competion was 154 square inches.  So it was back to that road that entered Ernie Haugen Public Use Area where I discovered many of the alders that made that wonderful welcoming view into the campground had been cut down and scattered over the ground.  The roadside had been trashed by the Alaska Department of Transportation.  So this is the last plein air painting that will ever capture the beauty of that place.

High Tide in the Slough

12 X 16 inches

Alkyd on Canvas panel     $225

At the south end of Mitkof Island Ernie Haugen Public Use Area is the only nearby location where a painting would qualify for the 2008 Art for Alaska Parks competition.  So our plein air painting group, Fresh Air spent an April morning painting there.  Every direction I looked I saw a painting.  In this image I ran into a dilemma.  Engrossed in capturing the stream flowing under a fallen log, I suddenly realized the water was slowing down and turning into a pond.  The tide had come in.  I liked the high tide pond better than my flowing stream so made a switch in “midstream.”  I’ll return to paint the flowing water another day.

Forest Edge

9 X 12 inches

Alkyd on Canvas panel     $195

In July 2008, Fresh Air spent a rain-threatening morning close to home -- at the local Whale Observatory.  Rather than the obvious seascapes at this local attraction, this time I was drawn to the patterns of trees framed by wild celery at the forest edge.  While we painted, a van-load of ferry passengers on a tour drove up and a couple of New Zealanders wandered over to see what I was painting.  I shared NZ stories with them and when they departed, realized that I must be gaining confidence as a plein air painter.  In the past I have avoided places where I might be discovered by passersby because I’m shy about painting in public.  Ahh -- one more step forward for this shy painter.

High Meadow  
9 X 12 inches  

Alkyd on Canvas panel     $195

Late this past June, our plein air painting group, Fresh Air, headed up a gravel road leading into the heart of Mitkof Island.  Our goal was a shelter the Forest Service has erected for skiiers and snowmobilers during the winter.  In summer melting snows reveal wonderful muskeg meadows, ponds and meandering streams, a haven for flowers and, as we once discovered during one terrible hike, deer flies. Thankfully, there were no flies this day, just lush meadows and a fire to cook hot dogs on courtesty of Pete Beckett.

Fite Ranch Dawn

9X 12 inches

Alkyd on Canvas panel     $195

Karen and I spent the first part of March, 2007 in New Mexico.  It marked two firsts -- our first New Mexico vacation and the first time I traveled via air with my oil paints.  For half the trip I remained frozen -- unable to muster the courage to dig out the oils and make the inevitable mess that would ensue  Finally, at the Fite Ranch Bed and Breakfast near San Antonio I awakened to a rising sun painting the side of a nearby mountain a rich gold with long cobalt blue shadows.   That and the shirtsleeve weather broke the ice.  All I had to do was step outside and set up.  An added bonus arrived as two jack rabbits hopped past my easel.  Plein air painting doesn’t get any better than that morning.

Olympic Tides

9 X 12  inches

Alkyd on Canvas panel     $195

Karen and I spent a week captivated by the thundering Pacific Ocean surf in Olympic National Park on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula .  I painted this rocky outcrop at Beach Number 2, as differentiated from 2nd Beach.  The namers of beaches along the outer Olympic Peninsula coast must have had a lot of disagreements about acceptable names until they reached a compromise.  While numbered beaches fail to conjure an image in my mind, so do geologic features named after people.  I prefer names that paint a picture -- like New Zealands’s Boil the Billy Burn, or Destruction Bay in Canada’s Yukon.

Rialto Sentinel  

Alkyd on Canvas panel

9 X 12   $195

A number of rocky outcropping have weathered the pounding surf along Rialto Beach on the Olympic Peninsula’s western shore.  Here I got a sense of their fragility as I painted beneath these rock formations.  Every now and then a rock or group of rocks would lose its grip on the steep hillside and tumble down onto the beach.  Over the coming eons it’s easy to understand how these structures will erode away probably to be replaced by new formations further inland.

Twin Sentinels

9 X 12 inches

Alkyd on Canvas panel     Private Collection

Hiking northerly down Rialto Beach from the Olympic National Park parking area one soon encounters a pair of rock formations.  Landward, the shoreline is rimmed with massive driftwood logs that once flourished in Pacific Northwest forests.  Sitting on one of those logs I painted this image of a pair of rock outcrops that have withstood the pounding surf for eons.  The only downside was that I ultimately had to retreat in response to the rising tide -- a retreat made more difficult by the weight of rocks my wife collected from the beach while I painted.

Last Light at Escalante       

9 X 12 inches

Alkyd on Canvas panel    

I checked into a motel in Escalante, Utah, early in the day to spend the afternoon with my oil paints.  As much as I wanted to return to so many scenes I had driven past earlier in the day, I figured I’d have more time to paint if I stayed close to town.  I found this scene off a side road leading north out of Escalante.  I put the final dab of paint on the canvas just as the sun dipped below the ridge behind me.  Perhaps that was fortunate because I probably would have added more paint had I had more time, at the risk of overworking the subject.

Wrong Turn to the Rio

9 X 12 inches

Alkyd on Canvas panel      $195

On a 2007 road trip to paint in the southwest I checked into a motel in Taos and then set off to drive down to the Rio Grande River.  A borrowed Garmin GPS navigator served as my guide.  Figuring I was just minutes away from setting up on the banks of the Rio, I followed Ms Garmin’s insistent voice to turn right at the next road.  Soon I came upon a pile of boulders blocking my way.  Disappointed, I ventured on foot to take a peek into the gorge before turning back.  This painting would never have happened had it not been for Ms Garmin’s insistence that I make that wrong turn.

Four Mile Wetland

9 X 12 inches

Alkyd on Canvas panel     $195

When I visited northern Wisconsin several years ago, I spent many hours cutting a trail paralleling a wetland between several lakes.  While I never finished my project I was captivated by the beauty of the wetland and returned in 2007 to put it on canvas.  One change I made to the scene was leaving out the white-tailed deer that ran through the middle of my subject.

On the Way to the Cabin

9 X 12 inches

Alkyd on Canvas panel      $195

While staying at Karen’s family cabin in northern Wisconsin during the fall of 2007, I was attracted to this bend in Four Mile Lake Road with shadows from the trees dissecting the roadway.  What a pleasure it was to set up in the middle of a rarely used road and enjoy the pleasures of a warm autumn day in my shirtsleeves.

Mt. Robson Ranch 

12 X 16 inches

Alkyd on Canvas panel     $225

During a September, 2006, vacation in the Canadian Rockies, Karen and I spent several spectacular days at Mt. Robson Ranch in British Columbia’s Mt. Robson Provincial Park.  Setting up my easel just a few steps from our rustic cabin, I returned several times to paint this image of our view of the Canadian Rockies tallest peak.  The shirt-sleeves weather combined with a spectacular vista in every direction hooked me on the joys of traveling with my paints.

Out of the Columbia Ice Fields

12 X 16 inches

Alkyd on Canvas panel     $225

Driving south from Jasper, Alberta, the Columbia Icefields Parkway parallels the Athabasca River.  Nearing the Athabasca Glacier, the highway crosses wonderful open dryas-covered gravel bars.  Still being shy about painting in “en plein view” of the whole world, I sought a place close to the River where my presence was less obvious to the many passing cars.  Sitting in my Daniel Smith folding chair just below the riverbank I was in my own private world with the rush of the Arctic-bound river while Karen combed the gravel bars for near-perfect stones.  We both came back pleased from the day’s endeavors.

L:  Sign of Spring         Alkyd on canvas panel    9 X 12    $195
R:  Summer Greens     Alkyd on canvas panel    9 X 12    $195

L:  Winter's Retreat         Alkyd on canvas panel   12 X 16   $225
R:  Northwoods Wetland  Alkyd on canvas panel   9 X 12   $195

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