It was during a gallery plein air event in the Cascade Mountains above Bend, Oregon, that I first caught a glimpse of a scene that would ultimately become one of my favorite locations to paint. It was the evening of the first day and I was hurriedly driving between two possible locations when something caught my attention. When I’m driving, I have a little rule I call “the 10 minute or 10 mile rule,” which works like this: If 10 minutes have lapsed, or if I have driven more than 10 miles, I have to forget about the scene. Otherwise, I have to stop and go back to investigate. Fortunately, on this given evening, I turned around and went back.
From the elevated view from the roadway, I could tell there was a scene in the distance that definitely deserved further investigation. From where I was, there was no easy way to get there, so I grabbed my camera and headed off down the rugged embankment toward the view. By the time I got to the bottom of the embankment, I was wet, muddy and covered in scratches. As I followed the tiny clear alpine stream, it suddenly opened up to a magical view towards the upper marshes of Sparks Lake. Majestic fir trees flanked the meadow as bits and pieces of the receding stream glistened from the glow of the evening light. I quietly stood there taking it all in as the last embrace of the sun began its ascent and the shadows quietly moved up the trees. It would soon be dark and I needed to find my way back. As I drove down the mountain to the city of Bend for the evening, I began to plan my return.
At first light, I was back at the location. After carrying my painting equipment down the embankment and finding a suitable place to set up, I decided to explore. A few yards down the stream from the previous evening’s viewpoint were the remnants of an old campground. As I followed the abandoned road, I discovered that it led back to the highway and would provide much easier access in the future.
Many years have passed since that initial visit and I have spent considerable time in both contemplation and pursuit of a painting among the beauty this site has to offer. Elk have come down from the hilltops to drink from the stream; bullfrogs have serenaded from the marshy ponds within the meadow; I’ve nearly frozen to death on occasion; and I have been eaten alive by mosquitoes, but the scene never disappoints. I’ve been fortunate to share it with other artist friends and to see the beauty they have rendered.
When something triggers your visual interest, investigate. Spend time exploring the location during different seasons and times of the day. Give yourself the luxury to return as often as possible. Through these exchanges, a partnership will develop that ultimately leads to greater creative depth.
Cascade Evening (above; pastel on UART paper, 14×18) is one of the paintings to emerge from this special painting spot in Sparks Lake, Oregon.
MORE RESOURCES FOR ARTISTS