Laurel Bushman of Hood River didn’t discover her passion for painting landscapes until eight years ago, but the retired educator’s talent with oils has placed her among 40 artists selected to compete in the 2017 Pacific Northwest Plein Air in the Columbia River Gorge event.
“I came from a family of artists but I didn’t get into painting until later,” she said. “My education has been self-guided. I studied at Scottsdale Artists’ School in Arizona and have taken classes with Cathleen Rehfeld (of Hood River), who started the Plein Air program in the Gorge 12 years ago.”
Plein Air denotes the 19-centry style of painting outdoors, which was a central feature of French impressionism.
Anna Lancaster of Wilsonville is staying in Hood River this week to participate in the annual “Paint Out” contest and exhibition that, for the past couple of years, has been hosted by Maryhill Museum of Art.
She grew up learning how to capture a scene on canvas under the tutelage of her father, a designer for Lionel, and has earned distinction for her work with oils, which she says can easily become all-consuming.
“I’m as close to a full-time painter as you can be,” she said of the lifestyle that is possible because she works for her husband, who allows great flexibility with her hours.
On Monday morning, both women had easels set up at the rest stop just west of Lyle. They were intent on capturing a scene that seemed like something out of a pirate adventure movie. Dark basalt cliffs dotted with greenery towered over a rocky beach lapped by waves from the river where sunlight glittered across blue water.
“I have painted here multiple times because I think it is so stunning,” said Bushman who, like Lancaster, has been a previous Plein Air contestant.
Both painters say it is daunting and exhilarating to be among artists with state and national distinction during the four-day competition. The artists are gathering in Hood River and other locations in and around the Gorge, some in groups and others individually.
“The thing about Plein Air is that the light changes so you have to capture what you want fast,” said Bushman.
“The idea is to try to get down your basic values and color as guides as quickly as you can. Once you get that, you can do some refining work,” added Lancaster.
Bushman had taken shelter from the heat of July 31 under a tree and was working on the dark base that set the foundation for her painting. She trained in a classical style of artwork that involved layers of paint and a lot of drying time, something not afforded a Plein Air artist.
“I came here today because I wanted to go where I was comfortable,” she said.
She has adjusted by capturing a view in a photograph, or committing it to memory, so she can remember a setting she liked before the sun shifted.
“Every time I paint here, it sells,” she said.
Lancaster had preferred an angle available only in a sunny spot and was relying on shade from an umbrella to provide a refuge from the heat.
“As you start learning Plein Air painting, you start to learn how much you don’t know,” she said. “There’s just so much you are trying to compose and paint from everything that’s there.”
Some of the Plein Air artists had chosen to spend Monday at Timberline Lodge, but Bushman was thinking that, with higher temperatures coming later in the week, that might be a better time to head into the mountains.
She said the contest area has been broadened due to triple-digit temperatures in the Gorge that make it unbearable to set up an outdoor studio in many places.
“They were basically worried about us getting heat stroke,” she said.
Each artist must submit four paintings by 4 p.m. Thursday.
These works will not only be displayed but made available for purchase. They will be on exhibition at Maryhill, 35 Maryhill Museum Dr., during the month of August that begins with a reception Friday evening from 5 to 8 p.m.
An award ceremony take place from 1 to 3 p.m. Aug. 4 for a variety of prizes that are decided on by jurors, including Michael Hernandez of California, an illustrator for DreamWorks Animation, a subsidiary of Universal Studios.
A $300 cash prize is being given out by Maryhill to artists that capture a scene on the historical museum grounds, which includes Maryhill Village and Stonehenge.
Bushman knows exactly where she will head next this week because she regularly scouts the area for new places to set up shop so she can make recommendations to the Gorge Painters: Friends with Easels group that she belongs to, which meets on Wednesdays.
The group has a Facebook page where the locations for gatherings are posted.
Although she’s relaxed about being on her home turf for the contest, Bushman admits to also feeling some stress.
“I’ve really prepared,” she said, showing palettes of colors that will soon be blended into her masterpiece.