The Bakke Gallery

Artistic Endeavors by Washington State artist Karen Bakke

Palouse Falls

One of the reasons for me to join Plein Air Washington Artists (PAWA) is to experience the most beautiful areas around our amazing state. many of which I've never been. Other reasons -  to paint with other artists in a planned environment, learning from them, watching their work in progress, listening to them swapping stories, being involved and, of course, making friends with similar interests. I have posted on my calendar every Paint Out PAWA has going on this year and am making efforts to attend as many as I possibly can.

Palouse Falls was the first extended-stay paint out on the calendar. So, off I went to southeastern Washington with a new PAWA painting buddy to camp at a KOA with others from the group near what looked to me like a miniature Grand Canyon with a spectacular waterfall in the middle of, well, nowhere! Even though it was late spring, the rolling landscape was already a golden hue. The campsite was nice, right on the Snake River, and had a nice restaurant and store. Only minutes away from the falls, we went down right away to view the sights and prepare for the next morning. Each day I woke up earlier than the rest. I took walks, taking photos, made coffee on the camp stove and waited on pins and needles to head down with the others to paint en plein air.

I learned how truly fast the shadows that were cast across the canyon change as you're painting - and what they mean by "chasing the light". I got my first taste of painting water in motion, using other colors besides green in the landscape (as we have so much in Western Washington), and relished in the stories the others told literally around the campfire. I learned how difficult it is to remember values, as your eye has a way of making up for the details and colors in the atmospheric haze. And, I can chalk one up for painting against the afternoon winds that wanted to send my easel flying to the bottom of the canyon! I hung on to it like a wild pony and forced my brush to canvas in mad, furious strokes! I decided the less windy mornings were more suitable for my position in the learning curve. I think I'll be able to tackle the winds and win them over when I have more experience under my belt. So many of my discoveries were made just by my being there, as all plein air artists have gone through themselves - not through a book or online video. They all laughed knowingly when I spoke of it. I saw wet, finished oil paintings fly and land face down in the grass and dirt belonging to a couple of the more experienced artists, so I knew the challenges would never cease!

Only when I got home and started seeing the posted photos, did I realize how close to the edge of the cliff I was painting at one point! Our facilitator had come up to me to advise that I should hang my paint tube-laden backpack underneath my tripod to keep it from blowing over the cliff. "The wind picks up unexpectedly around here", she said. Only minutes later, gusts whipped up around me. I'm sure that's lesson #83 somewhere in the plein air painters manual... I gulped at the thought of spending the next few days with no supplies, in the middle of nowhere, watching everyone else paint... and having to go home with nothing to show for it. As it was, I was able to knock out seven paintings in the four day trip, including travel time. For a rookie, I'll accept that as a success! I came home happy, exhausted, and full of new memories - en plein air.