Oregon Dunes

I was in search of dunes.  There is a large expanse of incredible sand dunes mid-way down the Oregon Coast.  They stretch for more than 40 miles from Florence to south of Reedsport.  I wanted a good vantage point from which to draw this unique landscape.   And you’d think there would be plenty of viewpoints, but a few roads were closed because of flooding from the recent rains, and others were too rough for my low-clearance van to navigate.   Finally, on my last day in the area I found a large parking lot with excellent views of the mountains of sand.

This is the largest area of sand dunes in North America.  Millions of years of erosion from wind and rain have formed hills up to 500 feet above sea level.     I think hot and dry when I think of sand dunes, but here they exist in a cool and wet climate.  What fascinates me are the trees and shrubs that grow in the midst of the dunes, forming islands in the sand.


Drawing the trees and grasses is familiar territory.  For the dunes themselves, I had to rely on watercolor to depict the smoothness and simplicity of the terrain.  It was a cloudy day where the sky was darker than the land – something that doesn’t happen often.


As you might imagine the dunes are hugely popular with ATV lovers.  Next time I come, maybe I’ll rent an ATV and go off to find even better vantage points. Wouldn’t that be fun!

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Photo or Drawing?

I found the perfect spot!  The sun was shining, the weather was warm and there was only a slight breeze.  There was even a picnic table so I had a surface on which to draw.  What luxury!  I was happily inking away when a man came near me and snapped a picture of my subject.  As he turned to go he said, “It’s faster to take a photo.”   I replied with a smile, “This is more fun.”

It’s the first answer that came to mind and of course it’s true, I was having a marvelous time.   But there’s so much more.   He spent a total of one minute there.  I spent two hours looking, feeling, absorbing the light, the colors, the atmosphere of the place.  I wasn’t after a perfect representation the view, I was drawing what I feel when I see such a beautiful spot.  It’s all about impressions, thoughts and expression. You make a personal connection with the landscape.  That’s what makes drawing meaningful to me.   Drawings work because they come from the heart and soul, not because they’re precise reproductions of a subject.


This isn’t a great drawing.  Perhaps the photo will be a wonderful way to show friends and family the beauty of the Oregon coast.  We all respond to beauty in different ways and certainly photography is a wonderful art.  For me, I’ll stick with drawing.

The next time you’re at a place that inspires you, try taking out a pencil or pen to draw what you see.  The first thing you’ll notice is that you see so much more than you ever knew was there.  The next thing you’ll find is that you’ll connect with that spot in a personal way.  And finally, you’ll have a wonderful memory of quality time spent in a beautiful place. I will always remember the wonderful day I had at Bob’s Creek.  One more happy place on my ever-growing list.




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Trying New Subjects

Driving down the coast I came to the little town of Yachats.  As I so often do I took some side roads to see what there is to see.  I was delighted to discover their town park on the water’s edge.  There were wonderful rocky outcroppings stretching into the sea and this day, fairly good sized waves  crashing over the rocks creating a pulsing spectacle of energy.  Watching how the waves would surge, cover and drain from the rocks was enthralling.   I wanted to draw it.

But honestly, this is the kind of subject that I usually shy away from.  Moving water? With an ink pen?  Recognizing that I’ll never learn unless I try it, I pulled out a small piece of watercolor paper, a pencil and a pen.  I knew I could draw the rocks so I started on them.  As I drew the rock formations I considered how I would tackle the water.  Watercolor seemed the best solution to capture that wild movement.  The rocks took quite a long time and I wish I would have taken a photo before the color went on, but perhaps you can imagine rocks surrounded by white paper.   I used a little maskoid to preserve some white areas.  Once I added the color I wanted it to look like splashes going every which way.  My finishing touch was some white gouache sprinkled on with a toothbrush.



I’m not unhappy with this first attempt.  Watercolor is perfect for the fluidity of the waves and I’m glad I did not try to use ink in the water.   A first attempt can be daunting, but I’m so glad I jumped into this.   The next one was easier. Here’s another drawing from a quieter beach.


It’s so easy to stick with things that you know you can do well.  I’m so glad I tried this.  Now I have some ideas brewing for larger versions.  And, when I come across more scenes of crashing waves on my journey, I’ll have the confidence to give them a try.

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It’s Raining, It’s Pouring…

It’s been raining off and on for a week.   Not only is it impossible to draw in the rain – paper turns to mush – but the landscape becomes downright dreary.  What’s an outdoor artist to do?  People who draw are generally creative, so here are some of my artistic solutions for a dark and stormy day:

  1.   Create a still life out of available items and practice watercolor.


  1. Finish up the unfinished drawings. This view of the waterfall inside Boiler Bay had some deep shadows which I thought should be darker.   Maybe I got carried away.


  1. Take a nap, or draw someone taking a nap.


  1. Drive around and look for primo spots for when the sun again makes an appearance. If you’re lucky, you might even find a spot to draw from your car. That’s how this drawing came about.  When I was there, there was a slight clearing and I was able to block this in.  In the distance storm clouds were heading straight for the beach.   Before the drawing was complete, the deluge hit and the scene dissolved into pouring water.   See #2 above.



  1. Put on your rain clothes and take a walk on the beach. There will be no one there and it’s a perfect time to soak up the atmosphere of the sea.
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Something Fishy

Opening the door of my van, it hit me.  Fish and salt – I must be in a fishing town.  And indeed I was.  I had parked along the dock at Newport’s Bayfront area for a great view of Oregon’s largest commercial fishing fleet.  This is where the town of Newport started and vintage buildings now house shops and restaurants, in addition to a fish packing plant, marine exhibits, and more.


From my vantage point on the dock, I could see the iconic Conde McCullough bridge behind the boats.  I’ve come to admire the continuity of design of these bridges along the coast.   At some point I’ll make one of them the focal point of a drawing.


Today, however, it’s all about boats.  Wanting to be outside as near as I could to my subject, I had to stand because the dock railings blocked a seated view.  It’s hard to get good boat perspective standing up, but I think I did OK.  As the wind increased, the air chilled.  By the time I was finished I needed to move back into the van to get warm.  I was pleased to discover a good view from the passenger seat.  I did another drawing in the comfort of the vehicle.   It would be easy to spend the whole day here, but more places are calling.  There is so much to see and draw here!

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Holiday Romance

I’m in love.  And wouldn’t you know it the object of my affection is short, stubby and twisted. Yes,  Pinus Contortas – otherwise known as Shore Pines – has sent me over the edge.  I’m sure you’ve seen them, the small, graceful pines that grow near the ocean.  Not only do they contort and twist, they lean, curve, kink, bend and grow every imaginable direction except straight.  Most often there are several trunks curving upward, or even over, in graceful arcs and angles.   Nature’s art is truly sublime.


While I was initially drawn to their lines, as I’ve been getting to know them better these many days by the sea, I’m also intrigued by their colors. In the sun they tend to warm browns, ochres and crimsons.  On gray days their bark takes on cooler browns and blues.  And when they’re drenched by  a heavy rain, they become almost black while the lichen that so frequently appears on them lightens to a soft green.



And if the lines and colors aren’t enough to make me swoon, the texture is rough and gritty.  It all adds up to a tree full of personality and impact.   I’ve done several drawings already, taken masses of photographs and can’t wait to tackle some large portraits once I return home.  Pinus Cortortas and I have a very bright future together.


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The Dorymen of Pacific City

I took the Three Capes loop from Tillamook to find wonderful small towns, pleasant beaches and lovely viewpoints.  Pacific City is a special place.  It’s tucked just south of Cape Kiwanda, a sandstone cliff, rising gracefully above the sea.  I headed out across the busiest beach I’d seen so far to explore the rocks at the base of the cliff.  I was hoping to find a sheltered place to draw, but with the wind whipping up a frenzy,  I eventually settled in the lee of a log where I had a good view of the cape.


Pacific City is best known for the flat-bottomed fishing boats that were designed to launch directly from the beach into the surf.  I happened to be there for the Blessing of the Fleet ceremony.  The beach quickly filled with these colorful boats. They came both on land, on trailers, and by sea, skidding onto the beach through the rough waves of the day.  It was incredible to watch.


I stayed for the ceremony which was casual and personal.    Some boy scouts raised the United States flag on a mast erected on one of the boats while a local woman sang the Star Spangled Banner.  The head of the Dory Boat Association opened with a few remarks. followed by three different clergymen who offered prayers for the boats and the fishermen who worked in them.   It was an illuminating glimpse into their world.  I wanted to capture the energy of the scene.  With at least 40 boats , plus trucks, people and assorted other thing on the beach, it was difficult to find a good vantage point.  I managed to get a quick study of a portion of the scene.   All in all a great day at Pacific City!




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Three or Four Graces

Some time ago I saw a photo of a rugged sea stack rising out of the mist.  It was haunting and inviting and I determined to find out where it was.  I discovered it is part of a group of rock formations known as The Three Graces not far from Garibaldi, Oregon.   This was something I wanted to draw!  From the photo I imagined that this was secluded place down a narrow road to a protected bay.  Not so.  This amazing scene is right off the Pacific Coast Highway.   So close you could snap a close up picture as you drive by!   There’s a small parking area between the highway and the boulders that line the beach.  I sat on a large rock as cars whizzed by about 20 feet away.    Once I get into a drawing I’m oblivious to the noises around me.   After an hour or so, a bus load of school children and their chaperones tramped past me on their way to have lunch on the beach.  After lunch, they filled the rocks with color as they went exploring.



I’m a little perplexed about the “three” graces because by my count there were four sea stacks.  Is it the three largest ones, or the three that are closest together?  I googled, but could find no answer to this question.    I drew three on watercolor paper, and then did the fourth in my sketch book.   I’m really getting into rocks, which is a good thing since there are lots more on my journey.


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Cannon Beach

I’m starting my journey at Cannon Beach, the quintessential Oregon coast experience.  I can’t decide which I enjoy more, strolling Hemlock Street dipping in and out of fascinating shops and galleries or exploring the tide pools and beach around Haystack Rock.  It’s one of my favorite places to slow down, unwind a bit, and of course, draw.  The rugged, wave carved rocks on the beach are wonderful.  When the tide goes out, all kinds of starfish, sea anemones, crabs, barnacles and more become visible and handy interpreters are near by to share facts and answer questions.


I love to watch the people exploring and enjoying the beach.  There are groups of families and friends talking, moving slowly and soaking in the natural beauty.  Everyone should have a week at Cannon Beach to recharge their soul.


With Ecola State park to the north and Hug Beach and Oswald West State park to the south there are plenty of places to explore and admire within a short distance of Cannon Beach.  Reading up for this trip I learned that 2017 is the 50th anniversary of Oregon Beach Bill. Oregon is the only state where the entire coastline is public land.  Brilliant, Oregon!

Ok, so if I had to choose one thing not to miss about Cannon Beach, it would of course be the fabulous art. Who doesn’t love a town with 16 art galleries?  My kind of place.


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Packing for a Trip

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed my favorite drawing materials.  I’m packing for a trip, here’s a list of what I’m bringing along:

8 pigma micron pens, size 005

1 platinum carbon ink pen

2 Stillman & Birn Epsilon series sketchbooks – 7×10

1 Arches cold press Sketchbook 7 x 10 – hoping to do a little watercolor painting

30 pieces of Arches Hot press watercolor paper, cut to various sizes

Windsor Newton Watercolors on a travel size folding palette

4  sable watercolor brushes – a 1” flat and an 8, 6, & 4 round

Blotting paper cut into 2” squares – very important for fixing mistakes

A few pencils, and

2 brand new kneaded erasers – remarkable only because I’ve been using some old scrungy ones for too long.


When I travel I tend to work small and draw fast.  The smooth Stillman& Birn Epsilon paper is excellent for fine ink work, yet strong enough to take a little watercolor.  I’ve tried many different types of sketchbooks, but this is the only one I’ve found that handles ink and watercolor to my satisfaction.

When I want to take my time with a more detailed, finessed work, then Arches hot press watercolor paper is my surface of choice.  I’ve become very comfortable with it, which boosts my confidence when adding color.

The pigma micron pens have been my go-to choice for years.   The platinum carbon is new.  I love how it glides over the paper.  I use the best quality Windsor Newton watercolors for light and color fastness.  And if you don’t know about blotter paper, it’s a marvelous tool for blotting up excess water and color when painting.

All supplies fit easily  in the well-used bag my daughter brought me from a Paris flea market.  I load up my gear, grab my pooch and off I go!



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