Painting at Colusa NWR

I recently had the chance to paint with friends at the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, thanks to a Plein Air Painting day sponsored by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Linda Merchant en plein air at Colusa NWR
Wildlife artist Linda Merchant painting at Colusa NWR.
Stephanie Benedict painting at Colusa NWR
Here’s me painting at Colusa National Wildlife Refuge. I’d left my hat in the car–silly me. Photo by Linda Merchant.

The refuge, located about an hour north of Sacramento, is one of a complex of refuges in the north valley that are the winter home of thousands of migrating waterfowl. In my humble opinion, these refuges are the jewels of the Valley—and, therefore, one of the best places to spend a sunny February Saturday.

The group was limited to about 12 painters, most of who stayed close to the parking lot and the viewing platform. My friends Linda Merchant, Rhonda Egan, and I ventured a bit farther afield: perhaps a quarter-mile down a hiking path near a second viewing platform, where we could stand out of the wind and see the marshes and the Coast Range to the west.

Here’s the deal with plein air painting that many non-painters don’t realize: just like photographers, painters like early morning and late afternoon light. Mid-day light, with the sun high overhead, is the harshest and, for painters, the flattest, because the shadows offer their least contrast at that time. It’s not impossible to paint mid-day: it’s just better earlier or later.

So the three of us painted both morning and afternoon pieces: the first, done late morning; and a second later in the afternoon, after the official ending time of the event—but with light that just got better and better. The two photos above show two paintings done from almost the exact same spot, looking in different directions, at different times of day. The first shows the snow on Snow Mountain, almost directly west, in late morning. The second is late-ish afternoon, looking southwest. This one is a kind of contra jour (“against the day”) because I was looking almost directly into the sun.

Thank you to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for having this plein air painting event!

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4 thoughts on “Painting at Colusa NWR

  1. Stephanie, How did you find out about the Plein Air Painting Day sponsored by the the WIldlife and Fisheries Agency? Was it actually a national event or a local/regional opportunity.

      1. Thanks Stephanie, I think I will poke around the internet as well and contact local agencies to see if there is anything happening in my neck of the woods. Happy plein airing!

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