Category Archives: Painting nature

Into the Blue

Here’s a new painting I’ll be showing at High Hand Gallery in Loomis, California, starting in September. It’s called “Into the Blue.” I had the opportunity to paint last spring at Oest-Clementine Preserve, one of the nature preserves in the Sierra Nevada foothills owned and maintained by Placer Land Trust. PLT sponsored a series of plein air events at their preserves. This one is outside of Auburn, California, near the American River. (If you know the area, Lake Clementine is in the gap between the second and third ridge in the painting, and the Foresthill Bridge is offstage right about, oh, maybe half a mile.)

Into the Blue ©2012 Stephanie Benedict
Into the Blue ©2012 Stephanie Benedict. Oil on canvas. 400 mm x 1000 mm.

One of the things I like to try to portray in my work is distance. Where I live in Sacramento, we like to say that on clear days you can see the Sierras. Montana may call itself Big Sky Country, but the vistas here are huge as well. So when I saw this view at Oest-Clementine, I had to paint it. Ridge after ridge after ridge disappearing into the atmospheric perspective.

I look forward to going back next year to Oest-Clementine, and trying again with some other composition.

Into the Blue will be on display at Artstock 2012 at High Hand Gallery through October 21. As always, I will donate a percentage of the sale price to Placer Land Trust.




Recently, someone asked me “What inspires you to paint en plein air?”

She was asking for a quote for some publicity, so of course I responded right away. But it got me thinking: what does inspire me to paint outdoors?

The Sentinel ©2011 Stephanie Benedict
The Sentinel ©2011 Stephanie Benedict. 9 x 12, oil on board. Private Collection.

The short answer is: I like to be outdoors. I’ve been a birdwatcher longer than I’ve been a painter, and part of what I enjoy is bringing my binoculars along, setting my pochade up in a shady spot, and seeing who happens by. Though I admit, you have to be so focused when you paint—all that fleeting light and everything—watching birds can be a distraction. But, on a Saturday in the Sierra foothills, that didn’t stop me from noticing how, around 11:00, all the hawks took to the air.

And then there’s the fact that you really can’t see accurate color detail from photos. Painters know that camera lenses cannot see the range of colors and values the human eye can: cameras get the darks OR the lights, not both. And that pesky white balance! Change the white balance setting, and all the colors change. How in the world can that be accurate? So if you wanna do landscapes, you gotta go outside.

The long answer is that I love being in the moment, in the landscape. All of these are elements inspire my work: the feel of the humidity in the air, the sounds of hawks and swallows, the scent of the pine trees or the dried grasses. So often our days are taken over by our electronic devices and our automobiles, we forget to look around us. I love immersing myself in the day and trying to portray it with paint.

One of my favorite science fiction short stories (this really is related!) is called “The Light of Other Days,” written in 1966 by Bob Shaw. The device in the story was what the author called “slow glass”: a special glass that allowed light to pass through it only very slowly, so that the viewer looking through the glass would see what had happened years before. The story involves a couple shopping for a piece of slow glass to hang in their living room, a kind of moving painting of the mountains through the seasons. (In reality nowadays, I’ve seen HD TVs at hotels do something similar: but they’re displaying videotaped scenes of island paradises or mountain snowfall. Not quite the same.)

Well, I’ve always wanted my paintings to be a kind of slow glass: I want them to portray a morning, or an afternoon, and give the viewer the echo of actually being there. That humidity I spoke of, or the scent of the pines, or the heat, or the sound of the surf. That feel of a place is much harder to capture than even the fleeting colors of the shadows, and I don’t succeed every time. But that’s what inspires me, and that’s what I’m striving for.

What do you look for in a landscape painting? If you’re a painter, what inspires you?

Russian Gulch State Park to remain open!

My email recently delivered some great news: thanks in large part to the Mendocino Area Parks Association, Russian Gulch State Park will remain open!

Russian Gulch ©2011 Stephanie Benedict. Oil on board, 6" x 8"
Russian Gulch ©2011 Stephanie Benedict. Oil on board, 6″ x 8″

Russian Gulch is one of my favorite state parks along the Mendocino coast. It’s located just north of the village of Caspar, and south of Fort Bragg. I’ve painted there a number of times, mostly without much success—the colors are subtle and, at the time, were beyond my grasp.

Why live in California if you can’t visit the parks?

The closure of California’s state parks is, to my mind, a travesty. I think people here don’t appreciate what they have—open space where they can visit, camp, walk (even paint!), get away from the city’s noise and concrete. I lived in Massachusetts for several years and, while I love New England, I also realized that there are very few parks there. Even the coast there is typically private property. California’s parks, by contrast, may be crowded on holiday weekends, but they also offer places where nature can thrive and people can remember what the land was like before the asphalt took it over.

I know we have budget problems in this state. I welcome a discussion of the role of government. But do we have to pit parks against support for the frail elderly or against schools? We need them all. When parks started charging entrance fees under the name of “user fees,” I didn’t like them because, if you can’t afford the user fee, you are also excluded from that public space. But compared to permanent closure, that $5 or $10 entrance fee seems like a small price to pay. For once the parks are closed, the next step is selling the property.

Hurray for the people saving some of the parks!

So I’m really glad that several of the parks have been removed from the closure list, to be operated by non-profits or other groups. Here’s what you can do to help: