In the 19th century, an artistic movement actively took painting outdoors--from within the walls of the academic studios outside into the elements. "En plein air" , in the open air, is the French term that is used to describe this manner of painting. This method of painting was used primarily by a group of 19th century Paris-based painters that fostered the style of artwork known as "Impressionism."
After scouting locations in mid February 2015, I returned to the Heights on March 13-14 to commence the paintings. On my first day of painting outdoors, I had no idea where I would begin. Admittedly, I was a bit daunted. There are so many places that I had identified on my scouting trip in February that I determined would make an attractive composition in paint.
Yet, starting the actual painting process was a formidable prospect.
After enjoying early morning coffee at The Little Store in the Heights with my uncle and his friends, I set out to paint. I say a silent prayer to my late mom and grandmother, "Please help me to find the perfect place to start this project. I could really use your help."
A few hundred yards away, is the fire station on Naches Heights Road. All around the station is a panoramic view of several orchards.
I am intrigued by a few blooming apricot trees amidst an orchard of pre-bloom apple trees out back. I parked my car behind the fire station and found a convenient set of rocks to set up my painting studio.
The experience of working outdoors is exhilarating. What makes the experience so phenomenal for me is the natural light. The light is constantly shifting, a factor of the moving clouds and of where the sun is positioned in the sky.
As I work on the first composition, I find out quickly that my hues will change. What is once illuminated rapidly transitions to shade because of the relationship of these two factors: the sun and clouds.
Working en plein air is a rush of the senses. If you want to capture a particular lighting, you have to 1) work fast, 2) keep adjusting your composition to the changing light. I decide that my best strategy is all of the above. Also, I make sketches, add notes of my observations, and take reference pictures so that I can finish the work in the studio.
After finding a finishing point on the day's first painting featuring the apricot blooms, I turned to my left, facing north, and selected this vista to paint. What I like about this view is the drama in the sky. Again, the light shifts quickly. At one point, I see a group of trees to my right illuminated like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It was radiant and lasted for about 30-45 seconds. Once the sun's light on this area had been covered, the trees lost their radiance and became an unremarkable shade of yellowish brown.
About half way through the day, my cousin Don came by to give me a bag of apples. Curious to know what type of apples these were, I said, "where did you get these?" My cousin replied with a little bit of schooling in his tone of voice, "I don't get these, they were given to me." I laughed because I am talking to someone who has lived a few more decades than I amongst these orchards. I knew I had mis-phrased my question. It is common practice for farmers to share their produce. What I learned was that the varieties that my cousin gave me are Golden Delicious, a staple of this region, and Honeycrisps, which is an apple variety rapidly growing in popularity. Curiosity satisfied.
I also learned something very interesting from Don. I learned that the orchards I selected for my first painting once belonged to my great grandfather Paul W. Berndt.
Then I learned that the land where we were standing, where the fire station is, was donated by my great grandfather Paul W. to build a community center. Now, that was really news to me! The community center burned down a few years ago and in its place stands the fire station with a community center indoors. Local residents can use its community center at no charge.
Then, the icing on the cake. Later that day, my Uncle Tom tells me that the house that my mom and her brothers grew up in was in the horizon where I was painting.
OK, that's it. Not one, not two, but three explicit references to family history were factored into my choice of painting location on this first day. These are not mere coincidences. I was guided to begin my project on this very site. Of all the places I could have started this project, the first setting has direct ties to my ancestors. I am convinced that my silent prayer to my mom and grandmother earlier that day was answered immediately.
Mary Lamery is a lifelong resident and native of the Pacific Northwest.
Lamery paints regional landscape in a manner that leans towards 19th century French Impressionism. She will be showing a series of painted landscapes of Naches Heights, made en plein air, in July 2015 at the Seattle Art Museum, SAM Gallery.
To see galleries of her work and details of the July 2015 show, please visit www.mlamery.com