Valley Springs Ranch Painting Session – September 5th, 2013

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There must be a unique name for the ladders that are built over fences, but that is exactly where Kathryn stopped in her tracks as we were looking for a place for her to set up her easel. “This is it,” she said, overlooking the east Swan Pond near Rafter J, where a pair of brilliant white swans quickly paddled towards us, perhaps wondering who and what we were.


Naively, I figured she would simply set up shop, dip her brush, and start coloring a canvas. How else was she to finish this painting in the two hours we had together? Well, not having an art background or really knowing anything about painting, what most amazed me about my morning with Kathryn was the amount of preparation and thoughtfulness that would preclude actually connecting brush to canvas. To paraphrase Kathryn, “painting is like making sausage” – there are many steps. She began by taking a couple dozen photos with her iPhone to capture the swans and the scene in case anything changed. She then drew four different versions of the scene in a small journal. In between each drawing, Kathryn would hold her hands out in front of her view, her thumbs and pointer fingers forming a rectangle much like a picture frame, to help her figure out exactly what she wanted to include in her piece. When I asked, Kathryn said she was trying to figure out if she wanted to include more trees or more water. Impressionism chose her, she says, and therefore harmony and balance are at the heart of each painting.


She eventually peeled off the hardened layer from each paint blob on her palette and began mixing colors with her palette knife. Kathryn would simply scoop a bit of the mixed color with her knife and hold it in front of her line of sight, with one eye closed, to see if it matched the true natural color in the pond or tree beyond it. Where I simply saw a gray, Kathryn found periwinkle. Landscape painting, she described, is naturally dynamic. The inconsistent light, weather, and subject matter, especially a pair of engaged swans, make the experience very unlike painting from a photo. And sure enough, we started out with bright morning rays, followed by a light sprinkle, and wrapping up with dark looming clouds, each of which changed the scene and colors so drastically.


I don’t think I’ve ever studied the same scene or view for that length of time. It not only amazed me how much the scene changed over the two hours, but how I kept noticing details I hadn’t seen just a moment before. Most striking, of course, was watching Kathryn’s ability to capture it all.


-Lisa Ridenour


Special thanks to guest blogger Lisa Ridenour of AllTrips for contributing this post!