Donald Neff, "Creek Street," 2017, acrylic on canvas, 9 x 12 inches

Well-known painter Donald Neff recently found himself aboard an Alaskan cruise ship for the fourth time, with a slightly different set of priorities than touring and sightseeing: painting en plein air. His results?

Setting sail from San Francisco and travelling north toward Alaska, artist Donald Neff knew he would have endless sights to paint — and from a unique vantage point. “Since this was our fourth cruise to this destination, I wanted to concentrate on painting rather than touring and sightseeing,” Neff wrote on his website’s blog. “We embarked out of San Francisco, and this was our first cruise where we didn’t have to fly to the embarkation point, so I considered taking my oil paintings rather than the usual acrylics I travel with. In the end, I took my acrylics, as I didn’t want to smell up the cabin with drying oil paintings. I did take a Strada mini easel, which is the first time I have taken an easel on a cruise.

A selfie on Creek Street
Close to the scene Neff painted for “Creek Street”

“Our first stop was Ketchikan, called ‘the first city of Alaska’ because it’s always the first stop north. I made a beeline to Creek Street. Creek Street is infamous as being Ketchikan’s red light district during pioneer days and is actually a boardwalk mounted on stilts on a high slope on the east side of Ketchikan Creek.

“I painted for a couple hours, and then it started to drizzle, so I had to pack up. I wasn’t sure it was finished, especially the water. While I was painting, the water level in the creek had dropped several feet! I assume it was the tide but possibly some controlling dam upstream.

“Juneau was the next stop. It was a bit of a drizzly day, so in the morning I just painted from the Promenade Deck on the ship. Looking across Gastineau Channel is the town of Douglas, and behind that Mt. Bradley. While I was painting, a crew member told me several humpback whales had been playing around the ship all morning. Sure enough, they were still there, and I would occasionally see them surface, spout, and play around.

Donald Neff, “Douglas,” 2017, acrylic on canvas, 9 x 12 inches
Donald’s setup from the deck of the cruise ship

“It cleared somewhat in the afternoon, and the sun occasionally broke out, which was first time on this cruise, which was already almost half over. So I went into town for a bit, and took a ride up the Mt. Roberts Tramway, which gives spectacular views of the ships, Juneau, and the areas beyond.

“It was another drizzly day with clouds hanging around the mountaintops and valleys in Skagway, so I spent the morning painting from the ship deck, looking across the channel to a mountain west of Skagway. The sun was spraying light here and there through the clouds, which made for dramatic scenes, and good paintings. The top of the mountain was obscured by clouds, so didn’t really see it until the end of the painting. By the time I finished, it had mostly cleared off.

Donald Neff, “Taiya Inlet,” 2017, acrylic on canvas, 9 x 12 inches
Donald Neff, “Skagway,” 2017, acrylic on canvas, 9 x 12 inches
A convenient bench to spread out materials

“I headed into town, hoping to do another painting before the ship sailed. I walked to the end of the main drag, Broadway Street, found a bench to spread my materials out, and did a painting of a mountain and the street. I mostly finished the mountain, but the buildings were not complete when it started to rain. It was almost time to head back to the ship anyway, so I packed up intending to finish the painting later.

“Even though it was overcast most of the cruise, it was still a great time being on board the ship, visiting a few familiar places, and painting!”

To learn more, visit Donald Neff’s blog here.

This article was featured in PleinAir Today, a weekly e-newsletter from PleinAir magazine. To start receiving PleinAir Today for free, click here.



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