Portland painters, already blessed with the Northwest’s abundance of mountains, forests, and wild rivers, also have an island to explore and paint. And it’s Brenda Boylan’s favorite place to paint.

“September Symphony,” by Brenda Boylan, 2013, pastel, 10 x 8 in.

“You get there by bridge, and you are surrounded on three sides by city, and by cliffs on the other side, but within is a big, beautiful stretch of land dedicated to wildlife and farming,” says Boylan. It’s called Sauvie Island, and it’s bigger than Manhattan. Nestled between the states of Oregon and Washington, moored in the confluence of the Williamette River, the Columbia River, and the Multnomah Channel, and big enough to boast its own lakes, it’s a place Portland painters flock to at all times of the year. “It’s easy to get 10 or 12 painters together to go out and paint on Sauvie Island,” says Boylan. “There are dahlia fields, sunflower fields, pumpkin patches, and even a few Porta-Potties!” The island is used by hikers, bicyclists, birders, and hunters, and parts of it are closed at certain times of the year to protect the nesting of certain bird species — and to prevent hikers and painters from accidentally getting shot by hunters.

Painting on Sauvie Island in the springtime. Photo by Don Bishop

“Quiet on the Lake,” by Brenda Boylan, 2013, oil, 11 x 14 in.

Painting the blue moon in August at the Tualatin Water Wildlife Refuge. Left to right: Brenda Boylan, Celeste Bergin, Michael Orwick, and Thomas Jefferson Kitts.

“Evening’s Last Run,” by Brenda Boylan, 2013, oil, 11 x 14 in.

Boylan says there many elements on Sauvie Island that catch artists’ attention. Blueberry bushes and blackberry vines tangle the underbrush, and vineyards dot the island, which is crisscrossed with dikes and marshes. Early in the morning mist blankets the landscape, and as the day progresses, the sun burns it off, revealing many colors. “There’s more scenery there than you can actually stop at because there aren’t many places to pull the car over,” says Boylan. The island has no gas stations and two small markets. Boylan says it is 40 minutes away from her home in Portland, and navigating the roads on the island takes another 20 minutes. “It’s a commitment for the day,” she says. Still, it is a major draw for artists and a good reason to be a plein air painter in Portland. “We have wild scenes and city close by,” says Boylan, who has lived in Portland since 1987.


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