When Kevin McCain goes to his favorite place to paint, he goes home — home to a place where movie studios, pop stars, and heads of state love to work and play. 

“Golden Cathedral,” by Kevin McCain, oil, 11 x 14 in.

McCain grew up in the Sonoran Desert region of Arizona, and he makes a point of visiting the area every year, often at the Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch, about 10 miles outside of Mesa. “I was raised in that area; I wandered around out there before there were paved roads, explored it as a Boy Scout,” he says. “It’s been a part of my life my entire life. Now I live in Boise and teach workshops there in the winter.”

Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch

McCain singles out the Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch because of its beauty and its location, nestled inside the Tonto National Forest. “It’s a 100-year-old ranch with some of the most beautiful scenery in the entire Salt River Valley,” he says. “It’s a wonderful little place. You feel like you are stepping back in time. Because it’s in Tonto National Forest, there’s no development around. You really feel like you’ve gotten away from it all. I like to think that when I paint I bring some of that into the painting.”

“Orange Glow of Evening,” by Kevin McCain, oil, 10 x 8 in.

The ranch is also used as a spot for painting workshops run by the Scottsdale Artists’ School. McCain runs his own workshops at the ranch and surrounding areas, mostly because he knows the region so well.

Another view at Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch

The rest of the year McCain lives in Idaho, but in a part of the state that’s not completely different from the terrain he grew up knowing. “The light is not nearly as bright and intense as it is down in Mesa,” says McCain, “and the vegetation is different. But it’s still desert — high desert, with intense sun and prickly pear and red rock. But it’s 4,000 feet above sea level.”

“Sonoran Colors of Fall,” by Kevin McCain, oil, 11 x 14 in.

McCain is a night owl, so he goes for the nice afternoon light instead of sunrises. He usually brings home a plein air piece and sets it aside for a while. “I keep my stuff around because I’m always seeing things I didn’t see the first time around,” says the artist. “After a month I look at them and see what passes and what doesn’t, and before sending one out, I may add a dozen brushstrokes.” Nothing is sacred, and everything points toward making a painting that “works.” Alterations start even on site; McCain will move a painting to the shade or away from his painting spot and evaluate it, adjusting halftones or even repainting shapes if he feels the piece needs it. The final piece is what matters. It explains why, even though he loves to paint outdoors, McCain has no problem painting nearly as much in the studio as outside it. But Arizona always calls to him.

“The Desert’s Fading Light,” by Kevin McCain, oil, 5 x 7 in.

“There’s a beauty to the rugged terrain of the Sonoran Desert,” says McCain. “I was raised there, and maybe I didn’t appreciate it at the time. As I grew up and traveled around I got a sense of the uniqueness of that area.”


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