"Slightly Ajar," by Shelby Keefe, oil, 16 x 20 in. Collection the artist

Shelby Keefe’s favorite place to paint outdoors is a hillside near Jerome, Arizona where vehicles go to rust. “There’s enough painting fodder there for the rest of my life,” she says.

She’s talking about the Gold King Mine Ghost Town, a destination within striking distance of Sedona, Arizona. Keefe became acquainted with it through a Jill Carver workshop and on a visit during one of the Sedona Plein Air Festivals. “Instead of painting the red rock at Sedona, I went up there,” recalls the Milwaukee artist. “It’s a ghost town where they once mined copper. The owner collected old cars and trucks from the turn of the century to the 1950s, and they’re in all different states of decay. He has some that can run, including an old race car, and two dogs lived in it. That place has hundreds of cars and trucks up and down the hill in all positions. For a car lover and a vehicle painter, it’s heaven on earth. The colors, the personality of the vehicles–the front of each is like a face. But there’s a short time to paint in October because it’s on the eastern slope of the mountain. The sun sets at 4 p.m. in October at that spot.”

The Gold King Mine Ghost Town | Paint Outdoors
The Gold King Mine Ghost Town

Keefe says she has loved vehicles since she was a little girl. ” As a kid I was into cars; I loved playing with them. But to me as a painter it is the ultimate challenge—outside of portraits. Structure color perspective and how light hits the shape of a car all are fun challenges. It can be frustrating. There is a patina to older cars—I don’t like painting new cars. Modern cars are great for part of a landscape, a tail light or headlight. There’s so much fun with portraying the personality of an old car.

She even loves driving. Keefe drives rather than flies to most plein air events, loading all her gear into her Ford Transit Connect. “Someday I will get a more fun, sporty vehicle,” she says with a laugh. “I like the open road. It gives me a sense of freedom, even if it takes me 10 hours to get to a location. The most fun thing is setting out on a trip and putting on some music.”

"Sea of Weeds," by Shelby Keefe, oil, 16 x 16 in. Private collection | OutdoorPainter.com
“Sea of Weeds,” by Shelby Keefe, oil, 16 x 16 in. Private collection

A number of artists know about Gold King Mine and its old vehicles, but cars are not the only subject matter to paint there–Keefe reports that there are goats, chickens, donkeys, old farm equipment, old mining paraphernalia, and historic buildings. She paints on location and also takes plenty of reference photos for studio work.

A wider view of the Gold King Mine Ghost Town outside of Jerome, Arizona - OutdoorPainter.com
A wider view of the Gold King Mine Ghost Town outside of Jerome, Arizona

“It’s $5 to enter and they funnel you through the funky gift shop,” says Keefe. “It’s a small price to pay for the whole day. They are very wonderful to painters, but I think I heard the owner passed away so I don’t know how things will go now. Make sure you bring the fee and pay it happily because it’s a great value. Go up to the visitor’s center. Head out early rather than late, if you want sunshine to hit the vehicles. Wearing layers is advisable because you are up in the mountains.”

And get ready to be overwhelmed by the painting possibilities. “It’s quite the eye candy for people who like rust,” says Keefe. “The place has lots of character. There’s an old-fashioned sawmill that makes a constant noise and backfires occasionally. That can really scare you when you are in a painting reverie! It’s great to see all the colorful trucks and really awesome personalities—it’s like painting architecture, but with round edges. There’s enough painting fodder there for the rest of my life.”

This blog post is brought to you by the Liliedahl Art Instruction Video “Shelby Keefe: Painting From Photographs,” which you can preview here:

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