Thomas Caleb Goggans’s plein air painting in progress in Torrey Lake Canyon

Thomas Caleb Goggans lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a river town in the Southeastern United States with its fair share of beauty, history, and quirkiness. But if you ask him to name his favorite place to paint, he points out West.

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Goggans’s plein air painting of Cougar Pass, in Shoshone National Forest

Chat with Goggans for a few minutes, and you realize he is the kind of person who actively seeks out challenges. He found a satisfying one in Northwest Wyoming. “The area around Jackson Hole, Dubois, and the Wind River Range of Mountains offers a wide variety of landscape with endless opportunities and textures to challenge me as a painter,” he says. “For example, the sagebrush in the reddish hills was very challenging. They are a very muted green that leans toward violet and sits on very warm rocks. To communicate that with a subtlety that communicates the scene is very difficult. It was infuriating but fun.”

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Goggans painting on location at Double Cabin Campground

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The artist’s setup on a tributary of the Wind River

Goggans, who graduated from the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, in Old Lyme, Connecticut, loves to paint outdoors but is quite skilled at painting the figure and painting portraits. Painting people is endlessly challenging, too, but the scope and scale of Wyoming is another thing altogether. “Managing that overwhelming amount of information imposes many problems and challenges,” says Goggans. “The sheer splendor of the Western Rockies is very attractive and makes you want to paint them, but I very rarely find myself painting the amazing vistas. It’s so easy to paint something saccharine or cliched when you do that. So I find something interesting that’s close and gorgeous, with intriguing value or color relationships or an amazing texture. For example, the color of the Wind River is unbelievable, with blue water and lush vegetation visible on the bottom, and then there’s the contrast of the dry land and rough country surrounding it.”

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Plein air painting of a Wind River tributary

The artist has taken a few trips out West, including one two years ago that included participation in the Susan K. Black Foundation’s annual workshop in Dubois, Wyoming. The experience-hungry Goggans made the most of the trip. “I took a couple of extra days before the workshop to hike the Teton Range and did the Teton Crest Trail, solo,” he says. “I came across moose that chased me, a couple of bears, and a wolverine. Spending time in that kind of severe landscape definitely affects what you choose to paint. Plus, you understand better what is happening in that environment with the light.”

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Managing the warm ground and the relatively cool vegetation on the EA Ranch

Goggans says he still uses a French half easel he’s had for years, although a new pochade box might be on the horizon. His palette is fairly standard, with warms and cools of the main colors, and it doesn’t vary whether he’s indoors or out, back East or out West. He tries to avoid using white paint as long as possible, and he mixes his blacks to produce either opaque or transparent mixtures, depending on the painting’s needs. Goggans tries to be ready for anything, but as for any artist, the surprises keep coming. He recalls one painting session along a mountain stream near Double Cabin Campground: “It was a cold morning and the moisture in the air from the water of the stream was forming ice crystals on my surface and my palette. I was managing that, then the sun popped up over the eastern wall of the canyon and completely obliterated what I was painting. I guess it was one of those lessons about painting faster.”

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