Painting at the end of Mud Bay Road

by Pam Holnback

This summer I spent two weeks in Alaska on a painting trip. The first three days were perfect weather, the most beautiful scenery, and wildflowers that posed exactly where they should be for a perfect landscape composition. From there, it went downhill. The weather never cooperated again! Let me back up.

Eight months before the trip I received a voicemail from my sister, Natalie Italiano (founding fellow and teacher at Studio Incamminati in Philadelphia), that she would be teaching a portrait painting workshop in Haines, Alaska as part of Studio Incamminati’s “In Your Town” program. And, she was welcome to bring a guest; would I like to come?! But of course I would!

The preparation and planning went quickly and easily. While I would not call myself only a landscape painter, I paint a lot of landscapes, most of them plein air. I go on several trips each year and always take paints. I have three different plein air easels and set-ups, depending on the travel mode, length of trip, and location. I recently created a very compact travel set-up using goauche, instead of oils.

Painting near Chilkat State Park

My plan during the week of the portrait workshop was to stand in the back of the room and audit the course in the morning and continue to paint beautiful locations (landscape, the harbor, perhaps old boats) every afternoon. With the weather outlook calling for rain every day that week, the organizer of the annual class, Haines artist Donna Catotti, asked the owner of the Alaskan Indian Arts Center if I could paint there. The center is in one of the old WWII Fort Seward buildings and houses the Native artifact collection of the current owner’s father. He graciously agreed and told me to use anything in the storage closet to set up a still life.

Painting in the Totem Pole room at the Alaskan Indian Arts Center

The rain had turned into sun (at least for me)! Sunday afternoon I set up a still life (not an easy task with all the subject matter from which I had to choose) in the totem pole room. Luckily, no totem poles were being created that week or there might not have been room for me! I spent every afternoon all week painting at the Center (I completed two still lifes), surrounded by tools, artifacts, visitors, and rain outside the windows. By the end of the week I could answer many questions about totem pole construction!

Painting in the Totem Pole room at the Alaskan Indian Arts Center

Sometimes our plans don’t pan out. Sometimes it rains in Alaska. When that happens, we look for an alternative. I could have found cover and painted rainy, gray skies or muted, almost visible landscapes. I probably could have spent the day painting along with the portrait class. I would have made it work. But another, better opportunity appeared and I jumped on it. I am so happy that I did.

And, now I’m even luckier! Donna Catatti has asked Studio Incamminati to have another “In Your Town” workshop in Haines next year. And to have Natalie Italiano teach it again. And, to have her bring a guest, her sister, again! I’d call this turning rain into sun! I can’t wait! I hope that it rains again!

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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