Plein air painting - Petrified Forest - OutdoorPainter.com
A morning painting session at Nizhoni Point

Kath Reilly shares her recent experiences from painting during an artist residency at the Petrified Forest National Park. Bonus: Includes her advice for painting in extreme conditions!

Kath Reilly, “Nizhoni Point,” oil, 9 x 12 in.
Kath Reilly, “Nizhoni Point,” oil, 9 x 12 in.

Painting the Petrified Forest en Plein Air

BY KATH REILLY

For the plein air artist who wants to be immersed into a beautiful rugged landscape somewhere for a couple of weeks, there are wonderful options available at our national parks and national monuments. Dozens of parks all over the country offer artist residencies, including Hawaii and Florida. An artist can apply for an Artist-in-Residence position, which can vary from two to four weeks depending on the park. (see www.nps.com) The parks usually supply a place for the artist to live, and at many parks (but not all) the artist can take a spouse along. Some parks even offer a stipend to the artist.

Plein air painting - Petrified Forest - OutdoorPainter.com

My two-week residency last September was at the Petrified Forest National Park. The park has a charming adobe casita for artists to live in while creating their art and learning about the park. The artist decides on his or her own project and is required to do a community service project while in residence, and a finished piece of art must be donated to the park within a year after the artist’s residency is complete. My community project was a two-hour class painting with a group of girl scouts from neighboring towns.

Plein air painting - Petrified Forest - OutdoorPainter.com

During the course of my two weeks, I worked on 13 plein air oil paintings while my husband kept himself busy logging many miles on his bike from one end of the park to the other. We also trekked over many of the hiking trails, explored the visitor centers, and met rangers, Indian demonstrators, and even the paleontologists working on the fossils.

Plein air painting - Petrified Forest - OutdoorPainter.com
Painting at Kachina Point at sunset

The scenery is amazing and bare, and the light is constantly changing on the rocks and badlands. The fall temperatures were pleasant and the weather was sunny for most of our stay except for one spectacular monsoon-type day. We felt very fortunate to have had a rainy day, and seeing the flooded desert arroyos was an experience to remember. The colors of the rocks, badlands, and foliage under the wet sky were intense.

Plein air painting - Petrified Forest - OutdoorPainter.com
Painting on the desert floor near the Tepees to avoid the wind

Advice for Painting at Petrified Forest

Painting in a place as remote as the Petrified Forest means you should be prepared for all kinds of conditions. That can mean excessive winds, dust, heat, and exposure. Layered clothing and having a good supply of water and some food with you is essential, along with sunscreen and a shade or an umbrella, and a way to keep it all from blowing over. The wind can gust ferociously. The Petrified Forest has very few trees in general and no shade in most places, so I found myself often painting on the edge of exposed cliffs or out on the open desert floor.

You may want to strip down your kit in order to hike to more remote areas to paint. Staying in a park like the Petrified Forest is not like a plein air paintout where you can expect to mingle with a lot of other artists or people. The park is a big place and you might often be alone except for the occasional interaction with park visitors or park staff who stop by to chat while you are painting.

It might end up being hot, windy, or rainy, but getting an artist residency is a great opportunity to explore one of our wonderful national parks or monuments in great depth while having a glorious time painting every day. I highly recommend it and plan to apply again at another park.

Kath Reilly, “Chinle Color,” oil, 11 x 14 in.
Kath Reilly, “Chinle Color,” oil, 11 x 14 in.
Kath Reilly, “Chinde Sunset,” oil,  9 x 12 in.
Kath Reilly, “Chinde Sunset,” oil, 9 x 12 in.
Kath Reilly, “Tawa Point,” oil, 9 x 12 in.
Kath Reilly, “Tawa Point,” oil, 9 x 12 in.
Kath Reilly, “Carved by Time,” oil, 8 x 10 in.
Kath Reilly, “Carved by Time,” oil, 8 x 10 in.
Kath Reilly, “Monsoon Day,” oil,  8 x 10 in.
Kath Reilly, “Monsoon Day,” oil, 8 x 10 in.

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