Rich Gallego gathered some game friends together to paint the poppies, but the poppies were a no-show. It hardly mattered to the plein air painters.

It was supposed to be a banner year for the poppy blooms in Antelope Valley, California. The rains have been good, the weather favorable in the months leading to April. But no. Frost and some improperly spaced showers put the kibosh on the poppies just a few weeks before they were ready to pop.

Mike Cedeno

“Early Light on a Desert Wash,” by Rich Gallego, 2016, oil on gessoed watercolor paper, 11 x 14 in.

“We still had a great time painting despite the relative lack of poppies,” Gallego reports. “We started the morning at a desert wash just outside of the reserve. I love painting these washes because they always offer interesting directional lines and patterns of light and shadow. Later in the day, a few of us drove a short distance to the hills above Lake Elizabeth because we’d heard a rumor there were some wildflowers there. The move paid off as there were poppies, lupine, goldfields [lasthenia], and daisies in bloom. We had only eight people show up because the poppies weren’t blooming in the numbers hoped for, but those who showed were some dedicated souls. Ken Kaylor drove in from Nevada, Bob Rutledge came from Lakewood —about 90 miles away — Martha Villegas-Valentin came all the way from the Palm Springs area, and Adele Richert drove up from San Diego.”

Ken Kaylor

“A Yearly Event,” by Rich Gallego, 2016, oil on linen, 8 x 10 in.

They found wildflowers at Lake Elizabeth.

Villegas-Valentin didn’t regret the outing one bit. “Painting outdoors is my passion, and gathering with artists who share this passion is something very special,” she says. “I have heard a lot about the poppies field in Lancaster. I saw the beautiful images of rolling hills covered in orange, red, and yellow, and I knew that I would paint them at the first opportunity I had. When I saw the call on Facebook from Rich to paint at the poppy reserve in Antelope Valley, I immediately put it on my calendar. The day arrived, and I left home in the desert at 5 am heading toward Lancaster, even though there were warnings on Facebook about no poppies found at the reserve this year. I thought to myself, this is a beautiful day, with or without poppies. I’m sure I’ll find something worth painting.

Bob Rutledge finds a poppy.

Finally, they found some poppies at Lake Elizabeth.

“I found the group of painters setting up at a wash not too far from the poppy reserve, which had no flowers at all due to an early frost. I introduced myself to the group, began exploring the area, and found a great spot to paint down the wash. I installed myself and started painting —that was all that really mattered. I somehow felt that the rest of the group was feeling the same way, that there’s beauty everywhere, you just need to learn to see. The variety of textures and value contrasts I found in the wash caught my eye, and that’s what I painted. I enjoyed myself so much that morning. It’s such a great pleasure to do what you love doing with people who share your same interests. It’s almost magical. I finished my painting around noon and started packing up to head back home. If it hadn’t been for the long drive I had ahead of me, I would have followed the group to the different site they moved to continue painting. The poppies will come back next year, and I will too.”


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