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  • Studio under sky

  • Pat Blair's art studio of choice lacks the floors, walls and typical freckles of crusted paint that usually dot both.
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  • Pat Blair's art studio of choice lacks the floors, walls and typical freckles of crusted paint that usually dot both.
    Her go-to spot for painting is a bit more rustic, a cozy corner of the Jacksonville Historic Cemetery that overlooks the town, nearby vineyards and fields spreading out in green splendor beyond it. Blair sits there on a hot August day, unpacking her supplies and clicking her easel into place.
    "Look at this," says Blair, assistant director for the Art Du Jour Gallery in Medford, pointing to a church steeple, building roofs, trees, vineyards and a smoky haze over Grizzly Peak, a reminder of fires burning in Northern California. "We all have favorite spots we return to often. This is my favorite spot."
    This practice of tromping into nature, easel, brushes and paints slung over your shoulder, in lieu of a studio, has a name. It's called "plein air," a medium that practically conjures images of Walt Whitman or John Muir strolling through the scenery, hands behind their backs while they marveled.
    "Setting up in the studio, you just walk in there and start. Out here there's a little bit more to it," Blair says. "You have to walk up to a scene and say, 'Now, what interests me here.' You say to the viewer, 'Let me show you what I saw today.' "
    Blair opens up her easel to show her work in progress. It mirrors the scene almost identically, but for a few trees she hasn't yet completed.
    It's a familiar pastime for Blair, one she's dabbled in since her high school years in New Mexico. She rode horseback through the area during her residency, completing pictures that showed scenes of open spaces, blue sky and desert. She captured the Red Rocks, shots of Monument Valley.
    "Love that area. The rocks stick up out of the desert," Blair says. "There's a spectrum of color."
    Blair's ride-and-find methodology hasn't changed much since then. She's traded her horse for a Subaru, New Mexico's parched beauty for Southern Oregon's greenery and rivers, but the endgame is the same: find a new scene and capture it.
    For plein air painters, the spontaneous scene changes and need to get the basics down before the light changes makes it challenging — and even more satisfying — to craft the scenes on canvas.
    "It's not predictable," says artist Janis Ellison. "You have just a couple hours to get it down."
    Like Blair, Ellison's first scenes depicted New Mexico. The state's scenes prompted her to take pastel classes.
    "The lighting and colors and that high-desert air, everything is just so beautiful," she says. "I couldn't capture it in the studio."
    Carolyn Roberts, who is four years into plein air painting, said the pastime is a challenge, but one she's eagerly pursuing.
    "It forces you to look at the real thing instead of photographs," Roberts said.
    The surprises nature offers drew painter Margaret Bradburn. She's seen eagles, ospreys and pelicans on her jaunts into the wilderness. She also has company sometimes, passersby who stop to look at her works in progress.
    "I like that," Bradburn says.
    Judy Richardson experienced some of the same magic on her own plein air outing when she caught a view of swans in flight. Moments like that while being outside in quiet splendor hooked her.
    "It's just being out, hearing the sounds, feeling the air," Richardson said.
    As Blair continues, she points out that her work is not yet done. There are more scenes she wants to paint, more chances to tell viewers what she saw that day, especially where she lives.
    "I am in love with Southern Oregon," Blair says.
    Then, pastels in hand, she gets back to work on finishing her snapshot, one careful stroke at a time.
    Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com.
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