My favorite places to paint outdoors around Puget Sound
I got many of my ideas for painting locations from the hiking and lowland walking guidebooks published by the Seattle Mountaineers. They have detailed maps, photos and usually a full page of text describing the trail, where the first view is and even how crowded it can be. If you can't find what you are looking for there, read on for some of my personal favorite spots to set up an easel and paint in the great outdoors.
South Puget Sound:
Nisqually Wildlife Refuge just North of Olympia has a 5 mile loop trail that features miles of meandering salt marsh lagoons. I have painted here for at least a hundred hours and often see less than one person an hour. The walking can be tiresome with painting gear so I sometimes bring a child stroller and carry my pack and easel in it. Those running strollers with the big wheels work excellent on the gravel dike road. High tide is the prettiest time but low tide has it's charms as well if you can paint mud.
If time is limited, the best views are going clockwise around the loop to McAllister Creek. That is, walk out the road one half mile to a cross road and turn left. Walk along that lane for 15 minutes until you come to the first of many saltwater slews. I have painted this slew 4 times in both morning light and overcast afternoon light and sold three of the four. Another 5 minutes of walking brings you to my all time favorite Nisqually view on McAllister Creek. A Tide Book is a must here. Preferably arrive at 2 PM and have your under drawing finished by a high tide at 4 PM when the light comes on at full brilliance and casts its long shadows out across the miles of open space.
Further hiking along the dike trail opens up vista after vista of winding inlets of water.
Tide is less important out there because the water is deeper. Out at the far side of the loop is a 15 foot high lookout tower wide enough for 1 or two easels and a 360 degree 30 mile view in all directions including the Narrows bridge and the Olympics. Bring water, food and warm clothes if you plan to go out to the lookout: It is a one hour walk back to the car in either direction. Continuing clockwise around the loop, the dike road borders the muddy Nisqually river and passes lovely Ring Dike Lagoon. This lagoon is pretty even on an overcast day.
Old Olympia Brewery in Tumwater has a city park where Interstate 5 crosses the South end of Capital Lake. If you walk toward sound of the water fall on various short trails there is a lovely view of the old brick brewery house. This is a quiet, relatively secluded place to paint right on the water. The park continues south a half mile along the river with paved trails giving good access to river sculpted stone and waterfalls.
Olympia's Fourth Ave. bridge is a good quiet morning light painting spot. Although you have to stand on a slanting gravel shore below a Kentucky Fried Chicken, it is amazingly secluded for downtown. The 80 year old bridge has 3 arches and the kind of craftsmanship that is disappearing. Five minutes walk away is a half mile of public board walk along the Olympia waterfront with very close up views of boats of all flavors moored in the harbor. The boardwalk is more than wide enough for several easels and there is a public restroom. Crowds can be a problem on sunny weekends.
The "City of Destiny" doesn't seem like it would have much fodder for
painters but, in fact, Tacoma is surrounded by Puget Sound on 3 sides
and has innumerable 100 year old buildings and parks that beg to be painted.
In Old Town Tacoma there are some astonishing structures. One of my top
three favorite Tacoma buildings is Old City
Hall on Pacific Avenue. I painted this piece in two afternoon sessions
from a pleasant little park across the street. There are several other
intriguing views of Old City Hall to the West.
Unfortunately they would require standing either on a sidewalk or in a
pay parking lot. Pictured here is one of my two other favorite buildings.
Stadium High School looks like a Bavarian Castle from the 1800's.
I painted this in two morning sessions from a quiet parking lot on the
South East side. Weekends mornings would be best to avoid the crowds of
teenagers I attracted. Within sight of Stadium on Tacoma Avenue is the
First Presbyterian Church. I painted from
a shady gazebo directly across the street. One block West is Wright
Park. The park is a leafy oasis of over 700 mature trees from around
the world shading lovely lawns and jogging paths. There is also a 92 year
old glass domed botanical conservatory which has beaten me both times
I tried to paint it. Something about the thousands of glass panes separated
by white wood window frames overwhelms me.
Ten minutes driving North from Wright Park is the famous Point Defiance Park. In addition to the Zoo, there are many views out over Puget Sound and back towards the Narrows bridge although they are almost too distant for my taste. I prefer the more intimate landscaping of the Japanese gardens and the fine old trees by the Duck Pond.
For rainy weather painting, or night painting there is a covered, lighted 3 story tourist viewing platform down on the Tacoma Tide flats at Port of Tacoma headquarters on 11th Avenue West of Port of Tacoma Road. I usually call the Port to see if a ship is in before I go.
There is a real, working fishing fleet based here inGig Harbor. Many of the boats are retired and always on view. Pictured here is my favorite boat, The Sea Fury. When it is not in Alaska it can be found at Murphy's Landing where there is excellent access and a wide dock to stand on and paint. The boating crowd seems to take artists in stride and I usually paint in peace.
Not many people know that underneath the Narrows bridge there is good access and great views on both sides. The structure soars out into space with unbelievable drama. You can hike down to the beach if you want a more distant view although the trains on the East side are noisy.
Another pretty bridge and a mellow spot to spend time capturing the morning light is the Purdy bridge where Hiway 16 intersects Hiway 302 five minutes West of Gig Harbor. Tide is not a concern here as it is pretty at both high and low tide. I have sold both paintings I have done of this structure. There is a pleasant beach to work on with no one but a few fishermen and the homeless guy who sleeps under it. Although a Texaco gas station is directly behind the beach with a public outhouse, they can't see you due to the high concrete sea wall which protects against the winter storms.
This simple little gas station has the view of a 5 star restaurant.
The Fox Island bridge (ask for directions at the Point Fosdick exit in Gig Harbor) is another quiet place to paint. A boat would be preferable to get a better angle, but if you are poor like me, you can walk out from the public boat launch at low tide and and stand in the ooze. I actually finished this commissioned piece standing waist deep in warm salt water. I was the subject of some puzzled glances as motorboats passed inshore of me and my easel.
Manchester State Park in Port Orchard is a nice morning light painting place. There is one half mile long trail along the narrow channel where the ferries travel back and forth
between Bremerton and Seattle. There are short trails down to the beach, especially at low tide where one can paint the interesting formations of exposed bedrock against the backdrop of Puget Sound. If you are fast, or you have a Polaroid camera, you can include a ferry in the picture. They cruise by every fifteen minutes.
West of Port Orchard is the Theler Wetlands in the little town of Belfair.
I have never seen more than a few people when I painted here which is surprising considering the miles of elevated board walk and viewing platforms. I guess it is still a secret.
The painting possibilities are endless up at Mt.
Rainier. All the roads in and near the Park have pull-outs wherever
there is a good view. Generally speaking, the Paradise, or South side
of the mountain is easier painting than the Sunrise side. The Paradise
side gets prettier as the afternoon wears into evening since the sun sets
in the Southwest and the lights remain on, so to speak. The Sunrise, or
North side is equally pretty early in the morning but the Alpenglow color
burns off quickly with full daylight. Immediately above the walk in campground
at 6000 foot high Sunrise is this view
of the Emmons Glacier.
On the drive up the South side of the Mountain on Highway 7 from
Tacoma there are at
least a dozen paintable road side pull outs before reaching the mile high
Paradise Lodge at the end of the road. About ten minutes past Longmire
you will cross the Nisqually river on a high bridge. Several minutes past
that you will come to a side road off to the the right with a magnificent
morning light painting spot pictured on the right. Another few minutes
and you will come to a large pull out on the left with a great view and
room for half a dozen cars. If you want to paint the Mountain reflected
in water, turn right shortly and park at Reflection Lake. Or continue
up to the road end at Paradise. There are two public buildings here.
One is the Round Building which is open year round featuring a full cafeteria
and 4 floors of tourist attractions. The other is the old lodge open only
in summer. Because trails leave the parking lot in all directions, a map
and compass are usually a good idea. Paradise can go from sunny weather
to dense fog in the time it takes to set up an easel. However, it is hard
for a painter to go wrong on the paved Skyline trail. Follow the asphalt
uphill towards the Mountain through blooming alpine meadows in midsummer
(or snow depending on the snowpack) for fifteen minutes until you find
yourself following a well made stone lined trail up a ridge. This is where
I painted my successful Skyline Series of
When the rains set in around here in November, painting
becomes challenging. Winter can still be a lovely landscape,
but the days are short and the fingers get very cold. I
have done a few nice winter paintings outdoors, but I usually
retreat to the garage where I've built a lit stage on a
table using the card board box that protected someones large
TV set. I've discovered I can entertain myself for days
out in my cluttered garage creating carefully lighted environments
for vases, squashes or nicknacks from the goodwill. An important
benefit to painting from still life set ups is that, unless
you are painting perishables, you can take your time, working
on the painting whenever's convenient. I especially enjoy
getting a series going where I do a setup, then move things
around and paint it again. Knowing I have a painting waiting
for me in the evening at home makes the long tedious hours
at the office pass more quickly. Almost anything can be
placed in there and made to look attractive. It's very much
like still life photography, although painters have been
doing it long before the camera was invented. The principle
remains the same, painters simply use older tools.This is
a turban squash set up.
NOTE: this is my old site and is no longer maintained. My new site is here.
home | journal | landscapes | seascapes | structures | still
lifes | climbing
web design | statement | pricing | easel
places | photos | email