Wandering Westwind: Reflections of a Visiting Artist

By Guest Author: Claire Giordano

The wind buffeted my page and the smallest particles of glittering sand gathered in the eddies of my paint palette like miniature sand dunes. It was the first sunny day since my arrival on the Oregon Coast a few weeks before, and I relished the faint warmth that sneaked past my hat and gloves. On the piece of watercolor paper held firmly in my lap I hurriedly added the last dashes of color and moved into the woods to continue exploring this incredible place in paint.

While an artist in Residence with the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology I connected with the Westwind staff and was so excited to receive permission to visit and paint on this special property. Westwind feels like it is part of the landscape that surrounds it; lodges and cabins carefully tucked into the woods and noticeable from the beach only if you know where to look. As an artist looking for a safe place to paint outside alone all day, Westwind was a creative haven.

The first painting I made at Westwind was on the beach. It is my favorite kind of painting; a page filled with notes, color swatches, and sketches; a visual constellation of my experience in this place. After a hard year and much less opportunities to paint outside than normal, I cherished the hours I spent sitting on the beach carefully observing the landscape. While I worked, the to-do lists, stresses, and underlying chatter of my mind slowly became quiet in the unique silence of an incoming tide and the swish of dune grass beside me. 

A few days later, I painted again from the same spot and marveled at how differently all the colors appeared with the golden greens of the meadows on Cascade Head illuminated by blue skies.

I was eventually drawn into the woods, and I spent a day wandering every trail I could find. I followed meandering boot paths through mossy forests just starting to wake up for spring; little yellow violets and the heart shaped leaves of Redwood Sorrel seemed to enjoy the sun and warmer weather as much as I did. And above, the towering Sitka Spruce trees reached across the glittering gaps in the canopy.

I often found myself staring into the forest mesmerized by the unique patterns and shapes created by the lingering branches of the Sitkas. Unlike the fir trees of my home forests with long bare trunks with deeply channeled bark, the trunks of the Sitka spruce are adorned with protruding branches wrapped in layers of moss so thick they look like fluffy arm warmers. And as you look up the trunk the branches lengthen, each layer a dash on the clock of nature’s time. In their presence, I feel very young, and I decide I will paint these trees in the hopes of learning from them.  

A few days later I found myself in a little meadow perched on a bluff. It is early in the day and the winds that I now know arrive in the afternoon were still a gentle rustling in the grass. I sat there for a long time just looking. I used a new shade of blue to paint shadows in the distant headland and small precise brush strokes to build the lacelike patterns of the waves below me.

Eventually I put the brush down, stow the paper in my backpack, and sit for a while longer. I feel at peace. And that is the magic of this place. I first walked into the woods of Westwind looking for a creative haven. And I found one, in the dancing grasses of the dunes and the trails I walk over and over to see which new plants emerged today. But, over time, I found more than that, too. I found a place that helped me reconnect with myself.

I have one week left of my residency here, and my bag is already packed to return to Westwind to paint as many days as I can. Because this place is ingrained in my paintings, and in my heart, just like the little grains of sand that still linger in my palette.


Author’s note:

My experience at Westwind has been incredibly impactful, which is why I am donating my creative skills to Westwind to support their ongoing mission. If this place has touched your life, too, I encourage you to support their efforts in whatever way resonates with you. This has been a hard year for nonprofits, and hope that many generations to come will be able to experience this place, too. Click here to learn more about donating to Westwind’s Spring campaign in honor of Earth Day! 

Claire Giordano is an environmental artist and writer exploring the interwoven patterns of people, place, science, and climate change. She is also the founder of the Adventure Art Academy and shares monthly watercolor lessons created outside. You can see more of her work at www.claireswanderings.com or follow along on her adventures via social media: @claireswanderings on Instagram.