Painting “en plein air” at the Death Valley 49ers 2013 Encampment

By Jim Trolinger

As a part of the 2013 Death Valley Campout Festival, I organized a plein air paint out for the morning of November 6, the first day of the Encampment,  The group met at 8 AM at the 49ers registration booth and car pooled to Zabriskie Point, which I chose for its relative ease of access and panoramic beauty offering limitless painting compositions.

View from Zabriskie Point

Plein air artists paint from life, in the outdoors, in open air (en plein air) with natural light and the artist sitting in front of the live subject.  Artists complete a painting in a few hours, in changing light with only minor refinements that may be made later in a studio. Photography is discouraged if not forbidden in plein air painting. In addition to artistic skills, the major challenges include:

  1. Ability to deal with the changing light and environment

  2. Working in one sitting with a relatively short time and limited, portable equipment.

  3. Choosing a composition and focus

  4. Producing value sketches and designing the painting

  5. Simplifying

  6. Capturing the spirit of being in the presence of the subject

  7. Finally, one of the greatest challenges is the distraction by on lookers who insist on telling you about their own painting experiences or that of their children.

All of the artistic ingredients for plein air painting are present in Death Valley; it simply doesn’t get any better.
Each artist found a position and view, set up portable equipment and worked until shortly before noon. In previous years a nearly ideal painting location lay behind the tourist wall, which provided shade to a large flat mound where easels could be located out of the tourist traffic. However, recent rains had washed out a large area of the dirt mound causing some of the wall to collapse, so most artists chose to remain on the safer side of the wall.

Photos by Pauline Abbott
Clockwise from top left, Artists Sharon Tueller, Jane Allen, Sherry Bruce, and Lynne Bolwell, painting at Zabriskie Point


Artist, Jim Trolinger, painting at Zabriskie Point. Recent rains had washed out much of the flat area normally available behind the wall.

Plein air painters often become extra entertainment for tourists and this day was no exception as bus loads of tourists visiting Zabriskie Point photographed and spoke with the artists. Many plein air painters sell more art “off their easels” than in shows.


Curious tourists photographing the artists and their work and asking questions.
We took advantage of the tourists, asking them to vote and help pick the winner of the prize for best painting.


Plein air painters and their creations at Zabriskie Point.

The winner of the first place $100 prize was Sharon Tueller, who managed the paint out with the help of her loving husband, who helped her with the climb, brought up her equipment, and sat with her as she painted.


First place winner, Sharon Tueller, and her loving husband who helped get her and her equipment up to the painting location.
Second and third place winners received a copy of Trolinger’s book “Painting in Death Valley”, which describes many of the amazing painting locations in Death Valley with paintings and photographs.

The paint out was also attended by 49ers official auctioneer, Steve Orcutt, who participated in the judging.


Steve Orcutt, 49ers lifetime member and auctioneer, right, attended and helped Jim Trolinger select the winning artists at the Zabriskie Point paint out.

Later in the day I found time to paint alone at Artist Palette, another favorite venue.

Painting “en plein air” at Artist Palette