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They're chasing the local colors

SCV artists capture the great outdoors

Posted: October 27, 2008 7:39 p.m.
Updated: December 29, 2008 5:00 a.m.

(Left to right) Lorelle Miller of Saugus, and Laura Wambsgans of Placerita Canyon find a shaded area in the hills of Santa Clarita and paint on their canvasses on Oct. 17.

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The artist dipped her thin paintbrush into a dollop of blue oil paint and spread the cool color across her 8-inch by 10-inch homemade canvas to replicate the sky above her.

In an instant, the sky blue color made the white and gray clouds on the canvas pop, just as Laura Wambsgans planned.

A few feet in front of her, Lorelle Miller finished a quick sketch of a sycamore tree and native bushes in the distance.

With the sketch as a blueprint for her painting, the artist from Saugus got to work, painting a picture of the nature that surrounded her.

The sound of humming cars on Highway 14 and creatures rustling in the bushes could be heard, but it didn't matter. For nearly two hours on the Friday afternoon, the two local artists would be in "the zone," kept company by Placerita Canyon's open space.

Wambsgans and Miller, joined by Rod Edwards and Ernie Dollman, are a group of local "plein air" artists who paint the Santa Clarita Valley's open space. Plein air is a French expression which means "in the open air" and is particularly used to describe the act of painting outdoors.

Their work is on display at the Canyon Theatre Guild in Newhall until Nov. 1 as part of the Chasing Open Spaces III exhibit.

The exhibit showcases about 70 pieces of art that depict open space areas painted over the last year, ranging from Pico Canyon to Golden Valley.

The artists created Chasing Open Spaces as a way to give visitors the chance to see the open space they typically drive by every day in a different light.

"By seeing it through an artist's eye, they developed an artist's eye and appreciated it more," Wambsgans said at home in Placerita Canyon. "They see the valley through our eyes and appreciate it more."

Because all four artists are from the Santa Clarita Valley, the team strives to capture the local beauty of open space while detailing works they believe have a historical significance, especially during a time when development threatens undeveloped areas.

Councilwoman Laurene Weste, a proponent of preserving the Santa Clarita Valley's open space, is pleased with the exhibit and the artists.

"A lot of people may never see those spaces," she said. "It's an opportunity for them to enjoy it."

She considers the artwork to be a legacy captured on canvas.

"We're very proud of their work," she said.

A personal connection
While each painting shares the common theme of open space, the artists hold their own perspectives of their surroundings.

Edwards, who has five pieces on display, views his paintings as a way to connect to the feeling of light and landscape.

"I like to convey the feeling that I get when I go out painting outdoors and how I capture nature," he said. "I think that other people should have the same reward."

Miller rates family, art and nature as the top three things in her life.

"Nature for me is a very spiritual thing. I love being out. I just like being outside," she said. "To combine art and nature is perfect."

While painting may look like a series of strokes on a canvas, Miller considers it to be a "lively experience."
"It's a live interaction going on," she said, because artists capture the emotion and tone of what they are painting.

Having access to light is something that draws Wambsgans to the plein air style.

"We have extraordinary light in this valley," she said.

A search together
The paintings are a cumulation of works completed by the four artists who periodically meet in an open space setting to work.

The group of seasoned artists generally paints open space together because of the threat from local wildlife, Wambsgans said.

The paintings depict open space in the morning and afternoon, when plein air artists have the best natural light.

Finding the right location to set up easels involves finding the right "hot spot" of open space, which prompted the name "Chasing Open Spaces," Wambsgans said.

"People tell us of their secret places," Miller said.

Those hidden places have ranged from a riverbed near Target in Valencia to an area of land near Highway 126.

One of Miller's paintings, "Big Sky," shows a view of gathering clouds over the valley's rolling hills. Miller captured "Big Sky" from the Costco parking lot in Canyon Country.

While the artists present places like Pico Canyon and Placerita Canyon to the public, the four are always on the chase for the next spot.

"It's like a treasure hunt," Miller said, with Wambsgans adding, "A landscape treasure hunt."

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