Artist leads 'Hike & Learn'

When artist Sarah F. Burns leads her “Hike and Learn” trek to Hobart Bluff Saturday, she’ll be teaching key ways to really see the “character” of what’s in front of you, how to show distance, how to portray the right value and tone — and how to take home a pencil sketch you’ll be happy with.

A noted naturalist painter of scenes in the Rogue Valley, Burns leads this month’s outing for the Friends of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. It’s free and open to the public. Hiker-artists meet at 9 a.m. Saturday in the Shop'n Kart parking lot and caravan to the Pacific Crest Trail for an easy, 20-minute hike to Hobart Bluff. In clear weather, it has magnificent vistas in all directions. She will provide feedback and guidance for two hours of sketching.

The event is preceded by Burns’ free slide talk at 6 p.m. Friday at Ashland Library. It will focus on the landscape as a “sublime subject” for art and on the importance of documenting the landscape as a moment in history, she says.

The Friends of K-S sponsor such monthly events to enhance public understanding of the monument as a globally unique treasure of biological and geographic diversity, she notes.

Burns is a “documentary landscape painter, which is a philosophical and technical approach to painting specific places with minimal editing — places that have significance as well as being visually interesting.”

Her work isn’t photo-realism, she says, but rather naturalistic, so you can recognize the spot and what’s in it. Before Kim’s Chinese Restaurant in Medford was torn down, Burns painted it. The work has been popular with buyers who grew up dining there, says Burns, who was raised on a farm in the valley.

Others are landscapes from historic Hanley Farm, views featuring Roxy Ann Peak and studies of her beloved town, Phoenix, which she says is the most diverse, interesting and “really town-like spot in the valley.” Her paintings of Phoenix are now hanging in the Phoenix Press coffee shop, 310 N. Main St.

Students will learn “atmospheric perspective, how to show distance (things get lighter, the more distant they are), how to relax and observe the character of what you see, the trees, rocks, mountains, plants — and how to show proportion,” says Burns, who was educated at Southern Oregon University, the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland and the Ashland Academy of Art.

Burns likes to educate people to do landscape art, she notes, because “nature is the greatest teacher” and people who paint and draw it will be learning all their lives. A good sketch of nature,” she says, “should always precede the painting.

“It takes persistence and guidance but anyone can do it — or get started. It’s harder than it looks. We’ve been told over the last 50 years that everyone can do anything but that’s not totally true. But even if you don’t produce something you can put on the wall, it will slow you down and cause an increase in your powers of observation, so you get a connection with nature, a deeper understanding of it.”

To sign up for the Saturday hike, email you name, email, address and phone number to Put "Hike & Learn" in the subject line. Space is limited.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at


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