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Desert and forest landscapes

Updated: May 8

I lived for a few years in Southern California and I was absolutely obsessed with the desert. I spent a lot of time out there, hiking, sketching, and daydreaming. I thought a lot about landscape and in particular about the spectacular difference between the desert—a sea of light and space—and the dense dark woods where I'd grown up.

In the desert you can walk all day sometimes without losing sight of your car, while in the woods you can lose sight of another person if they're only a few metres away. This difference seems obvious but I think it profoundly affects how we think about these places. In the desert I'm struck with awe, in the woods, curiosity. In the desert nothing is hidden, everything is laid bare. In the woods, there’s always something around the next corner, behind the next tree.

A photograph of desert mountains and a pine forest

The kinds of stories that feature deserts tend to be about visions and prophecies, they're grand and mythological. While the archetypal forest story is the fairy tale, full of talking animals and things that aren't what they seem. One is mystical, the other mysterious. One forces you to confront the macro, with its vast empty vistas that feel overwhelmingly large. The other forces you to examine the micro, crowding in around you with its endless details of lichens and spiderwebs and bark.

A drawing of Death Valley and a lithograph print of chairs overlaid on a forest

I no longer live in the desert, so I no longer make desert art, but I think my experience with that landscape greatly effects how I depict the forest now. The woods feel closer, darker, more tangled and detailed and dense to me now. They are more full of secrets and mysteries. I depict them in woodcut prints, which can only capture a tiny fraction of their fractal detail. But perhaps that's true to the experience, because even when you're in the woods, you can't see it all.

A painting of the desert and a woodcut print of the forest


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