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A sense of place.

Artists are inspired by all kinds of things, but we landscape painters tend to get excited about places. That's why so many of us end up living in beautiful spots. For over 35 years I called the Monterey Bay Area home. My husband and I recently relocated to a tiny town at the foot of the Sierra, east of Lake Tahoe, in Nevada. Genoa, Nevada is the oldest settlement in the state, and about as different from Santa Cruz, California as one can get. It is also one of those spots on the planet with an unmistakable, wholly irresistible sense of place. The Sierra plunge into the Carson Valley's pastures as abruptly as the Coast Range drops into the Pacific in Big Sur. There's a raw, epic quality to the landscape.

The Nevada Museum of Art is featuring a show by Maynard Dixon, and when I went to see it I was surprised to learn how much of his work was done here in Nevada. The other morning, before heading to the painting studio, I paged through Donald J. Hagerty's stunning book, The Art of Maynard Dixon, that I'd picked up at the museum store. I was struck by a view of Jack's Valley that I see nearly every day--and surprised to see that it looks an awful lot like it did back in 1919 when Dixon did the study. The quality of light (and those ravishing shadows) were instantly recognizable.

An artist friend who saw posts of my work online noticed something that even I hadn't been aware of: the temperature of the light here is much cooler than on the Pacific coast. Even without looking at the particulars of the landscape--snow-covered mountains, lush grasslands and sagebrush-covered hills--she'd identified an element of this place that is as distinctive as Lake Tahoe itself. The quality of the light. It's producing a new and different color harmony for me. I'm literally having to buy some different pigments. For example, the best way to capture the rosy granite of the high peaks is by combining Venetian Red, Ultramarine Blue and white. Venetian Red is new to my palette (and administered in medicinal doses only--wow. What a pigment.)

No wonder the area lures artists, and turns Sunday painters into full-time obsessives. Maynard Dixon was no fool.

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