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Art is Alive in La Conner

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

Being a couple of artists who live, work and travel in an RV we are always on the lookout for the historic, scenic and artsy towns. For fuel and food we go where it convenient but for inspiration we look for towns like La Conner to fill our tank. LaConner is a well preserved 1800’s harbor town on the 11 mile long Swinomish Channel that separates Fidalgo Island from mainland Washington. The copper colored “Rainbow Bridge” casts a perfect reflection on the calm water below which creates a brilliant maritime composition from just about anywhere along the waterfront. An eclectic mix of shops and galleries line the main street and popular restaurant patios are a great place to soak up the remarkable waterfront setting while dining. All of the historic buildings in town are well cared for and a lot can be learned about LaConner’s colorful past by paying attention to the prominently placed interpretive historical markers that are scattered around town. Yep, La Conner is a charmer!

Our excitement about discovering La Conner was hard to hide and honestly we didn’t even try. We both had huge smiles under our masks as we made our way from shop to shop and gallery to gallery during the first of several visits. When we walked into the La Conner Seaside Gallery we were instantly drawn to beautiful oil paintings of local landmarks and seascapes. An artist in a painters apron stood next to his easel where he was expertly putting the finishing touches on a painting of a boat sitting under, you guessed it, that beautiful arched bridge. He introduced himself as Mark Bistranin and we quickly learned that he is an accomplished and renowned plein air painter (he paints outdoors on location). We also learned that we have common Colorado roots. Right there on his gallery wall he had a painting of a scene from the town of Walsenburg in Colorado, a place that we still consider in many ways to be our home town. To my delight Mark invited me to go painting with him the very next day and of course I said “yes”.

plein air painter mark bistranin laconner washington
Mark Plein-Air Painting a Skagit Valley Barn

"Beaver Marsh Barn" - oil on canvas by Mark Bistranin
"Beaver Marsh Barn" - oil on canvas by Mark Bistranin

My oil painting experience is limited to what I’ve taught myself over the years and most of that has been done indoors using photographs as reference material. I also had hardly picked up a brush in over a year so the next day when I met Mark in the Skagit Valley farmland I decided to leave my stuff in the truck and simply observe his amazing process. The object of plein air painting is to capture the essence of a scene from real life in real time. Shapes, colors and values all need to be recorded in a relatively short period of time since all of those factors will change quickly as the sun moves across the sky. From his canvas Mark chose to zoom in on a barn and farmhouse that was hundreds of yards away and It impressed me how quickly and skillfully he worked on the composition as if it were up close. Even with all of the roadside activity and interruptions by curious onlookers his progress on the painting was steady and confident until all of the visual information had been recorded. He would later finish the painting in the studio he told me.

Oil painting in an rv
Oil Painting in an RV, Why not.

skagit valley farm near laconner and anacortes washington
I love the leading lines and vanishing point in this photo.

"Skagit Valley Farmland" 6"x12" oil on board ~ by michael scott
"Skagit Valley Farmland" 6"x12" oil on board ~ by yours truly!

The Artistic Camaraderie it turns out was just the inspiration I needed to get myself painting again. Within a week or so I had painted three small pieces from photographs captured during our stay in Anacortes, something I want to do more of but often don’t make the time for. You can read a bit more about Mark at and if you ever visit La Conner do stop into his gallery and tell him Scott and Tammy sent you.


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