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The Gearboat Chronicles

Getting Closer

I got my yearly lesson on perspective last trip. Tom Kearns has a way with the brushes and watercolors. He occasionally rides ahead on the gearboat, rather than taking the deluxe day tour. That way he gets to camp early to allow for more time to paint. He’s been rafting with Winding Waters for five years now, on the annual Christofferson float trip. I’ve had the pleasure of him being a stowaway on my gearboat for the past three summers.

The painting shown here is one of Tom’s that I commissioned last summer. By ‘commissioned,’ I mean ‘extorted.’ I kept admiring his sketches and finished products, then finally just had to have one. He nicely set me up. Mr. Kearns also did that line drawing of the gearboat you click on from the main page to get to this one.

Consider that narrow rectangle he settled on. For those who have been inside Hells Canyon, you know that outside of those margins there’s a massive view running around that might possibly be contained inside a large enough frame. But you lose detail with every step back. Until. At some point. It just. Doesn’t. Quite. Do it justice.

I dig these selective slices of canyon and river Tom zeroes in on. You could argue a case of ‘less is more,’ and not be wrong. But what I like is the focus on ‘this is plenty.’ Sure, that big, wide canyon is a wonder to look at … but the parts can be just as much so.

Indulge me for a paragraph: It’s impressive that a space shuttle can get up into the heavens, orbit, serve some Tang, then get back. Stay with me. I’m driving at something here. I once talked with an engineer who worked on the heat-resistant tiles used on the shuttles. These things can be exposed to a bajillion degrees and not burn you if you pick them up. I may be exaggerating a shade, but that’s how I remember the conversation. As generally impressed as I was with putting a shuttle into space, that specific exposure to one tiny, small facet made me appreciate the whole shebang all the more.

Tom Kearns likes painting those specifics. High water marks. Lichen. Reflections. Crevices. Sedimentary layers. Basalt columns. Shadows. Eddy lines. Ripples.

If I had to get an understanding of Hells Canyon across to someone without them ever setting foot down there, I’d start with a big wide-angle shot to give a sense of scale. Then I’d start placing close-ups from Tom Kearns on the easel. I like the way that guy looks at the world.