I discovered the pleasures of outdoor painting a few years ago while working on a story about travel sketching. Since then I've expanded my painting kit and aspirations and embarked on a yearlong project to discover Washington state's wonderfully diverse landscapes, in all seasons and all kinds of weather.

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I discovered the pleasures of outdoor painting a few years ago while working on a story about travel sketching. Since then I’ve expanded my painting kit and aspirations and embarked on a yearlong project to discover Washington state’s wonderfully diverse landscapes, in all seasons and all kinds of weather.


The San Juan Islands in winter have a gloomy beauty I love. The patchwork of gray-blue rocks and gray-green lichens calms the mind. Ravens croak from dense stands of rain-blackened firs, suggesting sad mysteries and ancient history.

I had no trouble catching a ferry to Lopez Island at this time of year — I was nearly at the front of a short line.

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If you go

Lopez Island Chamber of Commerce (tourist information)

San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau: 888-468-3701.

Washington State Ferries: 888-808-7977.


The campground at Odlin County Park was open and empty on this rain-sodden winter weekend, so I had all the solitude I could wish for. All of Lopez was similarly quiet. I shared one drippy path through the forest only with an otter.


My first sketch was of Swifts Bay, just around the corner from Spencer Spit

PAUL SCHMID / THE SEATTLE TIMES
McArdle Bay



State Park on the northeast corner of Lopez. A momentary parting of the sodden clouds teased the possibility of blue skies, but the gray won.


Shark Reef on Lopez’s southwest edge had fearsome tide races, and it made for a busy place. Seals and gulls took advantage of the turbulent sea to fish. Noisy crowds of gulls mewed excitedly, circled above the rush, dove quickly into the black swirl and then bobbed to the surface, gulping down lunch.


PAUL SCHMID / THE SEATTLE TIMES
The Shark Reef area




A strong wet wind along the cliff pushed against me as I watched harbor seals, unaffected by the racing tide, swim among the gulls and jagged black rocks of the reef.

Dinner at the excellent Love Dog Cafe at Lopez Village, a warming drink with locals at the Galley Lounge on Fisherman Bay, then back to the campground where around midnight the moon flooded my beach with a pearly gray glow.

Paul Schmid: 206-464-2169 or pschmid@seattletimes.com