the lake & the reservoir

ink washes by
SARAH NEWTON | Conservation Technician + Artist

 I painted “the lake & the reservoir”, while on a five week residency in the high desert of central Oregon, at the Playa residency program in Summer Lake. My work is often about landscape, usually focusing on aspects of built landscape, and I had been working on a series of drawings related to freeway rest areas. I came to the desert residency without any structured expectation for the work that I would do while I was there, but rather, looking forward to being able to explore and experiment in a new environment.

Summer Lake itself is a large, shallow, alkali lake with a shoreline that fluctuates seasonally, becoming almost dry in summer. It is fed by the Ana river, from a series of small springs that also fill the Ana reservoir. It was a dry year when I was first there, and had been preceded by other years of drought – the lake was shallow and the water level was low in the reservoir. The area has frequent high winds, and the shoreline of the lake was in constant movement. I would hike up the ridge most days where I could see across to the east. Sometimes the wind would blow the lake towards the far shore revealing the mud flats and channels left by the water. When it was calm, the water would spread out and reach the places where seeps from the ridge fed dark vegetation at the edge of the grass marsh. The reservoir receded more steadily, leaving alternating bands of light and dark mud as it shrank. Tire tracks showed in the wet areas and the dry bands of earth had a hard crusty surface. I was drawn to the patterns left by the shifting water.

The two panels are ink wash on yupo (a polypropylene sheet made for watercolor) and each image is about 12″ x 36″.  This material also was new to me, and it it provided both some unexpected, spontaneous results and also some different means of control over the process. As the substrate is not absorbent, the ink wash has to air dry, and on a flat surface the ink moves and puddles, reticulates, and makes new textures as the water evaporates. When working on the wall, sometimes upside-down or sideways, washes would run and streak, leaving watery patterns in clouds and skies.

In my recent work, I am still interested in water and the shoreline, although my current project has less to do with aridity and more with the shifting shoreline at sea level around the San Francisco bay. I think this continuing interest in the transitions at the edge of the water was born with these drawings from my visit to the desert.


Enjoy more of Sarah’s work on her website,

Sarah Newton
I am an artist and printmaker, and have been involved in a printmaking co-op in San Francisco for 20 years, where I make my own etchings and volunteer to help program and install exhibits in a small gallery space. The printshop is also where I met my husband. Outside of my artistic life, I work part time at a library conservation lab, where I mostly build enclosures for unusual, rare, or fragile library materials. These range from fragments of early papyrus manuscripts to one of the first apple computer circuit boards. My job is to design and build mounts or mats that make it possible for patrons and classes to safely handle the items. It is a continual source of amazement, and I am always learning, as I never know what materials will be in the next collection, and I need to understand enough about the items to know what people might want to learn from them, and how to make that available. I enjoy hiking, both backpacking and just urban exploring, which I enjoy for itself, but which does also tend to find a way into my work. Right now, I am attempting to hike the incomplete sections of the San Francisco bay trail, just to see what is there. I have over 100 miles yet to go, so I guess that will take a while.
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