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,