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Day 5 Badlands. Oil on Linen. 20x16 inches.


In 2011 I was invited to be the Artist in Residence in Badlands National Park, USA. I drove across from Washington DC (a mere 1538 miles!) in my VW camper so I could use it as a mobile studio within the park. The rest of the time I lived and worked in ranger’s accommodation near the visitor centre. The park has the most extraordinary geological formations, it has wild prairie and grasslands, and it is bursting with wildlife (during my time there I saw bobcats, bison, coyote, prairie dogs, bighorn sheep, badgers, snakes, turtles and a huge range of birds, including vultures). The astonishing landscape is the result of centuries of deposition and erosion – the formations being composed of multiple layers of sand, silt and clay. These layers create very complex colour and light and they are surprisingly difficult to paint. The weather also made plein-air painting challenging - one day I got sunburnt and the next I had to drive to site with my head out of the window because my van was impossibly iced-up. And then there were the wildlife challenges - I was chased by a herd of bison (one of the most terrifying experiences of my life), I had an intimate liaison with a black widow spider, and I was (on at least one occasion), harassed by some very threatening humans. However, the landscape gave endless joy and inspiration and I met some wonderful people locally. Living on-site meant I was able to watch the season shift and the landscape transform from barren scrubland into blossoming rich green land. It also gave me opportunity to experience the park by day and by night – with all the glorious variations of colour, light, sound and wildlife. I regularly got up at 4am (conveniently I am an insomniac) and drove to vantage-points to watch the dawn rise and I also spent several nights taking long-exposure photos. There are tiny details that I simply wouldn’t have seen in a quick-visit; minutiae that will leave the Badlands Park forever etched in my brain. I feel hugely privileged to have been given the opportunity to spend time here and sincerely hope I can do it again one day.


Today’s painting “Badlands” is now part of the National Parks Art Collection


Working on site:





Some work done on site:






Some of the terrain:











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Polly Townsend

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