A Passion For Nature’s Canvas

David Dickinson is, among other things, a painter. And while it’s easy to appreciate what he creates with watercolors and oils, those who know him are equally impressed by the picture he can paint with his words, passion and enthusiasm.

By day, David helps manage the daystalls at Seattle’s iconic Pike Place Market. He is a gentle giant: tall enough to tower above most of the farmers and craftspeople he knows so well; and known to all as passionate, kind and sincere.

David also has a deep and contagious enthusiasm for the beautiful Pacific Northwest – especially its waters. This love for the nature around him inspires him not only to get outside but also to capture it on canvas. We asked him to tell us more.
“Drinking the cold, fresh river water is one of my absolute favorite parts of this whole experience.”

– David Dickinson


What does “nature” mean to you?


In the most exciting sense, nature for me means the experience of wilderness: getting out to natural places that are the least impacted by human activity. Hearing free-flowing water; looking in to a crystalline river pool; seeing wild plants and animals; breathing mountain-fresh air; drinking from a pristine creek; looking at layers of massive and ancient rocks revealed in a cliff; seeing the spread of the Milky Way… The more I actively seek out nature and experience it, the more I become aware of and appreciate nature in a day-to-day sense – even at home in my urban surroundings.


How does nature inspire you?


I find that observing and experiencing nature inspires further observation and experience, and brings new satisfaction. It isn't that I become satisfied with less; rather, I begin to experience so much more in what seemed like the smallest of contexts. Like watching a bee tumble about in a poppy blossom as it gathers pollen.

I love this region: Cascadia, or the maritime Pacific Northwest, or whatever you want to call it. For me it is the lush, cool environments where mosses and ferns thrive, where river pools are clear and blue-green, where red cedars grow to magnificent size. My paintings are an attempt to capture some aspect of that pure, Pacific Northwest essence.


What can you tell us about your passion for painting?


I imagine one of my paintings on a wall of an urban home, acting as a virtual connection to wilder and beautiful places. I started painting to change my own environment, and learned that a painting can feel like an open window bringing fresh air into a space. I like to think that my paintings tide people over until they can connect with actual nature again, and that they serve as a reminder that such places are vital and we should appreciate and enjoy them.

Much of my work is depicting the experience of river pools. I have painted many images of iconic Olympic Peninsula rivers, including the Elwha, the Soleduc, the Hamma Hamma, the Quinault and the Skokomish. I spend a lot of time hiking and backpacking and looking for new locations with conditions that I like – a certain water quality, the right surroundings, the right light. I pack paints, usually water colors and sometimes oils, and shoot lots of digitals photo references. Most final images I work up in my studio, though I have shown some of the studies that I do in the field. It can be challenging in the field since our region can be so moist, and since so much time and effort is spent getting to some locations that I often don't have time to paint when the light is right.


Can you say more about your affinity for water?


Water sustains us all and makes up the bulk of our physical selves. Water bears so many levels of meaning for people across the world. It can be cleansing and purifying. It is nourishing in a basic physical sense but also spiritually; it can be calming and fulfilling. It can also seem scary or dangerous, threatening life and hiding dark secrets. Water is so basic to our health and survival.

My fascination with looking into pools goes back to childhood when I lived in eastern Washington and visited the western part of our state and places like Yellowstone National Park. In my early 20’s, I worked a couple of seasons doing stream surveys for what was then called the Washington Department of Fisheries. I became really interested in river pools: the beauty of the water, the mysteriousness of the depths and shadows, the ambiguous wavering forms, the confusion between reflection and transparency when looking at the water's surface.

As a visual artist, I especially like looking at water – like clear river pools or the ocean. Rivers inspire so much reflection about the nature of life. Something about the sounds and visual patterns triggers contemplation and a calm, meditative state.


Please tell us about your work at Pike Place Market.


I help manage the daystalls at Pike Place Market, where the farmers and craftspeople sell. My office is responsible for delivering our "Meet the Producer" promise that the public can buy products from those who produce them.

Our community of daystall vendors is the most creative, resourceful, independent and just plain resilient group of people I could ever have imagined. Many of them interact directly with nature to produce their wares, whether they are a farmer growing seasonal produce or a craftsperson collecting rocks or driftwood from which they create their work.

I feel privileged to work with this community daily. I am so fortunate to be on a first-name basis with the people who grow the produce I eat, make my soap, make the tableware that I eat off of, make my iphone case, make the gifts I give, and do so much more.


What would you say to someone who hasn’t found the inspiration to spend time in nature?


Ask anyone that I work with: Every day I act as a cheerleader to encourage people to get outside and visit the natural treasures in our region. Go hiking, go camping and get out into the woods! Once a person takes that first step, eyes grow wide, momentum builds to experience more, and appreciation follows. One thing that motivates me to paint is the earnest hope that my paintings will inspire others to appreciate nature more deeply, so the more paintings that I get out there the better.

You can read more from David and see some of his work on his new website.


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