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From rocky cliffs and chilling fog to warm, sunny beaches, Highway 101 is one of the longest, most scenic highways in the U.S. Driving it is not fast by any means, but given that it winds through the coastal scenery of Washington, Oregon and California, who’s in a hurry?

Not artist Paul Henderson, who with wife Letha took a 16-day trip on the highway from Astoria, Ore., to Eureka, Calif.

“We wanted to take our time enjoying all the wonderful scenes of ocean, old farms, old communities, forest, gifts shops, galleries, boat harbors and lighthouses,” the Yakima painter says. 

“We stayed one to three days around each major town, traveling 50-120 miles with each move we made.”

They visited eight lighthouses out of 13 and stopped at state parks, farmers markets and festivals.

During that time, Paul took more than 1,200 reference photos and, after the trip, went through them intending to create a series of 40 to 60 small paintings of the coast.

“I’ve finished 14 so far and have started another 10 paintings on the subject. I work on them simultaneously and am about 60 percent done.”

Working out of a bedroom converted into a studio in his house, Henderson often employs the multiple painting approach, lining up canvasses with their reference photos and moving from one image to the next when he wants, literally, a change of scenery. 

Other times, on larger works, he focuses on one image. This he paints with incredible detail, devoting multiple hundreds of hours to its completion.

He doesn’t like to be stuck in one place or way of doing things, whether he’s traveling Highway 101 or creating in his studio. 

An artist from the time he was old enough to hold a crayon, Henderson has been painting professionally for 46 years and he has experimented with everything from highly realistic representational work to abstract pours. 

A strong interest in history, archaeology and multinational cultures infuses his work and because of this, he refers to himself as “The Northwest Artist with an International Touch.”

“I love to try different methods; it keeps me fresh and invigorated,” Henderson says.

“After all, ‘variety is the spice of life.’ I am full of passion to express and create life ... colorful living images.”

With his present project, the variety of imagery acquired on his Oregon Coast trip keeps him traveling from one canvas to another, from one scene to another, in all sorts of weather. It’s almost like taking the trip all over again.

“It was quite cloudy in the northern part of Highway 101. In the middle it was somewhat sunny and then rainy and foggy when we reached the south end. But it was all very beautiful.

“Because of the variety of weather, I am calling the series that I’m painting, The Moods of Highway 101. The variety of moods — from stormy to soft rain to the sun breaking through to the beautiful sunsets — these all define the landscape and the scenery of this long and historic highway.”

Henderson has exhibited his work at shows, galleries and wineries in Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Iowa and California. 

He has been interviewed by Evening Magazine, the weekly TV show of KING 5 in Seattle, as well as by assorted newspapers and publications, including The Mzuri Wildlife Foundation Conference and The Artist’s magazines. 

He has had special shows at Saviah Cellars in Walla Walla; Antolin Cellars of Yakima; Wenaha Gallery of Dayton; and Gallery One in Ellensburg.

In 1986 he attracted national attention when he began painting with coffee, the first artist to seriously consider doing so.

“I’ve gone from drawing every leaf and brick as a child to abstract when I first started professionally painting,” Henderson says, describing an artist’s repertoire that is as varied and complex as the scenery along Highway 101.

“I am comfortable working in any style or subject matter from abstract to detail, to fantasy, to loose style, to just experimenting.”

It’s all part of the journey of being an artist — constantly moving, observing, exploring and doing. 

It’s never being static. But it’s also staying long enough in one spot to fully capture its essence, its personality, its mood.

“Watch what’s coming next,” Henderson says. “Who knows?”

Carolyn Henderson is a freelance writer who co-owns Steve Henderson Fine Art and SteveHendersonCollections.com with her husband, Steve. She welcomes correspondence at Carolyn@stevehendersonfineart.com.

This article originally ran on union-bulletin.com.

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