Monte Dolack: Painting On Location

Publisher’s Note: A version of this blog first appeared in the Great Falls Tribune.


As a first year student at Montana State University, I remember a painting and drawing class I had in the spring of 1969. After a particularly harsh Bozeman winter, the class included a field trip away from the stuffy classroom, with our art teacher Bob DeWeese. It is one of the first times I remember working outside to make a painting or drawing.  That day, as I recall, we were drawing and painting in a downtown ally behind the Bozeman Hotel. I made a pastel of a cluster of old garbage cans.  Truly an Ash-Can School painting experience, and not a half bad drawing. It was unsentimental and true to its place and time.

That experience with DeWeese has endured and matured from that early urban-alley painting experience I had as a student. Recent paintings include landscapes of the Berkeley Pit, the Anaconda Smelter Smokestack exploding and the Clark Fork Superfund River as well as other contemporary Montana landscapes.

Since those early days I’ve done a great deal of work in the refuge of my studio and formed habits and working methods using photographs and more recently, digital media as research for paintings. The idea or concept for a painting almost always precedes the process of researching visual imagery for the painting.  I typically do my own photography to rely as much as possible on personal photos rather than those of other photographers. Although I still have a clip file, or morgue, that I started in High school that still proves invaluable and quite interesting to look through.

Evening on Browns Lake

Evening on Browns Lake

But I have also painted in the open air, from nature, in places that show less of the effects that humans have had on nature than that Bozeman alley.  Travel is a passion and making paintings and drawings on our tours and treks has been a challenge but also a joy. Among them is the ancient Greek theatre above the picturesque Sicilian city of Taormina where a visiting opera tenor sang to us from the stage. We’ve painted in the fields and vineyards of Provence which have been shaped by human agricultural pursuits over thousands of years.

Painting the mountains, valleys and thermal pools of Yellowstone and Glacier Parks has been a seasonal tradition, anticipated every bit as much as the summertime passions of river floating and fly fishing.

The fast and direct, alla prima, approach to painting can be very fluid with the artist trying to keep up with the continually changing light and shadow.  A painting made in this manner reflects these changing qualities, rather than a single stationary moment derived from a camera.

Springtime in the highlands, on Loch Etive

Springtime in the highlands, on Loch Etive

The great impressionist painter Claude Monet made paintings outside, but eventually found that working inside was the only solution for some paintings, especially large ones. He would also work on paintings outdoors by going back day after day to the same location at the same late afternoon or morning hours of the day. By doing this he was able to build-up more finished and complete, complex paintings of the effects of light, rather than a more rapid 2 or 3 hour simplified and direct interpretation of the chosen motif. He had a very inventive and interesting easel on wheels, which he could move back and forth to his morning and evening painting sites.

Mark Bohne, an artist friend and adept landscape painter declines to paint outside. The annoyance of wind, sun, insects and people is just too distracting for him. He chooses instead to take multiple photographs which he later translates into paintings under the controlled conditions of his studio.

Recently I have been asked to teach a weeklong outdoor painting workshop. Even though I have painted outside over the course of many years, I have never taught it. So I find myself away from my studio painting en plein air this summer preparing for the upcoming teaching and painting experience in the fall. It is a great reason to spend time outdoors doing what I love.  But Mark Bohne does have a point about the bugs, wind, sun and well-meaning but distracting spectators.


To see more of Monte Dolack’s artwork, visit his Gallery or check out his newly renovated website.


A native of Great Falls, Monte Dolack grew up surrounded by the same sweeping vistas and big sky that inspired Charlie Russell. His love of Montana and passion for the West’s diverse landscapes and wildlife are evident in the images he creates and the commissions he undertakes.

His best known early works – wild animals wreaking havoc in human homes – comprise his “Invaders Series,” exploring the myths of the West and how we view our relationship with our environment. The irresistible appeal of these images helped build Monte’s national reputation and continues to attract collectors.

A love of the natural world, combined with his exuberant curiosity and travel experiences, has shaped the content of Monte’s imagery.  Blending mythology, technology, and elements from nature and the landscape, his work is infused with a sense of humor and irony.