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Sketch Pad

Ann Ruttan
Land of make-believe
by Kathy Anderson

On a 1968 drive from California to McChord AFB in Washington, Ann Ruttan saw daffodils on the roadside and fluffy white clouds in the sky. That's when she and her husband fell in love with Oregon. So a year later, when his stint in Korea was done, they moved to Portland. Ann now resides in Lake Oswego, and paints in her sixth-floor walk-up studio in Northwest Portland.

Sky's the limit
The inspiration for Ann Ruttan's paintings is as big as the great outdoors.

"Burst of Sun Before the Storm"

"I make a point of traveling throughout the seasons to sketch and photograph scenes in differing light and color," she said. "I then combine bits and pieces of several views into an imagined landscape."

This year Ann's been practicing something new – plein air painting. That's French for painting on location.

"It's fun and interesting to do," she said, "because you stand and look at a scene for three hours and really connect with your surroundings.

"I'm not very good at plein air yet, but I like it."

First impressionists
Many artists also inspire Ann, but for technical inspiration, she relies on the impressionists.

"I've made a commitment to myself to visit someplace once a year where I can view great art," she said. "There's just so much wonderful art out there to see; it's a way for me to get inspired and learn."

"Winter Aspens"

Ann's favorites are the French and American impressionists.

"Of course, there's nobody like Vincent Van Gogh," she said. "He's so inspiring because you can see the progress in his work; he continued to change and grow and evolve.

"I love looking at artists who were pretty good and then got really good. That's also a great inspiration to me."

Good as gold
Ann began exhibiting her artwork in 1987, at the Lawrence Gallery in Portland. She still shows there on a regular basis, and has a yearly show at the Sunriver Lodge Upper Gallery in Sunriver, Ore.

"Willamette Valley Iris"

Her next exhibit is in April at Portland's First Avenue Gallery.

Ann's paintings appear in several noted collections, including Nordstrom and U.S. Bancorp, along with the public collections of the City of Salem and Emmanuel Hospital in Portland.

"When you're an artist you have a résumé of sorts, like the collections you're in," she said. "So if somebody who's supposed to be 'in the know' buys your work – that's a good thing."

Ann has won three festival poster contests: the Lake Oswego Festival of the Arts twice, and the Sunriver Music Festival.

"I guess you could call it an award," she said. "The award is when they make your painting into a poster – it's not a gold medal or plaque."

"Fall Creek Meadow"

Decent exposure
Coming from a family of artistic people, Ann was exposed to art at an early age.

"My mother was a teacher and a painter," she said. "She was really good about encouraging me. When I was in first grade, I drew a person with toes pointing down because I didn't know about perspective. Mom taught me how to make the feet look flat – with the view from the front.

"I have a big bunch of cousins, and when we were little kids, my mother and aunt would take us out sketching in the summer. I thought it was because it was such a neat thing to do, but actually we were really poor and it was their way of keeping seven kids busy.

"We'd all get a new drawing pad, pencil and eraser, then off we'd go to some historic spot to draw pictures. I thought it was great. These things have always been a part of my life."


Ann attended California State University in Chico, intending to major in English, but also studied art under Ken Morrow. After coming to Portland she went to Pacific Northwest College of Art, where she studied under Jack Portland.

Tending to a muse
Ann does not hold down a typical nine-to-five job, but with her self-imposed schedule ends up putting in more than a 40-hour workweek at her studio.

"One of the things I've learned," she said, "is if you wait for the muse or the motivation, you don't gain many skills. So I try to show up every day and see what happens. Many times, once I begin painting, I find that the muse is there after all. I don't think it's the same for everybody, but that kind of structure works pretty well for me."

Because oil paint is slow to dry, Ann has several paintings going at once – in various stages of "finished."

"I use the drying time to really look at the paintings and think about what I'm trying to do," she said. "Sometimes it's hard to know when a painting is actually done. The down-time forces me to step away so I don't overwork them."

"Oxbow Bend "

Living the dream
Though Ann has done art in one form or another since she was young, she never assumed that she could make a living with it.

"I think if I had been preparing for a career in art in the era I grew up in, I probably would have been an illustrator or graphic designer, which is really different than this," she said. "Instead, I did art on the side for years and years when I was married and didn't have to support myself."

"But as fate would have it, now I can support myself doing what I love."

Reach Kathy at kanderson138@attbi.com, and draw on other Sketch Pads.

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