Redwoods: A muse for artist’s captivating creations

Michael Mckee finds the light of inspiration in Muir Woods

colorful artwork of a redwood forest
Michael Mckee created this work titled Redwoods Up.

We were living a perfect week: September in Sausalito. My friends and I traveled from Chicago in 2008 to participate as guest artists in the Sausalito Art Festival for the first time. We finished setting up on Wednesday evening. Over dinner and wine, we discussed what to explore the following day before our show opening on Friday. The choice was easy. Muir Woods National Monument was nearby, and none of us had seen a redwood tree in person.

Thursday morning, we found ourselves descending a winding road toward Muir Woods. Narrow with precarious cliffs and partly disguised by a rolling marine layer, we looked around wondering where all the big trees were. We would find out soon enough.

And then there were trees

The marine layer had just cleared away as we entered the park. The astonishing redwood canopy was so high and the dappled light so artfully diffused, I felt that we had wandered into a privileged place. Crisp coastal air stirred up a potpourri of mossy scents from the ground, enlivening every moment. This place was so different! Bohemian Grove Trail offered up so many visual wonders for us city folk. These were not the steel and concrete canyons of Chicago. We found ourselves in an undeniable cathedral of nature.

It took a minute to adjust to the trees’ impressive scale and the depth of light. Wandering through the forest revealed a richness of saturated colors— purple, indigo, cinnamon, and vermillion hidden deeply in the shadows with warm light ascending to the sky. These next few hours were visually dynamic and a magical gift of discovery for the artist in me.

Painting with earth

As a landscape artist, I work mostly in the medium of soft pastel, employing joyful color, line, and shape. These earthy, handmade sticks of mineral and pigment promote a tactile sense of expression. The sensual quality of this medium feels as if I am painting with earth. All my senses were enlivened by our experience in the forest that day, and I knew this feeling would stay with me forever.

Since 2008, I’ve created dozens of redwoods compositions, mostly from the memories and inspiration gathered that day in Muir Woods. Subsequent trips through Avenue of the Giants and Sequoia National Park have been a source of additional inspiration.

Whenever I find myself reflecting on these grand forests, I let the light of these natural giants into my heart again, and the studio calls. The light of inspiration shines not on us, but in us.


Read more highlights from the Spring-Summer 2024 Edition online.

About the author

Artist Michael Mckee has been creating and painting for more than four decades, using soft pastels, acrylics, and oils in his landscape and abstract compositions.


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