An Owyhee Palette

Artist Nancy Pobanz grew up in Ontario and returns to the high desert time and again to seek inspiration and the materials for her work, particularly Oregon’s Owyhee Canyonlands. All images are courtesy of Nancy Pobanz and Lightworks Photography.

Growing up in rural Ontario, Oregon, I did not appreciate the arid landscape while living there; in fact, I wanted desperately to live someplace green. At the age of 45 it finally occurred to me that my childhood setting has subconsciously been a consistent influence for a long time.

Now, while revisiting that magnificent terrain, I collect earth and rock samples and photograph the exposed landscape. I pay attention to what was so ordinary and expected — and study it with fresh eyes, every trip being different than the last.I make many of my art supplies from raw materials gathered while exploring this arid land. This provides a direct connection to the source of my inspiration.

In 2011, I joined a guided trip into the Owyhee Canyonlands. As an artist, the most memorable and inspiring hike for me was Painted Canyon. During the first 5 miles the variety of colors was astonishing, and the raw earth proved to be ideal for making pigments. Fortunately, others on the hike were willing to help carry the rocks during the 10-mile adventure. (However, only small amounts of rock were gathered.) Back in my studio, grinding them with a mortar and pestle brought back memories from the trip and inspiration for making new artwork. Using raw earth colors is important for me as they provide a direct connection between the place and each piece of work.

In addition to using rocks and earth to grind into pigments, I also use plant matter to twist into cordage for stitching or for making into paper to incorporate as layers in the work. Thin, strong paper is tinted with inks, written upon, and layered. After writing, concealing the words is intended to obscure and release the written thoughts and to allow the piece to take on a life of its own.

The materials are used for their color, texture, blending characteristics — and earthiness; the underlying issue or topic of the piece guides all the material selection.

The colors collected in Painted Canyon are especially luscious; if it hadn’t been for the guided trip to the Owyhees, I doubt that I would ever have discovered this stunning canyon.

To see more of Nancy Pobanz’s work and read more about her techniques, please visit

To see more of Nancy Pobanz’s work and read more about her techniques, please visit – See more at:


2008; 15″ x 30″ Media: SE Oregon earth pigments, miscellaneous papers and re-used fabric, acrylic ink on canvas. Inspired by roadcuts exposing some of Oregon’s best geology and earth pigments. Photo: Lightworks Photography

Abert Rim

2005;  (private collection); 12″ x 24.” Media: SE Oregon earth pigments, re-used teabag paper, waxed linen thread, colored pencil, acrylic inks on canvas. Inspired by petroglyphs on Abert Rim. Photo: Lightworks Photography