This artist canvasses the coast like no one else―with the Oregon shore as her muse.

By Susan Stiles Dowell
October 13, 2008
Jon Jenson

Pam Greene was working in San Francisco and spending weekends painting in the foothills when she got a call to join Nike as a product designer in Portland, Oregon. It was her dream job, but painting in the Northwest was a possible drawback. Could she adapt her landscape style to such different scenery? She found her answer on Oregon's dramatic coast. Today, she's built a strong artistic reputation and a stunning studio overlooking Manzanita Beach and the plunging headland of Neahkahnie Mountain.

"I played it safe when I first came to Portland," she says. "I found grassy foothills to paint in Oregon's desert east of the Cascades." One day, a friend who grew up on the coast in Neskowin, took Pam to the top of Proposal Rock, then down trails to hidden coves and beautiful beaches. "I learned I could hike in woods and pop out on an incredible cliff above the Pacific," she says. Pam also discovered one of Oregon's best-kept secrets: "The beaches are 100 percent public, unlike in other states. If I can find a public right of way, I'll hike in to paint the views most artists never see."

Trekking in and out proved more challenging than some mountain-climbing expeditions. Solo, Pam has dragged a cargo tub of painting supplies a mile to a choice spot, then doubled her effort to get the canvas back and forth. She's conquered 120 vertical feet of cliff stairs, a dog shaking sand into her wet paint, and winds turning a big canvas into a sail.

"Painting on the edge of land dropping into the sea puts me right in the energy I want to capture," Pam says. "The ocean is a giant mirror for the sky, with blues shifting in a moment from dark and stormy to Hawaiian aquamarine."

Eight years ago, Pam realized she wanted a studio closer to the sea. "Bringing back bags of sand and making videotapes of ocean waves didn't translate 80 miles inland," Pam says. "It dawned on me I needed to find a studio on the coast, maybe a fixer-upper cottage."

A year exploring real estate ended on a shelf above Manzanita Beach. It wasn't a house, but a sliver of land with a view of Neahkahnie Mountain. For help with the design and construction, she knocked on the door of a local beach home she liked and got the name of the designer. Jimmy Onstott of Portland created what she wanted: a low, Japanese-style farmhouse with big windows and a studio that's the hub of the house. While her weekend escape was under construction, Pam lived in and painted from her SUV. "I'd watch sunrise in one direction, sunset in the other. Now, I go from room to room in the house with a cup of tea, looking out windows and losing time deciding where to begin."