Painters Flat 1:100,000,
Lassen County CA, June 17th-22nd, 2K3

Painters Flat 1:100,000

Painters Flat is east of the valley where Shinn Ranch and Smoke Creek are located. Poole and Stalbaum have visited the area often, in search of Native American rock art sites, and often wanted to visit Painters Flat. In June 2003, they chose Painters Flat as a destination to collaborate on an art project. The concept was to utilize a real flat space (full scale) to implement a 6 x 6 grid of geo-referenced paintings, while enhancing the landscape itself with maps (at 1:100,000 scale, one centimeter per kilometer), that wanderers in the region might pick up and utilize for topographic informational purposes. Poole would work with the materials of the Earth, as referenced by mappings performed utilizing C5[1] landscape database software that Brett authored. The maps would become part of the landscape and the landscape part of the paintings. This involved Stalbaum hiking over 45 kilometers, drawing virtual scan lines (recorded with GPS) on the desert floor. Poole spent most her time in base camp, implementing the paintings as Brett returned soil samples. In the big picture, Painters Flat 1:100,000 was a performance (walking art), land art, painting and database work.

Figure 1 - Painters flat is an alluvial Valley East of Observation Peak, in Lassen County CA. It is intersected by the Nevada border.

Poole prepared 36 (ready-made) ceramic tiles with drawings rendered on tracing paper and adhered the drawings with gel medium onto the tiles. She had drawn petroglyphs from Lassen County. Her sources were a Robert Heizer book and her own photographs. She painted two corners and the middle with steaks of sand-colored acrylic paint. Stalbaum made laser print tags that had PF printed on them (Painters Flat), the one centimeter mapping, and topographical information from the software and statistics about the landscape. Poole also adhered those onto the tiles. Stalbaum covered the tiles with casting resin.

Figure 2 - Campsite near Painters Flat


C5 Landscape Database C5 Landscape Database C5 Landscape Database C5 Landscape Database C5 Landscape Database C5 Landscape Database
C5 Landscape Database C5 Landscape Database C5 Landscape Database C5 Landscape Database C5 Landscape Database C5 Landscape Database
C5 Landscape Database C5 Landscape Database C5 Landscape Database C5 Landscape Database C5 Landscape Database C5 Landscape Database
C5 Landscape Database C5 Landscape Database C5 Landscape Database C5 Landscape Database C5 Landscape Database C5 Landscape Database
C5 Landscape Database C5 Landscape Database C5 Landscape Database C5 Landscape Database C5 Landscape Database C5 Landscape Database
C5 Landscape Database C5 Landscape Database C5 Landscape Database C5 Landscape Database C5 Landscape Database C5 Landscape Database

Figure 3.a - Output from C5 Landscape Database representing a 6 kilometer topographic grid; Painters Flat, the California side of the border. One centimeter images of these maps were affixed to each tile, creating a 1:100,000 scale relationship between map and landscape.


Paula Poole

Figure 3.b - Paula catalogs the tiles before they are distributed.


The plan was to hike out in a perfect grid on Painters Flat (BLM land) and leave one tile in the landscape per kilometer. Soil samples would be collected from each site. The samples would be collected in plastic Ziploc bags and labeled with UTM coordinates for the site. Then, Poole would paint the dirt onto an eight inch by eight inch square of Masonite prepared with Gesso. She would use lighter color dirt to paint one of the petroglyphs that was on the tiles.

The roads in the vicinity of projected campsite area are fairly bad; for example there were many deep eroded ruts that made the vehicle ride at a sharp angle. The sound of the steel undercarriage slamming on the basaltic rocks that constitute the ‘road’ in some spots was not uncommon. BLM Road 26005, which runs through the southern part of Painters Flat, is almost completely desiccated in some places, with only signage to identify it. There were lots of wild-flowers still in bloom even at the time. They appeared all throughout the hills that had been blackened by the 2001 Observation fire. The only trees that grow in the area are junipers, and they are somewhat sparse. Stalbaum picked a campsite that had a large juniper for Poole to set up an outdoor studio. The campsite was in low hills on the west side of Painters Flat, in a spot making it possible to look down into it. To the east, was Nevada. The California/Nevada border lies along the east side of the valley. The vegetation was comprised of sagebrush, juniper and a variety of grasses. Volcanic boulders and lava flows dominate the landscape. The weather was not too hot, at times even overcast, and it was breezy.

Figure 4 - Road 26005

The first full day of the collaboration, Poole and Stalbaum shared the 14 kilometers hike. Stalbaum carried the tiles in his backpack. At every kilometer, he took a photograph of the tile on the ground and the landscape to the north. The hiking was difficult, not because of the steepness of the terrain, but because of all the rocks, anthills, sagebrush, thistle, etc. that they had to avoid. There were colorful caterpillars—some about four inches long. There was a spring at the point that where it was necessary to turn east. Wild horses, with several foals in the herd, came down to the spring. A stallion saw the humans and snorted loudly, with a threatening charge. After turning their back on the horses and slowly walked away, the stallion relaxed and the situation was diffused. Two shepherds were herding sheep through the valley, the only other humans seen during the three day performance. It had been hot and still that morning, and in the afternoon, it became very windy and cold. Big thunderclouds came in from the west.

Brett Stalbaum

Figure 5 - Utilizing GPS, Stalbaum navigated to the correct locations in the grid.

Brett Stalbaum

Figure 6 - A soil sample was taken from each point, and the cartographic/topographic/art tile was left in exchange for the sample.

Brett Stalbaum

Figure 7 - The coordinates were recorded on the soil sample, allowing geo-referencing of the paintings that would be produced with the pigment.

Brett Stalbaum

Figure 8 - On to the next site... Hiking overland more than 45 kilometers in 3 days, Stalbaum visited 36 sites from where soil samples were taken.

The next morning, Stalbaum took off for the middle part of his hike. Poole had twelve paintings to do. She primed the squares with Gesso and a foam brush. She labeled the back of the Masonite with the corresponding coordinates from the Ziploc bag containing the dirt. She did another layer of Gesso. Her studio was under her juniper tree with her CD player, water and her radio. The artists had set up a table and chair. First, she painted a mixture of wood glue and water with a foam brush onto the squares. She taped off the edges with Artist’s tape. She sprinkled dirt onto the squares through a sieve.

Friday, she’d done sketches of the petroglyphs on the tiles in her sketchbook. When she’d done the twelve squares in that method, she started again on the first one. She mixed wood glue, water and strained dirt into a plastic cup. She painted this mixture onto the square with a fan brush. When she completed the twelve, she mixed the wood glue, water, white acrylic paint and the correct dirt onto a palette. She painted a petroglyph or combination of petroglyph elements onto each square.  That evening, they looked down on Painters Flat for entertainment. They could see wild horses galloping across the flat through the dots that were cattle. It was a stream of motion through static objects. The shepherds never returned. A thunderstorm flashed that night though they could see stars above their campsite.

On the second day, Poole had her system planned for painting, so she was able to paint faster. Stalbaum had to walk farther today. Stalbaum was facing a much easier hike through the flat of the valley that day, (although it was a longer hike), because he had to start east of their camp. During the morning, Poole heard cattle bellowing at something and she figured that it was Stalbaum that caused the disturbance. The wind was less persistent that day. Poole was growing a fondness for the shelter of the juniper tree. She tried to vary the complexity of her designs. She was growing tired when she started the designs, but she knew if she did all the simple designs first, she’d be left with all the complicated designs later.

Figure 9 - Paula's workshop was located in the shade underneath this Juniper tree.

Figure 10 - Paula, created the paintings from the collected soil samples.

Paula Poole

Figure 11 - Work in progress

Paula Poole

Figure 12 - Completed Paintings

Stalbaum returned exhausted. He did disturb the cows. He walked unavoidably through the herd - trying to stay on an exact course – and they were nervous about his close presence. He had anticipated only females, but realized he was walking in front of horned bulls at the same moment it occurred to him that his red backpack may be of symbolic consequence. But it was not the bulls that chased him. He was chased by two mother cows protecting their calves, causing one of the few deviations in his course. The following day, on the east side of Painters Flat, he frightened a large herd of antelope, which ran into the valley to join the cows. Wild horses joined them in a ballet of hoofed turf pounding on the flat. Also spotted were two large sage hens. After the third day, the project was done. That night, they heard coyotes not too far away.

Stalbaum chose a different route out of the area. The road (BLM 26015 from Painters flat into Smoke Creek Valley) was extremely rough. They drove down to Smoke Creek Valley. Every ten feet or so, he would stop, get out, pick up rocks and toss them out of the road. They would barely crawl over some, and then carefully ease over them. The ruts that were the road gave way to a weed covered lava flow. Volcanic rocks slammed into the underside of the vehicle, causing some damage. Lava flows had made the valley floor a garden of rocks. On the way out, they frightened another flock of sagehen. They finally got through the valley floor at a speed of hours per mile, not miles per hour. Relief came after the water crossing at Smoke Creek. They reached the road out that is a fairly smooth gravel and dirt road crossing over Shinn Mountain, southwest of Observation Peak. The wildflowers around Observation Peak were gorgeous. Several antelope charged across the slope above them and across the road. They were glad to meet pavement again. They wonder who will find the tiles.[2] If anyone will...

Figure 12 - A good stretch BLM road 26015

[1] C5 Landscape Database API
[2] Or why they write in the third person...


  • To the people who made the petroglyps in Lassen County.

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