For the last three years, artist Rachel Teannalach has taken her paints and brushes outdoors, creating a daily visual journal, one 3-inch-by-3-inch canvas each day. She considers it a practice of meditation and contemplation.
Called “tinyExpanse,” her plein-air paintings feature what grabbed her heart each day: her beautiful toddler, Mairead, an icy Boise street, the foothills, a river. Her social media followers looked forward to her daily posts. One fan likened her on-site paintings to a “haiku in oil.”
Despite creating other work, Teannalach never missed her daily commitment to “tinyExpanse,” once abruptly waking just before midnight to paint before night rolled into morning. Overall, including the three-year project, she estimates she’s done about 4,500 “tinyExpanse” paintings since her first in 2006.
“Plein air is the most satisfying way of enjoying nature,” said Teannalach, a landscape artist who sometimes donates work to raise money to protect the places she paints.
But this past New Year’s Eve brought tinyExpanse to a bittersweet end. With a toddler who needs her, the daily commitment was tough, Teannalach said. And she was not traveling as much, which had helped keep the work fresh.
But as that door closed, Teannalach unveiled her stunning “Portals,” an exhibit of 14 large-scale 88-inch by 48-inch paintings, luminescent landscapes of places within 150 miles of Boise. The exhibit runs through March at Northwest Nazarene University.
Teannalach’s rivers, mountains and deserts are breathtaking visions so achingly beautiful you’re pulled into their depths, almost obliged, as she is, to help protect them. Gorgeous storm clouds roil over soft folds of the Bruneau sand dunes. Fall trees cast a fiery glow in a glassy expanse of the Boise River. Golden sun bathes Hells Canyon in heavenly softness, as a thunderstorm churns in the distance.
Jacqueline Crist, owner of J. Crist Gallery and managing partner of the James Castle Collection and Archive, raved about Teannalach’s work. Crist commissioned Teannalach to paint 43 6-inch paintings for the new Saint Alphonsus Medical Center in Nampa. And Crist recently asked Teannalach to apply to an invitation-only exhibit for site-specific art in the new Boise Centre East.
“I’ve seen her work go through different types of investigations,” Crist said in her gallery office, scrolling through Teannalach’s website, discussing the evolution of her painting. “She’s pulled all these different ideas together in the most magnificent work. I think it’s extraordinary.”
Teannalach’s “Portals” paintings feature bold brushstrokes of sage, rock and wildflowers in the foreground, a technique, she says, that adds to the depth of the pieces and allows the viewer to fill in the detail the strokes suggest.
“I’m more interested in what’s far away,” Teannalach said, over tea in the iconic East-end, mid-century home she and husband Sean Scrivner are renting. This summer, the family will move to their property on the Big Lost River, about 40 minutes from Challis, where views of Mount Borah and the Lost River range will provide plenty of inspiration. Sean, a welder, is building a home and studio from shipping containers. They’ll return to Boise often, she said, and during the school year for Mairead.
As a landscape painter, Teannalach not only is drawn to paint beautiful places, she also uses her work to help protect open space. She was the Idaho Conservation League’s first artist-in-residence in 2013 and 2014 and helped shape their program that now awards a residency to one visual artist a year, providing a symbiotic relationship between art and conservation.
“Rachel took her residency very seriously,” said Mary Beth Whitaker, who oversees ICL’s artist-in-residence program. “She toured all over the state doing these incredible landscapes that represented all parts of Idaho. Her work just leaves me in awe. It commands the same awe I feel about the landscape.”
Teannalach also recently donated work to a fundraiser for Advocates for the West, in which the largest donor in each of 15 categories would receive one of her paintings.
“It makes me feel like I’m doing something meaningful,” she said.
Though Teannalach mostly focuses on Idaho’s wonders, it wasn’t always her main inspiration. She grew up in New Mexico, attended college in Los Angeles, then moved to the Bay Area for six years, where two galleries still represent her work. A divorce led her to Idaho in 2009, as her parents had retired in Nampa. Then Teannalach discovered Boise. She bought a home, painted, taught yoga and built her successful business.
“Rachel not only has a unique vision of our environment, she has a rare combination for an artist, which includes the ability to run the business,” Crist said. “She has it all down.”
In her studio, a daily schedule on the wall carves her day into blocks of painting and tending the business. Another list of to-dos hangs above the kitchen table. And along with being a mom, painting and exhibitions, she found the time to train for the New York Marathon, which she ran last fall.
Teannalach credits her father, Gary Eller, a scientist who worked in a lab in Los Alamos, New Mexico, for her focus and need for structure. His love for river rafting, exploring caves, and playing music influenced her passion for the outdoors and the arts.
“He used to take me out with a sketch book when we went camping,” she said. He’d sketch interiors of caves he’d explore and did drawings for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Her mother, Teri Devine, a quilter and knitter, also influenced Teannalach’s love for organization and working with her hands. Teannalach hopes to inspire the same desires in Mairead (rhymes with parade), or, usually, Raidy. Of course, Raidy loves to draw in the studio as Teannalach paints.
As for the future, Teannalach wants to do bigger pieces and plans to keep roots in Boise.
“This city is so amazing and is incredibly supportive of its artists,” she said. And Boise, as evidenced by its love for her work, would hate to lose her.