Inspired by the Desert

Sheila Dunn

Even if you are not an artist, you’ve probably wished you could somehow capture the way that sunlight paints the desert in subtle hues.

For the six artists profiled below, Oregon’s high desert has proved to hold endless inspiration. Read on to get to know more about their lives, their work and how they use their work to give back to desert conservation.

Profiles by Kelsey Kagan.


What defines Oregon’s high desert?

What defines Oregon’s high desert?

Bounded by the Cascade Mountains to the west and the Blue Mountains to the north, Oregon’s high desert covers approximately 24,000 square miles. Annual rainfall in the high desert varies from 5 to 14 inches. The average elevation is 4,000 feet; at 9,733 feet, the summit of Steens Mountain is the highest point in Oregon’s high desert. The terrain of the high desert was mostly formed by a series of lava flows that occurred between 30 and 10 million years ago.

Sources: The Oregon Encyclopedia; Wikipedia  


Helen Harbin, ONDA Board Member

Helen Harbin, ONDA Board Member

“I connect with Oregon’s high desert through my feet, my eyes, my sense of smell, and all the things I hear. Getting out there is a whole body experience.” Supporting ONDA, Helen says, not only connects her with wild landscapes, but is also a good investment. “I felt like if I gave them $20, they might squeeze $23 out of it.”




Found only in North America, where it is the most common wildcat, the bobcat takes its common name from its stubby, or “bobbed,” tail. The cats range in length from two to four feet and weigh 14 to 29 pounds. Bobcats mainly hunt rabbits and hares, but they will also eat rodents, birds, bats, and even adult deer.

Latin name: Lynx rufus fasciatus


SHEILA DUNN, painter

From a young age, Sheila was always singing, dancing, writing and drawing. Her teachers helped steer her artistic drive towards visual arts, and she currently works in oil and acrylics. She approaches her artwork like a disciplined job, showing up to her studio to do the work, but inspiration can also catch her at any time and then she races to her canvas to begin painting. The desert landscape has come to feel like home to her, and she draws inspiration from the smell of the sage, the color palette, the openness of the sky, the ever-changing light, and the warmth of sun reflecting off rocks that can only be found in the desert.

Sheila Dunn regularly contributes 10% of her proceeds for works featuring high desert landscapes to ONDA and other conservation nonprofits.

Sheila Dunn At-a-Glance:

  • Medium: oil, acrylics
  • Favorite Desert Critter: Coyote
  • Favorite Desert Plant: Indian Paintbrush
  • Favorite Place in Oregon’s High Desert: Oregon Badlands Wilderness
  • Favorite Hike: The Steens
  • Sunrise or Sunset: Sunset
  • Go-To Song: Baby Missiles – The War on Drugs
  • Instagram: @sheiladunnart

BENJAMIN JUNE, ceramicist

Busy working in sculpture and installation work, Benjamin didn’t touch ceramics for a decade. When he got his hands dirty in clay again, it was like coming home, as he’d received a BFA in ceramics in 2004. He loves working in a medium that has a longevity of thousands of years, but is made of the earth and can be shaped and molded. Inspired by nature and plants, Benjamin also runs an indoor plant installation business in Portland, where he constantly explores how we interact with plants and pottery. Spending time hiking and camping, experiencing solitude and quietness, is endlessly inspiring to him. After a recent Ochocos trip, he created his first “campfire” design flask.

Benjamin donates 5% of his sales to ONDA. 

Benjamin June At-a-Glance

  • Medium: ceramics
  • Favorite Desert Critter: Pronghorn, golden eagles, and little blue-bellied fence lizards
  • Favorite Desert Plant: Sagebrush and Ponderosa Pine
  • Favorite Place in Oregon’s High Desert: Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge
  • Backpacking or Day Hikes: Car camping with hikes and long, meandering walks through the woods or desert 
  • Sunrise or Sunset: Sunset
  • Go-To Song:  Sound and Fury record – Sturgill Simpson
  • Instagram: @benjamin.june

Jess Beauchemin

JESS BEAUCHEMIN, illustrator

Growing up, Jess never left her sketchbook behind and she has been nurturing her passion for drawing lately. Nature inspires her, and when she moved to Oregon from the east coast, she was completely mesmerized by the desert. A place she had only ever read about in books was now her home, and every time she steps into the harsh and beautiful landscape it feels like magic. She just released a set of Oregon desert wildflower cards after admiring the beautiful desert cacti in bloom on a recent trip to the Spring Basin Wilderness. Her next project is a writing, mapping, and drawing project related to her adventures in the Three Sisters Wilderness.

Jess is donating a portion of the proceeds from each set of desert wildflower cards to ONDA.

Jess Beauchemin At-a-Glance

  • Medium: pencil, pen, colored pencil
  • Favorite Desert Critter: Bighorn Sheep
  • Favorite Desert Plant: Cushion Buckwheat
  • Favorite Place in Oregon’s High Desert: Truly can’t pick a favorite
  • Day Hikes or Backpacking: Day Hikes
  • Sunrise or Sunset: Sunset
  • Instagram: @hike366




Gordon is a geologist who paints. All of his life he had an interest in nature, both organic and inorganic, which drove him to a career in geology and later, art. He began painting at age 63, with no formal training, but has used the support from generous artist friends and knowledge gained through research and workshops to guide his work. His main interest is landscape and seascape, although he has painted portraits of his extended family and himself.

Gordon is working on painting this Owyhee Canyonlands scene and will contribute it to ONDA to support our work. 


Rachel used art as a means of expression throughout her childhood, and turned her passion into a degree at Savannah School of Art and Design where she received a BFA in interior design and construction technology. She pursued a career in creating construction design, until long trails called and she left her job to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. After completing her PCT thru-hike,she felt “post- trail blues” and wanted to create a souvenir of her trek. She built Hikerbooty LLC as a place for her to share hand-drawn maps and illustrations of the public lands she encountered during her thru-hike and previous travels. She finds the desert breathtaking and terrifying, calling it harsh terrain that rewards intrepid travelers with beauty and splendor.

Rachel is donating 50% of the purchase price from her Oregon Desert Trail maps to ONDA. 

Rachel Dantona At-a-Glance

  • Medium: watercolor, pen 
  • Favorite Desert Critter: In the World? Fennec Fox / In Oregon? Little Brown Bat
  • Favorite Desert Plant: Dichelostemma capitatum,a Mojave Desert wildflower
  • Favorite Place in Oregon’s High Desert: Steens Mountain Wilderness 
  • Day Hikes or Backpacking: LONG DISTANCE BACKPACKING (oh,be still my beating heart!) 
  • Sunrise or Sunset: Sunrise! 
  • Go-To Song: I Want To Break Free – Queen
  • Instagram: @shop_hikerbooty


Sage Brown

SAGE BROWN, photographer

With an artist dad and sister, it wasn’t long before Sage found himself exploring his own creative voice through photography. His love for the desert comes from curiosity., It is vastly different from the humid, deciduous Appalachian Mountain forests he grew up in, and he finds that the openness invites him to explore. He recently returned to the Catskills for a residency where he explored fly-fishing culture in Oregon in the 60s and 70s. True to his style of working slowly and methodically on a project, he is letting his ideas articulate and mature over the next year.

Sage regularly contributes his photography to ONDA to enhance our publications and illustrate our restoration and conservation programs.

Sage Brown At-a-Glance

  • Medium: photography
  • Favorite Desert Critter: Golden Eagle or Greater Sage-grouse
  • Favorite Desert Plant: Great Basin sagebrush
  • Favorite Place in Oregon’s High Desert: Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge
  • Favorite Hike: Big Indian Gorge, or the Lower Deschutes River Trail
  • Sunrise or Sunset: Sunrise
  • Go-To Song: Fruit Bats – Buffalo & Deer
  • Instagram: @sagebrown