North Georgia is the home to so many waterfalls that some say the original name for the region in Cherokee translates roughly into “Land of a Thousand Waterfalls.” Now through August 9th plein air paintings of over two dozen of them can be seen at the Sautee Nacoochee Cultural Center in White County.
In 2018 local artist Jennifer Long Herrera saw an online list of popular northeast Georgia waterfalls and decided to try and visit them all. Inspired by their beauty she started doing small sketches. She soon moved from pencils to oil pastels, then started filling her backpack with the supplies to create full color acrylic paintings on site. Now almost every weekend, weather permitting, she hikes to an area waterfall and spends a couple of hours painting.
From July 3rd through August 9th Jennifer’s waterfall paintings, as well as a selection of her drawings and sculpture, will be on display in the Sautee Nacoochee Cultural Center’s Hallway Gallery. The exhibit, titled “Falling Water and Fanciful Flights,” features paintings of 38 waterfalls located in northeast Georgia. Most were painted entirely on site in two to three hours.
Jennifer finds the combination of fresh air, exercise, negative ions, and the challenge of trying to capture constantly moving beauty with paint on paper to be a blissful experience. Luckily the area still has many more waterfalls to explore. After visiting the most well-known waterfall trails Jennifer discovered the website www.gawaterfalls.com that lists GPS coordinates and directions to over 450 north Georgia falls, many that do not have official trails leading to them. During this time of social distancing she has focused on the waterfalls closest to her home in Mount Airy, mainly exploring and painting the ones located in the Lake Russell Wildlife Management Area.
The Sautee Nacoochee Center is open following CDC and OSHA Guidelines for Phase 2 Opening as defined by the State of Georgia. It is located at 283 Highway 255 North, Sautee Nacoochee, Georgia 30571. Hours of operation are Monday – Saturday 10 AM – 5 PM and Sunday 1 – 5 PM. Current Social Distancing Guidelines do not permit a traditional opening reception for this exhibition, however Jennifer will be at the gallery for informal “Meet the Artist” afternoons on Saturday, July 11 and Sunday, July 26th from 2:00 to 5:00 pm. She will be pleased to talk about her process and the inspiration behind her work.
Further information about the Sautee Nacoochee Center can be found at https://snca.org/
I am excited to be able to announce that my solo art show at Sautee Nachoochee Center for the Arts this summer has not been cancelled. From July 3rd through August 9th my artwork will be in the hallway gallery. I do not know yet if there will be an opening reception, but hopefully by then we will all be getting out more. I will be showing a collection of plein air waterfall paintings, the 31 ink drawings I did in the month of October, as well as paintings and sculptures. Some of the pieces were in last summer’s Nth Gallery exhibit, but there will be plenty of new work too.
I am calling the small drawing/painting I have just finished “In Celebration of Negative Ions.” It is my attempt to bring the elements of my recent drawings and paintings together into one piece. They actually blended more harmoniously than I expected.
A few weeks ago I was excited to read that the nearby unofficial trail leading to Tabor Falls had more waterfalls further down the creek. I tried to go visit but was met with a closed bridge and had to go paint elsewhere, but I kept thinking about the other falls and wondering when I could get to them. I am still trying to stay within Habersham county while we are sheltering in place so every possibility feels important to explore. One Saturday (4/11) I decided to drive by and just see if the bridge was open yet, and lo and behold, it was. The bridge did not seem to have actually been repaired, but the weight limit was lowered and there were cones on either side to keep any traffic away from the sides, which I am guessing are the most dangerous?
Honestly, the state of the bridge does not inspire much confidence, but I know my car cannot weigh 5 tons so I drove slowly on across right in the middle. I made it safely and in just another few minutes was at the gate at the beginning of FS 89A. I parked and easily made the walk I remembered to Tabor Falls. Though it is not an official trail it seems like it has been getting continual use. It is easier to follow than it was when i first visited it last year. The descent to Tabor Falls involves a steep bank so I did not go down, but continued on to what is called Lower Tabor Falls. I only stopped long enough for a few pictures and then kept going.
I had the GPS coordinates for both Peaceful and Tranquility Falls in my phone so once it seemed like the trail had completely petered out I started tracking using the GPS. When a second tributary joined the one I was following I crossed over and then started up that one. It was then that I started what could truly called bushwhacking. I could see on the app where I wanted to be, but had no line to follow. I crossed the creek several times, went over logs, under logs, through rhododendron and then up an incredibly steep bank. At the top of it, out of breath, I checked the GPS again and it seemed I was very close to where I was supposed to be, but I saw no waterfall. I slowly worked my way through the undergrowth in the direction it appeared to be on the GPS until I heard the water. I was on the cliff to the side of the top of Tranquility Falls and there was pretty obviously no way down from where I was. Since the climb had been strenuous I was not anxious to immediately go back down and then have to do it again so I decided to head on and try to find Peaceful Falls.
I think it took me another fifteen minutes heading up stream to get there. It was not far but I worked hard for every bit of progress made. I like to think of myself as fairly brave but I have a very healthy respect for slippery surfaces. I approach both wet rocks and wet leaves with quite a bit of caution and this trek has plenty of both, but it was absolutely worth it. I do not think any of the pictures I took really captured how lovely the site is. The water falls around 25 feet down layers of rock with lots of moss.
I had brought my watercolors and yupo paper so the painting went fairly quickly. At the end I used the white pigment straight from the tube without mixing it with water to add the water back in. I think it has a fairly unique feel to it, not as fluid as the other watercolors have been, but not quite like the acrylics either.
It seems like the sky is more blue every day and the new spring leaves glow almost neon green. When I finished the painting I lay down on a huge rock and just soaked in the sun and the view above and around me. I felt like I could stay there forever, but eventually I did have to make my way back.
By the time I got down the steep bank close to Tranquility Falls I was starting to get tired and concerned about the time. I did not try to find Peaceful Falls but just searched for the established trail so I could head home.
The next Saturday I set out again to find and paint Peaceful Falls. It was a cooler day and there had been more rain during the week. I found the creeks a little fuller and the leaves on the trail a little slipperier. I thought it would be fairly simple to trace the same route I had taken the week before once the path ended, but I ended up going past the fork and having to backtrack and search for the nice crossing place I had used before. Even once I crossed in the same place the path I took up the creek seemed different until I came to an amazing tree I remembered. It looks like something straight out of fairy tale and I may make a trip back just to draw this tree. I found its shapes and patterns absolutely fascinating.
This tree is now my mental marker… to get to Peaceful Falls turn right and go up the bank, to get to Tranquility Falls go around the the tree to the left and head straight up the creek. There are even more downed trees and branches crisscrossing the creek on the way to Tranquility than there are heading to Peaceful. Again I earned every step forward I made. It was the first time I have traveled straight up a creek rather than following a path on one side or the other, but the because of how steep the land on the edges is there does not seem to be another option. My over 20 year old hiking boots did a great job on rocks, leaf covered banks, and even through rather deep mud. The site of the falls is another gorgeous one. There are very dramatic rock formations around it that would make great paintings by themselves. I saw where I had been the weekend before on top of one of the rocks and I was very glad I had moved slowly and not just blindly pushed through the undergrowth.
It took a few minutes to find a spot flat enough to set up my chair. The only spot that would work was really quite wet and I had to use a few small rocks to keep it sinking into the mud, but it worked. I spent about the normal two hours painting in acrylics on the larger sized paper I have decided I prefer. Again I was especially enraptured of the way the new green leaves glowed against the clear blue sky. I spent a lot of time trying to get those colors right for top 1/4 of the painting. I hope that the feel of spring comes through.
I had to skip a weekend because of the push to get as many SBA PPP loans underwritten as possible over the past couple of weeks, but today I was able to head back and paint the fourth waterfall off this trail. Lower Tabor Falls is the smallest of the four, but still a very pretty site.
I crossed the creek and explored several places trying to find the right view. The places where it seemed like I could set up my chair had too many limbs between me and the waterfall. I ended up finding a nice spot on a bank and just sat on my drop cloth with my feet almost in the creek. I never forget how comfortable my little chair is, but sometimes I do forget how stiff a person can get sitting painting without it.
The cycle of seasons did not stop just because I was not able to get outside for a week. The leaves are much fuller now and the light was incredibly green. There was no sky visible from where I sat which makes for a much different feeling painting. I tried to capture the new density of foliage and the green light. I think if I had had another hour to devote to the trees I could have accomplished both better, but I had to be back to town by 3 to play taxi. Though I have now painted all four waterfalls on and off this trail I do not feel done with the area. I think I could very happily paint each of them again.
Continuing my Habersham County only waterfalling, this past Saturday I visited Filmy Fern Falls down Pumping Station Rd. This beautiful site is just a mile walk down the gated, but very well maintained, gravel road also known as FS 187. At the end there is a steep but short descent off the road and across a small creek. It was not a strenuous excursion at all and there were no odd details like the week before. It made for a very relaxing day. One other group, a small family, did show up while I was there, but we kept our distance. I painted on the larger format paper again and spent extra time on the trees above the falls. I think they show an improvement over the last few.
As we finish our third week of staying home in an attempt to slow the spread of this new virus I don’t think anyone would disagree that this is the strangest Spring we’ve ever known. The weather gets more beautiful every day. Leaves are budding on the trees and our yards are filling with the color of flowers. Spring is my favorite season, and in the South it is especially gorgeous. Yet the joy of watching everything come to life becomes surreal when experienced simultaneously with the spread of sickness and panic. Uncertainty about the what the next days, weeks, and months will bring contrasts completely with our Lenten preparation. Counting down forty days of asceticism to an assured day of rejoicing is a comforting ritual. A viral spread with an unknown trajectory, schedule, and snowballing effects on every part of the world as we know it is quite the opposite. As I have the privilege of comfortably working from home with a fully stocked pantry and a healthy family I am aware that what seems strange to me is catastrophic for many many others.
In spite of my white liberal guilt, or perhaps because of it, last Saturday my desire to get out of the house and out to paint a waterfall was extremely strong. Social media comment sections have been full of people blasting others for filling up the parks and hiking trails. Many mountain communities are begging people to stay home, and some of the most popular trails and sites have been closed. I understand the logic of that. I do not wish to be part of the problem and even in normal times I vastly prefer solitude in the woods. I decided that if stay within Habersham county and restrict myself to waterfalls I know are unlikely to have many (if any) other visitors I would not be harming anyone. I was excited when my research led to the discovery that Tabor Falls, which I visited last year and is less than four miles from my house, is just the first of four falls along the same creek system. They are on an unofficial trail off a gated forest service road so I made sure I had the relevant GPS coordinates saved and got an early start.
The drive from my house really is extremely short so it took only minutes for me to see a Bridge Out sign. I had only a moment to wonder if the bridge was before or after my next turn and then I was at the blockade. I turned around and parked so I could consult the GPS for alternative routes. There was one long meandering possibility, but if I knew one end of the forest service road I was heading towards was gated then the other end probably was too. It did not seem like a risk worth taking. There are two other waterfalls I had painted before in the general area. Both are more known than Tabor but neither are especially popular. The closest is Nancytown Falls so I headed there.
At one of the trailheads for Nancytown Falls there is a smaller waterfall right by the road with a nice large parking area. It is not grand, but is very picturesque and I painted it over the winter. I had thought I might do a quick sketch there before walking up to the other, but when I arrived I found the area full of piles of belongings and a strange sign almost explaining why. It offers much to ponder but I did not let myself venture down that rabbit hole. I had the momentary thought that I should just go home, that this was another sign I wasn’t supposed to be out painting, but it was fleeting. I parked a bit farther down the road and set off.
The walk in is less than a mile on a thin but well maintained trail. It is not strenuous at all. The weather was perfect and no one else was there. I had hoped that all the rain we got over the winter might have washed out some of the fallen trees and brush that keep Nancytown Falls from being as pretty as it could be, however when I arrived I saw that it was just as clogged up as I remembered. There are a lot of pretty sections, but it is difficult to find a full view of them all together. I did a fair amount of scrambling around the rocks testing different spots for interesting compositions but most felt too precarious. I ended up choosing the only spot flat enough that I felt confident I could set my beloved chair without the risk of a tumble. It was a wet sandy spot, so I had to find flat rocks to keep the front legs from sinking.
The fallen trees really do distract from the view of the falling water, but I decided to just go with that. The purpose of my outing was greater than just trying to end up with a beautiful painting of a waterfall. I wanted to be outside in the sun and fresh air. I wanted to practice getting distant trees rendered better. And I especially wanted to continue to experiment with the watercolor on the yupo paper. All of those could be accomplished painting the fallen trees. I had brought my watercolor pencils as well as some tray watercolors so instead of using a ceramic marker to sketch like I do with the acrylics I used a brown watercolor pencil instead. I had gotten most of the most important lines sketched in and was trying to decide if there was any chance I could draw the most prominent fallen tree as a Dryad or if it would just look like a female version of Groot when a breeze came through. It felt good as the day was warm, but it took my paper right out of lap and blew it over the rocks to the water below. It then traveled over another set of rocks and into a pool below.
My sigh could probably be heard a mile back at my car. I could not go straight down to where the paper was lazily drifting around in circles. I had to climb back off the rocks, go back down to the trail, cross the creek and then climb back up on the other side. It is funny that just thirty minutes earlier I would have balked at the bouldering necessary to reach my yupo, but I did it quickly, without falling in, and with a fairly long stick in my grasp. I had to wait until it circled back close to where I was perched but I was able to fish it out. It was damp but otherwise completely unharmed. My drawing was even still there. I have been fascinated with how watercolors and alcohol markers can be so smoothly applied to and then lifted back off the plastic paper, but now I can also sing its praises as a waterproof option for plein air painting near water. It really is amazing stuff.
Once I got back settled, making sure to keep one hand gripping the paper at all times, it took a little over an hour to make my painting. I really enjoying experimenting with combining the pencils and the paint, adding extra water to “erase,” and using the other end of my painting brush to scratch back into wet areas to create white lines. It is not a painting that will end up in a frame, but it served its purpose. There are a few details that I think are nice and I like the way the colors are more muted and soft than my normal pallet. I ended up having a lovely day despite all the strange things that seemed to want to keep me from having my afternoon of plein air painting. I am very thankful that Habersham County offers so many natural places to explore without the risk of crowds.
Winter and weeks of seemingly endless rain are not conducive to plein air painting. However, despite the pandemic, Spring is finally here and I have found a new favorite waterfall. I first visited it before we were all social distancing, but as it has no official trail and few people seem to know of its existence, it is perfect for these strange times. I do not know if there is a much better spot for getting out of the house but continuing to avoid people.
I originally hiked to Cliff Creek Falls the weekend of March 7th when the rain finally stopped and it started feeling like spring. The combination of the welcome sunshine and the knowledge that the area waterfalls were running strong made me extremely eager to get out and paint one. The weekend’s calendar featured more commitments than I would have liked but I was determined to make it work. Saturday morning I decided on this one because it was relatively short bushwhack down an easily accessible road just a little past Tallulah Gorge in Rabun County. The tight schedule inspired me to take my new alcohol markers instead of my paints.
I got the GPS coordinates for the the waterfall, a starting point, where a logging trail could be followed, and where it was best to make the steep descent to the base of the falls from Hiking the Appalachians website. The drive took just a little over 30 minutes. The forest service road at the end was mainly smooth. The coordinates were easy to follow and the walk in only took about 15 minutes. It was not an especially beautiful hike. It must not have been that long since the area was logged, but the sky was so incredibly blue and bright that it made up for the lackluster vegetation. The first ten minutes were fairly level, then the last five were straight down. It appears that in 0.1 miles, I descended almost 200 feet!
There were quite a few downed trees and a lot of underbrush once I got to the base of the gorge. I could hear the waterfall but not see it. I had a momentary worry that I would not be able to get to the base and find a good place to sit and draw, but that was not the case. I was soon right under it, marveling that this was not a well known and commonly visited site. Cliff Creek Falls really is a gorgeous waterfall.
I truly did not have much time so I got right to work with my new markers. After mentioning that alcohol markers had sparked my curiosity, I was given the lovely gift of four (two grays, a black, and a clear blender) Copic markers and some Yupo paper so I could start experimenting. The markers are very nice, leaps and bounds above any I have ever used before, but what is really fascinating is using them with the Yupo paper. It is absolutely different from paper, canvas, panel, or anything I have ever drawn or painted on before. Because it is not water soluble you are able to work back into the marks you have already made. I am still learning and have accidentally lifted some lines that I would have liked to have kept, but I like the media.
I spent just about an hour on my sketch before I had to head back out. It is darker than it probably needed to be, but I like how painterly it looks. I felt like I got some interesting textures but missed being able to capture color as well. The hike back out was pretty brutal. I started too fast and soon had to stop to catch my breath. I tried to cut back and forth across the slope but I was still knackered by the time I reached the ridge. I must admit I may have never been so happy to see my car as when I finally reached it that afternoon.
It was not until I got home that I realized I had lost my favorite hat and my blue tooth ear piece. I searched my backpack, coat pockets, and the car without success. I had to go ahead and fulfill my obligations, but I kept thinking about the missing items all evening. The next morning I decided the best thing to do would be go back and do the hike again, look for my stuff, and see how the Yupo would do with some watercolors. I set out earlier on Sunday and with more confidence about where I would go and what I would find. The weather was once again perfect and I got to the site easily. I shifted my vantage point to a spot a little to the left of where I had worked the day before and started playing with my watercolors. I have never been a huge fan of watercolors because they are so unforgiving. However with the Yupo if I didn’t like a color or a shape all I had to do was go back in with a bit of water and lift it out. Working with it was a delightful experience and the whole thing took just a little over an hour. The finished painting is very different from my other waterfall paintings, but I am very pleased with it.
Hiking out the second day was not nearly as difficult as the first day. I paced myself better and did a lot more switchbacks as I looked for my missing hat. I never found it, but I did discover my earpiece deep in a pocket when I was looking for something else. I used a hiking GPS app to record my trek in and out so that I could use it to return in the future or share the path I took with others wanting to visit waterfalls that really are far from the beaten path.
The two weeks since the first two visits have been rather surreal ones as I shifted to working from home, my son was told not to go back to campus after Spring Break, and my daughter switched to online classes. I have taken walks around the neighborhood each day as well as spending time working in the yard to fight cabin fever, but the whole time I have been itching to be out hiking and painting. There is no better cure for worry and gloomy thoughts than the combination of fresh air, physical exertion, negative ions, and focus on the beauty of nature.
Yesterday’s sublime spring weather was perfect for another visit to Cliff Creek Falls. This time I took my regular kit of acrylics and 140 lb paper. I have recently gotten a larger pad of it, which did not want to easily be zipped into my backpack, but I eventually prevailed. I had no obligations for the day so I knew I could take the extra time needed for the larger surface area if necessary. Interestingly it took me the same two hours for a 11×15″ painting as I usually spend on a 9×12″ one.
The walk in was uneventful, though it was nice to see the signs of spring along the way and at the base of the falls. I sat in almost the same place as I did when I painted the waterfall. Again I was extremely comfortable in a lovely place, so blissful. I got a little sunburn on my arms but even after the painting was finished I did not really want to leave. I ate a snack and then laid back on a flat rock and did some forest bathing for a bit before I hiked out.
The painting turned out decently. I like how I added some of the leaves of the tree right in front of me in the upper left hand corner, but the distant trees gave me a bit of trouble. I think I need to get a smaller brush and practice making more delicate strokes for branches. The silver lining of this big black virus cloud is the absence of a commute combined with longer days means I will have time to enjoy more sunlight daily. I have plenty of trees in my own yard that I can use for models in the afternoons after I finish work. Hopefully more sensitively rendered trees will be posted soon.
Last year I had a lot of fun doing the Februscary Art Challenge. The prompts were not as inspiring to me this year, but that just adds to the challenge. Most of the artists participating are focusing on the -scary part, and I imagine mine will be rather dark in theme. However since I have been doing so many pen and ink drawings lately I thought I would try and do this year’s prompts in lots of vivid color.