Strange Spring

Strange Spring. Watercolor and pencil on Yupo, 9×12″ 4/1/2020

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.

Cliff Creek Falls

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.

Could not have asked for a bluer sky

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!

Cliff Creek Falls

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.


Cliff Creek Falls, Alcohol Marker on Yupo, 12×9″ 3/7/2020

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.

Cliff Creek Falls, Watercolor on Yupo, 9×12″ 3/8/2020

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.

Cliff Creek Falls, Acrylic on Paper, 11×15″, 3/21/20

Februscary Art Challenge

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.

Prompt 1: Love Bite

Love Bite, Alcohol Marker, 9×10″ 2/5/2020

Prompt 2: Ghastly Bouquet

Ghastly Bouquet, Acrylic and Colored Pencil, 12×9″, 2/7/2020

Prompt 3: Valentine’s Card

Valentine, I’m… , Mixed Media, 9×12″, 2/12/2020

Prompt 4: Love Potion #9

Love Potion #9, Mixed Media on Paper, 12.5×20″

Prompt 5: Be My Valenstein

Valenstein, Colored Pencil, 9×12″

Prompt 6: Haunted by You

Haunted by You, Alcohol Marker on Yupo, 9×12″

Vivid Dream in the Schoolbus Graveyard

Every weekday for over four years I drove the portion of GA Highway 365 from Habersham County to Gainesville. No matter the season or the weather when I neared Crane Mill Rd I would look up the hill at the line of painted buses creating the wall around Alonzo Wade’s salvage yard. They fascinated me as individual works of art, as an overall installation, and as a story I wanted to know. I was so curious about the artists, the site, and how permission for painting was received. When I realized that every year new murals were added I decided I desperately wanted to paint one myself. This past weekend my wish came true.

Last year I actually found the contact information for the artists, Nack and Arm, who have organized the project for the last nine years, but it was too late to get involved. I followed them and #schoolbusgraveyard on social media so I would hopefully have more notice this year. It worked. In early November, as soon as they posted it was coming close to time, I painted my concept on a piece of board, photoshopped it onto a bus photo and sent it in. It was accepted with very little fanfare. They liked my idea. I was told what dates to show up and very little else.

I will admit that not knowing what to expect did cause a bit of trepidation, but mainly I was just excited. I figured that nothing really mattered beyond the fact that I got to paint a bus. I loved the idea of trying to make one of my images very large scale and for it to be somewhere that it could be seen by lots of people. I started thinking logistics and materials and realized I would need help. I first asked my children if they wanted to take part in painting a bus. They declined. I next asked Richard and Scott. They both enthusiastically accepted. Knowing they were both going to be part of the project soothed my stress considerably. The only worry left was the weather. The week leading up was incredibly wet and there was no rain date scheduled. I worried about trying to paint while wet and cold. But as Richard has taught me, good kit makes all the difference. Good boots, coated winter gloves, and all sorts of weather appropriate clothes were collected along with the painting supplies. By the time December 14th rolled around we were very prepared.

Before: The Beulah Baptist Church Bus

Richard and I got to the Schoolbus Graveyard by 8am Saturday morning. The organizers and an artist that had flown in from Denver were already there. We introduced ourselves and were told to just walk around and pick a bus. We walked the maze of vehicles twice considering our options before choosing an old church bus that was easily accessible. It was cold so there was no point in standing around. We got to work setting up and then I jumped right in to trying to rough in her head and shoulder. Scott soon arrived and joined in. We worked solid barely taking any breaks until after 3 in the afternoon. We ate a quick late lunch then continued to work until dark. After cleaning up and taking a quick walk around to see everyone else’s progress it was wonderful to join everyone around a campfire to hang out and socialize a bit. A lot of the artists were camping out right there, but our team was glad to have nice warm beds waiting. We were especially thankful for Rhonda and Johnny’s hospitality.

I started by outlining the design in white and the guys filled in the black around it
Starting to add some color
End of the first day

We got enough done on Saturday that we were able to have a more leisurely day Sunday. We went to church first and by the time we got back to work the sun was shining bright. The added warmth was lovely. I worked on smoothing and shaping our dreamer’s face and then we cleaned up edges all over. By the time the sun started going down we were ready to call her finished. The bus’s location while we were painting her is not visible from the road, but the owner of the salvage yard plans to shuffle the newly painted ones around a bit. Soon you should be able to see her at the top of the hill looking up from 365.

Cleaning up the white lines

Everything about the experience was wonderful. I am so appreciative of Richard and Scott’s help and support. I could not have done it without them. All the other artists we met were so friendly as well as talented. I find myself wishing we could go do it again next month instead of having to wait a full year. If anyone has any walls or old vehicles that need some color and swirls let me know…

Look how she glows in headlights!

Our Vivid Dreamer is in good company:

The Schoolbus Graveyard is located at Alonzo Wade Rd, Alto, GA 30510. It is 10 minutes south of Cornelia and 20 minutes north of Gainesville, GA on Hwy 365. If you visit on a weekday before 4pm you can check in at the office and look around inside. On weekends or later in the day you can check out the murals on the exterior perimeter.

Nancytown Creek

Today I went plein air painting for the first time in over a month and a half. I did not have time for a long drive or hike so I just went four miles down the road to paint an easily accessible but pretty site I had passed when I painted Nancytown Falls over the summer. Even without a hike or a dramatic waterfall it was wonderful to be out in the fresh air, listening to the water, and with paint and brushes in my hands. I do not know how I had let so much time go by without doing something I know brings me joy. Even if I cannot go to a waterfall every weekend I hope I do not let so much time pass before the next one.

I must admit that when I first starting painting today I thought maybe I was too out of practice. I could not quite seem to capture the way the mix of green, brown, and orange leaves created a muted backdrop behind the creek. Right when I thought maybe I was capturing it there was a dramatic shift in the light. I realized the sky, which had been perfectly blue when I sat down, had faded to grey and the air was cooling. I wondered if I should just take a few pictures, pack up, and head home. Painting landscapes in the studio is not as fun and I don’t think I capture them as well, but it probably is something I need to practice.

I was gazing up at the sky above the scene trying to decide what I wanted to do when I heard a rustling over the sound of the rushing water. I was looking in just the right direction to see a heron take off from the upper part of the creek. It was fairly large and quite close. I do not think I took a breath as I watched it fly up and over my head, across the road, and into the woods on the side. It was sublime, a perfect moment in the midst of a lovely afternoon.

The magical feeling did not disappear when the heron did. The light shifted again and even the fallen leaves seemed to have a glow to them. The colors on the pallet started cooperating. I was able to finish the painting in time to stay on schedule. The rest of the afternoon and evening felt altered by the experience. My mood stayed lifted and even mundane tasks and responsibilities seem a bit nicer. I am so thankful the life offers such blisses.

Visual Search

I do not usually use Microsoft Explorer or their search engine, Bing, but I had a task I needed to do in a different browser today. When I opened a new tab I was given the option to search with an image rather than text. It may have been around for a while but it was completely new to me. I found it fascinating to drag some of my images into the search window and see what Bing thinks are similar to them. If there was not so much work to get done I think I could keep doing it all day…