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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…

Currahee Artist’s Guild

The town of Toccoa is just twenty minutes from where we live and I have been aware of it since we first moved to this part of North Georgia and discovered it was home to the only drivers license office in a three county area. It also boasts a lovely Episcopal summer camp my daughter has attended, one of the tallest free-falling waterfalls east of the Mississippi River, and an extremely skilled and honest mechanic. I have visited for each of those things but I never thought of it as an art destination. When a friend recommended I visit the Currahee Artist’s Guild in downtown Toccoa I was a bit skeptical, but both the downtown area which is in the process of being revitalized and the Guild’s gallery were charming.

Migration, Ceramic and Wood Sculpture

There was a nice selection of local art that is well presented and the guild members I met were very friendly. I became a member and entered three pieces in their Fall Arts and Crafts Show.

The show was at the same time as Toccoa’s Fall Festival. My boy and I had a nice time walking through not just the gallery but also the booths lining the streets. There was a chainsaw artist doing a demonstration which is always something I find fascinating to watch.

I was honored that one of my Nesting series, Migration, was awarded first prize in the Pottery category. The Fall show has finished but there is currently a very nice selection of small works and fine crafts set up as Christmas market. Some of my prints, cards, and coloring books are among the other great gifts available. If you are in the North Georgia area I would recommend a visit: 61 Doyle Street — Historic Downtown Toccoa, GA 30577