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.

Upper Moccasin Creek Falls

Upper Moccasin Creek Falls, Acrylic on Paper, 9×12″ 9/28/19

Last April I went to Moccasin Creek Trail with the intention to continue past the very popular Hemlock Falls to a lesser known but more striking waterfall almost a mile further up the creek. Despite having correct instructions I ended up following the wrong fork of the trail and ended up clogged up in rhododendron. On my way back I found the right spot to turn and ford the creek, but the water was high and the weather still a bit on the cold side. My courage failed me and I decided to just paint Hemlock Falls instead.

This weekend with almost drought conditions, 90 degree weather, and new experience getting soaked for the sake of following a trail I decided it was the right time to try again. I took my daughter, her friend, and our dog along. Despite the morning being overcast the parking lot at the trailhead was almost completely full when we arrived. There were a couple of places where the trail felt crowded for a minute, but luckily overall people were spread out enough. I was surprised to find the trail to be almost as muddy in many places as it had been in April. I had thought then it was because of all the rain, but it seems there are lots of springs all along the way. There were still some places where the plants seem very thirsty, but less so than on other trails I have been on recently.

Hemlock Falls itself is not one of my favorites but the hike leading to it as some really beautiful views. We only paused at the first falls for a minute and then continued on. The trail thins immediately, but is still clear. When it forked my daughter wanted to follow the way I had gone last Spring, but I knew I wanted to go the other way and cross the creek. Since she does not really understand how much more water I dealt with crossing earlier in the week (a post on my adventures down in the gorge is coming soon) she was concerned I would not safely make it across. She went with me as far as it was possible to go without getting her feet wet and then protectively watched me splash the rest of the way over. We had made plans on when and where to meet back up, so they went back and I headed on up the trail. It was immediately obvious that not many people make the crossing. The trail was there, but very thin and a bit rough in places. There were a couple of spots where recently fallen trees required a bit of bushwhacking to get around and there were a few more muddy parts to pass through. The trail climbed up away from the creek for a while and I wondered if I had made a mistake again, but I carried on. The trail seemed to get more and more overgrown, but never disappeared completely. After passing some huge rock outcroppings that would be interesting to return to sometime I started hearing the sound of water falling. The trail led straight down the steep bank to the incredibly picturesque falls. I really am surprised that more people do not make the extra trek to see them.

There are big boulders and a lot of fallen branches between the trail and the best view of the falls. I almost settled for an easy to get to, but not completely ideal place to sit. Again my recent experience in the gorge gave me the confidence to climb across and set up where my view of the scene was perfect. Not long after I got comfortably settled in my wonderful little chair the clouds started moving out of the way. The sun brought more sparkle to the water and gave the moss a wonderful glow. Even though it had been hot and humid on the trail the falling water cooled the air where was I was sitting. A few times a breeze came through strong enough to sprinkle leaves through the air which added to the magic.

I spent my normal 2 hours painting. I brought a new brand of white paint with me and was pleased that it seemed brighter and more opaque than my last tube. I am writing about this hike before the one I did on Thursday because I think the painting from that day may need a bit of this new white paint it help it feel completely done. I was a little late meeting the kids and the dog back at the lower falls, but they had enjoyed themselves and did not seem concerned. The clouds came back and thunder started to rumble on our way back, but we made it to the car right before a little shower started. I am thankful for another lovely day walking to and painting the waterfalls of North Georgia.

Panther Creek Falls… finally

Panther Creek Falls, Acrylic on Paper, 9×12″ (8/31/2019)

Panther Creek Falls’ trail head is less than a fifteen minute drive from my house and is one of the most popular trails in North Georgia. Most weekends the parking lot is full and cars are parked up and down both sides of old 441. I have hiked the trail several times before and did some drawing at the top of the falls last summer but I had never painted it. Almost every weekend when I am deciding which waterfall to go paint I wonder if it is the right weekend for Panther Creek. I usually decide it is not. It is a 3 1/2 mile hike to the falls and every time I have been there (even in the rain) there have been lots of other people there. But Labor Day weekend the weather was perfect and I had plenty of time so I set out early with my painting supplies and wonderful new early birthday present in my backpack.

Waterfallers who beat me there…

When I got to the trail head around 9am there were already half a dozen cars parked by the bridge. I passed a few groups of people camping and saw a couple of people along the trail, but the vast majority of the time I had the trail to myself. It really is a lovely walk. A week or so later my daughter’s cross country team ran it. I think that must be incredibly difficult. The rocks and roots in several portions of the trail required my full concentration at a walking pace. I cannot imagine what running or even jogging it would be like. I am glad she and her teammates all made it back in one piece.

Hiding in front of the little tree made all the difference

When got to the falls around 10:20 there were about 10 people already there enjoying its beauty. Most were sitting on a fallen log that crosses the beach area. The sand/soil was very damp so I would have probably had to try and find a place amongst them if it were not for the aforementioned present. I am now the proud owner of a little Big Agnes Skyline chair. At just barely over a pound in weight and small enough to fit in my backpack with my paint supplies it is incredibly easy to bring along. I had no idea how much I needed it until it was given to me. It is the perfect addition to my plein air adventures. Because I had the chair I was able to set up right at the edge of the water in front of a small tree. I was incredibly comfortable as well as partially hidden from my fellow waterfallers. More and more people arrived to swim, climb, and picnic. One man played simple melodies on a flute while he waded and watched his wife and grandaughters swim and climb. Other people’s sounds were not quite as relaxing, but with the sound of the falling water and my focus on my painting they were not all that distracting.

Starting with a savory snack

I spent about 2 and a half hours painting. I think I would have stayed longer but as the afternoon progressed and the sun moved across the sky my spot moved from shade to full sun. The added warmth combined with the change of light on the falls made me decide to call it a day a little after 1. As always the part of the trail that feels like a gradual descent at the start of the day felt like a steep ascent by the end. I know some people hike 20 miles or more in a day, but 7 feels like plenty for me. Overall it was a pretty spectacular way to spend the day.

The way paintings look to me while I am working on them outside really is quite different than how they look when I get back home. Sometimes it feels like the color has changed greatly while we travel. When I first started doing plein air painting I felt like the purity of the piece would be comprised if I worked on it after I left the site, but I am over that. I touched up some of the trees in the upper right hand corner of the painting back in the studio which I think made it a stronger painting.

July 5th at the Nth

Recent Works by Jennifer Herrera, Nth Degree Gallery, Boone, NC, July 2019

Having my first solo show would have been an exciting experience no matter where or when it happened, but being able to have it in my home town surrounded by so many of my family and friends in a gallery space I was part of over 20 years ago was really special. I am so thankful to all the people who supported me in so many different ways. At the risk of sounding like someone who just won an award I want to specifically thank a few of them…

Tony for taking me up to the Nth this time last year and encouraging me to ask for a show, Brian for saying “Yes” before he had even seen pictures of my recent work and answering all my questions along the way, my kids for not complaining too much the nights I painted instead of cooking dinner, Richard for listening to me go on and on (and on) about what parts of the images might not be quite right while they were in progress and for bar-tending, Dad and Suzie for hosting the beautiful pre-show reception at their house as well as all the driving back and forth in crazy downtown Boone traffic, Sophie for helping set up the food, Mom and Rachel for always being there for me even if they had to drive down the mountain after dark, my brother Matt for always being willing to stay till the very end, Rhonda and Johnny, Amy and Jimmy, and Martha for making such long drives, Jenn and Scott for flying across the country! (and also getting more than a fair share of the on and on-ing), Candace and Scott for understanding I needed time off from tattooing to spend in the studio, Mary Frances for not letting me give up on the sculptures that didn’t come out of the kiln perfectly, Richard F and other Nthers for helping to hang the show, and of course thanks to everyone who decided to buy a piece to be part of their collection -it is a such an honor that you want some of my art to be part of your home. I appreciate every one of you!

Perch at the Nth

Perch, Acrylic on Board, 13×25.5″ May 2019, $600

There is now less than a month before my exhibit at the Nth gallery. I have been painting and sculpting pretty consistently and my list of finished pieces is increasing. I went ahead and took 27 pieces to Boone this past weekend to be sure I had plenty of room in my car in July to bring the rest. My goal is to finish my four in-progress paintings and three in-progress sculptures before the end of June. If I stay focused I think I can do it.

I have not been posting my newly finished pieces either here or on social media lately so that that at least some of the works will be seen for the first time there. Even though looking at a piece on a screen is not the same as seeing it “in real life” it could still feel familiar. The idea of them debuting there is exciting to me. It has been hard resisting sharing them as they are completed, but I think it will be worth. However, Perch was seen this past weekend at Catch 22, the Nth Gallery 22nd Anniversary Fundraiser so here she is now.

Holcomb, Ammons, and Raper Creek Falls

Ammons Falls, Acrylic on Paper, 9×13″, 5/25/19
Holcomb Creek Falls, Acrylic on Paper, 9×13″, 5/25/19
Raper Creek Falls, Acrylic on Paper, 13×9″, 5/26/19
View of Holcomb Creek Falls from bridge

Being able to paint three waterfalls (as well as do three tattoos) over the three day weekend was a real treat. I know I mention it almost every time I make a post, but there really isn’t anything I find more blissful than walking to a beautiful site and painting it.

The drive to Holcomb Creek Falls’ trailhead was over an hour and involved going up into North Carolina and then back down into Rabun County and a long descent down a gravel forest service road. I was worried that the waterfall I found was not going to be worth all the time it took to get to it, but boy was I wrong. The Holcomb Creek trail is short and narrow but it leads to two dramatically beautiful waterfalls.

Ammons Falls

The first one (Holcomb Creek Falls) is the bigger and grander of the two, but there was family exploring it when I first arrived so I continued on to Ammons Falls. It was just about half a mile from where I parked to the observation deck at the second waterfall. Unfortunately the deck had been damaged and taped off as dangerous. The part that was open was too narrow to sit on. I considered crossing the line and seeing if I could sit on the more stable side of the bench but I try not cross that line from brave to stupid. Instead after studying the structure and the area around it I decided to go back and go around and under the decking. I was able to find a comfortable perch on a rock with the undamaged walkway behind me as back support. I painted the falls in my normal way, got a nice visit from a little blue butterfly, and only saw the shoes of two other hikers the two hours I was painting there. When I finished I walked back down the other falls with the plan to just take a few pictures and then head home.

There was no one at the main falls when I got back there and on closer examination it was even grander than I had realized. I did not feel like I could leave without drawing it so I found a shady spot and decided to just do a drawing before I headed home. I used a china marker and only tried to capture the upper half I could see from where I sat. I was basically pleased with the drawing after about an hour, but without color I felt like a lot of the majesty of the scene was lost. Even though it was well into the afternoon and I had lost my shade I decided to go ahead and get the paints back out. I spent another hour or so turning the drawing into a painting but there is still a lot more china marker than usual.

I found capturing the areas where there was less water flowing on the rock especially difficult. I think I need to take the time to do some detail views of wet rock as well as foreground vegetation. Those seem to be the weakest parts of my paintings recently, but overall I was pleased with my results. Two other couples came by and looked at the falls for a few minutes while I was painting, but the majority of the time I had solitude. I was at the site for 5 and a half hours, with about 2 and a half hours of driving time so it was a very full day but a blissful one.

On Sunday I got up and went to the early service at church. For a couple of weeks I have been considering visiting the unfortunately named Raper Creek Falls in Batesville, but was concerned that Google Maps has it listed as permanently closed. It is a 45 minute drive from my house, but only 15 minutes from church so I decided to go ahead and try and visit it in the little window of time between church and heading to the tattoo shop. I am so glad I did. It is a brief drive down the beginning of a forest service road and then a super short (but steep) walk down to the falls. It is not big but it is breathtakingly beautiful. There is a big slab of rock that the water flows along before it falls into a scenic little pool with another large rock outcropping on the side. There was a father and two sons walking up the trail as I walked down but the rest of the time I had the muddy but otherwise perfect little site to myself. For people who find themselves in the Lake Burton/Batesville area I highly recommend taking a minute to check this place out. Just be very careful at the bottom because the mud is very slippery.

This was the quickest waterfall painting so far (just barely over an hour) and the first one with a horizontal rather than vertical format. I would like to return with more time and sit a little ways up the trail to try and capture the upper tier as well, but I am pleased with how much of the site’s essence I feel like I was able to capture in a short time. I arrived to the tattoo shop feeling so relaxed and content that I forgot to be nervous while tattooing. I think the three pieces I did were stronger because of it.

Hemlock Falls

Hemlock Falls, Acrylic on Paper, 9×13″ , 4/27/2019

Hemlock Falls is on Moccasin Creek near Lake Burton in Rabun County, but with a Clarkesville address. It is an incredibly pretty walk but the falls were not especially spectacular. I think my enjoyment of them was diminished by how many people were out on the trail. I was spoiled by my winter hikes when I often did not see another person the whole time I was painting. That is obviously no longer going to be the case this spring and summer. I am going to have to get up much earlier.