This weekend’s plein air painting did not involve hiking or waterfalls, but was still a lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
Today I visited Minnehaha Falls, in Lakemont, right beside Lake Rabun. As the crow flies it is not very far from my house, but the road wraps around the lake (and I missed a turn) so it took me over an hour to drive there. But it was an absolutely gorgeous day and the drive was an interesting one. I had never seen Lake Rabun before and enjoyed looking at all the beautiful homes and boat houses perched all along its edges. After a while I had driven so far I started to wonder if the GPS was just going to dump me somewhere random and say I had arrived, but then right there on a gravel road among the lake homes there was a little sign and some stairs leading up to the trail.
It is a very short trail, just half a mile to the base of the falls, not strenuous at all. After all the cold weather and rain I would have welcomed a longer walk, but I am not complaining. There were several people at the base so I just took a few pictures and climbed up to the top. That gave me more of a work out.
I checked out the top of the falls and then slowly made my way back down as close to them as possible looking for the right place to sit and paint. I really wanted to be in the sun, but even though it was noon there was not a spot with direct light. About half way down I found a spot that was not muddy, had a nice view, and was at least partially sunny. I sat there and painted for about 2 1/2 hours.
I used a ceramic marker to sketch the scene first, then used it again to add details at the end. Again I only brought the primary colors, green and white, so it was nice to be able to get rich darks with the marker instead of trying to mix them from all the other colors. The light changed dramatically over that time. I would like to talk to some other plein air artists about how they handle that. I think it must always be an issue unless one is an extremely fast painter. There is a going to a plein air event in Sautee in mid April. I may need to take a day off and attend.
It seems like each post about walking to waterfalls and painting them all I really have to say is how much I enjoy it. It is starting to feel repetitive, so I will stop typing and just share a few more pictures.
I did not make any traditional New Year’s resolutions for 2019, but I did start the year thinking about what I would like my life to be like, and what sorts of things I want to do. Continuing the plein-air drawing and painting was at the top of the list, so to hold myself accountable I found a website with a list of the waterfalls in Habersham and the surrounding counties and decided to set the goal of visiting (and painting or drawing) them all this year. This weekend was cold and rainy, but Monday was sunny and a bank holiday. I have new fleece lined hiking pants and a warm purple hat my bun fits through so I packed up my paints and set out.
Because it was so cold and I was not sure how well I would handle it I picked the waterfall closet to my house. And it was very close to my house, less than ten minutes away. I cannot believe that in all the driving around we did when we were house hunting we never drove to the top of Chenocetah Dr to look out over Lake Russell and see the tower there. It is a beautiful spot and near the entrance there is a trail to a nice little waterfall.
In the heat of a Georgia summer a trail through thin woods is not very fun, but on a cold day the sun is more than welcome. Walking down was easy. I was moving quickly and the sun was on my face so I really didn’t notice the cold. Cascade Falls is a little over halfway down the trail. I checked it out briefly then walked the rest of the way down to Lake Russell Rd, a little over 2.6 miles total. I then turned around and walked back up to the water fall. The most dramatic part was the rock face on the shady side of the fall that was covered in icicles but I decided on a sunny spot right near the water to set up and paint.
I spent a little over two hours painting. At first, while the sun was on me I did not even notice the cold. I even took my coat and gloves off for a while. I tried to put down big solid patches of color right away so I would have a full image, even if it wasn’t very detailed. But I got in “the flow”* and lost track of the time and temperature. As the sun moved my spot became less ideal but I bundled back up and was able to stay till I felt the image was finished.
It was funny though, as soon as I had packed up the cold became very real and I started back up the trail way too fast. I quickly was totally winded and both freezing and sweating. I drank some water, ate some almonds, gave my self a pep talk , and then started back up the mountain at a more reasonable pace. I stopped once more for a little rest before I reached the top, but was soon safely back to my car.
Rhododendron Trail and Cascade Falls are not like the Gorge or some of the other trails to dramatic falls in the area that people would drive a long way to see, but for those of us that live in Mount Airy or Cornelia it is neat to be able to do a hike so close to home.
*For years I have used the phrase “the zone” when talking about the blissful state of total immersion in an activity, but wasn’t crazy about the semantics of it. It seemed more apt for athletes than artists. In Wabi Sabi Simple by Richard Powell, which I am currently reading, it is called “the flow.” I like the sound of “the flow” much better and plan on altering my vocabulary accordingly.
I spent the first day of the year working on my my art, my hope was to start the year by finishing a painting. I felt like it would have been a good sign of an artistically productive year ahead. I did not finish one that day, but I am happy to report that I finished several last night in time for them to be taken to the Sautee Nachoochee Center today for the next show. Three new pieces in the first half of the first month of the year seems like a good start.
The first two pieces are part of the Painting Eyeballs on Chaos series I have been working on. Though I have been slowly reading my way through Dogen’s essays I still have not gotten to that passage yet. I find the reading difficult, but it feels important to me to see the phrase in its original context. There is more I need to understand about it. I think I have just barely scratched the surface of what I feel like I need to learn. I already have a new board on the easel with some more eyeballs and chaos starting to get roughed in. This series may go on for a while.
I started the largest painting (Dawn over Chaos) on Christmas in my normal way, drawing in a basic design and then adding solid colors one by one, but before I got very far I had some technique conversations with the illustrious Anthony Coffey. I asked him about how he layers his colors and gets such a nice glow to them. He shared some of his secrets with me that I decided to start experimenting with right away. I took “in progress pictures” all along and the first three (in the gallery below) are my usual technique, then the next three show his influence. The final paintings do not differ hugely from my normal work, but I do think they may glow a bit more. I am going to continue to play with this new way of “glazing” and see where I can go with it.
The last whimsical little piece is more of a drawing than a painting. I have been trying to revisit meditation, but so far blankness of mind has alluded me. The contrast between the calm position of the hand and the swirling mass of colors around it was supposed to be about that, but once my children pointed out that it looks like a picture for the Circle Game I had a hard time continuing to take it seriously. The audience at the SNCA will probably see it as a mudra, but if it ends up hung in the tattoo shop all anyone there will see is the meme.
While driving back and forth to the NC for the holidays (twice) I listened to a novel that included a murder that was solved with the help of Google Time Line. The deceased’s girlfriend logged into his gmail account and was able to trace everywhere he went on his last day finding the clue she needed to what happened to him. Before listening to the story I knew that google was keeping track of where I went, but I don’t think I realized it could be viewed as a time line. I know I should be creeped out by the Big Brother aspect of it, but I am actually more curious about what it can tell me about where I go and how often. On Christmas Eve while sitting at Tallulah Gorge, enjoying the view and trying to draw a bit, I started wondering if Google Time Line could tell me how many times I had been there over the past year. I imagined an end of the year post that included the number of visits and some of the drawings I did while I was there. Turns out it is not that simple. It really is just a time line, it is easy to pick a day and see where you went, but not easy to pick a place and see when you went. I downloaded the JSON file with all my coordinates and times for 2018, but wow, that is a lot of data. I am not curious enough for a project of that scale at this time. Anyway, all this introduction, and all I really want to say is “I went to Tallulah Gorge a lot of times in 2018.”
I was there on New Year’s Day, on Thanksgiving, on Christmas Eve and I would guess several dozen times in between. I went by myself, with family, and took friends. I walked the North Rim Trail, the South Rim Trail, the Terrora Trails, went up and down all those crazy stairs by day and under the full moon, sat by the lake, walked the Short Line trail with Max and Sophie over and over, and did a wonderful Ranger led hike down the short but incredibly steep Sliding Rock Trail. Watching the kayakers come through that day was especially amazing. And it was also that day (in November) near the the trailhead where I found my new favorite place to sit: under the South Wallenda Tower.
I did my my first plein air drawing back in August from Inspiration Point. Since then I hiked to and drew other waterfalls which I have written about, but I have also drawn at the gorge many more times. Before finding my new spot I found it challenging to find a place to sit where I could be comfortable and out of the way of all the the other visitors. There are plenty of benches but, with the exception of the one at Inspiration Point, they just don’t have the views I want to capture on paper. The new spot, out of the way, with a grand view and no guard rail is so perfect. Today instead of oil crayons or colored pencils I took five tubes of acrylic paint. I spent over two hours painting the view of the gorge wall on the other side. It is a lot try and capture on one 9×13″ piece of watercolor paper. I know I would be more successful if I just picked one section at a time, but what thrills me about the gorge is the scale. The expanse and grandeur of it is what I want to try and get down on paper.
I will keep trying, but really, as I have said many times before, for me plein air is so much more about the process than the finished product. It would be nice to have some really striking drawings and paintings of beautiful sites of North Georgia. I have thought about how neat it would be able to sell prints (or originals) to the people who stop and enjoy watching me work, and maybe some day I will get there. But for now the act of being there, sitting in front of such majesty and being 100% focused on it, is exactly what I need.
“My foot slips on a narrow ledge: in that split second, as needles of fear pierce my heart and temples, eternity intersects with present time. Thought and action are not different, and stone, air, ice, sun, fear, and self are one. What is exhilarating is to extend this acute awareness onto ordinary moments, in the moment-by-moment experiencing of the lammergeier and the wolf, which, finding themselves at the center of things, have no need for any secret of true being…To be anywhere else [but the present] is “to paint eyeballs on chaos.””( Dogen Zenji, Shobogenzo) (249)
-Peter Matthiessen The Snow Leopard
It has been over a year since I read Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard. I have read and listened to many other books since then, but I think more images from his expedition to mountains of Nepal have stayed with me than from the rest of the stories combined. It is a very beautiful book. What he saw, how it affected him, and the words he used to share the experiences really resonated with me. If I was going to write a review of it I would have to keep returning to the thesaurus to find all the possible synonyms for breathtaking.
If it had not been a borrowed book (Thanks, Jim) I would have underlined many passages, but towards the end the phrase “painting eyeballs on chaos” just reached out and grabbed me and I have been exploring it in my mind and in images ever since. Any one who knows my art work knows that for years I have literally been painting eyeballs (and hand and birds) on and in chaos. Depending on the piece, the day and my mood there are many explanations of what all those chaotic swirls of color and pattern might signify. There is not even a consistency within my portfolio as to whether the writhing shapes are positive or negative, internal or external, but they are certainly pervasive. However since spending so much time thinking on this phrase and what it meant to Matthiessen I have wondered how much of what I am trying to express in my art work could be simplified down to the problem of not being in the present and needing to get there.
Sitting down to write this post reminded me that I never read Dogen’s Shobogenzo that Matthiessen is quoting, so I have just ordered a copy. I have read many Christian Mystics whose focus on mindfulness I believe is very close to the Buddhist idea of Zen, but it will be interesting to see if his writing matches what I expect (well, if I can understand a 13th century Zen master at all). Recent correspondence and conversations on meaning with intriguing friends have my thoughts going in many different directions, but I feel like somehow they will all spiral back together to the importance of being present here and now.
Anyway, this post is not a book report, a dissection of the meaning behind my art, and certainly not a dissertation on philosophy or religion. I really just wanted to share that as I continue to explore these ideas I am now not only painting and drawing eyeballs on chaos, but I am tattooing them on as well!
“It took too long for her to realize that what she thought were whispers from deep within the stone were actually just the echoes of her own tangled desires.”
I am so glad to finally be finished with this painting. I have been working on it off and on since May, and honestly it feels even longer. I put the final touches on it this morning in time to take it to the Sautee Nachoochee Center for the next show. It will feel very good to start on something new.
“It had not occurred to her that they would choose different sides.”
I worked on this piece from October 2017 to March 2018 and took more in progress photos than usual. I think it is fun to see how it developed.
I worked on this painting from April to October 2016. It has been shown at the Quinlan Art Center in Gainesville and the Sautee Nachoochee Art Center, but I just got it hung on the wall at my new house yesterday morning. It is now directly in front of me when I sit in the living room to drink my coffee in the morning to read and write. I have been spending a lot of time lately thinking about what the next step in my life should be, the reasons I might chose one path or another, and the validity of those reasons in the grand scheme of things. The most recent work I have been doing has been trying to face the decisions and the emotions that come along with them head on. But somehow this painting brought me to realizations that the others had not.
The symbolism is not obscured. One does not need to be an expert in art interpretation or psychology to see that the figure in the picture is lost deep in the tangle of vegetation, smothered but still making an effort to reach out towards the clearing. Though the little bird may have an opportunity to take flight, at first glance it seems unlikely the hidden figure will. I think the case could be made that a sacrifice has been made to give the little bird a chance. The fact that I know that underneath this painting is the last self portrait I attempted before moving to Mexico literally adds another layer of meaning. Even though the years of marriage and children have covered up who I once was, I like the new painting better than the old one. I do not wish to move backwards. If by chance someone should climb up out of the tangle I would not want it to be the same person who got covered up to start with.