Mount Airy’s Jennifer Long Herrera will be one of the artists featured in the Quinlan Visual Arts Center’s Winter Exhibition. She is excited to present a collection of recent pieces melding local landscapes with her pattern and color filled studio work. Her vibrant paintings will share the Green Street Gallery with paintings and mixed media pieces from Commerce artist Frances Byrd’s Wild Women series. Atlanta artist Ferdinand Rosa’s abstract work will be featured in the main Mansfield Gallery. The hallway galleries will have a group show from the Blackberry Creek Artists and watercolors by Karen Sturm.
The Quinlan Visual Arts Center, located on Green Street, in Gainesville, Georgia was founded in 1946 and has grown to be a comprehensive visual arts resource for Northeast Georgia. The Winter Exhibition will be up from December 8, 2022 through February 11, 2023. The opening reception on Thursday, December 8 from 5:30 – 7:30 pm is free and open to the public.
Jennifer Long Herrera last exhibited at the Sautee Nacoochee Center for the Arts in White County in July of 2020. Unfortunately, her solo show was hung during the height of the pandemic. An opening reception could not be held and traffic through the Center galleries and the adjoining Folk Pottery Museum was very limited. She is hopeful that many who could not attend then will be able to see the current exhibition. Only four pieces from the SNCA show will be repeated as she has chosen to feature recent work created between 2020 and 2022. She is quick to point out other differences between the two shows.
“In my last exhibits I presented two distinct bodies of work. One half was devoted to the plein air waterfalls I painted with limited time and supplies, while the rest was studio work with conceptual themes and imaginary scenes. There was no overlap. In the time since I have been focused on bringing the two together, focusing on what the work has in common,” she explained. “I have found that the contemplative nature of plein air and the emotional and spiritual themes that can be expressed through color and pattern work well together.”
Plein Air is a French term that means “out of doors” and refers to the practice of painting entire finished pictures outside in the landscape. Four true plein air pieces will be in the show. Herrera hiked to waterfalls in Habersham, Rabun, and White counties with paint and brushes in her backpack. She spent 2 to 3 hours sitting at the base of the waterfalls trying to capture not just the beauty of the view, but also the feeling of being there. She found the practice very rewarding but in time it grew limiting. Increasing the size of the paintings was very difficult logistically. It was no longer possible to finish an entire painting on site. The newest landscapes were started on wood panels out in nature but brought home to be finished. She took many photographs to refer to in the studio but found they did not capture what her eyes had seen. As her memory and imagination filled in the gaps these pieces began to resemble the more expressionistic work that she affectionately calls “the swirly ones.” There will be eight of these hybrid pieces featured in the show.
Herrera’s portion of the exhibit is balanced by her strictly studio pieces. The intensely colored paintings provide a less naturalistic counterpoint. Like the landscapes they seek to capture a moment in time, the feeling of a situation or season, but in a more symbolic and fanciful way. “I would say the theme of this show is transition,” Herrera shared, “Not only is there the change in how scenes are handled, but many of the images are themselves a representation of relational and spiritual transitions.”
Since taking my new position at work and starting the studying for my AAP exam I have not painted very much at all. The longer hours, the summer heat, and the joy of moving rocks around on Amos Creek seemed to have kept me from chasing waterfalls. I never made a decision to not go out to paint, I just didn’t go. Creekscaping relieves stress, is creative, and apparently gives me my fill of negative ions. I do not post many picture of my cairns and rock mosaics because they are always a work in progress, but the process of moving, sorting, and stacking them continues to be blissful. I really do hope that someday I will have property with my own creek passing through it so I can spend time at it daily.
I was not able to visit Amos Creek this weekend, but I guess it was a blessing in disguise because it inspired me to get back out to paint a waterfall. It had been over four months since the last time I hiked out to paint one and I felt a bit of trepidation as I got ready. Snakes, bears, and stinging caterpillars have made appearances since the last time I went bushwhacking and somehow I did not feel up to blazing a new path. I decided to go back to the trail off Seller’s Road (FS 89A) that I know fairly well and has a good selection of falls. I headed towards Tranquility Falls because I have only painted it once before and I did not remember it as being very difficult to get to.
Tabor Falls was the first waterfall I visited using GPS coordinates instead of following a trail back in March of 2019. That first time the trail was so faint that I had to be very focused to not miss my turns. That is no longer the case. The path is now very well-used and someone has spray painted trees to mark the way. The creek crossings felt a bit different but it was easy going to Tabor Falls and then on to Lower Tabor Falls. I had gotten a later start than I meant to so I did not stop at either. After Lower Tabor Falls the path was faint like I remembered and I lost track of it for a while but followed the water down to where I needed to cross and start back up the other fork. The way up to Tranquility Falls was a little rougher than I remembered, but not horribly so. The falls themselves were just as lovely as I remembered with a dramatic rock face right next to them. I spent almost two hours painting.
Right before I accepted my new position in March I had been working on a new series where I was attempting to combine my plein air painting with my studio work. Some of the images showed some promise, but overall I was struggling with finding the right combination of contrast and subtlety. I had been working on larger panels and the transition from on-site to in-studio had been difficult as well. This afternoon I decided to work on paper and at a size I felt I could cover in one visit. I also sketched the outline of a figure on a couple of sheets before I left the house. Once I was set up I picked the one that seems to make the most sense compositionaly and painted the waterfall around and on it. I am very pleased with how this worked and plan to try the same process again soon.
Hiking out was a little more eventful than I would have liked. I took a slightly different route back to the trail but found it again right by Lower Tabor Falls. When I got up to the top of Tabor Falls I decided to stop for a minute to drink some water and take in the dramatic view down the cliff. When I shrugged out of my back pack it slid a little and though it didn’t go far my water bottle got loose. My red Klean Kanteen that I have carried with me everywhere, every day for two, maybe almost three, years rolled right over the edge. The urge to try and go after it was strong, but my respect for the slipperiness at the top of waterfalls is stronger. It was not safe to try from where I was. From the comfort of my living room it is easy to think I should have gone back down the trail and found a safe place to descend and then look for it from the bottom, but at the time I was thirsty and tired and ready to get home. Building rock sculptures that will be washed away by the next heavy rain continues to be a lesson in impermanence and letting go. I am not going to let myself get all deep or poetic writing about a water bottle, but the loss does feel significant. Mr. Bezos can have me another here by Tuesday, and make it blue, but well, you know…
Today I visited Secret Cove Falls for the second time. The first was in spring and the mountain laurel was blooming. Today it was bright and sunny, but still very much winter. There was less water flowing and most of it tended to fall more to one side; of course the colors were all very different. If it was not for the distinctive rock face to the left of the fall it might be hard to recognize them as of the same site.
There is not a trail to get to the “Secret Cove”, which I find surprising since it is quite close to Forest Service Trail 155 off Nancytown Road. It is such a lovely spot with dramatic walls of rock and several comfortable spots to sit and take it all in. It is much more picturesque than Nancytown Falls which does have a well built trail. One of these days I am going to have to do some research on trail building and how paths get chosen to be developed. A direct route from FST 155 to the waterfall is barely half a mile, but both in May and today I took much longer routes in than necessary. It would be great if this waterfall had a true trail leading to it.
The route in orange is from my first visit. The blue line from today is embarrassing, but it is an honest depiction of what I did. The first time I parked on the road near the line in the very top right of the map. I made my way through the undergrowth across the top and then came down the creek to falls. It was not very easy going so I tried a more direct route out. I made some wrong turns but then found FS155 and followed it back to the road. Today I parked right by the FS155 trail head and planned to use it and then take the same direct route. But I did not remember how close to the road I should leave the trail. I followed it way too long as it led away from the waterfall and then accidentally turned the GPS tracker off. When I realized what I’d done I should have just turned around and gone back to where my last track had veered off, but I am stubborn. I just kept going and tried to correct myself. I ended up going way out of my way, but it was fairly easy walking as long as I went around the mountain laurel thickets. I saw some beautiful spots on my way.
When I got to the falls I took pictures for a while and then found a comfortable place to set up. I got off to a good start. Last week I could not finish my painting of Lower Rhododendron Falls because I got too cold, so today instead of a panel I just brought a pad of the 9×12″ watercolor paper I used for my first plein air paintings. It was nice to have a smaller surface to cover and I got my sketch and first blocks of color in quickly. Spending time with talking art with an Impressionist has changed the way I look at the scenes as I paint. I find myself much more aware of the light. My paintings had been more about the capturing the composition (and I hope the feeling) of the scenes. The texture of the rock, the flow of the water, and the pattern of the surrounding vegetation felt more important than the light. I think this change of focus has helped the paintings improve, but it has also added extra challenge. As the image starts to take shape I have been influenced to ask myself, “where is the light coming from?” This is an easy question the first time it is asked, but as time passes the answer can change dramatically.
Today I spent about two hours painting and the light changed completely while I was there. Unfortunately the finished product suffers for it. I think it may be time to either do some reading up on how other plein air artists solve this problem, or give in and do more finishing work in the studio by photograph. I do not enjoy painting in the studio nearly as much as I like being out on site, so I am hoping the former is possible.
The way the light came through the trees behind me made it impossible to geta good picture of the painting as part of the scene.
Though I worked on several studio pieces, no plein air painting happened for the entire month of December. I have the mildly superstitious belief that what you are doing as the new year begins is symbolic of what the rest of the year will bring, so it felt imperative to get back out there as soon as possible. On Saturday the 2nd I chose Rushie Falls, in the Lake Russell WMA, because it looked like a short bushwhack with no creek crossings. Days with heavy rain of course make the area waterfalls run full and especially beautiful, but it also makes getting to them a bit more treacherous. An uncontrolled slide down a muddy bank into a swollen cold creek is not part of what I want for 2021, symbolic or otherwise.
I set out right around mid day. I saw more cars than usual when I turned on to the forest service roads. It was my first time on this section of FS 92 so I wasn’t sure if it is a more frequently used road or if the holiday weekend had more people out. Browns Bottom Road, FS 92B, which I have driven a lot lately, is maintained better. There was one place where the creek seemed to be flowing straight down the road and a couple of sections where I needed to be very intentional about where I aimed my wheels, but I had no problems getting to the pull out right next to Rushie Branch. The creek was running as high as I expected and had an amazing color to it. My pictures do not capture it, but it seemed kin to the almost glowing color in the water near glaciers. There was a trail from the pull off along the creek and I initially thought it might be a fairly visited water fall. Unfortunately the trail just led to where the site’s visitors leave their cans.
I have found plenty of trash on my waterfall hikes before, but I think this was the largest most intentional pile. I admit I do not understand how someone could appreciate how nice it is to sit in the woods by a creek and enjoy a “few” drinks, but then decide it was too much trouble to take the cans back out. But just because I do not understand does not mean it is uncommon. -sigh- Anyway, I followed the creek for about a quarter of a mile. The day was cool but not cold, the damp enhanced the color of the closest things while muting everything else. I spent a long time looking at what I think were polypore fungi on a fallen log. They seemed to beg to have their portraits painted. I have started a watercolor study of them.
The walking was easy at first, but then I ended up in a patch of mountain laurel. I considered backtracking and trying to go up and across on the ridge, but my GPS app promised I was quite close to the waterfall. I went ahead and wove my way through wishing I did not have the panel I was planning to paint on in my hands. I need to prioritize getting a way to attach them to the outside of my backpack, though when it comes to mountain laurel or rhododendron thickets that might make things even more difficult. It is not a great feeling to think you have ducked under a branch and then have it grab hold of your backpack and keep you from moving forward. Luckily I avoided that experience on this hike. Once I got past the mountain laurel I was very close to the top of the falls. There is a long vertical rock face alongside the waterfall on the side I was approaching from so I had to go past it to find a place that seemed safe to climb down. The thick layer of leaves on top of the saturated ground do not offer much in the way of traction so I went very slowly and cautiously. All my kit and I made it safely to the bottom where we found the picturesque winter waterfall scene.
There is only a narrow strip of sand and stones between the wall of rock and the creek so there was not much exploring that could be done. Without my wonderful little chair there would not have been a single dry place to sit. I walked back and forth a bit taking a few pictures and finding what seemed like the best place to sit. It was a bit farther back than I usually chose but I think that worked in my favor. The dripping moss and leaves on the rock cliff adds a lot of interest and I think balances well against the leaning tree. The low cloud and recent rain made for a pallet of colors very different from any of the other waterfall paintings I have done. The weather was cool, I had to put my jacket back on, but I did not get uncomfortably cold. I painted for a little over three hours and was very please with both the process and the product. After taking my final pictures I started hiking out. I did not want to go back through the mountain laurel so I climbed straight up to the ridge. Once I managed to catch my breath the way back from there was open and effortless. When I got back to the car and reexamined the painting I felt pretty convinced it was one of the strongest I have done so far.
The painting of Rushie Falls has been simply framed in rustic barn wood. It will be on display at the Sautee Nacoochee Center’s gallery until March 7, 2021.
I have painted over a dozen waterfalls since the last time I wrote a post for this site. All of them have been in Habersham County and most have been in the Lake Russell recreation or wildlife management area. Since five of them are accessed via Rhododendron Trail I will start my catching up with them. The Lake Russell trail head is incredibly just 3.3 miles from my front door. There is another trail head near the Chenocetah Lookout Tower that I started from back in January 2019. It took me a little longer than I would like to admit to realize they were the same trail. This summer I have been focused on the first mile of the trail, which stays close to the unnamed creek, and is much less steep than the portion starting near the tower.
There are four waterfalls that are right off the trail and two that involve a bit of a bushwhack up a different tributary. I visited all of these waterfalls on June 20th to get a feel for each of them. I painted Lower Rhododendron Falls that first day and then went back the next day to paint Upper Rhododendron Falls. On July 4th I painted Peek a Boo Falls, on August 2nd I painted Tiny Dancer Falls, then on August 8th I painted Trailside Falls. There is another small waterfall close to the trail head that I have not seen a name for. Unfortunately there is a fallen tree across it at the moment. If it gets washed away I may try to paint it as well.
The trail is an easy one to walk and in good shape. It seems like it would be a more popular hike. A few times there has been another car parked at the trail head when I arrived or left, and there have been fresh mountain bike tracks, but I have not actually passed anyone else on the trail or seen anyone while I was painting. The bushwhack to the Upper and Lower falls is a moderate one. There are some steep and slippery spots but they are not extreme. As is often the case, the first time I visited them I made it more difficult than it needed to be, but the second time it was fairly simple.
There was not a great spot to sit and get a full view of the lower falls so I set up a little farther back than I usually do and included a mossy tree in the foreground. I was not happy enough with the finished piece to put it in a frame. I feel pretty sure there is a better way to capture it and I will go back and try it again eventually.
The next day at the upper falls I had the perfect spot front and center to paint what is currently one of my favorites of all the waterfall paintings I have done so far. I believe it was also the first I did after it was wisely suggested that I change out my Cobalt blue for Cerulean.
When I returned to paint Peek a Boo Falls I brought a piece of birch plywood instead of paper. It is taller and thinner than my usual format and had to be tied to the outside of my backpack, but was not much heavier. The narrower composition allowed me to leave out most of the dead fall at the base of the falls. I am planning to cut more panels and explore how practical they are. I am curious how much bigger I can go and still be able to finish a whole painting on one visit. Several of these paintings took close to three hours to finish.
Tiny Dancer Falls is also called Cascade Falls on some sites, and I actually painted it back when I first started doing plein air painting back in January of 2018. There was ice all around it that first day and I was very new to the practice. The two paintings are not very similar at all.
Trailside Falls has well worn path to its top, which I walked down on each visit. However to find a good spot to paint from I had to make my own way down to the base. There is a lot of blow down around this one as well, but I was able to arrange my composition to eliminate all but one thin tree. It do not think it as distracting as I feared it might be. The use of more white in the foliage at the top of the falls I hope helps create a greater sense of depth in this piece.
I highly recommend Rhododendron Trail for the number of waterfalls so close together near the trail, as well as for its lack of popularity.
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/
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.