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.
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.
This past weekend I had a lot going on but I still wanted to get out and paint a waterfall. I needed to find one that did not involve too long of a drive or walk. Even though online descriptions of Nancy Town Falls call it “unimpressive” I decided its incredibly close location made it worth checking out. It was less than a ten minute drive and then about a thirty minute walk to get to the falls. It is not the most spectacular waterfall I have seen in north Georgia, but unimpressive seems a bit harsh. The criticism may have to do with how difficult it is to see the different layers of the falls from one vantage point. I had to climb around a bit to really get a feel for how and where the water was falling. There is also the issue that the area is a bit overgrown and there are several trees that have fallen over the rocks. Taking this into account I decided to paint a more close up view of one of the more dramatic parts of the falls. Since time was limited I only spent about an hour painting rather than the two hours that is typical. I touched up the painting a bit once I got it home. There is another waterfall right next to the forest service road the trail turns into on the loop back. It is smaller but more picturesque. It will be a good option to go paint if I have another day that does not allow for a long drive or long hike.
I have painted 4 waterfalls between the last time I posted one and the one I painted yesterday afternoon in Union County. Two of them are on canvas and two on paper and for various reasons they just don’t seem quite done. I will write more about them and the process of finishing them when they are ready to post, but yesterday as I set out my goal was to not only paint a waterfall, but to have a finished piece before I hiked back out.
Blue Hole Falls is a small waterfall on the trail to High Shoals Falls. The trail head is off Hwy 17 about half way between Helen and Hiawasee in Union County. It is about an hour drive from my house but only 30 minutes from church so I packed a change of clothes and left right after service. It was a beautiful drive up the mountain and my car did great doing its first small ford. The parking area was incredibly full when I got there but I found a place of the side of the road, got changed and headed down the path. It is a fairly steep descent with a lot of switchbacks. It took about 20 minutes to get to Blue Hole Falls which I think it one of the most beautiful sites I have visited. It feels straight out of a fairy tale. There were only a couple of people there and I was tempted to sit right down and start painting, but I felt like I needed to see the other water fall first. It was less than 10 minutes to get down to High Shoals Falls. They are much taller and more dramatic, but there were tons of people climbing and wading around them. I took a few pictures and decided it would be a place best painted in the fall or winter when less people are interested in swimming.
When I got back to the Blue Hole spot there was only one other person there. A woman was sitting way over to one side reading so I chose the other side. I could not see her and I don’t think she could see me. I set up to start my picture and had about 15 minutes of bliss before the people started arriving. And they did not stop. Families with children from several different countries showed up to swim and enjoy the day. Then a small film crew filming what they keep referring to as “the montage” of young actors playing in the water. They did not ask me to move but they were fine with using every other bit of space.
The fairy tale mood could not withstand all my company, but I actually was still able to focus on my painting and try and create a picture that captured what the spot looked and felt like without the crowds. Several times people tried to speak to me about the painting and I did not even realize I was being addressed at first. I guess after 18 years of motherhood I am pretty good at tuning out background noise. At the end of two hours of painting I had a piece I was really quite pleased with. I think this is my favorite one, though it may be tied with the one of Becky Branch Falls. I think it is possible that having to focus on ignoring portions of my surroundings might be good for the painting. If I had been asked a month ago if I could enjoy painting surrounded by people as much as when I am by myself I would have said no way. However 3 of the last 4 sites I have painted have had crowds. The experience is different of course, and I do not get into the same deep contemplative state as when it is just me, the trees, and the falling water, but it is still delightful. I am so thankful to be able to keep having such joyful experiences.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Martin’s Creek Falls are on the same portion of the Bartram Trail as Becky Branch Falls, just about two miles further along. The trail is thin but well-maintained. The day was not especially hot compared to some of the ones we have been having lately, but there was plenty of humidity. Unlike a lot of the trails I have been exploring this one does not follow a creek or river. It was interesting to notice how different a walk feels without the sound of moving water as you go. The hike was not especially strenuous, but it had been over a month since my last hike. I had a little less breath and a lot more sweat when I reached the falls.
I did not see anyone as I walked in but when I got to the falls there were five or six young people arrayed all around it. I tried out a more distant vantage point but then noticed they were all putting on their shoes. I hovered long enough for them to set out on their way and then found a nice spot right at the foot of the falls to paint. The way the falls face made the light a bit strange. Clouds were moving in and out of the area (though luckily none of them dropped the threatened afternoon shower) and at times the rocks got quite dark and I had trouble picking out the details. This would not have been an issue if I had chosen a more centered composition, but as it is a lot of the intriguing rock formations I shifted the image to include are not really rendered. One other group of hikers passed by while I was painting. They had gone the full eight miles to Pinnacle Knob and were on their way back. I have not attempted a hike that long yet, but they said it was totally worth the effort. Once the weather cools off a bit I might give it a try.
Note: For quite some time I have wanted to visit Dick’s Creek Falls further down Warwoman Rd in Rabun County. However the road that leads to the trail head fords a creek. I would never have even thought to try that in my low slung little red car, but now that it has been replaced with a AWD vehicle I thought I might give it a try. I drove several miles down Sandy Ford road through beautiful countryside and farmland, but when I got to the crossing I could not bring myself to try it. I was out of cell phone range, by myself and I my new-to-me car had been mine less than a week. I could not take the risk of the water being deeper than expected or the current stronger. I turned around and went back to the Warwoman Dell parking area. I need to find an experienced off-roader to look at the creek and my car and advise me if I should attempt the crossing. If not maybe I can find someone with a more qualified vehicle to take me to the trailhead. After I went back to Clayton at the end of the day for a roof top drink and an art opening it felt like every other car I saw was a Wrangler or a lifted truck with crazy big tires.
Warwoman Dell is a nice little recreation area very close to downtown Clayton. There is easy free parking and a variety of trails. A simple little nature walk leads to the small waterfall I painted on 5/31. The Bartram Trail which “follows the approximate route of 18th-century naturalist William Bartram’s southern journey from March 1773 to January 1777” is over a 100 miles long, but only has to be followed about 1/2 a mile up a hill to see Becky Branch Falls.
The Bartram Trail can also be used to access Martin Creek Falls and Dick’s Creek Falls. They are next on my list…
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.
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 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.
Haven Falls is right past Glenn Ella Springs Inn. There is wide shoulder to the right of the gravel road and an old (logging?) road to the left. It is just barely over half a mile on an nondescript trail to get to this spot. The pictures I took do not fully capture how lovely this spot is. The cliff is almost a semi-circle of stacked looking rock with a free fall at the top then tiers. I could not find a dry place to sit far enough back to paint the whole scene at once so this is one I will have to return to as well.