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.