Bridge at Kensington

Bridge at Kensington

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Blue Ridge Parkway

I spent Thursday afternoon painting the mountains -- finally. I finally got up out of the deep forest of Pisgah (I'll go back) to several miles of higher elevation. The first overlook I stopped at, Pounding Mill Overlook, had more than enough vista for more than 180 degrees, to make me happy.

I can't say I'm at all happy with these first two mountain paintings. Painting the mountains is much more difficult that it looks. For my artist friends, it initially looks like a simple gray scale, with lightest in the back to darkest in the front. Wrong-o, I was.

At right is my first painting during this first Blue Ridge plein air session.

As painters know, adding white to a color not only lightens the color, it brightens it. The atmospheric perspective in these mountains is cool and blue-gray. To add to the difficulty, the green in the mountains in the foreground is warm and yellow and also has areas of the cooler, blue-gray-white mist. The light changes every 30 minutes or less.Yikes.

This is how the view from Pounding Mill Overlook changed a couple of hours after I started painting.

This is my second pochade during this plein air session. This time I painted from back to front, instead of foreground to background, and the view I was painting was more to the right of the above photo, as you can see below right.

All that said, it was one of the most exhilarating paintings sessions I've ever had. The temperature was cool, the sun was in my face and I never felt the sunburn I got because of the constant breeze at 4,700 ft. Lots of people came over to say hi and make comments. One man, after seeing my Michigan license plate, said "That's a long way to come to make a painting. " I heard quite a bit of "That's purr-tee. You sure got a touch." I'm not so sure about that, but I'm going back for more.

To the left is the view from Cherry Cove, about a mile south from Pounding Mill Overlook. As you can see, the choices are almost endless!

Check it out: The Blue Ridge Parkway

(My apologies for the weird spacing and formatting in this post. I've tried and tried but can't seem to fix it.)

Pisgah National Forest

I spent about two-and-a-half days in Pisgah National Forest, a magical place of more than 510,000 acres that transverses several counties in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina. There's a tremendous amount of interesting natural and conservation history here.

More than 85,000 acres was originally owned by George Vanderbilt, who built the incredible Biltmore Estate in Asheville. After Vanderbilt's death, his widow sold the land to the U.S. government in 1914 for $5 an acre.

At left is Looking Glass Falls, accessible from the road and said to be "the most photograhed falls in America."

The man responsible for building and maintaining the Biltmore grounds and gardens, the well-known landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, recommended Vanderbilt hire a forest manager. Gifford Pichot , who was later the first chief of the USDA Forest Service, created what was the first forest management plan in the country, for Biltmore Forest. He was followed by German forester Dr. Carl Schenck. Schenck had a degree in forestry -- unknown in the United States at the time -- and started the Biltmore Forest School in 1895, the first forest conservation school in this country. It was the start of modern forest conservation in America. I spent an interesting afternoon at the Cradle of Forestry in America, a 6,500-acre historic site nestled in Pisgah Forest.

All that to say that for someone like me who adores trees and forests, I was in my element. Pisgah has more than 1,734 miles of forest system trails, plus about 330 miles of national trails, including 226 miles of the Appalachian Scenic trail. I only did a scant couple files hiking into a delightful waterfall, Moore's Cove. Three of my many photos are below.

This one is from behind the falls. So cool, so peaceful.

Learned some interesting things from one of the senior volunteers at the Cradle of Forestry. The Forest Service provides an RV park with full hook-ups, well-equipped kitchen and dining room and shower house for its senior volunteers. The volunteers, all in uniform, are expected to work about half the time they're on assignment, leaving them lots of time to hike, explore or enjoy. The several I talked to clearly enjoyed the work -- mostly service jobs -- and loved where they were doing it. The gentleman I talked with had lived a number of places, including Ann Arbor, Mich.

From the trail to Moore's Cove, at left.

I became fascinated with brilliant orange tree fungus, as seen in the next two photos.

The railroad ties, below, are part of an old railroad trestle used in the early 1900s in Pisgah and are now part of one of the historical exhibits.

Forests, blue hills and ambitious plans

My apologies for not posting for more than a week now, after saying I intended to post daily updates. While I am digitally well equipped I am not well connected. I'm now beginning to understand the coffeehouse culture, because this is where I can get high-speed internet besides the library.

I mentioned the lovely old house I stayed at in Cincinnati, spending the night in a four-poster bed. This photo of the window at the top of the stairs should give you a flavor for its elegance.

Here's a photo of my charge, Simba. He's very mellow and tolerates me but misses his people. Like all older cats he sleeps most of the day, and scared me the first few days when I couldn't find him. I finally discovered him sleeping in the owners' closet, curled up on his mom's t-shirts. He was named Simba because in the winter he has a full chest mane that reaches the floor.

After resting from the two-day drive and intense push to get here, I began painting in the gardens last weekend. The house is on five acres, with lovely perennial gardens around the house and extensive raised-bed vegetable gardens in the back. The rest off the property is woods and I can't see any neighbors. That doesn't mean I don't know they're there -- I can hear lots of dogs, music from the neighbor behind and traffic from the paved and dirt roads. Just like home in Ferndale -- almost.

I'm fascinated by the light and mist in the trees, the woods and on the hills. It's incredibly difficult to capture well in paint. I decided to paint the garden bed with the woods behind for the sharp contrast between the warm yellow of the evening sunlight on the grass and flowers and cool blue shadows in the woods. This one took about two hours to paint.

The next evening, I got back to the house late and gave myself an hour to capture the dusk mist in the trees. Because I started at 7 pm that was all the light and time I had. I'm not entirely pleased with this first one.

It's easy to get lost in the forest, watching the dappled light dance off the leaves and branches. The woods around the house look completely different in the morning, from the afternoon, from the evening.

Here's a photo of what greeted me the other morning when I woke up and walked outside -- a common sight in the morning.

Here are a few more I hope you enjoy: