Friday, April 16, 2010

Bluebell Time Again

Bluebells on a Hill, oils on canvas panel, 11" x 14." 

The Potomac from Mt. Aventine, oils on panel, 12" x 9." Contact artist for prices.

That bluebell time of the year is here again and the weather was glorious. I went down to visit my friends in Accokeek for the weekend so I could paint the bluebells at Chapman's Forest.  Patrise wasn't sure there would be many blooms--the previous weekend the flowers had seemed skimpy, so on Saturday afternoon I set out to explore.

Thanks to the recent rain, the bluebells were lush, but with so many deadfalls, some of them huge old trees, the trail was hard to follow. On the way back I somehow lost the trail, but managed to find my way to the main road. By then there was no time to go back with my painting gear. It would be dark before I was finished and I didn't relish the thought of being lost in the forest at night. Instead, I walked up to Mt. Aventine, a colonial-era mansion on the property, to paint the view from the back or the house.

When I got there, a couple was enjoying a picnic on a table by the house. I greeted them, saying I hoped I wouldn't disturb them and started to set up on the back porch of the house. I found that the bottom screw-plate of my Guerilla Paint Box had come off somewhere and I couldn't secure it to the tripod. Not dissuaded, I sat on the back steps and set the box on the floor to paint.

I've painted this spectacular view a few times before, and it's difficult to compose because the wide panorama is so symmetrical. To take the curse off, I decided to try a vertical format and focus on just one small part of the view. The colors were very hard to render: all that lovely variety of greens of the new foliage, particularly the yellow-green of the ancient oaks, against the silvery hues of the Potomac just defeat me. I know I didn't get them all here, but I think the composition works.

Back at my car I was relieved to find the screw plate to my paint box in the trunk. How could it have become loosened from just the vibrations of driving? And yet it did.

Sunday morning Linda, Patrise and their dogs joined me. The ladies suggested we cut directly through the woods to save ourselves the distance down the driveway to the trailhead. I was loaded down with painting gear, so the suggestion was welcome and we struck our way across the forest. Once at the site I set up my easel on the hill, trying to avoid stepping on the bluebells. Patrise & Linda were sitting on a log sketching a short way from me when the dogs caught some scent and went wild. I was so focused on my painting I didn't notice what they were after until Patrise asked if I'd seen the fox--I hadn't.

After about an hour my friends left with the dogs and I stayed to struggle with my painting. I was enjoying the songs of birds in the stillness when I heard something stir over by a huge fallen log (on the left). I looked up and there was a small red fox--perhaps a yearling--cautiously poking from under the trunk just a few feet away. I think he was more surprised than I--he turned around and took off the moment he saw me. I wondered if this was the poor creature the dogs had chased after... Later as I was getting ready to pack up, a herd of about 10 panicked deer came crashing through the forest at a gallop and disappeared down the gully. More dogs, presumably--deer have little fear of humans around here.

My painting of the bluebells turned out underwhelming--it doesn't quite have the right colors to give the impression of this spot on such a lovely spring day. I'll have to try it again next year. Sometimes it seems the more beautiful a place, the harder it is to paint.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Cherry Blossom Perfection

Painting the Cherry Blossoms at the Arboretum

Cherry Blossom Perfection, oils on canvas board, 11" x 14." Contact artist for price.

Yesterday I met up with Lee Boynton and three other students for a one-day workshop at the National Arboretum. We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day: sunny and warm, with the cherry blossoms at their peak of perfection, as were the magnolias and a myriad other flowers.

In the morning we painted this fabulous old cherry tree near the visitor center. As the hours wore on, more and more visitors came until there was quite a crowd under the enormous tree. A photographer with very professional-looking gear stopped and wanted to take my picture; I consented and asked him to take another with my own camera that you see here.

For our afternoon painting, we drove over to the Asian Garden. This part of the Arboretum sits on a steep hill overlooking the Anacostia River. We ate our lunch sitting on the grass near a tree-sized Camellia covered with white flowers. After lunch we set up in what is called the Central Valley to paint. I was tempted to wander about to examine the exotic plants, among them a beautiful variety of Siberian skunk-cabbage with white flower spikes new to me, instead of painting, but being conscientious, I buckled down to dash off another painting before the end of the day.

Valley at the Asian Garden, oils on canvas, 12" x 9." Contact artist for price.

I lingered a bit later than the rest of the students to finish this and paid the price, getting caught in the worst rush hour driving I've seen in a while. It had taken me just a half and hour to drive there in the morning; at 4:00 PM it took a full hour to crawl on 295 from the New York Avenue exit up to the I-95 exit off the Beltway, and another forty minutes slogging on I-95 to get home. I frequently wish all the other cars would magically vanish so I could have the road all to myself...