Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Ridge Trail at Daniels

Patapsco Valley Heights, watercolor, 14" x 10."
Continuing my exploration of the Daniels Area of Patapsco Valley State Park, the other day I found my map of the park and decided to hike a new trail. This trail climbs up behind a hill by the parking area and runs along the top of a rocky ridge on the southern bank of the river. There are several scenic overlooks where one could still catch glimpses of the river and the valley beyond through the emerging leaves. In another week the vegetation would be too lush to see much until the leaves come down.

This particular spot, with a clump of ferns perched on a huge boulder seemed perfect for a painting so I looked no further. I wedged my camping stool on another rock ledge and worked from this precarious vantage point. After the painting was almost complete I ate my lunch, enjoying the play of light and shadow cast by the puffy clouds. I put the finishing touches on the painting and waited for the paper to dry before repacking my gear. A breeze from the west cooled the unseasonably warm afternoon.

The trail continued along the top of the ridge for another half-mile and then descended a bit. A pair of woodpeckers were calling each other through the forest, and I caught a glimpse of one red head and a flash of speckled wings--probably a red-bellied woodpecker. I saw an old abandoned house I had passed by the week before, but the trail didn't lead there--instead, it continued diverging away from the river.

Further down, a side trail ascended again to another scenic overlook. I went up to orient myself and glimpsed the railroad tracks on the north shore--this must be about where I'd been the previous week when I painted along the river. I went down the hill and back onto the main trail which began to wind along a creek lined with skunk cabbage plants. This trail eventually met up with the riverside trail, and I hiked back on that.

Close-up of Wild Columbine
I looked for the spot where the Columbines had been and there were even more blossoms open this week--several clumps spilled farther down the rock and there was one plant right at ground level so I could take this close-up. Such a beautiful flower!

The Dutchman's Breeches seemed to have finished blooming--I couldn't find a single flower--but the fern fronds were starting to unfurl, and I found Maidenhair ferns, Miterwort, and Star Chickweed on the shady hillsides.

Miterwort (Mitella diphylla) and Maidenhair fern

As I was nearing the parking lot, a bluejay screeched at me, and there were two bluejay fledgelings flitting near by, recognizable by their tiny crests.

For more photos of the Daniels Area of Patapsco Valley State Park see my Flickr album here.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Spring Flowers at Daniels Area

Spring on the Patapsco at Daniels, watercolor, 10" x 14."

Taking advantage of yet another sunny spring day, I went out to Patapsco State Park again. This time I chose the near-by Daniels area, noted for its north-facing hillsides with steep rock ledges where unusual flowers grow. I hadn't had a chance to explore this area in spring, and there are a few miles of hiking, so it was best to travel light. I tucked a small watercolor kit and camera in my backpack.

I was not disappointed--the ledges were covered with the fine blue-green foliage of Dutchman's Breeches, though only a few flowers were blooming. Tiny flowers of Early Saxifrage and Slender Toothwort had found purchase on the rocks. There was a brisk breeze blowing from the west, and I was glad I had a warm jacket.

Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)
Early Saxifrage
Slender Toothwort
The most exciting find was a clump of Wild Columbines high up on a ledge of the tallest promontory. The flowers were a lovely bright pink with touches of yellow. I wanted to find a way to get closer to photograph them, but that could wait until after painting. I would take the photos on my way back.

In the meantime, I continued my hike upstream looking for a likely spot to set up and paint, eventually settling on a bend of the river where the silvery trunks of sycamore maples contrasted with the tender green foliage of the opposite bank. I ate my lunch and started painting. As the afternoon wore on the breeze died down and it got a little warmer, but my fingers were numb from the chill by the time I finished.

On the walk back I found a way to climb to the top of the steep rock formation from a more reasonable slope at the rear, but it was impossible to see the Columbines from above. No way would I risk a fall from such a height. I had to content myself with climbing a few feet up the sheer rock face and use the zoom to get as close as possible for this shot.

Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Early Spring on the Patuxtent River

Early Spring on the Patuxtent River, oils on canvas panel, 11" x 14."
After several days of rain, yesterday was a beautiful,warm, sunny day. I headed down to one of my favorite places to paint--the McKeldin area of Patuxtent State Park. I love this stretch of the river just below the rapids, the gentle curve of the river and the unusual rock formations on the hillsides. There was only one other person there, a young man with two dogs who were having a great time playing in the water.

Last year I did two paintings at this same spot: one in September which sold within a couple of weeks, and another in October at the peak of color one lovely fall afternoon. I thought it would be interesting to document the same site at a different time of the year, and observe how the landscape changes with the seasons.

At this time of the year tender green shoots are emerging from the branches of some trees, bits of green are noticeable on the forest floor where spring beauties and wild violets bloom. Yet the bones of the forest--the tree trunks and hillsides- are still the main features. I took more time with my painting than I intended, stopping for a long chat with a couple from Ellicott City who were hiking the trail.  I ended up staying 'til mid-afternoon, intoxicated by spring fever.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Purple Asters II

Purple Asters II, oils on canvas panel, 9" 12."
This is a studio reiteration of a painting I did last fall at Brookside Gardens which sold. After Tim Bell's lecture in Easton this past weekend, I wanted to experiment with his ideas about composition in a studio painting that could be just as effective, if not better, than a plein air one, providing it was properly "designed." I also went back to re-read my Edgar Payne book on Composition of Landscape Painting. Voila!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Easton Paint-Out Plus

Bullitt House, oils on canvas panel, 12" x 9."
Last Saturday was MAPAPA's first paint-out of the season, held in Easton, a charming historic town on Maryland's eastern shore that hosts an annual Plein Air Art Festival. Easton has gained a reputation as one of the best art towns in the country; it's home to many nationally-known artists, the Academy Art Museum, and the Easton Studio and School, our sponsor. It was to be a "paint-out plus"--local artist Tim Bell  would present a lecture at the end of the day and offer an individual critique of the participants' work. The Easton Studio School would serve a Mexican dinner for the artists afterwards.

It was one of those typical east coast spring days--if you don't like the weather, just wait a few minutes... An intermittent drizzle had been falling all during the drive and it was overcast when I arrived. I parked and checked in at the Easton Studio School. I was walking toward the historic district to select my painting site and looking at the map when my foot caught on a curb and I lost my balance--I fell forward but managed to break the fall landing on my knees first, stopping just as my nose touched the pavement--whew! Luckily, I didn't break anything, not even skin. A lady driving by saw me fall and paused, until I signaled her I was all right.

I ran into my friend Roberta Staat and we walked around looking for sites where we could set up under cover. She selected Mason's porch, a lovely restaurant on Harrison Street, and I agreed that seemed like a good spot. We were walking back to our cars to get our gear, when I spotted this view of the back of one of Easton's historic homes, Bullitt House. It was a complex subject architecturally, but the garden framed the view so well, it really called out to me. There was a large cedar by the sidewalk where I could get some shelter from the rain if necessary, so I came back here. It drizzled lightly from time to time as I painted, but I stayed dry under the shelter of the cedar.

By noon I had finished my painting but was chilled to the bone; I thought it wise to warm up at the school while I ate my lunch. I walked back to the car to get my brown bag. By the time I got back to the school, the sun was dazzling out of a ragged blue sky. I gobbled my sandwich and then ran off to pick up my painting at the Adkins Arboretum, a short distance away. I hadn't mentioned here that my painting, Maryland Veldt, won the second place Leon Andrus Award  at the Adkins Arboretum competition "Discovering the Native Landscapes of Maryland's Eastern Shore" this year.

The run to the Arboretum took an hour. By the time I got back to Easton and started out to paint I had less than two and a half hours left, and it was pouring! Being a die-hard, I went out in spite of that but got so soaked within a couple of blocks that I had to take shelter under a porch. I actually set up right there and tried to paint another street scene, but it was so complex there was no point in trying--it would take too long to paint.

The rain had slacked; I walked over the Mason's to set up on their porch. There was a lovely cherry tree in bloom by an outdoor patio, but somehow the view didn't compose well--I forced myself to start anyway. I struggled with it for more than an hour, obviously not getting anywhere, before I gave up--it would have been better to not push myself at this point. I'd have to scrape off the paint when I got home to save the panel for something better. It was almost time for the lecture anyway, so I went back to the school.

Tim Bell's take on the artist's need to distill from nature was quite interesting. He read several memorable quotes from Carlson's book on landscape painting and Edgar Payne's Composition of Outdoor Painting. I was particularly fascinated by his visual comparison of Edgar Payne's paintings and field sketches of the Sierra Nevada with actual photographs of the sites--I had not realized just how much Payne had not only composed the paintings, but how much "atmosphere" he had added to lend that sense of distance and grandeur to the mountains. I took away much from all these experiences, and the delicious dinner was a wonderful way to end the day. Thank you MAPAPA and the Easton Studio School for a great Paint-out Plus!