Friday, June 24, 2011

Plein Air Olney at Blueberry Gardens

Blueberry Gardens.
My painting sold to Deborah, owner of Blueberry Gardens.
Plein Air Olney staged its second paint-out yesterday at two side-by-side properties in Ashton: historic Tanglewood estate, and Blueberry Gardens. At last year's Plein Air Olney event I painted at Tanglewood, one of the designated painting locations, but I had never visited Blueberry Gardens next door, even though I had driven past many times wishing I had time to stop to pick their organic-grown blueberries. Herb actually stopped by there last year for the first time and picked some blueberries which were delicious.

It was cloudy when I arrived at Tanglewood for the artist check-in--it had rained earlier and I was afraid there might be more rain, but fortunately, it cleared up as the day went on. I walked around Tanglewood and then up the road to Blueberry Gardens to look for places to set up. I settled on some of the picturesque out-buildings at Tanglewood for my morning painting, and walked back with my gear. Two other ladies were already there, and I accommodated myself between them trying to not get in their line of sight.

After a while another three artists set up close by, and as the morning progressed the sun gradually came out. At mid-morning the owner, Michelle, let her chickens out of the coop. We enjoyed seeing her Rhode Island reds and guinea fowl pecking around. I managed to quickly put in a few chickens in my painting. By the time the painting was finished, I was standing in full sun and it was getting hotter by the minute.

Farm Buildings at Tanglewood, oils on canvas panel, 11" x 14."

I packed up and took the painting back to my car, deciding to skip lunch--I hadn't thought to bring a sandwich and there was not enough time to complete a second painting by three o'clock if I went out to get a bite. It was too hot to stand in the sun to paint. The owners of Blueberry Gardens had set up a tent at the end of their drive for their business. They were having open house today as part of the day's events, with free demos of the offerings at their Octagon Studio: Yoga, Reiki, Acupuncture and massage.

I asked the owners, Robert and Deborah Boggs, if I might sit on one of the chairs to paint in the shade of their stand, and they most kindly welcomed me. From there I had a wide view of the neatly laid-out rows of blueberries and the pickers, with a plastic frame greenhouse and trees as a background. I had to make this painting much looser than the morning's if I wanted to finish it in time, so I attacked my smaller panel ruthlessly, blocking in the rows and grass paths between them with broad, sloppy strokes. I tried not to worry about the mess and just concentrate on covering the entire canvas with color quickly, sticking to the big shapes, then adjusting the colors, Only when it was pretty far along did I start to bring out some details in the rows of plants and trees beyond, and add a dash of color here and there to suggest a few people picking berries. Deborah watched these steps with curiosity, especially the last ones, seeing objects emerge from this apparent confusion. I must say it surprised me too, and I liked the effect. This was closer to what I wanted than the more structured morning painting.

The time for the reception and wet-painting sale came much too soon. I carried up my painting on the easel into the Octagon studio and left it there. I had to walk back to my car parked at Tanglewood and drive around to the Blueberry Gardens to bring the other painting and the frames for the show. I slipped the Tanglewood painting into a frame working in the trunk of my car, took that one into the studio and brought back the Blueberry Garden painting to frame outside, again in the trunk, then took it in to set back on my Guerilla Painter easel.

There were lots of folks at the reception, and some delicious home-baked goodies: a blueberry buckle, blueberry mini-tarts, blueberry muffins, a shortbread with Mascarpone made by Tara, and fresh blueberries, of course! I was so starved, I scarfed these up gratefully with a glass of wine. I was so pleased that Deborah bought my painting as well as a lovely pastel by another artist. Michelle bought Tara's painting of  the fields at Tanglewood.

Herb came to the reception and managed to get a taste of the last of the blueberry goodies. After the reception ended and we had packed up all my art gear, we went out to the garden and picked a pint of blueberries to take home. I will be stopping by to pick more berries this summer, now that I know the blueberry season is longer than I thought--to the end of August.

You can see more photos of the Blueberry Gardens reception in my album here at Flickr.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The View from Clark's Farm

The View from Clark's Farm, oils on canvas panel, 9" 12."
Last Friday the Howard County Plein Air group was invited to paint at Clark's Ellioak Farm. The day was overcast with the possibility of rain, but a few of us took a chance and showed up-luckily, the rain held off.

We were invited to come right up to one of the farmhouses; there were wonderful 360 degree views from this spot. I chose this one of the rolling hills with ricks of newly harvested hay scattered over the hills. The hills fall away towards a small pond and the trees in the distance made the humid atmosphere more palpable.

I stood in the yard very close to a double gravestone whose inscription had the names of the Clark couple who had owned the farm until the year 2000. Below their names was a motto which I found very moving, "Never sell the land." It must have been their favorite saying to their children. Their progeny have obviously taken the advice to heart: this choice piece of farmland is one of the most beautiful in our area, and one I enjoy painting frequently.

Friday, June 10, 2011

My Solo Fern Walk

The Switchback Trail on the North Branch of the Patapsco River.
The weather was glorious this past Friday--cool and breezy--a perfect day for a hike at the McKeldin Area of Pataspco Valley State Park. I wanted to explore a trail new to me, so I parked at the northern end of the park, the opposite side from the Rapids Trail where I usually paint. I had a small watercolor kit in my backpack and the presence of mind to bring along the fern identification book my son David recently gave me. 

What a stroke of luck! The Switchback Trail was lush with ferns--at least six or seven different varieties that I could distinguish, if not identify positively. About a month ago, before I went on a fern walk at Snyder's Landing near Sharpsburg with a group from the Maryland Native Plant Society, I wouldn't have known what to look for (the MNPS has designated 2011 as the "Year of the Fern"). I learned a great deal about ferns and other plants from several expert botanists on that walk, and saw a number of species that are unusual in Maryland.

Maidenhair and other ferns.
 Ferns grow profusely all along this stretch of the Switchback Trail. The common Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) was everywhere, Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum) scattered here and there on the upper slopes grew in huge, thick stands as the hillsides dipped down towards the North Branch of the Patapsco. Another small fern with yellow-green fronds grew in large stands along the path--I brought out my book to identify it, but couldn't be sure. It had a pleasant, if indescribable scent when crushed--could it be the Hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctiloba)? There weren't any spores visible on the back of the fronds, but the vein pattern didn't seem to match the drawing in the book and the fronds seemed too small. The shape of the fronds seemed closer to the New York Fern (Thelypteris noveboracencis), with the pinnae tapering towards both ends, or perhaps the Marsh Fern (Thelypteris palustris).

Looking down carefully for more clues as to the yellow-green fern's identity I spotted some fronds of a different shape--these were more triangular and the lower set of pinnae broadened and pointed downward. Definitely a different species here--this must be the Broad Beech Fern (Phegopteris hexagonoptera).

Broad Beech Fern (Phegopteris hexagonoptera).
Farther down the path I saw another much larger fern growing from a central crown. The arching fronds were about three feet long, but  there were no spores to help identify it. I continued down the trail until I saw more of this same kind of fern. Among these were some with a few fronds that seemed to have the pinnae torn from the middle, with small brown withered leaves hanging down. The interruptions were only on certain fronds, and yet so consistent I felt this must be a clue to the fern's identity.

Interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana).
Flipping through the book I came across it--the aptly-named Interrupted Fern (Osmunda claytoniana). The fertile fronds of this variety have the spore-bearing pinnae in several sets along the middle of the frond. These ripen and wither quickly, leaving spaces in the middle of the frond.

Rock with many ferns.
I came across this lovely rock covered and surrounded by ferns--a stand of New York Fern below, Maidenhair ferns and small Polypody ferns (Polypodium virginianum) growing on it. Christmas Ferns were all around, and perhaps some other ferns I don't know about. I should get some botanists to come on a walk here--I bet they'd have a field day!

Polypody Fern (Polypodium virginianum)
Unidentified fern, maybe Spinulose Wood Fern (Dryopteris spinulosa)?
During most of my hike the peaceful sounds of birdsong and breeze were punctuated by rhythmic noise from the gun club's firing range on the other side of the ridge. The ferns began to thin out as the trail started to turn westward; the stream became shallower and the banks pebbly. The spot seemed just right for a sketch, so I  set up my camping stool and got out my watercolors. The light and reflections on the water were wonderful, and I became absorbed in the task of trying to capture the beauty around me.

North Branch Reflections, watercolor, 5" x 10."
 Sometime later I noticed the sun had gone from the stream--a signal it was time to start hiking back. I retraced my steps, taking more photos along the way and prepared for the steep climb back up to my car. What a wonderful, fruitful afternoon!

North Branch Reflections II, watercolor, 10" x 14."
The next day at home I looked at my sketch and photos and decided the val-hues in the sketch weren't quite right--I'd made the sunlight too orangey, and the pebbled shore was too dark a Payne's gray. In my photo the rocks were lighter and almost lavender. I lifted some of the color from the pebbles and background trying to correct it. Still unsatisfied, I started over with a larger watercolor. I used two very different palettes for each, and may go back to try an oil at this same spot. That's going to be quite a long haul with my oil-painting gear, but the location is definitely worth the effort.

You can see all my photos of the area in my Flickr album here.

Friday, June 3, 2011

June Roses

Red Roses and Robin's Egg Blue, oils on canvas panel, 10" x 8."
The ever-bearing rose bush my sister Silvia gave me a few years back has grown into a glorious sight. The color of its deep red flowers defies my artistic abilities--somewhere between cerise and magenta-cherry--and they bloom in such profusion I've been cutting masses of them for my flower vases, to keep them from being devoured by the roaming deer who particularly savor the buds.

My favorite vase to display them is this glazed robin's egg blue vase I inherited from Mum. My mother-in-law used to love this vase filled with the sky-blue hydrangeas that grew all around her house in DC. I find the contrast with these red roses wonderful. Two or three branches of this floribunda variety are enough to fill the vase.

A couple of days after doing the small painting above I decided to try a quick sketch in pastel--I rarely get to use these brilliant Sennelier pigments in my plein air pastels except in small touches here and there. Wow!

Red Rose Study, pastel on Wallis paper, 6" x 9."