Plein Air Painting in the Smoky Mountains

One project I find very rewarding is plein air painting.  That is the process of simply painting outdoors, whether it be in a city or the country, using the medium of your choice.  It is a wonderful way to connect with nature in its purest form.  My husband and I recently took a trip to the Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee.  We met with family and friends to see the sights and had a wonderful time.  While driving the Cades Cove Loop we stopped for a break at a point called Abrams Falls.  The sign said a moderately difficult 2.5 mile trail that will take about 3-4 hours round trip.  We did not have time to hike then, but decided we would do it in a day or two.

Abrams Falls, Cades Cove, Smoky Mountains, Tennessee art, plein air painting, acrylics
Photo of Abrams Falls in Cades Cove, Tennessee in the Smoky Mountains by Denny Martindale

The rest of our party left a day earlier than we originally thought, so we planned our hike for that morning.  I had thrown in a canvas and grabbed a handful of paints and brushes (literally) as we packed for the trip, so I decided to take them with as you never know what you might find.  I carted the paint gear and David carried water and snacks and we set out on the trail.  It was a clear, cool morning as we made our hour and a half trek to the falls.  They are not overly big but the setting is in a cove and it is really refreshing as you sit and listen to the sound of the water surging over the edge of the rocks.  I found a log that made a perfect seat and proceeded to set up to paint.  Since I have only done plein air on a couple of other occasions, it takes a little more thought to set up than if I did this on a regular basis.

plein air painting, acrylic painting, Tennessee art
Artist at work, plein air painting Abrams Falls Photo by David Martindale

I proceeded to block in the basic shapes of the falls and the surrounding landscape.  I had just grabbed some tubes of paint so my colors were a bit limited, but I figured I could probably make do.  One of the major aspects of plein air painting is the timing of the light, shadows and atmospheric conditions that allows an artist to recreate a particular scene.  Midday is not always the most opportune time, and here I was painting at high noon.  Although the air was still on the cool side, the sunlight and resulting reflection was intense.  It helped that I was in the shade, but the colors were not what they would be in the morning or later in the afternoon.  I even reached a point in the process when I was so dissatisfied with the piece that I was actually ready to quit!  At the urging of my husband, I continued on and after about an hour and a half, to my surprise, finished with a piece that, all things considered, is not too shabby.  During this time, other hikers were coming and going, and everyone wanted to see what I was up to.  I presume they were impressed as they took photos of me at work, and one man even took a close up of the painting and then one of the falls from my perspective.

Abrams Falls, Cades Cove, Smoky Mountains, Tennessee art, plein air painting, acrylic painting
Finished piece, Abrams Falls, acrylic, 9″ x 12″ by Denny Martindale

After we were home for a couple of weeks, I finished it off with a coat of varnish for acrylics and once dry, placed it in a black frame.  If you have not tried plein air painting, you might just want to give it a try.  Make sure you prepare for the elements, pack the correct painting gear, and tell yourself you are out there to have fun.  Once you loosen up and decide it doesn’t have to be perfect, you will have a wonderful experience with nature that only plein air painting can give.

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Finished!

Here are the last two horse troughs.  I finally finished them and then put a coat of polyurethane on them.  The client is going to use them for flowers at horse shows.

horse trough with fox painting
This is side A of the fox trough
horse trough with fox painting
Here is side B
horse trough with hound painting
This is side A of the hounds trough
horse trough with hound painting
Side B of the hounds

The client was very happy and I am looking forward to doing more of these!

3 finished horse troughs
All 3 troughs finished and ready for delivery

 

Background work on horse troughs #1 & #2

Here are the photos of the background work on horse troughs 1 & 2.  All of my work on these troughs is done in acrylics.  At this point I am also just painting, no airbrush, projectors, etc, just letting the troughs dictate what goes where.

acrylic painting on horse troughs
This is the start of the background work
acrylic painting on horse troughs
Here, things are finally starting to take on a bit of shape
acrylic painting on horse troughs
This is a closeup of the background

The background for troughs 1 & 2 are very similar.

acrylic painting on horse troughs
More detail of background

 

Horse trough #3 side A

Here are a few photos of side A of horse trough #3:

horse trough full view
Full view of side A

This is a 3/4 shot of side A.  The light was glaring bad even with the doors shut in the barn/studio.

detail on horse trough
Smaller horse and rider on side A

Here I am blocking in the horse, the rider is almost finished.

horse trough acrylic painting
“All I need is a good horse”

Beginning second horse and rider.

Next Phase

horse trough, base coat
Applying the base coat

Here, I am applying the base coat on top of the

horse trough, next layer
This one will be a different scene from the other two

They will have a fox and hound hunt theme to them, with each having a different scene.  I have painted the background for the sky on this one.

horse trough, next step
Background for the other two

This is the first of many layers for the image.  Two will be a woodland scene which I am starting on this one.  It is definitely not a flattering phase of the painting, but it is all part of the process.

God’s Little Miracle

     The Lord loves to show us miracles.  Last Sunday morning was just that.  We received a phone call from a neighbor about 6 am.  His wife and daughter were at a horse show, so caretaker of the 5 or so horses at the farm.  One of their boarders had a Quarter Horse mare in foal in the back pasture.  She wasn’t due for another month.  He awoke to their dog frantically wanting outside, so he let her out and went to get the morning chores in motion.  He noticed the mare down the fence at the back of the pasture, where it meets the woods then drops down into a ravine.  He walked out as she was pacing and calling out, as if there was another horse in the woods.  He arrived to find she had given birth right at the fence, which happens to seven strands of high tensile wire, not barbed or electric.  Suddenly, the foal cried out.  It was out there someplace in the woods!

      He phoned us to see if we could help find the foal.  We drove over and he called out from behind the house in the woods.  We met him and he had a beautiful brown filly in his arms.  Apparrently, after she was born she rolled under the fence.  When she stood up, she was on the wrong side, which also slopes heavily to the bottom of the ravine.  The ligh was probably not good at the time, and in her struggle to get out she crawled up the other side and ended up behind the house.  We started to carry her, but it was going to be quite a distance to get around the ravine, down the drive to the barn.  We decided to guide her, so the neighbor guided her back while I gently held and rubbed her neck.  My husband worked gates and moved branches.  Finally, we were back in the pasture.  She called to Mom, who came running full speed.  Miraculously, she did not have a scratch on her!  Thank you Lord!  The vet came out and did all the checks and there is now a new, healthy subject to paint.  Some photos have already been taken, more on the way, I’m sure.  Drawing, pastels, or should I try acrylics?