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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It’s Hot (and how are your pets?)

I say pets, but in reality this is for everyone!  Water should be first and foremost.  I actually met a lady yesterday that said she does not like water and won’t drink it.  Hope she has a good liver and kidneys.  Stay hydrated.  Keep your pets hydrated as well. 

It is also important to keep the water as fresh as possible.  Keep in mind that mosquitos like any standing water they can find as well.  Mosquitos carry a numer of diseases, such as West Nile Virus.  Guess what enhances the virus’ ability to replicate itself faster?  Heat, such as the likes that we have been seeing lately.  If you have any standing water that is not benefiting anything, you might consider getting rid of it or changing it frequently. 

Of course, it goes without saying that shade is important for pets too.  If you must take your children or pet in a vehicle, please leave the windows down a bit, but in this heat it is better off for them that you don’t take them at all. 

I like to hose our animals (not the cats mind you) off when the temps are high.  The horses just love it.  A brief respite from the heat never hurt anyone.  You can just see them relax as if they are at a day spa!  To dry we put them in their stalls with all of the barn doors and windows open, and some sort of open air gate instead of the big solid stall doors to keep the air moving.  Throw in a flake of hay and a bucket of water and they will rest for hours.  When ours are turned out after a day at the spa, they are so refreshed, they thunder off to the pasture happy.

The dog doesn’t like the hose shower and fusses all through it, but once it is over, she is so happy and refreshed she can’t contain it.  A grape flavored popsicle seals the deal making it something she might consider letting you do again. 

I am sure you have heard plenty about alcohol and heat, but everything in moderation is your best bet.  You do not get water intake with alcohol, so don’t count that as your hydrating liquid.  Sorry to disappoint, but coffee doesn’t count either.  A good berry smoothie, iced tea, or just good ole plain water is great.

A lot of folks are hitting the water to beat the heat.  If you do, you cannot be told enough to wear a life jacket if you are boating or jet skiing, etc.   Last weekend there were at least four water related deaths in middle Tennessee.  If my facts are correct, none of them were wearing life jackets and every one of them would have had a chance if they had been. 

Please be safe out there, and take a couple of extra minutes to check on people and pets, change water, give water, make sure no one is left in vehicles, put a life jacket on, or whatever you can do to help make it a great summer, even if it is hot!