Thursday, September 22, 2011

Plein Air Workshop at Smith-Gilbert Garden

I recently attended a Plein Air workshop Pat Fiorello was teaching at Smith-Gilbert Garden.  The gardens cover 16 acres and include several separate plantings that are linked by woodland paths.  Placed around the garden are 30 contemporary sculptures.  At the center of the garden surrounded by the perennial beds is the historic Hiram Butler House which dates back to 1880.  The gardens were lovely and offered a wide variety of possible subjects to paint.

Pat began the workshop with a demonstration.  As she worked on her painting she walked us through the steps of selecting a subject, deciding what to include and what to leave out (both are important), working with changing light and shadows, using color and light to develop depth and interest.  She also discussed techniques and pigment combinations for different effects.  I enjoyed watching her paint as much as listening to her discussion of painting.  When she had the majority of the painting done she sent us out to find a spot and begin our own paintings.  The finished painting and other photos from the workshop can be seen on Pat's blog.

After a quick turn around the garden I decided to setup in among the roses.  I picked a spot where I could look through the roses at a distant piece of sculpture, which turned out to be an untitled metal piece by Edward Chrisman.  Pat came by after I had finished my initial sketch and gave me some great pointers on painting roses.  I spent the rest of the afternoon among the roses painting.  Even thought it was overcast, it turned out to be a wonderful day to be at the garden.

I had taken my newly built pochade box (described in a previous blog post), camera tripod and new light weight chair with me.  I was happy to find it was easy to setup and comfortable to paint either sitting or standing.  I found an old computer bag to carry the pochade box in which has additional pockets and space for extra pads of paper and a roll of paper towels.   The Camp Time Roll-a-Chair has a shoulder strap and the tripod has a handle.  So it was easy to carry all the items out to the garden.

Pat captured this photo of me while I was painting.  I had all the comforts of painting at home, with the added benefit of being in the middle of a wonderful rose garden.  What a great day!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Getting ready for a Plein air painting workshop

While I am really pleased with my watercolor journaling kit, and my home painting alcove, I still needed a plein air watercolor kit.  Something besides my giant burlap bag!  The problem is that I am not really sure what to get.  There are a wide variety of wooden boxes (including the pochade) with and without legs, as well as a wide variety of chairs and stools.

So I started with what I believe I want in a Plein air kit:
  1. be light weight (maybe less then 5 lbs)
  2. be portable (fold up - fit in a bag with carrying straps)
  3. be expandable (who knows what I will want)
  4. be able to support a 10 x 12 pad or canvas
  5. be able to transport and support an essential set of watercolor items:
    • travel pallet
    • 10 to 12 tubes of paint
    • 3 to 6 brushes
    • water cup
    • pencil, eraser, ruler
    • other miscellaneous items:  razor blade, sponge, paper towels 
I was leaning toward a Guerrilla 6 x 8 Thumb Box, but I will have to wait for the new model to be available!  Maybe the 9" x 12' isn't too big?  But wait, I have a camera tripod, and a wooden box that is just being used to store my acrylic paint tubes.  With a lot of inspiration from what others have done and posted to the net, and help from my husband I now have my very own unique prochade box.  Below are some photos of the modifications we made.

Since my box is 9" x 12", I was able to purchase 9 x 12 palette extensions that are made to fit this size box.  When closed, they fit nicely into the box above all the other items in the lower half.  They do not interfere with storing my 9" x 12" watercolor block in the top of the box, but they do make the box close snuggly.  I thought about adding something to keep the block in place, but as it turned out the wood screws used to add the hinges and hooks (see below photos) stick out just enough to secure the block in the lid.

I wanted to use the travel pallet, which I also use at home.  It was a bit larger then the divided space in the box, so we shaved down the dividers to allow it to easily fit.  I added velcro squares to one of the pallet extensions and the top of the pallet so that it will stay put!  I also added a bamboo roll to store the brushes I carry in the box.

We added two larger brass hinges to the back, since the original ones were small and well worn.  This will provide better support when the box is open and I am painting.

Judsons Art Outfitters sells supplies for building and repairing Plein Air boxes.  Which is where I purchased a Tripod Mounting kits.  We attached the Universal tripod mount and four rubber feet to the bottom of the box.  The feet keep the box flat when it is set on a table.

The box hinge only opens to 90%.  I needed a hinge that would keep the lid open at an obtuse angle.  Unfortunately the sliding angle brackets Judsons sells did not fit this box.  After looking at several descriptions of how other people had made hinges we went to the hardware store and purchased some 3" and 4" mending plates, bolts, split washers and wing nuts.  I also picked up a very small wrench that can be carried in the box that can be used to hold the bolts while I tighten the wing nuts.

We added two D-rings using bolts so that a shoulder strap could be added for carrying the box.  We used lock nuts to secure the bolts.  I'm not sure I will be using the shoulder strap as often as I originally thought, since I have an unused laptop shoulder bag that the box fit into, which would allow me to carry additional items like water bottles, extra pads of paper, roll of paper towels, etc.

We added additional brass hooks to ensure the box stays closed while being carried.  This is not as important now, since the extension pallets keep the lid snuggly closed.

I purchased some small plastic containers to hold small items in, a paper towel holder and a hook.  You can just see the small wrench next to the tubes of paint.  I may sew up a roll for the paint tubes, just to keep the box neat.  I now have a wonderful box ready for Plein Air painting!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

One more mountain to hike

Sunday morning we hiked up Scaley Mountain.  There is a parking spot not very far from the top of the mountain so it is a fairly easy 3 mile roundtrip hike.  The trail begins an old road which was flanked by an impressive stand of fall wildflowers (Joe-Pye Weed, Goldenrod, Sunflowers, and Rag Weed).  The trail winds upward through the forest, passing through a rhododendron tunnel.

As we climbed higher we passed through several small exposed rock balds that were surrounded by rhododendrons.  I have to come back to see them in the spring when they are in bloom!  At the top the rock balds are larger and provide an excellent viewing of the surrounding valleys and distant mountains.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Stars on the mountain

After hiking all day and being well fed, we retired to the rocking chairs on the deck of the lodge we were staying in.  As darkness grew we could see town lights off in the distant valleys.  And then the stars began to appear.  Just a few at a time.  Eventually there were enough stars for us to locate the Constellations Cygnus and Cassiopeia.  After quite a bit of looking we found the North Star and the handle of the Big dipper just above the lodge roof (the dipper was hidden by the roof).  It was hard to pick out the Little dipper due to all the stars in the sky.  And as it continued to get darker more and more stars became visible.  Here is an interesting bit of astrological trivia; while Cygnus and Cassiopeia are Constellations, the big and little dippers are asterisms.  

Someone asked about the 'Summer triangle' (another asterism) but no one knew where it was in the sky.  I now know how to locate the Summer triangle.   The triangle is made by three stars from three different constellations:  Deneb is the brightest star in the Constellation Cygnus.  Vega is part of the small Constellation Lyra.  Altair is part of the Constellation Aquila.  

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Hiking and viewing mountains

Saturday morning began with banana pancakes!  We followed that up with a hike up Satulah Mountain.  This is a short moderately difficult hike.  The trail follows an old rocky road for about a half mile distance up about 400 ft, to the top of the mountain.  There is the remains of a shelter on one side of the mountain at 4,543 ft (Highlands Cashiers Land Trust has an old photo of the shelter on their page).  From here you have a 270 degree view of mountains in three states (North Carolins, and Georgia) to the south, east and west.  You can see the Piedmont, Blue Valley and Rabun Bald.  

On the way back to Mountain Retreat for lunch, we stopped at the Highlands Nature Center and took a quick walk around the Botanical garden.  The garden is 11 acres, and includes over 500 species of trees and other plants.  There are also example gardens using native plant for landscaping around buildings.  These border gardens included Black-eyed susan, Joe-pye-weed, and lobelia.
The garden trails wind through woods with large Rhododendrons and azaleas (neither were in bloom at the time).  Then around a four acre lake.  The pond's water lilies were putting on a show, and the fall flowers along the banks were attracting many insects including swallowtail butterflies. We took a short hike up a hillside trail through an old growth hemlock-hardwood forest.    

The afternoon hike up Whiteside Mountain followed an old logging road for about a mile.  The road provided a moderate ascent of 500 ft to the top at 4,930 feet, the first of several overlooks.  The trail continues around about one half of the ridge top, providing numerous vistas.  The trail then rapidly descends back down.  This is a short, steep and often difficult half mile back to the logging trail.  The hike was worth the views at the top, but requires more time then the distance would suggest.  To the north Shortoff and Yellow Mountains,  Chimneytop Mountain to the east.  The foothills and Piedmont to the south.  Nantahala Mountains on the western horizon.  

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Escape from the heat!

It has been unbearably hot this summer which kept me from my porch, and indoors for most of the month of August.  I was delighted to escape to Highlands NC, at the Mountain Retreat and Learning Center for a lovely three day weekend.  This was another trip sponsored by the Friends of the Georgia Museum of Natural History.  The current President of the Friends is a Past Director of the Highlands Biological Station and was the organizer of this trip.  He had also promised to lead us on some great hikes up Whiteside and Scaley Mountains to view the flora and fauna.

The Mountain Retreat includes the majority of Little Scaley Mountain.  The facilities are on top of the mountain, where there are great views from the decks of buildings and the tower.  The sunset photo above, was taken from the tower (photo at right was taken earlier in the day).  While the view from the top of the tower was beautiful, the wind was howling!

The mountain top is a rock bald with a forest of ancient wind-sheared white oak (krummhloz), that are 400 to 500 years old.  The view from the deck of the Lodge where we were staying was wonderful!

Monday, September 5, 2011

My watercolor travel kit

I looked at a lot of bags, camera cases and small packs in my quest for the right watercolor travel kit.  I was actually running out of time, when I found a Mountainsmith lumbar series packs that was perfect.

I wanted a pack that was small enough to carry with me at all times, but big enough to carry all the essentials:
  1. Koi Pocket Field Sketch Box  
  2. 5" x 8" journal (or two)
  3. mechanical pencil(s)
  4. ink pen(s)
  5. kneaded eraser
  6. 2 oz spray bottle
  7. 2 oz dropper bottle
  8. kleenex packet (or two)

I also was interested in something that was tough, light and waterproof (or at least water resistant). What I found was something that that would easily hold the above, and also carry:
  1. a water bottle for me - journaling is thirsty work!
  2. my field hat
  3. other personal items like a phone, keys, cash, plastic cards
  4. and I could secure my raincoat to it as well
I use the Fleece lined eyewear pocket for glasses, phone, etc. This pocket has a waterproof zipper and cord port - so cool! The zippered main compartment has a zipper cover that does an excellent job of keep out the rain and easily holds my watercolor kit, journals, kleenex AND other items. There is one hanging interior mesh zippered pocket that I use for pens, pencils, erasers, 6" plastic ruler and wax resist crayon (I just know some day I will use it).  I use one of the two side water bottle pockets for a water bottle and the other to hold the both 2 oz water bottles and/or my hat.

The elastic rigging on the front of the pack is useful for holding my hat or raincoat, or even a larger journal.  The adjustable waistbelt makes it really easy to get into and out of, and it was very comfortable to wear all day every day of the trip.  While hiking I position the pack to my back, but when sketching I move it to the side, or even the front for easy access of items.