I painted this watercolor in January 2020. A typical northeast gray winter afternoon. The sun is shrouded in thick clouds. In January this place is very quiet and solitude is possible. In the spring, summer, and fall – get your socializing hat on.
I often get excited about the idea of planting trees near my home. Trees that will grow to become old, gnarled giants – beautiful sentient beings that amaze us. Then, a selfish reminder sets in. I will not be around to witness the transformation; my lignin endowed friends and I live on different timescales.
But wait. I can still plant things and watch them grow to large proportions in my lifetime! Trees, such as water loving willow species grow rapidly and reach mature size in just 15 years. Shrubs likes Red Osier Dogwood can grow to their maximum size in just a few years. Better yet – tall native perennials like Joe-Pye weed can grow a foot taller than me by its 2nd year of growth.
Still, how many of us have watched a little green Shagbark Hickory sapling spring 120 feet upward and put on fierce slabs of gnarled bark, pointing every which way? How many of us have planted American Sycamore and hung around long enough to see its smooth gray bark become a rugged mass, adorned with white, brown, and gray-green flakes? In the winter, the Sycamore takes on a ghostly form, as monster’s white tentacles reach out over icy water.
Finally, I come full circle and realize that my initial excitement is valid. Shortsighted are gardeners who plants trees for themselves only. Who am I to prevent air and water purification, food and shelter for living organisms, and many other gifts offered by trees? Plant trees I will – and if the exotic bug doesn’t get them, maybe my grandchildren will have a magical place to swing and climb
The Stairway to Heaven hike in Vernon showcases some of the most beautiful parts of northern New Jersey. But what did I choose to paint from this hike? A puddle of mud! I’m sorry, but beautiful vistas don’t always scream “paint me”. I found beauty in this mud puddle for these reasons – simplicity, reflection, composition, and color. The view from a mountain top can make for an excellent painting, but I’m craving a certain something else these days – something sort of interesting, though difficult to pinpoint.
I like a good architectural challenge once in a while – buildings in truthful perspective, arranged with charm. This time, I”ll take a couple of cedar trees and a muddy path, please. The freedom to paint a simple landscape promotes a sense of joy and relief, as if a tremendous weight has been lifted.
I’ve broken a painting rule – the reflection of a subject in water should be darker than the actual subject. Not in this painting. But that’s the way it is – there is a thin layer of water covering the muddy path, making the reflection of the tree appear lighter because the sun shining on the mud under the water is bright.
There’s no mountain in the background, but artistic liberties must be taken to make things a bit more interesting. Even without the mountain, the composition of this scene made me stop walking. I saw the potential for wonderful depth – the muddy path and lighting draws the viewer further into the painting.
This scene is located at the base of Waywayanda Mountain. The habit is mostly field with numerous red cedar pioneering the area. Whether the trees were planted here, I do not know. I found the color contract tremendous. Red-ish green cedar trees (hence the name Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana) against a straw-yellow field, with a cobalt-blue bright sky (some of that in the reflection).
That’s what hooked me then, not sure what will hook me next 🙂
Sometimes inspiration comes from a photo taken by your sister-in-law. I’m not sure what about the photo inspired me, but for some reason I just wanted to paint it. It’s great to see kids playing outside. The cold northeastern weather doesn’t seem to bother them. They are happy and curious exploring the streets of East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania with their parents.
Mitchella repens (Partridge berry). This is an often overlooked, wonderful evergreen ground cover for shade/part shade in the garden. It is fairly common in the deciduous forest understory. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any with the red berries still intact (which I hear are edible). This plant is somewhat slow growing and it eventually forms a dense carpet. When in bloom, the little white flowers are structured so that they prevent self-fertilization, thus promoting genetic diversity! And, it is the only plant in its genus in North America.
The photo I worked from to help guide this painting was taken a couple of years ago. I’m not sure what made me go back in time; maybe the light effect, maybe the time of year. I wanted to show the light coming in from the background to light up the river with enough contrast with dark areas of the river, to keep it interesting. Things may seem just gray and brown this time of year, but I think the lighting in the winter is tremendous – like a lamp with a dimmer adjustment, yet positioned at a certain angle to still create dramatic effects.
I missed the peak “leaf peeping” time at Harriman this year. No bright red orange gold here. Just the remnants of gold and russet. I think I prefer this bittersweet ending scene instead of the “everything on fire” autumn scene. Can you tell I’m an introvert?