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.
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 🙂
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.
The mind never stops churning, even on a relaxing weekend upstate in the Catskills (NY). The Glen Falls House is where we stayed and everyone was super nice. There are short nature trails on the property, some of which, lead to one of the most beautiful waterfalls I’ve ever seen. It’s not a big waterfall, but the surrounding rock formations are hypnotic.
Painting this was FUN. I worked on it a couple of hours after work for a little over a week. The water was the biggest challenge but the scene already offers great contrast between the light coming in through the trees and the darkness underneath the rocks. The Eastern Hemlock stand at the top of the falls really hit home. I love these conifers and who knows how long until they are destroyed by the woolly Adelgid. Finally, I went for more glow and stronger color to depict the funky vibe I feel from the Catskills.
This place is not far from home. A swamp, a wetland, a breeding ground for a myriad of organisms. Some we consider charismatic, some consider us their host, and some we don’t recognize. It’s hard to walk by without noticing things here, especially, in the fall. What was a sea of green is now a textury color kaleidoscope. This season seems more fleeting than the rest. So little time, so much to paint.
At last; a light snow dusting settled on tree branches and walking paths in the second half of Sunday. Just in time for the finished painting, which I started last week!
Weather is strange in the mid-Atlantic region these days. December felt like a very warm October and today little Mine Brook filled into a raging river thanks to a long period of rain. Being outdoors in the rain can be fun too, but I decided to make progress on a new watercolor landscape instead (teaser shown above). The painting is a reminder that seasonably cold days are ahead!
A few hours later, I felt the urge to get outside – a.s.a.p.! It drizzled on steadily, but rays of sunlight were beginning to peak through the heavy gray blue purple clouds. I needed to run so that I may drink delicious craft beer later. When I hit the road the sun started to overpower the clouds, but the rain kept falling in the now luminous afternoon.
The sun was now behind me as I ran up the hill. I was at the perfect place at the perfect time – in the presence of a meteorological phenomenon. The Hokus Pokus know as reflection, refraction, and dispersion gave birth to an amazing double-rainbow! It was the most vivid rainbow I had ever seen and I ran around grinning up at the sky, of course.
The rain had finally stopped. The air smelled of great sweetness with a hint of clean cotton, grassy freshness, wet earth, and smoke from wood, burning somewhere not far away. It was heaven on earth, but the sun was now sinking below the trees in the distance. It would soon be over and I started to run toward home.
A dozen Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus) circled up above, searching the landscape. A half a dozen more of them were all perched in one tree. Edward Abbey wrote that vultures are philosophical birds, though he was referring to the Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura). Abbey’s vulture thinks: “where there is life, there is death”. I think: what a day to be alive!