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 🙂
Helianthus annuus – the annual sunflower. Bright like the sun with its radiant yellow petals surrounding a giant disc. We plant the seed every year waiting for it to sprout, with childlike excitement, until finally the plant grows into a towering beast. Birds love to feast on the sunflower’s seeds and perch on it’s strong limbs. We too enjoy it’s oil, seeds, and the many horticultural pleasures it brings. Oh yeah, the bumblebees think it’s okay too.
There’s something about winter that makes me want to paint night scenes. Probably because in the northern hemisphere there is more darkness this time of year. Night can be magical and mysterious, which is what I’m trying to convey in this painting with a dramatic sky and a full moon shining through the clouds. “Creatures” tend to become more active at night, though in the dead of winter, I’m not so sure. I bet most sensible animals slow their heart rate down and buckle down until warmer times. I like to think of ourselves as slowing down too, to take a breath and look around? Nah, of course not.
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.