Autumn in the White Mountains

I was sure this weekend’s trip to the White Mountains with the NH Plein Air Group would not be my chance to see the top of Mount Washington. The weather reports were varied, but rain, snow and clouds were predicted in all of them. My previous trips were on clear days and the top of Mt. Washington remained hidden so snow and rain didn’t seem very promising for great view, but I was very much looking forward to the 3 days of painting with great people.  Regardless of the weather, the Fall foliage is always magical.

Thursday afternoon I headed north with a truck full of paint supplies and gear for every possible spark of creative inspiration that could strike. Watercolor and oils, painting panels, canvases, and paper ranging in size from 4″ x 6″ to 16″ x 20′ and everything in between, more colors of paints than I could ever possibly use, gear for being able to hike some for a good painting spot and a larger setup for right out of the car work, were all with me, the one missing element was rattling around in my head – what style/method would I use? It seems like a silly question since I had felt as though my style was developing well enough. Then I took two plein air workshops in September.

The first workshop was with Lois Griffel, author of “Painting the Impressionist Landscape”. I had bought her book several years ago and so I was very excited when I learned she would be doing a workshop here in New Hampshire. The most important lesson was getting your values right but also the use of “pure color” and “painting the light” were emphasized. Lois also sometimes paints with a palette knife, something I’d been wanting to get back into. It was a wonderful week of painting and experimenting. Besides getting even bolder with my colors I began working exclusively with my palette knives, no more brushes. Good thing too, the last year I kept buying different size knives but I was always afraid of using them. A workshop is always a good place to experiment so thats what I did and I enjoyed myself thoroughly. This painting was done at an inn with gorgeous gardens the last day of the workshop. As you can see my painting took a dramatic shift however. The question still lingers, is that the direction I want to go in?

The second workshop lasted three days, again it was a fabulous professional artist that was the instructor, Stapleton Kearns. He writes a daily blog with great information and also has a wonderful sense of humor. The Griffel workshop ended on a Friday and Stape’s started on Saturday. I tried to go into Stape’s workshop with a clear head but that was rather impossible. A local artist and farmer allowed us to paint on her family’s farm. It is 300 acres of fields, stone walls, silos, cows and a wonderful view of Mount Monadnock. The setting and the weather couldn’t have been more beautiful. Like many workshop this one started with a demonstration. While describing his approach he had some common elements to Lois, but also some very different ones when talking about color. His colors were much more subtle and muted. Stape’s work was amazing, his humor and broad knowledge, generously shared, but I was on overload almost from the beginning, definitely by Sunday evening. Still I worked at painting as he taught, this painting of Mount Monadnock was done the last day of his workshop.

With a couple of weeks in between the workshops and this weekend’s trip to the White Mountains, I had hoped for some more clarity, but it doesn’t work that way. It’s just a matter of practicing and experimenting. Whatever was lacking in my confidence the view of the Presidential Range in the White Mountains covered in snow with the bright yellows and oranges on the trees in the valleys below was staggering in its beauty – I was inspired to work very hard to capture what was all around me, and I had three days to focus entirely on painting.

So Friday morning bundled up against the chilly weather, we went to paint Mt Washington, because in spite of the cloud cover, the peak was clearly visible.  We reached our destination along the Adroscoggin River with Washington in full view at the bend in the river. I opened up the back of my truck starring at all my gear, decision time was here. I decided I was going to paint with my palette knives. “Be bold in your approach” Robert Henri use to say to his students. That line always appealed to me so at least for this weekend I was going to be an impressionist with a pallet knife.

As we stood painting the clouds thinned and blue began to show through. After a couple of hours we pack up and moved to the next spot, across the street from the Mt Washington Autoroad at the Glen Ellis House. The view was unbelievably clear and vibrant. We had lunch and went back outside to paint. Having gained more confidence I took out my palette knives and went to work with joy and abandon. I continued to take lots of pictures so I could also work in my studio when I got home. There was just too much to paint in a couple of days. The blue skies above the white mountain peaks surrounded by the oranges of fall in the valley below was beyond stunning.

Saturday was another gorgeous day, it was almost warm in the sun.  By noontime the sky was blue and there was more painting to be done. After a morning painting of some falls along the river I headed towards the Mount Washington Hotel to paint the peaks. That was a pretty hard scene to resist and several others soon joined me. In the evening we gathered around the fireplace at the inn we were all staying at and looked at one anothers work. It’s so interesting to see the different versions that come out with several people painting the same scene.

Now that I’m home, I have a few things to get caught up on, then I’m back to wrestling with how I want to paint. I do need to go back to my brushes, its just a matter of time. I also want to work at accurate colors, not necessarily impressionist versions. Practice, always practice and always learning. And there’s the drawing project I’m about to start….

Leave a Reply