Plein Air – Highland Springs


Watercolor on paper, 8″ x 5″

Today is the first day I’ve ever painted on location. Normally I always paint indoors and even the few times I’ve done it outside I didn’t actually go somewhere to paint what I saw. This time I went to a recreation area along with my mom. There’s a lot of trails, a reservoir, and many miles of wilderness. The only two colors I used were Lemon Ochre (self made, pigment from Natural Pigments) and Blue Ochre (Vivianite) from Daniel Smith. The paper is my first time using my new Moleskin watercolor book.

I know the trees look a little strange, but that’s how they really looked! They’re old walnut trees from a small orchard that seems abandoned now. Where I live there’s a lot of walnut trees and nearly all of them are the branches of an English walnut tree grafted onto the trunk of a black walnut tree. Sometimes the tree looks a little strange because the trunk may start out thick at the bottom and suddenly get thinner halfway up or the trunk may suddenly stop and have the branches of another tree sticking out of it at the top. The color of the bark is always very different between the lighter English and darker black walnut parts.

The area that I was in used to be a resort in the 1800’s and could have over 300 guests. There’s a lot of mineral springs and gas vents in that area and sometimes you can find puddles with bubbles coming out of them. If it’s dry and hasn’t rained in a long time then they may just be small holes in the ground with gas coming out that smells like sulphur, but if there’s water in the holes then the bubbles will look like it’s boiling even though the water isn’t hot. Eventually there was a fire at the resort a very long time ago and it was torn down. After that a dam was built and if anything is left of the foundation it’s now under a reservoir.

While we were walking on the trail to the picnic area that I was painting at I found some deer bones. It’s not the first time I’ve seen that on that same trail. Mountain lions live in this area. Those walnut trees are at the edge of a field of tall grass. A mountain lion could easily hide in that grass. There were two deer standing a short distance away and didn’t seem very concerned about us, but early on a couple of hikers came and their dogs decided to chase the deer away. I was kind of hoping the deer would alert me if they saw a mountain lion. Maybe they were hoping I would do the same.

Right now this whole area is so dry and we really need some rain. The reservoir was very low and some parts at the end that would normally be under at least shallow water were instead dry ground. Surrounding that dry part is a dense forest of water plants and very tall grasses that should all be in shallow water but are instead far from it. Little streams around the reservoir are also probably all dry. As we get closer to winter there’ll be rain and then the frogs and salamanders will appear again.

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