Hiking

The Price of Being a Landscape Painter

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Being one of Asheville, North Carolina's landscape artists, it's important for me to continually find new things to paint. So Joy and I do a lot of hiking (one of the sacrifices one must make for the job, right?). I love hiking. It's like a divine "re-set" button. And definitely, one of my very favorite places to visit is about an hour drive west of Asheville: Max Patch.

Max match is a 4,600-ft. bald mountain that was cleared and used as pasture in the 1800s. Today, it's a 350-acre tract of wide-open land on a high knob with 360-degree views. It's one of the most spectacular places one can experience in the Blue Ridge mountains.

The Great Smoky Mountains, only 20 miles away, completely dominate the southwest horizon. To the west the terrain drops more than 3,600 ft. into eastern Tennessee. Off in the west rises the dark ridgeline of the Black Mountains, including Mount Mitchell (the highest point this side of the Rocky Mountains. Seemingly endless ridges and peaks and valleys are in every direction you look. It's really  amazing.  Nearly every time we visit, we bring a picnic lunch or dinner consisting of a nice loaf of bread, chicken, and a nice bottle of wine, finished off with Pim's biscuits (cookies). Why Pim's? I don't know. It just seems so festive when we include them. What can I say

Left unmanaged, the field would naturally fill back in with shrubs, and later become peppered with young trees, eventually terminating the cherished 360-degree views of the Great Smoky Mountains and of Mount Mitchell to the east, so from time to time, the Forest Service mows down the grass to keep these incredible vistas open for people to enjoy.

I tell myself that hiking is important to get new ideas for subject matter for my oil paintings. And it is, but honestly, it's so "grounding" to get out in nature and to just be quiet...to listen to God...to listen to the wind and the birds and feel the sunshine on your face. I can't paint without that. And with relatively easy access (when the weather is good), this Blue Ridge mountain bald is the perfect place to enjoy the benefits of hiking in a quick afternoon trip. If you ever visit Asheville, I'd highly recommend the drive up to Max Patch. Just don't forget the Pim's!

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The Art of Dinner (with the Dallas Cowboys)

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On Tuesday, June 5, Omni's Grove Park Inn asked me to be involved in an event called "The Art of Dinner". The way it works is that for a select group of people (the DALLAS COWBOYS actually), the chef from The Grove Park Inn is going to create a five course dinner which is their take gastronomic "interpretation" of my painting (below) entitled "Summer Walks Remembered", a painting inspired by teenage memories of one of the most amazing summers I had as a teenager. 

Back in the day, my parents piled three kids and our dog (a Saint Bernard) into our station wagon and headed up the California coast from Los Angeles. We stopped and camped along the Oregon coast, visited family in the Seattle area and then headed north into Canada. Our eventual goal was Francois Lake, British Columbia to pick up my younger brother who was staying at a friends family cabin on the north shore of this incredible lake. This was true wilderness at the time. I remember one afternoon I went walking by myself up a pathway that led eventually to an upper wheat field that used to be used for livestock when the homestead was a working farm. The pathway was lined with aspen trees and wildflowers. It was one of those places you randomly visit and think "wait, stop. Stop and breathe. Remember this." And I did. The painting I'm bringing with me is based upon that very memory of a beautiful warm summer day in northern British Columbia. 

I have no idea what a gourmet, edible version of my painting will be, but talk about creative! I love it. I'll be there with my painting, explain it, meet the chef and of course the players. What an incredible thing it is to live in Asheville!

Mountain Top Experiences

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I'd heard of Roan Mountain for a long time. It's one of those "you have to hike this trial!" sort of places you hear about. I feel a bit like I've cheated myself because I've lived in Asheville, North Carolina for almost ten years and Joy and I have hiked countless trails, but we had not tackled Roan Mountain. And it's kind of odd that we waited so long, because as a landscape painter in the River Arts District, I paint local mountain scenes all the time. Every hike we take, I've got my camera ready and when I get back to my art studio, I start composing the next painting based on the best of the best photos. So hiking and photos go hand-in-hand for me, and they are both a very big part of what I end up painting. So, why did it take this long to discover Roan Mountain for myself? I have no excuses.

It turns out Roan Mountain isn't just a peak (i.e. it's not a singular mountain) but a whole range of bald peaks (no trees on the top) morphing into each other as you walk along Appalachian Trail heading north. So with our hiking poles, Camelbak's and lunch sacks in hand, we trekked from Carver's Gap north. The day was unusually clear and comfortable (I guess that's sort of unusual for that location) and we made good time -- even with all my stops to take photos. Finally, we reached the monument at the top of Grassy Ridge Bald and honestly, this afforded the most spectacular view I'd seen in Western North Carolina. Look one way, and you gaze about a hundred miles into North Carolina. Turn your head to the left, and you gaze about a hundred miles into Tennessee. Absolutely spectacular.

That hike gave me ideas for several paintings for the coming year. What kind of awesome job do I have anyway!? I just realized I can take my gas expenses as a tax write-off!

For more info on Roan Mountain, here's a great link.

Sunset or Sunrise? End or Beginning?

Sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains

Summer Scenes from the Blue Ridge

Here is my next "Sunset" themed piece. Someone last week asked "Is that sunset or sunrise"? Good question since this is just a scene out of my head but to me, this looks restful, not "waking". Now the crickets begin to chirp and cicadas begin their song, unceasing through the night. Someday, I'll paint a good sunrise but for now, this one to me is definitely and happily a sunset over the Blue Ridge mountains. Take a drive on the Blue Ridge parkway in either direction from Asheville at about 8:00 tonight and this is what you'll most likely see (and this is why I love living in Western North Carolina. 

Favorite Hikes (Inspiration in the Making)...

Asheville Hikes

Hiking and exploring are a huge, huge part of how I regenerate when I'm "spent". Fresh air, exercise and immersion in nature -- that's where I go to recharge and I usually go home inspired with a new idea for my artwork. What does a mountain trail have to do with oil painting and my art studio? Everything.

So if you're visiting Asheville, here are a couple more hikes I am always recommending: Graveyard Fields and Skinny Dip Falls. Both are a wonderful way to spend the day and are both easy hikes (no excuses not to enjoy!).

Graveyard Fields

Graveyard Fields is a super popular hiking destination on the Blue Ridge Parkway (Milepost 418.8). The Yellowstone Prong is the water source for two waterfalls in a mile-high valley filled with wildflowers and surrounded by Blue Ridge mountains with 6,000-foot peaks. The area got it's name years ago from the tree stumps and surrounding trees that looked like grave stones in a graveyard setting. The trees were toppled by a huge wind several hundred years ago. Then in 1925, an intense fire burned the recently logged area, and the forest has been slow in recovering since. This provides a stark contrast to most hiking in the Asheville area.

Their beautiful hiking trail (Graveyard Fields Loop) is about four miles. Start from the overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There is a map on the sign at the parking area. Take the trail at the lower end (right side looking away from Parkway) of the parking area. This descends down a paved path through a thick patch of rhododendron, down some steps and to a bridge. Cross the bridge, turn right along the trail until you come to the first trail intersection to the right, and descend a long flight of steps to viewing platform for Lower (or Second) Falls. You can get a closer look from the boulders at the base of the falls. You can even slide down a portion of the waterfall!  This beautiful waterfall is just short hike from the parking area. It's a popular swimming hole to get splash around in the cool mountain water and slide down part of the waterfall. The rocks are slick and there are no lifeguards on duty. So be careful!

Skinny Dip Falls

Skinny Dip Falls are beautiful. Really one of our favorites. It's a refreshing swimming hole and soaking spot on a hot summer day with clear, cold water. And it's a beautiful waterfall setting to enjoy any time of the year without getting wet with multiple cascades and pools. Located on the Blue Ridge Parkway (at Milepost 417 at Looking Glass Rock overlook), it's easy to find at the end of a 1/2 mile hiking trail from the Parkway overlook.

Sorry, Skinny Dip Falls is not clothing-optional.  And In addition to a nice "jump off rock" into a deep pool (about six feet deep), there are several places to wade or have a seat in the cool mountain water.

Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail is the longest "hiking only" footpath in the world, and extends from Georgia to Maine. Some of our favorite places to hike in North Carolina cross-cross the AT here and there. This painting is from one of my favorite balds near the border of Tennessee.

Living as an artist in Western North Carolina, the Appalachian Trail is never far, and is always an inspiration for my oil paintings. I simply never run out of creative fodder! In thinking about this awesome trail, and the amazing adventures found upon it, the landscapes, the trees, the rivers and the mountains, it seemed like I needed a poem to really do it justice.  (See some of my favorite hikes in the area)

Endless Ranges

The month of February I will begin

a trek through woods as wide as the seas,

from the foothills of Georgia 

to rock altars in the mountains of Maine,

a pilgrimage of whole hearted discovery.

 

I shall walk on this Appalachian trail,

following the blazes of white,

beneath the wide open sky,

gazing north, always north 

across wide rivers, rocky ridges, and green meadows.

 

Twenty-two hundred miles it is,

twenty-two hundred miles to reach the end.

From this point on I now must find the will

to go onward every day until Autumn’s chill,

with the last days my youth has left to lend me.

 

And in these lonely months of walking,

when I’m lost amidst fog draped mountain peaks

timeless truths I hope to find as I am quiet and just listen --

to the whisper of branches, the gurgling of the stream,

the roaring wind -- listen for The Voice. He is here.

 

This trail I trek not because I’m bold or brave,

but from fear of that days when I've grown old,

I will with regret, I’ll only quietly sigh

because of the unlived life that has passed me.

This is an adventure is not one I can ignore.

 

While I do not know if I shall succeed,

I do ask the reader -- listen!

Live your one-time Life. Really live!

And should you find your path twine across my own,

Welcome home.