Plein Air: Chalk Ridge Falls

This is an area along the river in Chalk Ridge Falls in Belton, TX,  a local hot spot for me where I can explore and consistently find something to study. Rivers, creeks, grasslands, rocks, caves… it has it all.  Plus, it felt great to paint over a previous painting that flopped big time. 

What initially struck me about the scene was the deep curelean blue sky against all of the greens of the land and the shadow of the main bush cast over the sandy ledge. It’s always a challenge to get the right value (darkness) and color of the shadows to coordinate with the sun-lit areas. When it’s right, it’s seamless and the eye just accepts it. The temps are rising as summer approaches and soon enough that green grass will tan. You can bet I’ll be huddled under a tree somewhere out there, thankful for the shade and living in the moment.  


Plein Air: Chalk Ridge Falls lots of Sketching

Some days are made for hiking and sketching outdoors and Chalk Ridge Falls in Belton, TX was the perfect place to go. Shallow spring fed creeks, hidden caves and waterfalls and enough places to roam that you can escape any hiking traffic.

I’m doing “abstractions of nature” as a series, which are patterns that you’d know immediately in context of a place, but when taken out of the setting, it’s beauty is set apart. I hope this will help others to take a closer look at nature in parts and as a whole. 

First sketch: “Submerged” (acrylic/paper, 4×4″)

In noticing the aquatic plants that have grown in a previously dry area, it was rich with warm and cool tones of every color there is. It has subtle shifts from the deep blues and purples into the greens and yellows and even reds as the plants emerge from the deep. Soothing. 

After that almost meditative warm up, I headed up the back alley, where limestone has been warm down by years of spring water eroding it into something resembling a quarter mile bob-sled track. I knew a tucked away place in an off-shoot of the alley where a tributary spring feeds into the main alley. This spot has a hidden rock wall with water always dripping down it and ferns bursting out of it at every crevice. Along one shaded wall, sun lit up one area and with a big branch hanging over the edge it appeared like I was in a cave. So I went after that impression for the second sketch, also somewhat abstract. 

Second sketch: “Entrance” (acrylic/paper, 4×4″ish)

On the way back to the main limstone alley, sun had fallen just enough to shade the offshoot part I had gone on, but the main alley was fully sun-lit. The contrast of gray-purples to the bright yellow white was amazing. It even had a small stream of water leading into the scene. 

Third sketch of the tributary and lit main alley. (a/p, 5×7″)

This is a picture of the alley.

It was time to head home to feed the grumbling stomach and I almost made it until I drove over the Stillhouse Lake Dam near the entrance to the park and saw the setting sun over the water. One u-turn later, my painting kit was out again. 

Fourth sketch: View of Stillhouse Lake at Sunset

Ahh, that hit the spot. What a great way to end a very full day. 

Chalk Ridge Falls: Messy Plein Air Study at the Magic Hour

Chalk Ridge Falls (Plein Air) 9x12 Acrylic.  Had about an hour for some quick messy fun.
Chalk Ridge Falls (Plein Air) 9×12 Acrylic. Had about an hour for some quick messy fun.

This is a scene from Chalk Ridge Falls, where the Lampases River connects to Stillhouse Hollow Lake down from the dam. There’s a magic hour where the sun hits the cliffs down by the lower stream.  If you blink too long the shadows have already changed.  After spending a few weeks on a single commission painting, it was a welcome change to just slap big wads of paint down and not think twice.   This is the big difference between “plein air” and “studio” painting.  Here’s the actual scene below. I added a few needed details as soon as I got home and called it finished.  It’s so tempting to go back in and “fix” things, but “messy” is the joy of plein air.

Here’s the scene just after the hour of sunlight on the cliffs was gone. My pallet looked like it was mauled by the Tasmanian Devil after this rush of painting.

This is also preparation for the first week of October.  I’m fortunate enough to have a week long workshop with John Cogan in Palo Duro Canyon State park (thank Mr. Chapman!!).  This is a HUGE deal for me.  He’s like a Micheal Jordan in the outdoor acrylic painting world. I want to be ready, so a big part of this exercise was seeing if masonite board would be a good panel to bring, It was smooth as butter. Awesome.