A few days ago I headed out to my favorite painting spot, Miller Springs, in search of some inspiration. Normally, I wander down into the ravine where creeks and and marsh grass grow, over to the grassland with cacti and golden natural grasses of Texas or to the 50 foot limestone cliffs carved out by a past ocean. However, this time I stayed up top where people don’t often take notice. This area is dry, with limestone rock like a big table 10 acres across with soil so thin, half of the field is simply exposed rock; the rest has maybe 1/2″ of soil. Amazingly, pockets and cracks in the rock have spring water flowing through them making a consistent puddle 50 feet above the lake level, or 80 to 100 feet above the river level behind the lake dam. It doesn’t seem possible, but for the entire time I’ve gone there, there’s always been this puddle. So I sat and painting this intriguing aspect of the park.
The technical side of it gave me fits. Dry winds and fast drying acrylics makes it almost unbearable to paint. It was what I experienced with the last plein air painting in Gunnison, CO, but with TX heat. I was reduced to basically doing a watercolor study with transparent dashed of color in may layers. It’s like trying to use that really old tape that lost it’s stick years ago, but you’re too stubborn to let it go. I’ve since solved the dilemma with more expensive slow-dry paints that you’ll see in my next post. It’s worth every penny. When I noticed my arms getting notably lobster colored, I called it a day. Phew. This was a battle of wits! The results of my new farmer tan is going to have rave reviews at the beach. Look out ladies!
I got out for another day at Miller Springs to find another good scene. I think this has become a series now with four previous, recent plein air trips to the area. I didn’t have to go far this time. About a quarter mile at the start of the first ravine, I rock hopped down a bit into a area with boulders and trees. The sun was shining almost directly at me and give great back-lighting to highlight a couple of boulders. With the background cliff in the shadows, the highlights on the boulders stood out even more. I did a quick sketch of the scene to study the values (lights/darks) for 5-10 min, then started right into the painting.
Just as I started painting, a couple walked by and scaled down the 15 foot cliff face (impressive) I was perched on top of. I asked them if they’d mind climbing on top of the boulder I’m painting and they were happy to help! I took a quick reference pic and then they left, wandering on down the ravine, blazing their own path, carefree. I paused for a second and thought… rock climbing, bouldering and exploring with someone you love… I bet that happens a lot in heaven. I took another reference pic when they were passing through a picturesque area of the ravine., so it’s possible they be seen again here!
I painted the landscape of the scene in about 3 hours (below):
Then I got out my camera to look at the reference pic and put in the couple. The camera kept auto shutting off, so I ended up taking an iPhone pic of the camera screen, a pic of a pic. You gotta do what ya gotta do, right? It really gave a great sense of scale to the rocks in the area as well as a story, perfect for the day.
Usually, I feel a need to touch it up when I get home. I really felt the people deserved things like hands or feet, or even a shadow to show they’re not transparent ghosts. However, is just didn’t seem right to add anything later on. The story is told, it “feels” like the area and the even the day with all the new years resolutions to get outside being fulfilled. Another great day!!
I had a chance to get out to Miller Springs Nature Center to mountain bike the trails and get in some plein air painting. On a previous hike with the Belton Outdoor Adventure group, I saw a lot of potential for this area with fifty foot limestone cliffs, natural springs, meadows, forests… it has it all. I didn’t make it far until I parked my bike and set up to paint on a cliff side. I stood there looking at the views trying to figure out how in a heck to fit all the scene in on a little 6×8″ canvas panelwhen I looked down I saw blocks of the top limestone layer fragmenting off and grass growing up through the crack producing a neat design. Holding up my thumbs and forefingers into a frame to look at the composition, it looked good with the stones leading into the meadow and beyond. Plus, I look like some kind of pro to the people passing by thinking, “Wow, he MUST be good if he knows the finger frame thing!”. Just kidding. I’m sure most of the time parents tell there kids to hurry along and don’t talk to strangers when I do this.
Here’s the initial sketch and a picture reference:
The angle is slightly different from the view when I stand up and the lighting changed. All the more reason to get that initial sketch in at first!