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Somewhere Over the Rainbow

posted Sep 21, 2014, 1:15 PM by Tammy Kaufman

Today we headed up to Beech Mountain, Steve to mountain bike on the downhill course and myself to paint and try out my new homemade pastel pochade box that we made from a small cigar box. I had considered taking a full set of pastels along with my easel as that is the setup with which I'm most familiar and comfortable. However, the prospect of hauling a French easel and full backpack with me on the ski lift - when I'm already quite fearful of heights - just didn't sound very appealing. And if you've ever hiked at Beech, well, there was just no way I was carrying all that stuff on my back along the trail to the top!

So I carefully packed a very limited selection of pastels into the pochade box and put the remaining plein air necessities into the backpack, and up to the Land of Oz we went. We arrived around midday which would normally have meant poor shadows and lighting, but the cloud cover provided some nice patterns on the landscape from 5000-plus feet of elevation, so I found a nice flat rock to sit on, got out my mini watercolor book and did a very quick field sketch in grey markers, as the clouds were moving rapidly and I wanted to at least get an idea of what I wanted to paint. Once the sketch was done, I opened up the pochade box, got my paper taped down and lightly sketched in my composition. All was going okay until I started to work on the closer mountains when I realized I had failed to pack my greens other than just a couple of mid value garish ones! Oh well, necessity is the mother of invention, right? So I set to work using my inadvertently extremely limited palette. I'll admit it was a little frustrating, to say the least, especially combined with using a setup that is new and totally unfamiliar to me - trying to paint a fairly vast scene on a small 5x7 surface with just my right hand, while holding the pochade box and my painting surface on my lap with my left hand. In attempting to "fake" the greens, I did ultimately use up the tooth on the paper but luckily for me, at about the same time as I lost the tooth, I figured the field painting was close enough to done. So I smacked any loose particles away and sealed the little landscape on some foamcore snugly into a clear bag and headed back down the mountain.

I had quite a few visitors stop by while I was out painting, which was a surprise to me as I was pretty much just sitting in a field off near the edge of the woods. Several people asked if I was comfortable sitting on a rock (not especially, but it gave me the view I wanted) and more than a few noted some surprise that I was "painting with chalk" - this comment frequently gives me the fingernails-on-a-chalkboard sensation when I hear it, but I guess it is understandable since pastels kind of do look like children's sidewalk chalk in a way, and I was, after all, working on a tiny little piece of paper taped inside a cigar box lid!

At any rate, I did learn a few things from today's outing:

  • The North Carolina mountains are stunningly beautiful.
  • I think I'll keep the pochade box painting for those times when I have a nice comfy chair and use the easel most other times since I generally prefer to stand to paint anyway.
  • Be sure and check to make sure I have at least the minimum colors I'll likely need before finishing the packing. (Note to self - a good variety of greens in varying values and temperatures are generally useful for the local landscape!)
  • Plein air painting is fun even when I have to sit on a rock, paint on a tiny support that I'm holding on my lap with the non-painting hand, and making do with less than optimal pastel color selections.
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