It is May, and the time of the year when our area’s “Snow Birds” are beginning to arrive back in town. They have spent the colder winter months in some other warmer and drier climate, most likely somewhere south or west of us. While this is a wonderful idea, having the convenience to vacate this ever unpredictable area during the harsh and snowy season is not the habit of most of us who reside in the High Country.
Living in the mountains year around, encourages you to pay more attention to the daily cycle of the seasons. There are dramatic changes in the area that are constantly taking place in the weather, the temperature, the landscape and even “the residents”, both human and animals alike. As spring is a great time to travel and visit, it is also a great time to put daily journaling into practice. Travel journaling has always been a great way to record our special vacations and visits to new places like the mountains; however, it is also a wonderful way to chronicle the everyday events in your life, as well. Things like gardening, and cooking, the birds outside your window, the weather, or even just a normal everyday commute to work.
I travel the same way back and forth to work everyday and just happen to drive by an ideal sketching location where there is always something to see. This was the very reason I stopped by the Mast Farm Inn in historic Valle Crucis, NC.
The big old farmhouse is beautiful, the grounds are covered in flowers and decorative notes throughout the seasons, and they have an enormous offering of things to paint. The entire property is a plein air painter’s dream. There are barn windows, and cabin porches, and flower and vegetable gardens, and farm animals, as well as, a lovely little pond at the back of the property, just to mention a few. And then, there is the farm house. One of the things about the house that has always intrigued me is the unique architectural design. With all of its dormers and windows, green tin roof and wrap-around porch, it seemed always to beg to be painted. You can just imagine, when the house was originally built, that it was full of family life and activity, just as it is today as an Inn. It was just the kind of thing to include in my current journal. The Mast Farm Inn has more than one reason to brag, as they also offer fine dining and lodging, as well as, hosting incredible weddings all year long!
After spending some time, recently, with master journal artist Don Getz, I picked up a few wonderful tricks and techniques from him that I have found to be invaluable for journaling. To simplify the scene, to incorporate the natural with the man made, to elaborate on the positives, to change what is not appealing, to arrange your elements as needed, and especially to tell a story. Another tip he shared, in particular, would be extremely helpful when sketching the difficult angles and perspectives of the Inn.
Don is currently traveling all over our country, during his U.S. Odyssey Journaling Tour which will take him a full year to complete. On this trip, he has encountered multiple structural challenges along the way to include in his journal. Although many of the buildings seem impossible or, at least, time consuming to capture on paper, Don has devised a simple and convenient way to record difficult perspective opportunities. He simply uses a 9×12 piece of plexiglass and a common dry erase marker to make his task easier than ever. Don will hold the plexi up at eye level and close to his face. Then, with the structure in view, he will draw the most important information on the plastic panel with the dry erase marker. After, simplifying the subject, he will hold the plexi over his sketchbook and move the image around until he finds the most pleasing place to transfer it. He explained that he could make it smaller by holding it closer to the paper or larger on the page by holding it further above it. Then, he would simply look through the image on the plexi and using only a pen, would draw what he saw below on the sketch page. This was ingenious! And I was excited to put the technique to the test!
So I arrived at the Inn with my Guerilla Painter thumb box, filled with all of the things needed to paint, my sketchbooks filled with clean paper, and a desire to paint everything in sight! (Ok, so I will pare down my list!) It was a beautiful day, and the traffic was light, and when I arrived, I settled into the bed of my truck for a perfect frontal view of the Inn. After taking in the scenery for a few moments, I unpacked my painting kit and began my task.
For my tracing panel, I chose a convenient product that was already cut to size, the 9×12 Optical Quality Poly-Glass Sheet designed for use in framing. It was perfect, very reasonably priced, and readily available from Cheap Joe’s! Paired with a common black fine tip dry eraser marker, I was ready to put the process to the test.
I decided to sketch the front of the Inn viewed from the lot across the road where I was parked. (Ok, so I didn’t try the more complex view with all of the complicated angles and perspectives, but in my defense, I really didn’t have a great place to park on the road! Maybe, I’ll try it from a photo.) I steadied the panel in front of my face and proceeded to draw on the plexi. I drew only what was necessary to convey the overall look of the house. Leaving out a lot of details I could add in later with paint. This kept the sketch loose and simple and fresh looking.
The most difficult part of the process was holding the panel still. I’m not sure if those two cups of coffee were a good idea, now that I look back! Note: Don wears a hat when sketching and leans the panel against it to keep the plexi from moving. Well, I didn’t have a hat, so I just did the best I could without one. The sketch was brief and simple, but extremely helpful with the overall process. I captured enough information to accurately represent the house so that it was recognizable. I could straighten any lines and improve the detail when I transferred it to the sketchbook. Pretty neat! I must say. I think this technique is an asset when on a time constraint. You don’t have to be concerned about drawing correct perspective and a lot of measuring this and that. This tool really allows you to capture several complicated sketches in a short time. It’s perfect for journaling on location.
Now that I had my “template”, I could transfer the image to any surface, and anywhere on the surface, but today it would be my American Journey 9×12 Sketchbook. This sketchbook is filled with 70lb sketch paper and is spiral bound, making it ideal for quick sketches on the go. I love the hardback cover that can be decorated for any subject or theme.
Another suitable journal sketchbook is the Kilimanjaro Paintbook. The Paintbook Journal is perfect for sketching and watercolor journaling, as it includes 70lb. sketch paper, as well as, 140lb or 300lb Kilimanjaro watercolor paper. It also has a new 300lb page in front that is makes it easy to be creative and customize the journal cover for any subject or location.
Yet, another great choice is the new TerraSkin travel journals. This new unique surface is cradle to cradle certified and uses no trees or water in the processing. It’s definitely a green thing! Terraskin boasts the ability to sketch anywhere on this new surface. Well, in the mountains that could be in a creek, in the fog, during an afternoon rain shower, or perhaps, on a dewy trail. These wet conditions can wreak havoc on 100% cotton rag watercolor paper which will readily absorb the moisture from the air, sometimes causing the paper to buckle. Terraskin, made from stone and resin, is water resistant, tear resistant, acid free, and great for a variety of mediums, including oils, acrylics, and watercolor. A backpacker’s dream for journaling!
So, with this new technique to keep me motivated and inspired to journal every day, and all of these new sketchbooks to try out, I have the whole summer to explore my new found passion! It’s a good thing, too, because there’s always something to paint, sketch, or see in the High Country of North Carolina. Wow! So much to sketch and so little time! Isn’t that always the way it is?
Have a Happy Daily Journaling Day!
Happy Painting and keep your brush wet and your paper painted!