Fall Colors in Horse Country
Saturday morning found me waking to temperatures in the upper 30’s. Sandi had a riding lesson scheduled in south Fort Worth. Since it was the first time to take her horse trailer out, I decided to come along to offer an extra set of hands for some of the details of loading a trailer and helping get the horse in and out. Once we arrived, I found the world to be extremely bright and clear with sunlight. Sandi got her horse prepped for the lesson, and I photographed her and Andante riding about the pen, stretching and loosening up. By the time her lesson appointment arrived, I looked around for something to do.
These trees were “calling out” to me from the time we arrived on the property. The incredibly bright yellow and orange leaves against a dark forest just would not let go of my imagination. The sight of leaves falling between that dark space of tree cluster and bare ground also raised my ecstasy. I walked around, looking at this site from three different directions, all the time trying to talk myself out of the commitment to a plein air watercolor. I felt rusty, out-of-practice, uptight, not ready. All of this added up to the “dance of avoidance” Ian Roberts writes about in his Creative Authenticity. I knew that, like Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth before me, there would be rewards waiting if I would just respond to the call. But I was overwhelmed as I continually gazed at the complications–the masses of fall foliage, the dark forest behind, the bald, dirt ground beneath, the shadows spinning out from the trees and their gnarled trunks. I felt there were just too many details to chase, and I felt tired.
I pulled out four unfinished watercolors, along with the 8 x 10 photographs I had taken of the subjects. Nothing moved me. I took out my digital camera and photographed the scene before me repeatedly, trying to convince myself that I could do a better job working from the photographs and inserting a grazing horse beneath the trees. I knew that I would not do that, however. Trees from photographs just don’t “do it” for me.
I even contemplated reading; I had a whole bag full of books. I even thought of writing in my journal. But I knew I would live with regret if I passed on this opportunity, and Sandi’s riding lesson was going to take up an hour. So I sat, and looked, and thought–and finally drew out my watercolor block and sketched in the tree trunks and fencing.
Next I pulled the Super Nib Masquepen and began to dot in the hundreds of leaf clusters and falling leaves, along with the pipe fencing. Once everything dried, I laid in a quick Cerulean Blue sky. Fortunately the steady cold winds were drying out the surface of the watercolor block quickly. Quinachronine Yellow, Cadmium Yellow, Alizarin Crimson and Sap Green were the predominant pigments to help see me through the fall foliage.
I was pleased at my overall draughtmanship on the gnarled tree trunks. I mixed plenty of Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Red, Winsor Green and Ultramarine Blue to come up with my blacks and grays. An HB pencil also aided me in drawing in the tree bark, along with some help from an 8B Derwent watersoluble pencil. The tree trunks came together quite quickly.
I felt pretty lost on the shadows across the dirt, so I used more of my black and gray mixings from the colors listed above, and swirled them about on the dry paper with my “ugly brush”–a real staple for me. My “ugly” is a flat sable that I cut diagonally and then used an X-acto knife to pull out some of the bristles, leaving a jagged chisel-looking brush for my foliage, weeds and tree bark.
I’m really delighted that I responded to this opportunity, instead of passing it by. I was really taken by what Annie Dillard referred to as the “tree filled with lights.” I could not get over the beauty and splendor of the bright, bright sun reflections coming out of those brassy-colored leaves. And to think that I almost passed on this to read instead. I recall Nietzsche talking about how “positively wicked” it was for a writer or scholar to spend the prime time of the day reading–lost in other men’s thoughts–instead of producing one’s own. I’m grateful that this day was a day that I decided to create.
Thank you for reading.