Plein air painting and traveling in Vermont - August 2015
The State of Vermont is #18 in my lifetime quest to plein air paint in all 50 States. I was finally able to get back to my travels in August after a trip to Maine on family business. It was a joy to be on the road again with painting as my main focus. My sister Katherine came from U.K. and we were able to enjoy a really fun 5 days together traveling and having unique experiences on the back roads of The Green Mountain State - Vermont.
I would have preferred to be there during the Fall for the Fall foliage but August was what worked out for me, so painting all the green trees, grass and mountains was part of the challenge and fun. Also, dealing with the fickle nature of Vermont's ever changeable weather. Due to all the mountains it seemed that weather could be nice and sunny and within 10 minutes the clouds would gather and torrential rainfall would dump upon us. So being prepared for any weather is necessary as well as having Deet insect repellent ever handy no matter what time of day one is out painting.
What follows is an account of our trip - a Travelog as well as information on where to paint. There is plenty to amuse tourists and things are very well set up. The roadside rest stops are clean and pleasant and some even offer free coffee! Part of Vermont's campaign to keep drivers awake as they cruise up and down the velvet hills and through the pastoral landscape.
We drove from Maine through the center of New Hampshire north of Lake Winnipesaukee on back roads rather than take the more efficient interstate 89 to White River Junction. We weren't in a rush and the weather was beautiful - a perfect day to start a road trip.
We had accommodations at The Quechee Inn at Marshfield Farm. - A delightful old farm that has been converted into a lovely Vermont B & B with a restaurant and event center for weddings. A destination that exceeded our expectations.
Our room was comfortable and looked out onto fields and trees. We had sunflowers blooming outside our window and a lovely garden. Across the small rural road is the river and pond area that is suitable for launching kayaks and canoes at Dewey's Landing. It is also (happily) a perfect place for painting!
Upon our arrival we checked in and then went for a walk in the evening light. I heard a strange whooshing sound up in the sky and saw hot air balloons set against the sunset sky. Here is a photo of what we saw. Magic! and a good omen for the trip!
The next morning, after a good Vermont breakfast at our Inn (maple syrup on everything of course) I packed up my plein air painting gear and headed across the road to my chosen morning painting spot. The weather was warm - almost hot at times but sunny with a few pretty decorator clouds overhead.
I set up my easel right next to the water and was able to use my EasyL Umbrella as there was barely a puff of wind - oh happy day! The still water made for gorgeous reflections with morning light illuminating the profusely blooming wild flowers and grasses on the pond edge. The smell of green things growing as well as the pond water aromas completed the sensory overload of Summer in all her glory. A heavenly spot.
The only others that came around while I was painting were a couple who launched their kayak and set out for a paddle. I heard her complaining to him "It takes us longer to get this thing on the water than it does to actually kayak"... I had to chuckle. Boating is like that - more prep. and messing around than the actual "doing" - sort of like art at times. It's all an enjoyable process with no rush. The other visitor was a nice young man with his older chocolate lab dog. He brings her to this spot each day so she can have a little swim. Such a happy dog!
As I painted I noticed all the various shades of green - from warm to cool in color tone and from light to dark on the value scale. I'm trying a new brand of Sap Green for transparent under painting (the first layer of oil paint laid down). It is from Sennelier in Paris. Quite appropriate for this painting as it is turning out very Impressionist in its' look. Here is my painting from that lovely morning.
Later on that afternoon my sister and I hiked a short way from the Visitors Center up onto the trail that traverses the edge of the Gorge. The gorge was formed during the last Ice Age when a massive glacial avalanche came down and carved out what we see today. On August 28, 2012 this area of Vermont was hit very hard by torrential rains from Hurricane Irene. The flooding destroyed a number of the area's iconic covered bridges as well as inundated local businesses anywhere near the rivers. I am happy to report that recovery seems to be going well with businesses back on their feet and lots of tourists enjoying the beauty with little apparent awareness of the happenings of just 3 years ago. Lots of clips of the flooding can be seen on UTube etc. Just Google it.
I set up my easel and gear on the edge of the Gorge rim looking up-river towards the bridge. My sister headed down hill to the river and went swimming in a nice placid water hole nearby. Lots of families and a couple of dogs were there enjoying the cool river water on a hot day.
Back at my easel I had to peer through tree leaves to see the bridge but managed to do the above painting while under attack by ravenous Vermont mosquitoes. An application of Deet insect repellent did the trick.
A visitor who
stopped by to see what I was doing
wanted to know if I could paint a portrait of his wife. I said No - I
don't do portraits! It was very hot and humid and I kept
thinking how nice a cool drink would be later.
It was a challenging scene to paint but I stuck with it and feel
reasonably satisfied with what I did.
While in Quechee Gorge area don't forget to visit the glass
workshop of Simon Pearce. Fabulous
place! They make very fine and high end
glass ware. We watched the artisans
blowing glass downstairs in the foundry.
Fascinating and hot! Probably
great on a cold Vermont winter day but a bit steamy on the Summer day we were
there. We purchased a couple of mugs to remind us of the trip.
The next morning dawned grey and very wet. We were driving from Quechee Gorge in central Vermont to Stowe in Northern Vermont and the Green Mountains. Before we departed the area however we visited a farm that produces Vermont maple syrup and cheddar cheese. Sugar Bush Farm is fun and interesting, even in the pouring rain. We did a self guided Tour and had tastings of maple syrup and farm made cheddar cheese. There is a small farm shop where one can purchase the goodies (we did) and chat with the local people who work there every day.
After departing Sugar Bush Farm we drove north and west on small roads and made our way to Stowe where we had planned a two night stay at the Stowe Mountain Lodge. We got a really good deal on luxury accommodations because it was the "off" season. This would normally be beyond my budget. When I called them on the phone to ask about rooms, they quoted me one price and when I objected the guy on the line came back with a 25% off that price!
They also further upgraded our room when we arrived. So it pays to bargain in the off season. Our room had a balcony with a view of the Green Mountains as well as a full kitchen. Very nice! There was a full size heated outdoor swimming pool which we used for lap swimming as well as a couple of jacuzzi hot tubs. We ate at the Resort restaurant that evening as we didn't want to go out in the dark and rain for dinner.
While having my morning coffee I decided to paint the sunrise and grey clouds over the mountains while sipping my favorite morning brew.
The balcony of our apartment was perfect for this considering the amount of rain and threatening skies. Part of the challenge of plein air painting is to paint in all conditions - not just perfect blue skies. Just as well because perfect blue sky didn't seem to be in the cards for this day. I found out that Stowe, Vermont is the second most rainy place in the USA with over 100" of rain per year. The mountain location plus the proximity of Lake Champlain creates unique meteorological conditions - perfect for snow in the winter for the ski area - and the velvet green mountains in the Summer. For me the rain was pleasant, coming from drought stricken California. After my damp sunrise painting my sister and I went for a pre-breakfast swim in the outdoor pool - wonderful! and no one else there due to the rain.
After breakfast on that rainy morning we decided to go to the top of Mt. Mansfield in the Stowe Ski Area. Mount Mansfield is the highest peak in Vermont at 4393 ft. It is one of two places in Vermont where Arctic Tundra can be found. Mt. Mansfield is notorious for white outs, fog outs and general bad weather at all times of the year. Rather than take the gondola lift we opted for the more adventurous route of driving up to the top on a one lane gravel road. This road is call the Toll Road - and someone does in fact take $19.00 per car toll. The road turned out to be better than expected with very little traffic (thankfully).
When we got to the top of the mountain, sure enough, we couldn't see a thing because of fog. Even I can't plein air paint under these conditions - so we came down a bit and found a place where the clouds lifted enough to give us a view of some black diamond ski runs heading downhill. At this time of year the ski runs are covered with wild flowers and grass and look benign. I set up my easel with anticipation.
No sooner had I started to paint than the sky opened up and the rain bucketed down in torrents. I had to abandon easel and ran for the car to wait it out. After about 30 minutes the rain let up enough for me to venture out again. I went back to my soaking wet easel and palette. I was able to quickly block in my composition and make some color and value notes before I gave up entirely due to the paint being mixed with rain water. It didn't like it and became scratchy and unresponsive to the brush. I later finished this painting at the apartment while we dried off and did a laundry of various soaked items.
Smugglers Notch and Hiking in a stream bed
After drying off from the morning's adventure and having a bracing cup of tea my sister and I ventured out again to a pass in the mountains not too far from the ski area. The place is called Smugglers Notch. We attempted to hike a very steep and rocky trail that promised the reward of an Alpine lake.
As we left the parking lot it was threatening heavy rain again and we didn't have our hiking boots on as they got soaked during the morning adventure. The trail was very steep, rocky and tricky under foot. Plus it was dark and altogether rather dire under the tree canopy. After one mile or so the heavens opened up again and we eventually decided it was just too much - so we turned around and carefully made our way back down the steep trail which by now had become a stream bed of run off.
After all our wet adventures that day we opted for eating in at our apartment. What a relief to be dry and comfortable after our adventurous day! The two paintings I got done that day are a testament to persistence and for that I appreciate them. They are also more memorable to me than others painted in perfect conditions.
After a good night's sleep we checked out of our comfortable lodgings at the Stowe Mountain Lodge and hit the road. We were on our way to Lake Champlain - and I was in search of the perfect Vermont Barn to paint before we got there. The search didn't take long - we found my barn within 15 minutes of passing through Smuggler's Notch on the way to St. Albans on Lake Champlain.
Encounters of the plein air kind
We pulled off the road and onto a side track. The place looked deserted, and construction was halted at a large structure nearby. A perfect spot from which to paint the barn. What then ensued was one of those strange "encounters of the plein air kind" that happen sometimes.
No sooner had I set up my easel when a pick up truck rolls up driven by the guy who happens to own the land we are standing on. Having had previous experience with such matters, I took the offensive and explained what I was doing and asked his permission to be there to paint the view of the barn. The landowner is a dairy farmer. He also built said barn with his own hands and I am given permission to be there.
Once the preliminary interaction is out of the way, he gets going on a rant about his wife. He tells us way too many details about their dysfunctional relationship. On and on he went - divorce appears imminent. I made soothing noises and started my painting. Yes, they have been to marriage counseling - it is clearly not working. After he had vented for a while he got around to tell us about his herd of dairy Jersey cows. He is without them right now due to the rebuilding of his dairy facility next to my car.
My English sister is quite taken aback by Robbie confessing his family problems to random strangers. But that is what we encounter as artists. People are open with us and feel at home enough in our presence to talk about everything.... Eventually Robbie ran out of steam and drove off. Phew! So much angst on a Summer morn... I wish him well.
The barn itself is perfection, with just the right amount of
aging paint, wildflowers are everywhere including a cornflower blue one that I
had never seen before.
Jeffersonville is the perfect Vermont village - almost like Disneyland it is so charming and ideal. We came across the Visions of Vermont Gallery complex at 100 Main Street. Here we found some of the best plein air and studio landscape paintings I have seen in ages. World Class art tucked off the Main Street. There are 3 different buildings and galleries. Works from Vermont Masters both past and present. In one of these galleries we encountered/discovered the amazing work of contemporary Vermont artist Eric Tobin. Wow! Local and superb - what a find! Here is their website - www.VisionsofVermont.com - check it out.
A wonderful old sled/wagon that had been built for use by an artist in winter while out "plein air" - it has glass windows and 2 small wood stoves inside the wagon to keep the artist warm and toasty while "out" painting in winter - very inventive!
We drove through the town of St. Albans to get to Kamp Kill Kare State Park which is on a peninsula in Lake Champlain. Absolutely beautiful with beaches and views across the lake in all directions. Boats come and go taking people to the small islands on the lake or even across the lake to New York State. This was to be the location of my final Vermont painting - Painting #6. Soft afternoon light reflected on the still lake waters as well as reflections of the active clouds in the sky. Perfect.
Victorian B & B - Back Inn Time, 68 Fairfield Street, St. Albans, Vermont 05478 - 802-527-5116
We stayed at this delightful Victorian Inn for our final night in Vermont. We were able to walk from the Inn into downtown for an evening meal that night and enjoyed the fine weather and small town feeling of St. Albans. This concludes my travelog about traveling and painting in Vermont. Thank you for reading about it all - take a trip there sometime yourself. It feels like going back in time in many ways.
A huge Thank You to my sister for traveling with me and also Thank You Vermont! You are beautiful.