The Wild Taccoa, Ed Cahill, Georgia Plein Air

Shut Out for Fall Plein Air Competitions

The Wild Taccoa
The Wild Toccoa

As soon as the weather cools off plein air starts to heat up again. Although this is still a very warm part of the year in Georgia there were two paint-outs scheduled for the same weekend—everything or nothing. A defense for my rather poor showing in both competitions is that I was prepared to be hosting Colley Whisson here at the house while he was teaching a class downtown at Binder’s but at the last minute he had visa problems and had to cancel his trip. I was looking forward to his visit but at the same time, I was a bit disappointed that I would miss the Blue Ridge event, especially after winning last year. So when I found out Colley would be a no show I quickly re-planed the weekend so that I could attend the Blue Ridge competition. It’s about 1oo miles north of my house and I usually do not stay over, so back and forth for three days will wear you out before you paint one picture. With that in mind and a one day paint out in Stone Mountain— a bit closer, I decided to go up Friday and paint in the afternoon, come home and go to Stone Mountain on Saturday. Then drive back north to Blue Ridge Sunday for some more painting and the final judging. Sounds crazy ?—yes a bit.

So Friday I finished up my work early and headed up 575 north to Blue Ridge. It’s a great drive up into the mountains and just before you get to Blue Ridge they fill the sky with endless purple.  I also love the big blue Scenic Railway train that is parked downtown, and always try to do one painting of it. I was interested in the way the town is in a very sharp valley with hills on either side. When you are on one side or the other it has a stacked verticality like a

Blue Ridge Squared
Blue Ridge Squared

miniature San Francisco. I parked near the train and hiked up one of the hills to a crossing street and set up in a yard, after asking permission. This gave me a view across the valley with the train horizontally at the bottom. Very patchwork like and interesting. I spent about three hours but had trouble with my brushes, Just could not get a good edge. It took me another two weeks to admit that I needed a new brush. I use a medium size flat for almost everything and when it goes bad, everything goes with it. I usually buy a new one before any competition. I struggled through though and finished up with the sun casting shadows across the hill and the street across the valley left to right. I then packed up and drove the 100 miles home.

Saturday morning I jumped in the car and drove 60 miles east to Stone Mountain. I’ve lived here for almost twenty years and never been to this park—a big mistake. I had to register at the Art Place studio in town and luckily I found it quite quickly. I’m not a member so it cost me $45 for the entry fee but it was worth it, they had food and made everyone a lunch – that I forgot going out the door. I then drove into the park with a pass provided and parked next to the main entrance to the mountain. Saturday is a big day there I guess and the lot was full of cars and people. All were dressed in shorts and tennis shoes for a hike up the mountain. I joined the fray and with all my gear and was amazed at the unusual characteristics of this granite outcropping. This side of the mountain rises gradually like a staircase of stone to the top. Some were running up for there weekly exercise. I looked like a martyr with my box and umbrella and tripod. But I found it beautiful and the higher I got the better the view. About halfway up and decided to give it go. I found a good spot with a view across the rocks to the plains below. Very unusual for Georgia. I spent several hours painting and met many walkers and entire families hiking up and down the mountain.

Half Way to the Top
Half Way to the Top

Later in the day, I toured the entire park in my car looking for another painting. I must have had too much sun because I got this idea of view of the monument with its mountain portraits of Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis in the background and the backlit trees upfront and to throw it in the cable car to the top, all on a 9 x12″.  Ridiculous—I won’t even show you the mess. I spent more hours in the sun too. Being smart is such an important part of plein air—especially when you are in a competition.

So with one good one, I went to the hall that they were using for the judging. I set up my one painting with the thought that it was not bad and had a chance for the $350 first prize.  Wrong—not even an honorable mention!  None-the-less I had a great day and I will make sure to get back to this amazing place soon.

Sunday I was a bit tired but up with the sun and out on the road to Blue Ridge again. I wanted to get a view of the mountains on a 12 x24″ board so I drove around for an hour back and forth looking for one of the designated areas. After no luck, I found a spot on the Toccoa River (top of the post)  with nice rapids and worked for the long 24″ board. I had some problems again. I ran out of my titanium white so I use a tube of underpainting white that I keep in my car for emergencies. I also ran out of ultramarine blue about halfway using a pthalo blue that never use. All in all the painting worked out OK but a shade darker than it should have been

Corner Lot
Corner Lot

another classic mistake that you can not afford during a competition. On the way back to Blue Ridge I stopped and worked on a quick view of a small house and garden—one of my “go-to” subject matters when I need a good painting. I spent just more than an hour and arrived last for the judging. Another mistake. All in all the work was superior at this competition all around with about 40 good paintings on the wall. Again I was shut out but felt that the competition was very good and my work was perhaps not as good as it could have been. John Gurnesy won first place—one of my mentors.

So I drove home with my tail between my legs— and the thought that I broke many of my own rules for how to succeed in these competitions.  I did sleep pretty well through that night.

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