I'm relatively new to North Carolina, and I'm very excited about all of the beautiful opportunities for painting outdoors here. But I'm also a little overwhelmed :)
I wondered if anyone had suggestions for places to paint in the mountains. I have a personal goal to schedule a "plein air retreat" for myself where I spend a few days focused only on painting outdoors. I'd like to practice painting scenes with atmospheric perspective and relatively large simple shapes (as opposed to intimate forest scenes that are more about the details and have less atmospheric depth).
My gear is portable, but I prefer short walks to my location so I'm not too far from civilization (being by myself) and so I'm not worn out from hiking a long distance. 1/4-1/2 mile feels about right for me.
If anyone has suggestions for locations in or around the Blue Ridge mountains that you've liked painting and are safe/friendly, I'd appreciate the direction!
Welcome, Amy! First of all please tell us the /general/ area of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina that you are located so we'd have a good idea of what would be a reasonable range for you. How far are you comfortable driving? I for example am in the Nantahala National Forest south west of Asheville. Asheville itself is about an hour and 20 minute drive (one way) for me, and I'm roughly a 30 minute drive from Sylvia or Cashiers, and about a 50 minute drive to Highlands, all of which are regular trips for me. I tend to paint all over the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Asheville and up towards Waynesville, sometimes heading also down to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. I also once in a while venture up towards Blowing Rock, Boone and Banner Elk, or down into Georgia. If you are anywhere near my range I'd be pleased to meet up with you for a painting trip when I get back from the Grand Tetons.
Oh, yes, forgot to mention where I am :) I live in the Raleigh area, so this will be a road trip for me either way. I've been to Boone and Blowing Rock, but that was before I had my painting gear so wasn't tuned into scouting good painting spots.
That's so cool you live in the Nantahala National Forest! It must be beautiful there. I've heard many times since moving here that Asheville is a must-visit location. My goal for this painting trip is to keep costs down and I intend to spend as much time painting outdoors as I can (rather than seeing the sights in towns). So I was thinking one of the areas that's less of a well-known destination would be nice. I'll be sure to check out the places you mentioned to help narrow down to at least a basic area.
Thank you for these ideas and for offering to meet up with me! I don't have any dates scheduled yet, but once I get something on the calendar I'll be sure to let you know in case you're around :) I hope you're enjoying the Grand Tetons - my husband and I went there a few years ago with our dogs and camper, and it was one of my all-time favorite trips. I liked Yellowstone, too, but it was the Grand Tetons that I just hated to leave. Are you painting while you're there?
I haven't left for the Tetons yet. I'll be leaving in about a week and yes, it is for a Plein Air event called Driggs Digs Plein Air Festival. https://www.driggspleinair.org/ The actual festival starts July 24th and runs through August 3rd but as I have family out there I'm heading out a few days early to get started on painting. My goal is to paint at least 15 quick studies and between 5 to 8 medium sized pieces, or more. I've shipped enough supplies ahead to do at least that many (and frames!).
Once you know about what area of the mountains you are going to focus on, let us all know when! With a little forewarning I'm sure others will also be happy to meet up with you and make suggestions for accommodations. Camping (or a camper) are ideal and can save you a lot of money. Everywhere up here is also dog friendly if you want to paint out with your dog(s)! ;)
Oooh, the Driggs Digs Plein Air Festival sounds awesome - have a wonderful time!
I'll be sure to share my plan once I settle on something :)
If you don't feel comfortable linking up with any of us to paint (always more fun when you aren't alone in a new area) then I would suggest checking out lodges, gift shops, and visitor centers in any of the National Parks or along the Parkway. Places like the parking lot and start of the paved trail up to Clingman's Dome is a beautiful spot that you would have a lot of people around you but also some great views without even having to ascend the trail. The Elk refuge in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park is another great stop, the top of Mount Pisgah on the Blue Ridge Parkway has a nice lodge and gift shop with ample parking, etc.
Around Asheville there is the Botanical Gardens, the Arboritum, the Biltmore Villiage and Estate, and much, much more! North of Asheville of course are places like Mount Mitchel and Grandfather Mountain that have lots of tourist areas. Towns like Blowing Rock are extremely charming.
Thank you for all of these suggestions! I like the idea of stopping at the visitor centers, and finding views at the trail heads.
I'm also considering what time of year to make the trip…part of what got me thinking about this plein air excursion is that the summer days get so hot here in the Raleigh area, and I start to feel rushed through the experience once I realize I'm baking in the heat ;) But I want to try avoid cold weather in the mountains. Once I have more experience under my belt maybe I'll change my tune on that — painting snow scenes has a ton of appeal — but for now I'm just concentrating on getting myself out there at a more beginner level. If I'm trying to stay in a daytime range of about 60-75°, it looks like May, September, and maybe October are my best bets. Does that sound pretty consistent with what you've experienced?
Any time of the summer, if you are UP in the mountains, staying in the 75 degree or lower temperature range is no problem. Our cabin is located at about 4,000 foot elevation and it rarely exceeds 75 degrees up here even when it's 90 degrees in Asheville. So it is quite delightful at 5 or 6 thousand feet right /now/ and can easily be in the 60's.
You hit the nail on the head though - LOTS of storms up here. Daily in summer, often. We do get dry stretches but they are hard to predict. Best bet for summer is simply go paint /anyway/. I paint most days right now. Mornings are usually rain free most of the time but there may be clouds and mist. As I work in oils a light rain doesn't bother me. Lightning is what you need to watch out for and get to shelter. You can usually see the storms coming for a good distance if you are paying attention and get plenty of warning. I'll often simply move up or down the Parkway a little distance to avoid them and set right back up to work on another painting. Some days the rain socks in too much and I have to give up for the afternoon. (Mind you I am often on my motorcycle so I pay close attention to weather.)
Autumn is a /great/ time to come up! It'll be really getting beautiful in September at the higher elevations, or by October in the lower areas (though that can vary). Be warned though that temps will already be diving and unpredictable that late in the year so bring warm jackets. Sunny days will be nice enough but evenings will already be dipping into the 40's and lower. By November much of the Blue Ridge Parkway up here will be closed until spring due to ice.
In winter we still like to come up to the higher parts of the Parkway, park where we must by the closed gates and then simply start hiking. I do have a bad leg but I'm still good for stretches of 5 miles or more if I take care. My plein air pack is light at about 20 lbs. It is simply GORGEOUS up here in winter. The brown mountains take on a lovely golden hue from the sun or whites and blues from the snow. That may be more than you want to tackle at these higher elevations though. ;)
Thank you so much for the details on the weather, that's very helpful! I hadn't considered that up in the mountains it would stay cooler than the lower elevations, so that expands my options into the summer months quite a bit. I'm a wimp when it comes to cold (17 years in Phoenix really messed with my sensitivity to temperature, lol) but I've contemplated painting from inside our truck. It wouldn't be an ideal scenario, but could be a workable stepping stone.
You have me very inspired to get this excursion planned! I love the sound of the winter colors you describe.
Thanks for these ideas, Scott! I agree that it would take a lifetime to explore the mountains -- and that's not even including everything I want to see in the rest of the state. This is such a beautiful area to live in, I want to soak it all up.
Grandfather Mountain looks like a sight to see. Have you ever painted from that bridge? I wasn't sure if that was a no-no because it would get in the way of pedestrians…
BTW I visited the Hickory Art Museum recently and the special plein air painting gear exhibit you contributed to really inspired me. Right after that visit I made up a bunch of panels, got my own gear more organized, and made the decision to get some painting trips on my calendar. The paintings were also inspiring, of course! But something about seeing the materials that help make outdoor painting possible struck a chord with me.
Thanks Amy, That’s my ultra lights set up, I’m looking forward to getting it back in operation once the exhibits over. I think it would be impossible to paint from the swinging Bridge. It is very narrow and you would be dropping supplies for sure as it gets to really swing in with everyone crossing the mountain. But lots of good views up there and certainly a must see if it is not in the clouds . Have fun be sure to post some of your paintings!