Read about my daily adventures while painting 'en plein aire' .

Turkey Track

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Entry to Congaree Bluffs Heritage Preserve.

For my next ‘en plein aire’ painting, I decided to drive up the road to a place I can get to the river.  Its called ‘Turkey Track’ by locals, but it was renamed “Congaree Bluffs Heritage Preserve” when SCDNR took it over.  Here is their description of the area, “The Congaree Bluffs Heritage Preserve comprises 201 acres and contains steep, undisturbed bluffs bordering the Congaree River.  Located in Calhoun County, the preserve harbors significant stands of American beech, oak-hickory and bottomland hardwood forest. No comparable sites exist in the coastal plain of South Carolina. More than 100 species of trees, shrubs and woody vines exist in the preserve from the ridge base to the crest of the bluffs. Woody plants may number 200 species.”

To me, its a great place to hike and paint, commune with nature and walk along the river or creek.  I’ve drawn pictures there before, but never hauled my painting supplies along with me before.  Its quite a difficult place to haul things around.  Lots of cliffs, woods, weeds and natural ditches.  The first stretch at the top of the bluffs isn’t too bad.  Just walk down the gravel land from the parking area, pass the locked up buildings and go to the observation deck.  From there you can look over the woods and river.  But you can’t see the river, especially in the summer.  Now that its autumn, you can see a little glimpse of the water down below you.

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Observation deck

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View from the Observation Deck, see the blue of the river down in the trees?

Not a great view to paint, I was hoping for more colors in the tree’s.  So I decide to hike down to the creek and see how it looks today.

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These trails seem to go on forever, in the sun too.

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At last, the entrance to the wooded area around the creek.

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And there it is! The creek looks like a ditch with all the fallen leaves around it. In the summer, the creek sides are clay and black dirt, and holds impressions of the feet of deer, raccoons, and birds coming to drink. I’ve seen deer here many times, but there’s no hunting allowed in the preserve.

Not a good landscape painting view.  So, I turn around and head back up the hill.  Hike through the clay and scrub brush again.

The Hiking Trail sign

The Hiking Trail sign

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There’s miles of path like this, no wonder its so easy to get lost!

I finally get back to the top of the hill, where I started.  There’s another path here that goes down to the river, but it is a very steep walk.  No way I can take my painting things down that trail by myself, even using my handcart.   I decided to paint the view from the other side of the gate from the parking area.  All that walking for nothing!  Well, at least it was good exercise. 🙂

My painting set up.

My painting set up.

My painting in progress.

My painting in progress.

I worked on it from here for 2 afternoons.  I almost never see anyone here besides the Department of Natural Resources man who comes on Fridays to cut the grass around the buildings and make sure the road is passable.  I ran into him one day and got to see inside the buildings.  Apparently they have meetings of different kinds there.  They have a display case full of animal skulls found on the preserve.  I’d love to have that collection to draw!  I’ve draw a deer skull I found in the woods a few times.

For the first time, another person came to the preserve while I was there.  It was a  young man in his pick-up truck.  He was hoping to do some 4-wheeling around the preserve.  He said he’d been one of a few youths allowed to hunt there one day last year and decided to come back and explore, but he was disappointed to find out he couldn’t drive down past where I was set up.  The padlocked gate ensures no traffic on the preserve.

I touched up the painting a little bit at home after painting “en plein aire” for 2 days.  I think my 8×10″ landscape series is paying off.  I can see improvement in the painting, if not in my speed (the original purpose of this series).  So even though it isn’t doing what I’d hope, I think painting this series of small landscapes is helping me become a better painter.  Do you agree?



Autumn Dogwood Tree’s

DSCF4450 (2)Just up the street from the hayfield I painted last week were these beautiful dogwood tree’s.  They’re not as bright as they are some autumns, but they’re still prettier than anything else I see today.  So I set up my easel and started painting.

DSCF4448 (2) I got to set up in the shade today.  What a relief after the Hayfield painting done with the sun going down in front of me.  Here I positioned myself so the sun is going down to my right and I set up my easel in the shade of a tree.

Lots of traffic passed by, but few stopped to comment.  The UPS driver did yell “Nice painting” out his open door as he drove by.  🙂  A couple of small dogs that lived nearby wandered close enough to bark at me a few times, then they wandered on back to their yard. DSCF4452 (2)

Although I started this series of small landscapes in order to paint faster, I still feel the need to spend 2 days on most of my paintings.  I went back a couple days later and painted in the smaller details to complete the painting.  A neighbor with her SUV full of kids did slow to tell me the painting looked real good as her kids waved at me.  A very nice drive-by.

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When I saw that the field just up the street had hay rolls laying in it for a few days, I decided to paint them.  The first day I took photo’s and started the painting.


                                                                               Simpsons hayfield

Starting the painting No one bothered me on the little side road I’d parked on, until a tenant of the hay field owner drove by.  He rents a mobile home at the other end of the field, and questioned me about what I was doing there until I mentioned his landlords name.  Then he suddenly quit acting like he owned the area and he drove on home.

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Painting the hayfield

My next visitor was a beautiful black cat.  Wish I’d brought some kitty treats, but a few pets satisfied the cat who moved on and let me get back to work.A visitorKitty visitor

I never knew it was so busy on the other side of our neighborhood.  After several cars and pick-ups drove by, my husband drove up and parked behind me, got out and took my picture.

Painting the hayfield

I finally got back to work and painted for about 2 hours.

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I went back a few days later to paint some finishing touches.  This time a man walking his dog stopped by to see my painting.  He could see me from his window and I’m sure he was curious about what I was painting.  He told me the painting was real nice. 🙂

Here’s the finished painting, I may go back and lighten up the tree’s by the buildings, but other than that….

Hayfield painting

Hayfield painting

Lake Moultrie

Last week, I dropped off some art at a hair studio in a town 1/2 hours drive from home.  I was near Santee State Park, so I decided to go  there and paint that afternoon.  I heard the State parks are charging to get in now, so I was a little upset before I even got there because I don’t think public parks should charge admission.  But when I saw the sign said $2 per car I felt much better.  I could afford that much.

Santee State ParkI like this view, I wish I’d put the base of the tree in my painting, but I zoomed in on the lake.

I drove on for miles after passing the sign, then finally arrived at a little store and boat dock.  I went in and told the elderly man at the counter I wanted to paint a picture here this afternoon.  He said, “Well, let me give you a free guest pass, go hang it on your rear view mirror”.  I was so pleased, there are still some places and some people that appreciate art.  I went to get a candy bar, and he almost shouts, “I mean it, go put it in your car right now or a park ranger may drive by and give you a ticket!”  Well, I guess I’m not as honored a guest as I thought. 😉   I did as he instructed then got my candy bar and went looking for a place to set up my easel.

I decided to paint right next to the parking lot by the boat dock.  I didn’t have to walk far to get where I wanted to paint and there was a picnic table situated perfectly for holding my paints.  Quite a few people came and went on the dock, boaters and fishermen, but no one bothered me at all.  I think it was the first time I set up in a public place and didn’t draw observers.  I don’t know if I should be flattered or annoyed, maybe state park visitors are used to artists painting on site.

I set up my things, looked around and started painting the far left tree’s that were on the other side of an inlet.  Obviously, I made those trees too large.  An amateur mistake, but we all have bad days.  I went on and painted for only about 2 hours.  I’m getting faster…my goal when I started this 8×10″ landscape series!

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A couple of days later, I decided to take advantage of the flexibility of oil paints and rework the treeline.  Here it is after a little editing with turpentine and oil paint.

Lake Moultrie oil paintingEnjoy the view!

Simpsons Pond


For today’s painting, I called a neighboring farmer and got permission to paint his pond.   I didn’t know it was covered with algae bloom until I got there, ready to paint, so I decided to go ahead and paint the challenging algea bloom on the pond.   I picked a spot after walking the length of the berm and set up my easel and started painting.  The farmer and his son stopped by to see what I decided to paint, and told me I picked a good spot.  🙂0910141658-01 (2)

0910141654-03 (2)After painting about an hour, I realized the fascinating swirls of algae had moved.  It was no longer like my painting.  Whats going on?  I look to the left and see a cow in the pond!  I sure  couldn’t blame it for wading in the water on this hot summer afternoon, I almost wanted to join him but wisely stayed on dry land.  I did walk down to visit though and take a break from my painting.

Walking back, I disturbed a black snake checking out my easel.  It slithered off into the ditch behind where I was working, so I went back to painting.


Before I found my Yellow-Green oil paint

I had to watch my back after that, but I finished up the painting, my first of algae bloom on a pond.  What do you think of it?  Can you tell what’s going on with the pond?  Did I successfully capture the view?  Comments are welcome!

2 weeks later…found my Yellow-Green paint, looks more like the algea bloom now!

I touched up the painting when I found my Yellow-green paint.

I touched up the painting when I found my Yellow-green paint.

I was a child when the song by Five Man Electric Band hit #1 in the charts.  Even back then I thought it was very prophetic.  Have you listened to the words?

…”Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?
And the sign said anybody caught trespassin’ would be shot on sight
So I jumped on the fence and-a yelled at the house, “Hey! What gives you
the right?”
“To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep mother nature in”
“If God was here he’d tell you to your face, Man, you’re some kinda sinner”…

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Today I went out driving to find a place to paint.  I had the road in mind already, but there are several scenic viewpoints on this road.  I drove its length and back, then decided to paint the beautiful, still pond in a hollow right beside the road. There was an egret wading in the shallows.  Just perfect for painting!   I pulled off and took a couple photo’s before I got started painting, when…WAIT, what’s that sign all about?   Sure, “Posted, No hunting” is cool, but…

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Better take a closer look  DSCF3871 (640x480)

I’m sure they’re talking about hunters and fishermen taking game off their property, but I read it all and at the bottom it says, “TRESPASSING FOR ANY REASON IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED” !  They didn’t even fill in their name or address so I could go ask permission to stand on the side of a public, although narrow and quiet road to paint a picture of the view.

I started singing, “Sign, sign everywhere a sign” got in my car and drove home without painting.  😦

Another Farm Road

For my next 8×10″ en plein aire oil painting, I decided to paint close to home.  My husband wasn’t feeling well so I wanted to stay nearby.  Right behind our property is a farm road that seldom gets traffic even from the farmer.  I do see young men using the road to ride around on their 4-wheelers, but its more of a firebreak than a road.

Farm road behind our place

I painted this on a cloudy day with some sunlight between the shadows, a real challenge for a landscape painter.  Its better to paint on a totally overcast day or a sunny day.  I finally decided to downplay the shadows, just show the sunlight bathing the far end of the road.  I hope I caught it, what do you think?Sunlit Farm Road

Farm Road

I had to title this new painting “Another Farm Road” because I painted this same scene when I began landscape painting back in the mid-90’s.  It was also painted ‘en plein aire’, but on a slightly larger canvas, 11×14″, showing a larger view of the scene.  What do you think of my early painting of “Farm Road” compared to the newer “Another Farm Painting a farm roadRoad”?  How do the 2 paintings compare?  They were done almost 20 years apart, so the tree’s have grown some, but its still the same farm road.  I feel like the new painting is much more Impressionistic than the older one.  Do you agree?  I’d love to hear your comments.

Linwoods barn

For my first in the series of 8×10″ landscape paintings that I’ve challenged myself to do is an old barn about a mile behind my home.    After a nice walk through the woods, I arrived at an area with old farm buildings.0601141734-00 (2)0601141732-00 (2) 0601141734-02 (2) 0601141732-01 (2)IMG_0191 (2)

 I decided to paint an old barn on a farm road.  A field of corn is growing behind me, lending to the atmosphere.   I ended up going there 2 days to complete this painting, but I think it was worth it. The sun is a little lower in the photograph than in my painting.  That is one of the biggest challenges in painting a scene outdoors.  The sun is constantly changing the shadows.  I usually paint for only 2 or 2 1/2 hours because the shade changes so much in that time period.  If I run out of time, I go back the next day at the same time to finish the painting.

Why I’m writing this blog…

When I moved to the country from the suburbs 25 years ago, I was overwhelmed by the beauty I saw in the rural countryside.   I was already an artist, so I decided I needed to learn how to paint ‘en plein aire’ like the Impressionists who painted the countryside and the cities of France a little over 100 years ago.   I love the paintings of Monet and VanGogh.  That is how I want to paint!  So after completing my college degree in art, I took over 10 years of workshops from Ilona Royce-Smithkin of the PBS show, “Painting with Ilona” to learn the Impressionistic techniques that I use to paint the countryside.   Now I regularly hike in the countryside looking for peaceful country scenes to paint for my viewers.

As an artist, I think painting a scene on-site is the only way to go!   The natural outdoor light is so much better for seeing and reproducing the colors in nature.  I love to go outside and paint the countryside, farms, barns and ponds that are everywhere in the rural area where I live.  Of course, all this property is owned so I have to get permission of the landowner before I can paint there.  This is especially important during hunting season!  I don’t want to be mistaken for a deer.  Even when I have permission to paint on someone’s property, I like to wear a bright hat and many times I’ll sing out loud as I’m walking to my painting spot.  When I arrive at a peaceful and beautiful scene, I am already in a great mood and ready to begin painting.

I prefer to paint in solitude when possible, it helps me reproduce the peaceful atmosphere into my paintings.   Of course, I don’t mind when an admirer or two stops by to see what I’m doing.  People seem to be fascinated by the process of painting a picture.   I’m often approached by people that just want to watch what I’m doing.   All have been very polite and will wait for a sign from me that they can approach to see what I’m doing.   I’m writing this blog to share the adventures of painting outdoors with you.

Welcome to the life of a landscape painter!


Melanie Akren-Dickson

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