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?



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D. Michael Coffee, artist

Art is my passion and the true backbone of my existence.

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

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