According to the calendar, spring has sprung, although one would never know it here in the Northeast. With this interminable winter we’ve been having here in Philly, I’m just itching to get out and do some hiking. I feel absolutely stifled when I can’t get out and immerse myself in nature’s inspiration and it shows in my work when I haven’t been outside for a while. One of my favorite quotes by Matisse suggests that no matter what kind of work one makes, nature is always filtered somehow through the artists mind…An artist must possess nature. He must identify himself with her rhythm, by efforts that will prepare the mastery which will later enable him to express himself in his own language.
The main source of inspiration for my paintings is from photographing and/or plein air sketching while on long hikes. I always like to explore at least one new place per year and usually plan extra days around my summer workshop teaching schedule to hike the area I’m teaching or I plan vacations around an inspiration hike. I was curious if other artists did this and apparently many of you do, so I decided to gather a few willing participants to write about their favorite inspiring places. Even if you don’t enjoy hiking, many of these places are drivable or just looking at the photos in this article, the art inspired by it and the artist’s web sites is inspiration decadence.
- Lorraine GlessnerHike Location: ‘The Knolls’ Teasdale, Utah
I have so many favorite hikes, it was difficult to narrow it down. I chose ‘The Knolls’ (pictured the top of this article), the name granted by artist friend, Jeff Juhlin, who introduced it to me a couple of years ago and inspired by the odd earth forms that surround the area. It’s located just outside of the Dixie National Forest entry in Teasdale, Utah. Jeff and I have taken Our Desert Artist Retreat to The Knolls, but other than that, I have never seen another soul on the trail-all you hear is the wind and your own breathing.
The images I’ve shared below were taken on a cloudy day and even so, the earth shone a brilliant rust/red/orange/pink. To say the terrain is other worldly is an understatement, I have literally never seen anything like this place except in a Star Trek episode. The colors, earth, rock, trees, brush, flora all wind whipped into fascinating twisted, sculpted forms that keep me interested for hours. I hiked there alone on a stormy day last August and for many hours I climbed, photographed, sketched and wrote. I then went home and made some digital drawings from some of my photographs (one pictured above). Here is an excerpt from my journal that day…Rocks that grow out of the ground, trees growing out of rocks, rocks that seem to have teeth and fallen branches that look like bones. I keep trying to find a sound, but there is absolutely nothing to hear. This place defies all logic, but I never want to leave its magic.
2. Arden Bendler Browning
Hike Location: Drive-By’s in Australia
As I write this, I am traveling by motorhome with my partner and three daughters all around Australia. As we drive, I paint while observing the landscape morphing through the windshield and out my side windows. I have also revisited drawings made while outside and from window views of Sydney, hikes in Maui, and riding through the Sydney highways – I add layers from different locations and combine them together into one image.
My previous road trip out west from Philadelphia resulted in numerous sketches made in this way (primarily watercolor and gouache on Yupo), and then large paintings were made back in my studio as I looked at the thousands of photographs from my trip, held in my hand as I made marks on my panels.
The drives, moreso than the hikes, tend to be my inspiration. I am interested in conveying the yearning to take everything in, to be everywhere all at once, yet also considering the awareness that it is an absurd impossibility promoted by our own constructs. To see everything means to miss something else – be that the slower paced time spent in one place, the elimination of another route altogether, or simply existing more on the physical present moment This seems to echo the prevalent pace of contemporary life in the digital age… We are convinced that anything and everything is possible, if we just decide to do it. Things are rarely the way we envision them, and real time of quite a different thing than a digital feed. Additionally, I’m shutting out other aspects of my ordinary daily reality in order to move around the world.
During my current road trip, we drove the infamous Eyre highway across the barren Nullarbor plain. The Nullarbor contains the longest straightest section of road in the world and is a vast flat terrain with zero trees. There are very few settlements – just a few roadhouses and tiny towns many miles apart. I have imagined this landscape while looking at maps for years, and was surprised by its beauty and drama. It never
I painted this watercolor and gouache painting on a round sheet of handmade watercolor paper during the three days it took us to drive the main sections of the highway, from Port Augusta in South Australia to Norseman in Western Australia. I layered and layered marks in response to the changes in the roadway and the surrounding terrain… Far more changes and detail than I could have imagined. I kept thinking it was done, only to see that it wasn’t, and became entranced with the changes in what I was noticing along the way: the shadows of clouds moving over the road ahead, the random patches of red earth, the range of color in the immensely vast horizon. I worked on this painting for hours throughout each of the three days we traveled on this lonely, intense road.
I’m excited to experiment with printmaking and animation when I get back to my studio, along with large paintings.
3. Bridgette Guerzon Mills
Hike Location: Ruby Beach and Second Beach, along the northwest Pacific coast of Washington on the Olympic Peninsula
As a naturalist and outdoor enthusiast, I have hiked in many different areas around the United States. My most favorite hikes are these two hikes through the forest down to the wild beaches of the Pacific Northwest.
Ruby Beach trail is very easy, not really a hike as it is only .25 miles through the woods, but it can give you a taste of the wild Olympic coast. The more rigorous hike, but also a very do-able day hike, Second Beach is further south and is a 4 mile round trip from the trailhead. The Second Beach hike was my first hike to the Pacific Ocean and was eye-opening for me- someone who grew up on the east coast and spent childhood summers playing games and getting funnel cake on the boardwalks by the Atlantic Ocean among throngs of bikini clad people. The trail took me by tall Sitka spruce and a descent down to the log-strewn beach. As I got closer to the beach, the trees thinned out and I caught sight of the iconic offshore sea stacks. When I emerged from the forest and was hit by the blustery wind, I just stood in awe of such wild beauty and the gray on gray of the seascape and sky. I had never been in such a place and it was an encounter that I will never forget and has inspired my art over and over again- not just the actual physical beauty, but the feeling of wild, of longing, and of a very strong sense of place.
4. Dietlind Vander Schaaf
Hike Location: Tomales Point Trail, located at the northern end of Point Reyes National Seashore in California
Tomales Point is a beautiful space to see tule elk, birds of all kinds, and wildflowers. The hike is just shy of 10 miles roundtrip and follows the ridge crest of a narrow peninsula, offering panoramic views of Tomales Bay and Bolinas Ridge to the east, Bodega Bay to the north, and the coastline of the Point Reyes Peninsula, which stretches to the south. The parking lot is located at the historic Pierce Point Ranch, a remnant of the area’s early dairy ranching days. I have walked this trail a dozen times or so, but only made it to the end and back twice, both times with my friend Paul–once before I left San Francisco to move back to Maine, and then again last year.
It’s a bit of a drive to get to the remote trailhead at the northern-most end of the Point Reyes peninsula, past working dairy farms and long stretches of national seashore. Sometimes when I’ve been on the trail, the fog was thick, obscuring views of the sea, but mostly it’s clear and you’re pretty much guaranteed to see tule elk, a subspecies of elk found only in California. Conservation measures in the 70s have brought a dwindling population of wild tule elk back up to nearly 4,000.
Because there are few to no trees on this hike, it reminds me of the years I worked for the Appalachian Mountain Club in the huts, specifically the times I found myself hiking above the tree line between peaks. The eye can travel far on this trail–you get what I think of as the long view and I appreciate the sense of perspective this affords me.
When we reached the tip last February, Paul and I could see immediately that a large part of the cliff we had followed years before had fallen steeply to the sea below. There was no longer an easy scramble down rocks to the water’s edge. For some reason that felt appropriate, though it also made me a bit nostalgic, to think that where I had walked prior literally no longer existed.
It feels like something significant to complete this hike. I think of this trail as a place of pilgrimage, something sacred and infinitely beautiful, probably even more so now that I live in Maine and it is no longer a few hours drive from my apartment in San Francisco.
5. Jeffrey Hirst
Hike Location: Point Reyes Peninsula in Marin, Chimney Rock with elk reserve
I love to hike near water and when living in the Bay Area enjoyed visiting Point Reyes Peninsula in Marin for hiking and just to soak in the beauty.
The trail winds back and forth over the peninsula with spectacular views of Marin and the Pacific. There also is an elk reserve on the peninsula and it always seemed odd to me seeing the elk in that location. The terrain on Point Reyes is grassy with rocks and it’s a fairly easy hike and quite an adventure as you head out on the peninsula. While I don’t use the imagery in my work, it’s a great place to vacate and recharge your senses. Interestingly, I get a similar meditative feeling when hiking along Lake Michigan in Chicago, where I now live.
I hope you enjoyed this article and I am so grateful to my artist friends who participated in writing it, thanks so much! As always, I look forward to your comments, questions and suggestions-the comments section is located at the upper left sidebar of this post. I would like to make artist hikes/inspiring vacations a regular part of this blog, so please email me or leave a comment if you would like to share your favorite inspiring places in a future post.
Stay tuned for more amazing artist hike ideas in part two of this series. In the meantime, get out and breath the air.