Watercolor journal: Capturing the Moment

Cataract FallsI had a different experience in capturing my recent hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Usually I take dozens (actually, hundreds) of digital photos. A typical vacation travel habit.

This time I captured my views as watercolor paintings.

Now I have all the images in one spot – in my Moleskine art journal. It’s like having a portable and ready-to-view slideshow. No electricity required.

Painting a view is different from taking a photograph.

Often I will photograph several angles of the same subject to get a varied perspective or lighting.

But with painting, I think much more about the actual place. What do I hear, feel and see.

My colors are affected by the sounds and smells while I paint…and the breeze when I was painting on the porch of the cabin at Mt. LeConte.

Great Smoky Mountains Watercolor
Great Smoky Mountains Watercolor

I’ve been hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for years. I have hundreds of photos of rhododendron but wouldn’t be able to tell you (without checking the image’s information) on which trip I took the specific photo.

Painting in a journal helps me remember a specific flower on a specific trail, a specific tree or watercolor trail on this particular hike.

In looking through my paintings from this trip to the Smokies, I remember:

  1. The iced tea I painted at a pancake breakfast place in Gatlinburg. I had time to paint the iced tea because the service was so slow. Then the meal ticket didn’t get printed.  Such a huge time delay led to a finished watercolor and to having our breakfast comped.
    Great Smoky Mountains Watercolor
    Great Smoky Mountains Watercolor

    iced tea watercolor
    iced tea watercolor at FlapJack’s while waiting for breakfast
  2. Two sunsets seen from Cliff Tops. I definitely know which night was each sunset because they differed so much for painting. The first night, the sunset was a sliver of intense golden sun. The second night, the sunset filled the sky with a palette of oranges and pinks. That second night the sunset didn’t last as long because of the cloud formations.
  3. The view at Myrtle Point – actually two views. I was able to paint the panorama view with an accordion watercolor book I made myself. On the reverse side of the panorama view, I painted a vertical view that included the view of the mountains, the Sand Myrtle bushes and my hiking boot. I remember that my knees got sunburned during the time it took me to complete the two paintings.

None of these views would have been the same experience if I had snapped a photo.

In painting, I am meditative — seeing the scene, feeling the scene, and absorbing the scene.

I began keeping a painting journal when I visited Barcelona. My favorite journal book is the Moleskine Watercolour Album. The book is 8 1/4″ x 5″ with a hard cover.

The paper is 135 pound, cold-pressed on both sides of the page. The paper is excellent, allowing for play of the watercolors. Some journals, even if designated for watercolor, are not appropriate for lots of water and pigments.

The journal has an elastic that secures the book shut and also holds in a napkin placed on a still-wet painting if I need to move on and finish the painting later. The journal also has an expandable inner pocket that can hold my business cards.

When I’ve completed the journal, I can put the date and subject on the spine for easy reference on an art shelf.

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  1. So great to see how you captured your time at the Smokies. You were a good artist to begin with, and now I see even more technique and growth as you continue. I’m so impressed.

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