An artist’s retreat in the beauty of nature is better than a tonic for refreshing the soul and creating new inspiration.
The first artists retreat, The Art of Nature Immersion Weekend, was a wonderful and refreshing time spent in beautiful surroundings with fellow artists and some family and friends too. Reelfoot Lake State Park and Reelfoot Federal Wildlife Reserve were packed with inspiration at every turn. The most important factor was the time spent in gearing down and taking it all in. It was better than any man-made tonic!
Humans in Nature.org says. “The combination of art and nature allows people to explore the natural world, create more profound meaning for themselves, and connect people through understanding and viewing their artwork.” I couldn’t agree more. There is just something about being out in nature that inspires in so many ways and brings us humans closer together.
Somehow creating art out in nature rather than in the studio changes everything. It seems to make everything more vivid, more real. More inspiring. Our whole approach to art can change when spending time in nature. Nature becomes the art in all its myriad of possibilities. Art-is-Fun.com says, “The exploration of nature in art can take endless forms, because nature provides us with such a vast wealth of inspiring phenomena.”
Seeing what we did on our Art in Nature Retreat speaks for itself. The following are photos from our time at Reelfoot Lake State Park in West Tennessee and Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge. Our pontoon boat captain and guide, Colton, a recent graduate of Murray State University, shared a wealth of knowledge. He pointed out trees, birdsong, all manner of aquatic life and even a water snake (yuck!) sunning himself on a fallen log.
Enjoy the photos as they tell the story better than I can.
Though frequently mistaken, the Lotus Flower and the Water Lily are not the same flower or even in the same family.
The Lotus flower and the Water Lily have always been mistaken for the same flower, but they are not even in the same family. The yonkipin flower is a beautiful sight to see at Reelfoot Lake during the summer months. My grandmother and great aunt would always look forward to seeing them in bloom. I’ve recently researched this flower and it’s origins, and found it to be quite fascinating.
I learned that Yonkipin is a variety of Lotus flower, and that Lotus flowers and waterlilies are not the same plant. Lotus flowers have deep spiritual significance for several cultures. Lotus blooms rise above the water and are rooted in the mud. Waterlilies float on top of the water.
According to Floraly, the lotus flower as been around for at least 100 million years and has been found in a number of fossils. The lotus flower is a symbol of spiritual enlightenment, beauty, fertility, purity, prosperity and eternity. It is the national flower of India and Vietnam.
The botanical name for the North American Lotus Flower is the Nelumbo Lutea Willd and is in the family of Nelumbonaceae Name That Plant tells us. The North American variety is primarily seen in the Southeastern states. The water lily may be similar in appearance but its botanical name is Nympaeaceae and it grows completely differently. Lotus flowers are rooted in the mud and rise up above the water to stand alone, a fact that partly contributes to the spiritual mystique surrounding them. Water lilies float on top of the water and do not have the ancient history of the lotus.
Growing up with a flower that is common to you can diminish appreciation for its uniqueness. I took for granted the beauty of the Yonkipins that begin blooming in late spring. It wasn’t until I began to paint them that they Took on a whole new sense of fascination. Learning about how fortunate I was to grow up with these beauties has made me want to paint more of them. One thing is for sure: I’ll never call them water lilies again.
Join us as we gather at Reelfoot Lake in remote West Tennessee to paint these beauties, as well as the stunning sunsets. For more information, see below!
Changing color or texture in a painting can change the whole mood and feel of a painting.
Setting out to change this painting of Reelfoot Lake for me, could mean adding a bit more color or more texture. If I’m channeling Bob Ross, maybe another Happy little tree! Sometimes that’s what I do for change. Other times I dive in and completely redo the whole thing. In this painting, I mostly changed the color choices and it changed the whole mood. It became more somber. Less dramatic. The same basic painting with two completely different moods. That’s part of the fun of being an artist. Changing moods is a good thing. It’s ok to be moody!
The main reason I changed this one was that I have had it for too long. It was growing moldy! It has been shown a few times with no interest. OK. It needs a change. But what kind of change? One criticism said it had too much purple. Less purple, check! The thing that had always bothered me was how the one cypress knee looked like a shark fin. No sharks in Reelfoot Lake! More cypress knees, check! But what else? Less purple and more cypress knees is not a lot of change.
With no particular direction, I began to paint. I let the mood float over me. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to what I was thinking or feeling. I just let the mood flow. I was in my studio space without any distractions that day. It was just me and the paint. We were having some good communication time. The mood was streaming right into the brush and onto the canvas. I was in the zone.
Once the new mood was complete, I stood back and looked. Usually I make frequent pauses to check how things are going. Not this time. What was inside was coming out and moving smoothly. My first thought was that this was a whole new painting. Only it wasn’t. All that was different was new paint and a new color scheme. In spite of that, there was a whole different mood that gave it the feel of a whole new painting.
As I reflected on this whole new painting, I went back in my mind to this scene at the Lake and the inlet known as Lids Pocket. When the road dead ends at the lake, this is the spot of the first glimpse of the lake. I have seen it so many times. Starting from the time I was barely old enough to hang over the front seat of the car to get a better look until now when my memory speaks louder than vision. It was an exciting view. I’d be bouncing up and down on the back seat to get to the pier so we could get a better look out over the water. There might be a heron hiding behind those trees. I was always in a hurry to find out.
The redo of this painting does not reflect the exuberance of a child. It is quiet, somber and thoughtful. As I wondered why, it hit me. This scene no longer exists. It was wiped away in the tornado. At the spot where the road mets the lake there was a quaint motel, docks for fishing and boat rental, a business office with gift shop and across the street, a restaurant. It was all in the direct line of the tornado and now it’s all gone. The trees were uprooted or sheered off. The docks were smashed to pieces. The buildings totally destroyed. And people lost their lives at this spot. I don’t recall thinking that while I was repainting. Somewhere inside I was mourning the loss of life and a beautiful spot with many happy childhood memories. Somewhere inside the feelings lurked, then surfaced into this painting. And with the feelings bubbling out, the mood changed.
A violent weather phenomenon left behind devastation. What was once a beautiful spot lives on in memory as peaceful and serene, a tribute. Proof that sometimes we are not controlling what we paint. It is out of our hands.
The Art of Nature Immersion Weekend at Reelfoot Lake is a great opportunity to get away from it all and join other artists and nature lovers for a weekend filled with nature, food, fun and fellowship as we make art together in the midst of a beautiful Wildlife Refuge.
Here’s a great opportunity to experience the healing power of art:
Join us for
The Art of Nature Immersionweekend at Reelfoot Lake
Included is a pontoon boat excursion to the inlets where the unique Reelfoot Lake Lotus Flower blooms. We’ll get instructed in smart phone flower photography on the boat. We’ll return to the Pavilion at Bluebank park for watercolor painting of the Lotus Flower.
Friday the 23rd will kick off our art immersion with wildflower colored pencil painting of the flowers that grow along the shore. Maybe you’ll paint a wild water iris!
All meals are included! Friday night supper will be at Bluebank Restaurant on the water where we’ll follow supper with watercolor pencil painting of the legendary Reelfoot Sunsets from the dock at Bluebank.
Sunday morning we’ll paint the birds, herons, egrets, osprey and more that are abundant through out the state park and wildlife refuge.
Price includes all meals and double occupancy room with two queen beds.
The Voice of Creativity does not come from the outside world.
Much is being said today about the origins of creativity. There is no shortage of ways to get “in touch” with your personal creativity, make your creativity thrive, bring out your creativity, etc., etc., and on it goes. Until it is recognized that the Source of all creativity is not outside of ourselves but within, we are probably not going to bring it out or get in touch or whatever. It’s a difficult concept to grasp. It has taken me a long time to gain this understanding. Sometimes I forget it. When I do forget, that is when I have to take a step back out of the rat race, turn down all the noise and other constant static that fills up all our lives. With so much outside static battering our senses, the Voice we need to hear cannot get through.
Many people when asked can quickly conjure up the image of a “happy place” that symbolizes peace and serenity. Mine has always been Reelfoot Lake in West Tennessee. The reflections of sunlight on still water, turtles sunning themselves on a log, herons and egrets quietly watching for their evening meal to swim by are remembrances I can quickly go to to gain peace in the midst of the constant stimuli of daily life. The memories instantly cause me to take a deep breath and lean back savoring those peaceful moments. That is when I can get in touch with the Source of creativity. That’s when I can hear the still quiet voice inside. That is when I recognize that the Voice is inside. Not outside.
When I pay attention to that voice from within, I recognize that it is the voice of the Creator, the Source of all creativity. The images in my memories remind me that it is the Great Creator who created, Reelfoot Lake, the lake that gives me so much peace. When I stop to listen, I know that it is that same Creator that creates all works of art. When I listen, I can hear the whispers of how and what to create. I don’t always listen because I get caught up in the noise of daily life. The art reveals when that is happening. I get frustrated. I keep trying but not getting anywhere. I look at the paintings and I want to cry because I can’t figure out what’s wrong. Sometimes the reminder comes from someone out there reminding me to look within. Sometimes I realize it myself. It’s when the reminder says, “Stop, Listen.” Then I can hear the Voice within say, “try some purple and see what happens.” The whispered Voice of True Creativity has broken through the static and that is a beautiful thing. Now I can breath again.
The Bald Eagle is a majestic symbol of strength and courage in many cultures.
High on a ridge overlooking the valley, the Guardian is perched in the top of the old oak tree. From his vantage point, he can see the goings on down in the valley while at the same time keeping up with the fishing situation on the backside of the ridge where the river flows into the lake. Eliot Eagle has long assumed the role of Guardian of the valley. From his perch, he is on the look out for predators such as the Hawks who are always disrupting the serenity of the little dwellers of the valley, specifically the Chattering Chickadees, as they insist upon grouping together in the old pine tree. The Chickadees, though they are always on the look out, tend to feel safer when they know Eliot is keeping his eagle eyes out for the little birdies and those who would stir up trouble.
As the subject of many of her stories, Caroljean Chickadee loves to expand on the mystery surrounding Elliot Eagle and the other eagles nesting around the great lake in the winter. According to Chickadee legend, the great bald eagles are direct messengers between God and humans. Of course, Chickadee legend was derived from sources like One Green Planet and American Cowboy Chronicles. Caroljean Chickadee is known for her ability to weave tales around facts she has gleaned from various sources on the internet. One of her tales had Elliott Eagle taking part in an ancient Greek legend. Another had him as the star of a cave painting over 130,000 years ago. Elliott never blinks at these stories. Nor does he refute them. He just remains in the top of the old oak tree watching over the valley.
Next time you are privileged to catch a glimpse of Elliot or one of his majestic cousins, Chickadee legend will have you staring in awe and wondering if the one you are looking at is related to those eagles featured as the star of an ancient cave painting. Or maybe the one you see is descended from the eagle the Aztecs believed fought a panther and won to be the sun god. It’s possible your eagle is related to a past honorary guest at festivities celebrated by any number of cultures from most Native American tribes to Irish folklore. You can count on Caroljean Chickadee to share the latest Eagle story. But don’t ask Elliot. He’ll never tell.
The white pelicans are arriving in my part of the US on a daily basis. They will hang out here for the winter. Large numbers of them come to Kentucky Lake and Reelfoot Lakeevery year. The numbers of winter arrivals have been increasing in recent years. The white pelicans are mostly people-shy and stay well away from populated areas, hanging out in large flocks. It hasn’t been easy to get decent photos to paint from. It will take a longer lens to catch up to these shy guys. There are comparisons between the white ones arriving for the winter and the brown ones more associated with the Gulf coastal areas. The brown pelicans I have encountered in coastal areas are not nearly as camera and people shy as their white counterparts. Some brown pelicans appear to actually pose for the camera. While the white ones remain on the far side of the lake shore the brown ones will sit around on the docks and and the water’s edge begging for scraps.
Pelicans have always appeared to me to be a bit prehistoric in their look. Turns out they may actually be prehistoric as fossils have turned up that are almost 30 million years old. Of course the ones we are now familiar with have evolved a bit over the last 30 million years but are similar enough to the fossilized version to be easily identified. That’s pretty old! Maybe that is part of the reason that make these birds fascinating survivors. Quite adept at fishing, the brown ones are also good at hanging around the docks when the local fishermen bring in their daily catch patiently waiting for the fish cleaning process to leave bits for them to quickly pick up.
As an ancient bird, pelicans have figured in folklore for many centuries. It was believed that a mother pelican, lacking food for her young would actually pierce her chest with her beak so that the babies could drink her blood. That myth was eventually proven false but remains a legend still. It is believed that the pelican is a symbol for the passion of Jesus as she spills her blood for the survival of her children. Saint Thomas Aquinas even adds the pelican to his hymn, “Humbly We Adore Thee.” Queen Elizabeth I in medieval times is said to have taken on the symbology of the pelican and is seen in one portrait wearing a pelican broach. The pelican is the national bird of Romania and the state bird of Louisiana. Louisiana is known as the Pelican State. Several countries in the Caribbean have also adopted the pelican as their symbol. The pelican is quite revered as a symbol of self sacrifice, in spite of its rather awkward and ancient appearance.
Even with all the noble history and folklore surrounding the pelican, I tend to think of them as more comical. In this photo, a juvenile brown pelican was trying to perfect the art of landing on the water and having a bit of a struggle. He eventually mastered it and made for good entertainment as he repeatedly practiced. It was a great moment when he landed without so much splashing and thrashing. I wanted to cheer him on!
Pelicans were the subject of a witty limerick that has several variations. The original was written by fellow Tennessean, Dixon Lanier Merritt in 1910:
A wonderful bird is the pelican, His bill will hold more than his belican, He can take in his beak Food enough for a week, But I’m damned if I see how the helican.
The Cypress trees of Reelfoot Lake turn a beautiful red orange in the fall. Reelfoot Lake was created by the New Madrid Earthquake of 1811-1812, a little known, little talked about earthquake but still the largest to hit the United States mainland. Reelfoot is also known as the lake made “the day the River ran backwards,” as the Mississippi River, disrupted by the shifting ground of the earthquake, flowed backwards into a low lying swampy area before reversing and flowing back out again. Today, Reelfoot is home to vast numbers of migratory birds and is a nesting area for bald eagles.
“I do not understand how anyone can live without some small place of enchantment to turn to.” Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of Cross Creek and The Yearling
Do we, as artists, require a place of enchantment? Can we create without a place of enchantment? Do we have to physically be at that place or can we go there in heart and mind? When I first asked these questions nearly a year ago, I wasn’t sure of the answers. Since that time, I have to expand to ask these questions of all creative people. I am more convinced than ever, that Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was on to something.
Rawlings was a moderately successful New York writer until she moved to a small Central Florida orange grove near a place called Cross Creek. Eventually Rawlings wrote about the people of Cross Creek, FL. Her writings about life in the Florida orange grove rocketed Rawlings to her place as a treasured American icon after the movie The Yearling, starring Gregory Peck, hit the big screen. She drew her creative nourishment from the beauty of her place of enchantment.
For me, that place has always been Reelfoot Lake. Though I now live almost 200 miles from Reelfoot, I get there as often as I can. Sometimes I coerce friends to ride along with the promise of magical scenery and the best fried catfish known to man. Occasionally, I get up early and throw Twinkie and my camera in the car and drive over for a brief afternoon, returning late that night. But I don’t paint there. I breathe in the energy, absorbing the air. I take in the visual feast and snap some shots. Later, back home, when I sit down to paint, I go back to Reelfoot in my mind. I remember the sights, the sounds, even the smells. But what happens with the paint is more the memories from childhood. The infrequent trips to Reelfoot never fail to stimulate the childlike sense of awe that makes Reelfoot a place of enchantment for me and probably always will.
Reelfoot is not the only place of enchantment for me. Gardens can also stir up feelings of enchantment, especially butterfly gardens. When focusing on the place of enchantment, the feeling and spirit of the place returns fully. Rawlings knew what she was talking about. We all need those places. The question is, how many of us take enough time to soak up enchantment? I know I don’t. Currently, I’m overdue for a major soaking.
Most of my art focuses on Reelfoot Lake in Northwest Tennessee, a unique lake formed by the New Madrid (Missouri) Earthquakes of 1811-1812. The New Madrid quakes are still the largest earthquakes to ever hit the United States mainland. For more on Reelfoot, go here and here. For more on the New Madrid earthquakes go here.