Marie Marfia, Sleeping Hummingbird Alley, soft pastel on sanded paper, 10 in x 8 in.

Paint out at the Hudsonville Nature Preserve

I was only about 45 minutes away and I had planned to join the Plein Air Artists of West Michigan at a paint out at the Hudsonville Nature Preserve in Hudsonville, Michigan from 11am-3pm. I was staying at my daughter’s place in Kalamazoo helping her and her wife to take care of brand new baby boys and I’d had a reasonable amount of sleep the night before (we were taking turns staying up all night for feedings) so it looked like all systems were go.

The weather wasn’t ideal. Just 25 degrees with a breeze, so probably more like 19 degrees with the wind chill. I woke up to fresh snow outside. Fortunately, I had some long johns to wear, my boots and my good winter coat. I figured I’d be fine if I stayed out of the wind.

The Hudsonville Nature Preserve has many ravines with creeks and overlooks and boardwalks, and this time of year, mud. Lots and lots of mud. I was worried that I’d lose my boots once or twice, but I made it through with my rolling bag. Rolling bags to carry your stuff are a great idea, by the way, but pulling 20-30 lbs along muddy paths and climbing steps built with snow-covered railroad ties gets old with a quickness. But since I’d never been to this preserve before I had to walk a bit before I found a place I where I wanted to set up.

I was excited to try out my brand new tri-pod, a fantastic upgrade from my flimsier one. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to take the old one out first, so I ended up carrying the newer, heavier one separately, plus a backpack.

And I forgot to pack my fingerless gloves. Not an emergency, because I still had regular mittens and some chemical hand warmers. I put one of the warmers in my left mitten and one of them in my right pocket. Then I painted until I couldn’t stand it anymore and warmed up my fingers in my pocket. This left a lot of pastel dust in my pocket so every time I brushed my hair out of my eyes it would leave marks on my face. I did not know this was happening until after I had spoken to a number of people and driven home, where my family kindly informed me that I looked like a chimney sweep from Mary Poppins.

The first place I chose to paint had snow on the trail with tall dried grasses on either side, and just a hint of spring color in the tree line on the horizon.

Sleeping Hummingbird Alley, WIP, soft pastel on sanded paper, 10 in x 8 in.

As I was getting ready to pack up again, an older gentleman walked down the path and told me he liked to be in this particular spot in the summer. “I call it Hummingbird Alley,” he said. In the warm months, he told me, this part of the path was crowded with flowers and hummingbirds, and it was one of his favorite places to be. I thanked him and thought it’d be fun to come back in the summer to paint it again.

Photo reference.

The next place I chose to set up had a lot of potential. Unfortunately, it was at the top of a ravine and not the bottom, like the first set up. So very soon I was too cold to keep on with it. I had a view from one of the overlooks with a creek at the bottom and a beech tree sporting last year’s leaves like little flags. I plan to work on this one a bit more once I’m back in the studio. I liked the neutrals in the back ground and the little creek snaking all around on the floor of the ravine.

Last Year’s Finery, WIP, soft pastel on sanded paper, 10 in x 8 in.
Photo reference.

I wandered around a bit more before deciding to pack it up for the day around 2 pm. I am still learning how to paint plein air and even though I was pretty chilled by the time I left, it was still a really great day. Definitely planning to do more of these.


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