Painting Plein Air Landscapes in Belleville, Pennsylvania

When I began my art studies, I painted in studio. However, a few years ago I discovered a group of plein air painters – people who take their equipment to a park or other outdoor location, set up their easels and proceed to paint part of the landscape. Painting nature was very appealing to me because I could see the details of the outdoor scenery so much better than a photograph would allow and I love being outdoors. When I paint outdoors, I feel like the author of a poem that said, “No matter if I got sunburned, stung by a bee, lost my brush or my painting didn’t turn out well, I still had a great day.”

One day, at a chance meeting with a local art teacher while getting my oil changed at a car shop, I learned about a plein air workshop to be given in Belleville, PA. I had never been to Belleville so this was a chance to see different scenery and learn new techniques, so I registered.

Belleville, PA, is a small town close to State College, in the middle of the state in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. The Appalachians are mostly rolling, some higher than others, but not sharp like the Rockies and not nearly as high. There is an abundance of a wide variety of trees, some very different from those I am accustomed to painting.

The first place we visited was called Plumb Bottom Farm. An old farm house was there in which I stayed during the workshop, but also a very beautiful large Catalpa tree. Its base must have been 8 feet in diameter! I love painting trees – big ones, gnarled ones, always trees with character, and always trees whose branches have a design which is appealing to me. This one really inspired me because of the size of the trunk and the design of the branches coming from the trunk.

The second place we went was along a creek near the studio. The water was rippling across the stones making a happy melody and trees lined both sides of the bank. The entrance was a long dirt road along a fence with a variety of trees dotting the landscape. This is the scene I chose to paint.

Next, we went to a lookout along a highway. This was Jack’s Mountain looking down on the beautifully manicured Amish fields making a delicate quilt in the valley below. On the other side were mountains, forming the other ridge of the valley. A small gnarled tree grew on the ridge just below me overlooking the valley and I was happy to include it in my painting.

Lastly, I found a walnut and two locust trees, all in an area just right for a canvas at least 30″ square. Unfortunately, I had only a 20″ canvas with me and only about 2 hours to work on the painting before my group departed, so I painted one of the locust trees.

To me, it was a treat to be able to find scenery with such striking design and emotion all in a period of two days’ time. A few weeks later, I went back to the Belleville area and found a forest of hemlock trees with their branches parallel to the ground. It reminded me of a photo I had seen of a colorful oil painting of hemlocks by Wolf Kahn, one of my favorite painters. I was so happy to find an area of scenery with such striking designs. Most of my time is spent in flat lands with trees which are generally well shaped so I must hunt for trees with outstanding designs. Here in the Belleville, PA, area I have found an abundance of trees with the kinds of designs I love to paint.

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