The Blue-Green of Alley Spring
Updated: Jul 29
Ever since we first visited Alley Spring several years ago—feels like a millennium!—my husband has wanted to go back. Not just go back, but camp out in the deep woods with a fire and a tent and bug spray and the whole shebang. I myself couldn’t wait to see the iconic red mill. At the time of our first visit, the wheel was still there, and I’d never seen anything quite like it.
This week finally became the week my husband got his wish, as we’d had to cancel our beloved yearly Cedar Point vacation due to Covid-19 and therefore my husband would be spending his birthday at home instead of pulling g’s on the Top Thrill Dragster. He’d mentioned wanting to camp instead, and so to cheer him up I urged him to plan out a small trip while I looked up a few ways to upgrade our camping supplies.
As it turns out, there is actually a camp ground at Alley Springs. We told Goo about all the pretty water and the big red mill. She could hardly contain herself. Though after all this social distancing we could probably have visited an old barn and a haystack and that would have made her happy.
“We’re finally getting out of the house!” she said. A lot.
For art supplies, I decided to go with the bare minimum. Knowing there would be a lot of blues and blue-greens for me to try and replicate, I made sure to bring my Currents palette by Prima. I also brought with me some black watercolor ink, white gouache, viridian for some granulation, and quinacridone burnt orange. For my substrate, I simply brought my favorite mixed media sketchbook. (I don’t get kickbacks for this, but if you’re looking for a good mixed media sketchbook, go with the Strathmore soft cover. It’s amazing!).
For my fellow artists, here is list of these materials and links to where you can buy:
Strathmore soft cover mixed media sketchbook: Check it out
Viridian by Windsor & Newton: Check it out
Currents by Prima Watercolor Confections: Check it out
White gouache by M. Graham: Check it out
Black Watercolor by Dr. Ph. Martin’s: Check it out
Quinacridone burnt orange by Daniel Smith: Check it out
*Again, I receive no kickback for these links. I’m just sharing for those who might be interested.
After a 2.5 hour drive, and after setting up camp—we set out to find the iconic mill and the blue-green spring.
It was actually a nice afternoon! Warm but with a breeze. We had those cool mosquito bands on our arms so we didn’t deal with any bug biting. And the water was higher than the last time—probably due to some recent rain—and rushed by in gushing rapids bringing with it the smell of deep earth and rock.
On one side of the trail we had the water, and on the other side we had some seriously cool karst formations. Lots of miniature caves and holes in rocks and natural shapes. For once I was glad I hadn’t brought my camera, otherwise we wouldn’t have made it to the mill until nightfall.
Finally we reached the spring, with the mill across the blue-green water. Goo screeched with excitement at the small waterfall tumbling past the mill. Today the wheel is gone, something that made me a bit sad, but it was nice to see the building itself still standing, red as ever against the water. We followed the trail around the spring, all the way to the mill, then beyond to where an old schoolhouse still stands. The tiny white building was almost like a haunt, having seen so much history since the 1800s when it was built. I explained to Goo how the children all went to the same schoolhouse, how they rang the bell on its front, how they used the adjacent stream to keep their milks cold until lunchtime.
After a campfire supper, Goo and I got to work on trying to match the blue-green of the spring. We found that a few of the colors from the Currents palette worked well when mixed. I also added a bit of viridian for some granulation. As for a contrast color, many of the rocks in the area have a deep reddish brown from iron oxidation, and so I was glad I’d also brought the quinacridone burnt orange.
I decided to go fully abstract, adding some lines to not only represent the rapids, but the nearby Jacks Fork river. Once I had the first layer down I had to stop, as the sun was pretty much down by then and Goo wanted to catch fireflies.
Plus, with all those caves, you can guess what is swarming in sky after nightfall…
The next day we took a drive out to the Rocky Falls, a giant waterfall that spills from a spring and into a pool that you can see through to the bottom. Goo and Howl waded around in it as Chris and I looked for fossilized rocks. Sadly, our trip came to an end without any spelunking, as the caves in the area have been closed to keep the bats safe. Still, we had a blast, and we came home and passsseddd outtttt.
Since the trip I’ve been working on playing around with the blue-green colors, the burnt orange, even some red and brown oxides, and I was able to put together three finished paintings (so far) inspired by Alley Spring. I can’t wait to see them matted and framed. If you are interested in any of the original paintings, you can head on over to my Etsy shop.
One thing I have learned from this whole experience is to embrace my love of turquoise and gold. So much time has been spent trying to force myself to use a specific color and never waver, but turquoise has always been one of my favorite—if not my absolute favorite—colors, and I definitely plan to do more and more turquoise and blue-green paintings.
I’ve even ordered some Prussian blue (I’ve been out of it for far too long) and iridescent gold. Both by Daniel Smith. Stay tuned to my Instagram and Twitter to see what comes of them!
Until then, may your springs be blue-green-blue and your campgrounds be dry (and free of bats).