On the Trail and In the Studio with Michaela Harlow

Lead Image (Five Miles Out, pastel and graphite on watercolor paper)

“Five Miles Out” by Michaela Harlow, Pastel and Graphite on Watercolor Paper

West Branch was thrilled to welcome painter Michaela Harlow to the gallery earlier this year! Michaela finds inspiration for her landscape design projects, as well as her abstract oil paintings and pastel and pencil drawings, in the deep woods and along the streams peppering her Brattleboro backyard. Her “Field Notes” are the sketches born of these exploratory adventures, many of which will serve as springboards for larger finished works of art. Here, we catch a glimpse of the artist in her element, as Michaela takes us along on a short hike and back into the studio. You can see several of Michaela’s paintings on view now as part of the exhibition, Flight: Explorations in Movement, Migration, and Freedom,” through June 26th.

image group 1 (6am Sunrise at the Studio)

6am sunrise at the studio

I’ve always been an early riser. Some mornings, I’m up in the 5 o’clock half-light, brewing coffee and waiting for sunrise. My clearest thoughts and best works usually happen in the first part of the day. This week’s schedule has been particularly tight, so I’ve been setting my alarm for 4:45 a.m. to allow enough time for a short hike and a few sketches.

image group lead, 1 or 2 (Seven O'Clock with Songbirds, Pastel and Graphite on Watercolor Paper)

“Seven O’Clock with Songbirds,” Pastel and Graphite on Watercolor Paper

Over the years, I’ve cut a series of trails along the forested ridge line to the east of my property. Steep ledge and a tangle of hardwood separates this part of the land from the moody hemlock stands on the northwest slope. In summer, I run or hike this series of pathways daily; always with sketchbook or camera on hand.

Image group 2 (Field Notes reworked in the studio)

Michaela reworking a pair of “Field Notes” in the studio

The landscape changes so quickly in spring. One day, the trees are sketchy, grey lines on the horizon, and the next, an explosion of green. Where once the wintry woods were silent, now they are filled with a cacophony of bird sounds. The sense of urgency is palpable and contagious. I quickly jot down field notes in pastel, charcoal and pencil and carry these back to my studio for reference or completion. Sometimes, if I’m really lucky, I’ll bring home a natural treasure or two.

image group 3 (Robin's egg foun on walk)JPG

I often seek bodies of water —small streams, vernal pools— where reflections inspire fresh ideas for my work. Lately I am drawn to a small brook which leads to a forested pond near my studio. Waterfalls tumble down the rocky hillside to the lush valley below. Wild, swamp azalea (Rhododendron viscosum), have begun to bloom down in these lowlands. Their fragrance, clove-like with a musky sweetness, fills the air on still mornings and fallen blossoms swirl and gather in pools of water below. In my sketchbook, I strive to record something about my meditative experience; the flicker of light on water, the hypnotic movement of reflected pattern . . .

image group 3 (ripples and spring light in water)

Text and Photographs Courtesy of Michaela Harlow