Regina Peyre-Ferry of Burnet learned to appreciate the hills of the Highland Lakes after moving here from the flatlands of Houston. She works in both oils and mosaics and is considering a return to drawing, which is how she first became interested in art. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman
Springtime in the Highland Lakes bursts forth with a kaleidoscope of color, form, and texture that attracts tourists, elates residents, and inspires artists. As the waters warm and wildflowers sprout, Hill Country artists put pen, pencil, and paint to paper and canvas, capturing the contrasts, lights, and shadows of a special time in nature’s circle of life.
“It’s like that feeling when you see the ocean for the first time and it’s just so incredible, so huge and magnificent, and you want to do something more than stand there and look,” said Agnes Neusch, an artist and member of the Highland Arts Guild. “You want to hold onto that forever.”
That desire to capture nature in the moment, to transfer its enormity and magnificence into something to which you can return at any time of the year, drives and inspires Hill Country landscape artists, no matter their medium of choice or whether they are realist, impressionist, or abstract artists.
For some, it’s spiritual.
“You have to connect with your subject in order to paint the scene,” said Donna Bland, another Highland Arts Guild member. “There is no separation between the art and me. Sometimes, when I start painting, I get lost in the painting, and that’s a good thing. I think that’s very spiritual.”
Making that connection between the landscape, the artist, and what ends up on the canvas ultimately translates to the viewer, who often becomes a buyer. The process can begin anywhere at any time, but it converges in the Highland Lakes every spring with festivals, art shows, plein air competitions, and wildflower road trips. (See the 101HighlandLakes.com events calendar.)
“To paint it, you have to see it,” Bland said. “When you go outside and paint the landscape, it’s all around us. What do you paint? You can’t paint everything, so you select an area that draws your interest and you create boundaries you’ll have for your scene. You begin to see the details, the true colors.”
Highland Arts Guild member Clara Gravell agreed, adding that painting makes her see the world differently.
“It makes you look at trees like you’ve never looked at trees before,” she said. “It makes you look at clouds and reflections in the water like never before. It makes you appreciate the beautiful Hill Country. People need to appreciate this.”
For fellow guild member Regina Peyre-Ferry, who works in oils and mosaics, painting the Hill Country landscape appeals to her because it is always changing.
“You see different things. You see the sun at different angles,” she said. “In the spring, you see so much color, but in the winter, without so many leaves on the trees, you see objects you didn’t know were there. Even the dirt is different colors in the different parts of the Hill Country.”
These artists, who mostly work in oils on canvas, are just four of the about 60 Highland Arts Guild members who regularly create, display, and sell their works at the guild’s downtown Marble Falls gallery, 318 Main St. It is but one of a number of galleries in Burnet, Blanco, and Llano counties that focuses on local landscapes — with a bent toward bluebonnet blue. (A list of galleries can be found in the 101 Fun Things to do in the Highland Lakes magazine and online.)
“In Marble Falls, bluebonnets sell, especially in the spring,” Gravell said. “It’s no mystery why. I think they’re gorgeous. I tell everyone I see they should come see the bluebonnets.”
“Our unique countryside lends itself so much to plein air painting that this area has become a mecca for painters of all types,” said Janey Rives, an HLCA founder. An artist herself, Rives promotes art through events in her home studio, J Space, in Marble Falls.
“Art is good for everyone, individually and in community,” she said. “Art adds tourism and enriches the surrounding citizens.”
Now in its 51st year, the Highland Arts Guild and the other local guilds and galleries collectively continue to nurture that connection between the land, artist, and gallery-goer.
“Being in the Hill Country, the landscape is incredible,” Neusch said. “It’s hard to see these landscapes here and not internalize it in some way. Painting is my way of being a part of it.”
“You lose yourself in your painting; it becomes part of you,” Peyre-Ferry said. “People see different things in paintings. There’s that feeling you get when they look at your painting, something they can relate to. That’s why they buy them. They get a certain feeling from it.”
For Bland, the connection between landscape and artist goes even deeper than what she sees in the present.
“If you paint that area, you get a taste of the history,” she said. “You have to connect with your subject in order to paint the scene. When you get lost in a painting, it turns out better.”
All four artists agreed that painting the Texas Hill Country is not just about selling art.
“It’s therapy to paint things I love, and I love the Hill Country landscape,” Gravell said. “I hope it makes others who see the work feel like I do. The connection I’m trying to make is to see them appreciate the beautiful Hill Country.”