Kyle Buckland moved from an urban part of Delaware to the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia when he was 12, and from the start, the hills and summits of the area transfixed his attention. One spot in particular so bewitched Buckland, he was married there.

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Virginia artist Kyle Buckland loves this spot in the Iron Mountains so much, he was married here.

The self-taught painter lives in Abingdon, Virginia, which is nestled in the Iron Mountains, a small range that’s part of the Appalachian system. From many parts of town, he can see Whitetop Mountain, a peak that catches snow in the winter and is noticeably bare in the summer — the second-highest mountain in Virginia. “Whitetop can be seen from anywhere, and I’ve always felt like mountains like that are guardians that watch over us,” says Buckland. “Whitetop is the one that stands out and watches over Abingdon.”

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A view of the Iron Mountains, part of the Appalachian system, from the summit of Whitetop

Buckland continues, “When we moved to Southwest Virginia, the mountains were a special place, with almost a fairy tale quality for me. This is one of the places we came to on family hikes. There’s almost an otherwordliness up there on Whitetop. It has a different feel to it. It’s almost a religious experience, being up above everything. I’m inspired by a lot of places around here, but this view, with the mountains seeming to go on forever, is my favorite.”

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“Reaching Shadows, Whitetop Mountain,” by Kyle Buckland, 2012, oil, 11 x 14 in. Private collection

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“Winter on Whitetop Mountain,” by Kyle Buckland, 2012, oil, 11 x 14 in. Private collection

The spot offers some challenges to the plein air painter, primarily the wind and the dense atmosphere that cloaks distant hills and mountains. “I use a little more earth tones up there, but mostly in the foreground,” says Buckland. “The atmosphere veils the landscape, creating a strong contrast between the grayed-down distance and the umbers, siennas, and dark areas of the foreground grasses. The trees are different on Whitetop. Everything’s different, including the climate — there’s a 10- or 15-degree temperature difference from the valley.”

Buckland says he enjoyed painting “Looking Toward Buzzard Rock” in part because painting the tree that’s the main element on the right side of the painting was “like making a stained-glass window.” He says, “I laid it down in dark colors, then added lighter colors and landscape colors in there to show the sky holes in the tree, being careful to make those colors a bit darker in the tree form.”

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Another view from Whitetop. Abingdon, Virginia, where Buckland lives, has a view of Whitetop from most places in town.

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“Backside of Whitetop Mountain,” by Kyle Buckland, 2012, oil, 36 x 48 in. Private collection

Buckland adds, “It’s quieter, and it’s neat to paint up there, but it’s a challenge. When you’re out on location for two hours, with the wind whipping through there, you are making so many decisions at once, trying to do all this stuff you study and read all about. You try to remember what you’ve learned about how to paint and all the principles that are set forward, but really you have to go out there and go on autopilot and hope that you bring with you all that you learned. You have to go with the experience and live in the present moment. You can’t be thinking about what bills you have to pay and what you should have said or shouldn’t have said to someone. Plein air painting makes people stop and take note of things they may pass by and not notice.”

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