One Day in Bayou Country

Reflections on a plein air painting trip with no rules or deadlines – just inspiration and made-to-order sky holes.

By Tim Breaux

I awakened to a recent memory of old-style cajun waltz music and crabmeat au gratin at Prejean’s in Carencro, Louisiana. The previous night the fiddle player, who wore a red beret and a red checkered shirt, walked around the restaurant and played to the diners. On stage, the lead singer played the accordion and a guitar player kept the rhythm. Gil Adams, my friend and frequent painting partner, sat across the table from me as we talked between songs about old times and options for painting over the next few days.

One of the many photo references from this plein air painting trip to the Bayou
One of the many photo references from this plein air painting trip to the Bayou
Plein air painting of the Bayou area
Plein air painting of the Bayou area

But that was last night and a new day was about to dawn. We met for strong community coffee at Pat’s Edgewater Inn and walked across the levee to watch the sun rise over the fishing camps and the Atchafalaya Basin. We took several photos but chose to paint Bayou Amy behind the crawfish processing plant and motel.

The drive along the Atchafalaya Basin levee took us to Lake Fausse Pointe State Park, an area around where my ancestors settled in the mid-1700s. There, we took a short hike through the ancient swamp that meandered among species of trees with strange smooth bark, lichens, and Spanish moss and also cypress and oaks. Every turn presented new and interesting light patterns. We squinted, pondered, and analyzed compositions and values, even though we didn’t bring our easels. Words were not necessary, just grunts, cameras, and pointing.

A plein air painting from later in the trip
A plein air painting from later in the trip

Alligators and other reptiles sunned in the spring warmth. A brown pelican, the state bird of Louisiana, put on a show that rivaled the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels. The pelican would circle in the opening above the lake for a while and then dive into the water to catch a fish. One gulp later it flapped its wings, was airborne again, and repeated the event several times.

Just like the unique music and food, this painting trip promised a different kind of painting experience. Not only had we traded February cold and wind in the midwest for spring growth, daffodils, and alligators, but we were not competing with other artists on this trip. We were just painting for ourselves, our galleries, and our craft. There were no rules or deadlines, other than the ones we set for ourselves. No thirty-mile painting limits. Just inspiration and mosquitos.

"No thirty-mile painting limits. Just inspiration and mosquitos."
“No thirty-mile painting limits. Just inspiration and mosquitos.”

Along the way, we occasionally popped over the levee to see the basin and camps. We rode the gravel road with the windows down and wind in our hair. Every mile or so there were large groups of bee hives. We stopped at one point and photographed several men in beekeeper suits servicing the hives.

We eventually arrived at our turnoff where the road left the levee and headed towards Charenton and then on to Franklin. As we turned we crossed the bar pond, the canal that was created when they took dirt to form the levee. On one side there were cypress trees and cat tails and a classic zig-zag canal. On the other side, there was an outcropping with trees and alligators and made-to-order sky holes for painting. The next day we returned to this spot and painted. Several locals stopped and chatted. One gentleman brought out his hoop net and allowed me to photograph him catching bait fish.

Painting on location with Spanish moss hanging from the trees
Painting on location in Bayou Country

We stopped at my aunt and uncle’s home for supper. The chicken and sausage gumbo had hints of okra and a perfect roux flavor. They followed it with warm buttered bread and an apple crisp. After catching up on events and lives we left for a quick tour of the town before heading to our motel. We toured Main Street with its iconic plantation homes and French street lamps. We checked into our motel and prepared for the next day.

Main Street

That is what the first day of a fun painting trip looks like. We spent three more days in Franklin and then three days in Cypermort Point before returning home. We painted about 20 paintings between the two of us. A few will go to galleries and more than a few won’t make the cut, but that is how it goes with plein air painting. As usual, we came away with lots of fun memories and inspiration for studio pieces.

Tim Breaux plein air painting in Louisiana
Tim Breaux
Gil Adams plein air painting in Louisiana
Gil Adams

I have heard several teachers over the years say to “paint what you know.” I have been away from Louisiana for almost 30 years now, but the experiences remain fresh. All the years hunting and fishing in my youth, combined with in-the-moment observation, allowed me to reach deep into my heritage. I hope that shows through in the paintings.


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