Clemens and the Pen blog cover
Art Event,  Artwork,  Local History

Clemens and the Pen

This year was the fifth year I participated in the Clemens and the Pen artist retreat at Quarry Farm hosted by Community Arts of Elmira and the Center for Mark Twain Studies.  The event was the beginning of August and the weeks have gotten away from me, but I still wanted to share some of the pictures I took throughout my time there this year.

View of the victorian porch at Quarry Farm from a distance with a big tree at the left in Elmira New York

If you’re not familiar with Quarry Farm, it was most famous as being the place where Mark Twain (Sam Clemens) spent his summers writing his famous works while on his in-laws’ dairy farm in the hills of Elmira, New York.  The property was later entrusted to Elmira College and is reserved for scholarly study and academic purposes.

View of red barn in the distance with flower beds in the foreground at Quarry Farm in Elmira New York
View of bush with tangled roots near house at Quarry Farm in Elmira New York

During the Clemens and the Pen event a group of artists spend two hours spread throughout the porch and grounds creating art and gaining inspiration.  The first couple of years I was enchanted solely by the landscape and history – the woods, the flowers, the porch overlooking the rolling hills of Elmira in the distance.  The past couple of years I’ve found inspiration from the interaction of the scenery with the artists focused on their individual projects.

Close up view of a hexigon lamp with gold stained glass panels
Turquoise cauldron underneath a tree at Quarry Farm in Elmira New York

This year I was specifically inspired when I saw one of the other artists sitting in the shade of a big tree wearing a big sun hat.  It seemed like the perfect scene with a timeless feel to it – like it could have been from any time throughout the farm’s nearly 150 year history.

View easel with work in progress, red camp chair and case with colored pencils open to the right, on sight on the lawn of Quarry Farm in Elmira New York
View of the woods looking towards the house at Quarry Farm in Elmira New York
Woods at Quarry Farm Elmira New York

I used this year’s time during the event to play around with different techniques and materials that I’ve been wanting to try.  I drew in plein air (outside on site) – first using watercolor pencils to block in basic colors and then adding ink pen on top.  I used black ink in the foreground and grey in the background. 

View of easel with sketchpad work in progress with Quarry Farm in the background
Easel with sketchpad with work in progress with scene of lawn of Quarry Farm in the distance

Overall I think the experiment was mostly a success.  Here’s a look at my finished drawing (I had to finish up a little after getting home).

Afternoon at Quarry Farm, watercolor pencil and pen plein air drawing of Quarry Farm in Elmira New York

The event reminded me of the importance of slowing down, getting away from distractions, and just being with nature.  A lot of my art is created by taking pictures and completing it later back in my studio.  My art takes a lot of time and uses a lot of small details so finishing a project on site in one sitting can be difficult.  There was something different and refreshing about being able to hear the birds play and the leaves rustle, to feel the wind, smell the earth, grass, trees, and flowers in the air.  Somehow everything becomes infused into the art.

Cone flowers at Quarry Farm in Elmira New York
Close up of tree trunk with interesting holes and bark at Quarry Farm Elmira New York

There will be an exhibit of the work that all the artists were inspired to create from their time at Quarry Farm at a later time (typically in early Spring) at Community Arts of Elmira.  If you’d like to learn more about Quarry Farm and its history you can take a virtual tour via the Center for Mark Twain Studies or attend in person during their upcoming The Trouble Begins lecture series this fall.


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About the Artist

Photo of Laura Jaen Smith

Laura Jaen Smith is an artist who lives and works out of Horseheads, New York. Her inspiration comes from observing the beauty she sees around her.  After a decade living out west, she returned back to New York State and started seeing the same old places with new eyes.  She is most interested in capturing small moments in nature that might otherwise be overlooked.

Visit her shop or ask about available works.

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