Some Parkway Overlooks Aren’t Just for Looking

Photo by Paul Stebner.

Most visitors describe the vistas of the Blue Ridge Parkway as stunning, breathtaking, or at least picturesque, and Brennen McElhaney agrees with those assessments. As an en plein air painter who captures that beauty direct from the source, however, he adds an adjective more often reserved for petulant toddlers.

“Painting the mountains is like trying to do a portrait of someone who’s antsy,” McElhaney says with a laugh. “You can do it, but there’s inherent frustration involved.”

The artist, who moved from California with his family 12 years ago, is nevertheless drawn to the Southern Appalachians for their wide perspectives and brilliant colors. That approach led him to Mile Marker 409 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, close to Mt. Pisgah, where he painted Parkway Overlook.

McElhaney was joined on the trip by the Asheville Urban Landscape Painters, an open-air art group he organizes for weekly outings. (He also curates, a resource site.) “The overlook not only had a nice long view to the southwest of Funnel Top Mountain, but you could also get a dozen cars parked without stopping traffic and set up shop,” he explains.

The weather meant the painter had to work fast when composing the piece, giving it an impressionistic character similar to a Monet or Corot. “On that particular day, it started out crystal clear, and then the clouds rolled in,” he recalls. “We started at nine, and by noon, the clouds had completely enveloped the area.”

But that’s the way he likes it. “Outside, shadows skew purple, and those Blue Ridge Mountains really are blue,” he says. “That’s the fun and magic of it.”

BMcElhaney Studio, Asheville. For details, visit


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1 Comment

  1. Thanks so much for this great article!

    Point of clarification: The outdoor painting club that Mr. McElhaney organizes is WNC Plein Air Painters – – (which meets on Saturday mornings, once a month, April – Oct). Asheville Urban Landscape Painters – – (which meets weekly on Tuesday mornings, year-round) is brilliantly run by local artist and arts advocate Sue Dolamore. “Paint-outs” for both groups are free and open to the public, and many local artists are members of both groups. Visit websites to get notifications. Hope you’ll join us out in the field!

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