Those of you that celebrate Christmas, in the traditional American way, of families reunited, with big meals and exchanging of gifts can relate to having that one gift that you received that you consider the best Christmas gift ever. Now, I know some people are not materialistic, and the best gift is the gathering itself, but if you could pick one item as your favorite gift what would it be? I know mine, it was Christmas of 2013 and my parents gave me an Annual Pass to the Biltmore Estate. For those of you that do not know, the Biltmore House is the largest private home in America. It was built by George Vanderbilt around 1895 and is still owned by his descendants. The Estate is amazing, yes I know it is a huge tourist attraction and some locals avoid it for that very reason, but I love going there. I used my pass every week last year, but not going and touring the home, I used it as a wonderful place to hike close to home and in a very safe environment. Multiple times last year, I hiked 5 and 10k distances on nicely maintained trails on different areas of the Estate.
Most days, I start at the Lagoon, very close to the French Broad River and head out towards the Equestrian Center, from there, I head up around the Bass Pond, and back down towards the lagoon. That loop is right about a 5k, and takes me about an hour. The shot below is one of the Lagoon near where I start, looking up towards the House.
My daughter loves to go too, she asks every time she is with me. She likes to walk around and find bamboo along the river, watch all of the animals on the property and spend time in Antler Hill playing in the children's area and around the barn.
She also loves exploring the house, and visiting the library. She likes to peek into the key holes of the doors that are closed to see what she can see inside. I love that she enjoys it there, because I do too.
Hiking at Biltmore has become part of my exercise routine, I lost 40 lbs in 2014, and plan to lose more in 2015. Hiking on the estate is a huge part of that. I usually go in the late afternoon and wrap up my hike near sunset. In July of last year, there were some incredible sunsets. I remember one week, I hiked Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and was amazed at how great the sunsets were all week. The humidity was perfect and the clouds were producing stunning colors in the sky. I decided that after my market on Wednesday, I needed to come shoot the sun setting behind Spivey Mountain from the Estate. As with any sunrise or sunset, the foreground is important. In July and August on the Estate there is a special treat, huge rows of sunflowers. I knew what my foreground was going to be, the subject to highlight the sunset, these amazing sunflowers. They stretch along an enormous pasture for several hundred yards all the way to Antler Hill Village. I told my friend Tony that I was going and invited him to come shoot too. He met me at the field of sunflowers and we began shooting. This was the first image I took when I arrived, the clouds were fantastic and the lighting was just perfect.
I made the this second shot into a panorama in editing and it has become quite popular.
I knew we were in for a treat when we started getting sun rays shining through the clouds. I was so hopeful that the sky would cooperate and it certainly did not disappoint.
As the sun began to descend behind the Blue Ridge the sky lit up with orange and purple clouds, coupled with the green corn behind the sunflowers and the yellow blooms, there was so much color happening. Photographer gold was being discovered here.
One thing about being around this many sunflowers is the constant and loud buzz. There were so many bees, bumble bees, honey bees, and hornets were primarily what I saw, for someone who was always terrified of bees it was a little unsettling. They were plenty preoccupied though, so I knew that there was nothing to worry about.
Many people comment on how they like the one flower that stands a little taller, he wants to be seen, be different, kind of like a child standing up and saying, "watch what I can do."
It was one of the last shots of the day that has proven to be a best seller. I titled this Sunflower's Glow because of the glowing sun behind the mountains. I posted them all on social media and asked for everyone's opinion to find out which one people liked the most. Right off the bat, I sold a couple of canvas prints of this image. Within a week it had hit my top ten, and two weeks later it moved up to number three. I sell three primary sizes at markets, 4x6, 8x10 and 12x18. This one dominated the 4x6 category with over 30 sales from July to December. I believe that it will continue to be a strong seller in 2015.
Having access to this beautiful land is so amazing. I renewed my Biltmore Pass for 2015 and will be back out on the trails again all spring, summer and fall. Maybe I will find another landscape that will be as magnificent as this and can compete for top spots in 2015. If you would like to purchase any of the sunflower sunset photos, go to the gallery and use the coupon code SUNFLOWER for a 20% discount. It will be good until the end of March 2015.
I was honored in January, when a local business called Local Flavor AVL, asked to use one of my images in an exhibit at the Asheville Airport. Local Flavor AVL is a free mobile app and website that helps connect people with local businesses in Asheville. It features restaurants, shops, breweries, art galleries and artists, locally owned hotels and so much more. Here is the link to the app http://asheville.localflavorapp.com/food. The exhibit is a free phone or device charging station near the baggage terminal. It features a wall of local images and a flat screen TV turned to resemble a phone that runs a slide show of advertisements for the businesses that are part of the app. One of my sunflower photos is in the slide show. It also has a soundtrack of all local music as well. I am going to be part of the app this summer to see if it helps drive some tourists to the markets or shows where I am selling my work. I hope it works well for me. Marketing is such a difficult thing to figure out for artists.
Thank you Flori and Ted, for including me in the festivities. I hope that Local Flavor AVL continues to be a huge success.