Grist for the Mill

There’s a lovely old grist mill in West Virginia situated along Glade Creek. I’m sure you’ve seen it before, perhaps not in person but in books and magazines. The Glade Creek Grist Mill is one of the most photographed sites in all of the state. The Southern West Virginia website features it, along with a bright little note that…

During the fall season The Grist Mill’s placement among Glade Creek’s boulders, has a backdrop that would make Bob Ross have no reason to add another “happy little tree”.


A few years ago — October 2017 — one of our grand-daughters gave me a photograph of the Glade Creek Grist Mill. At the time, I’d been oil painting for about a year, and I’d just completed several small “bridge paintings”. I was pleased with the paintings. Considering my limited experience, I thought they turned out quite good. Our grand-daughter was hoping that I might paint the old mill scene for her. 

Oh, how I wished I could! I did give it a try, but it was, simply put, a colossal failure. I couldn’t get the perspective of the building right. The waterwheel and all the detail was far beyond my painting skill, even beyond my drawing ability. After making a few attempts at the scene, I admitted defeat, gave up, and set the picture aside. 

Now, fast forward to 2020 and grab a copy of William F. Powell’s Landscapes book on graphite drawing. I’ve been re-reading the book, copying the illustrations, and feeling rather pleased with myself. I can see definite improvement in the trees, bushes, leaves, rocks, and skies I can now draw. Compared to where I was when I first read the book, I’m definitely doing much better. 

Except that now I’ve come to the part about structures, the part where Powell reminds the reader that “all elements should be drawn in proper perspective,” and when I looked at his illustrations, my heart sank a little bit. An old mill. So very much like the Glade Creek Grist Mill. I couldn’t draw it before, but could I do it now?

Rather than give up, I decided to give it a try, and while it’s not perfect, it does look like an old mill.

Old Mill Sketch (3)

My lopsided waterwheel probably wouldn’t turn too well, and my sketch is a bit skimpy on details, but that’s fine. This wasn’t meant to be a finished, detailed drawing. It’s intended as a quick sketch, and I was happy with the result.

Now, of course, I’m wondering… could I do it? Could I get out that photo of the Glade Creek Grist Mill and give it another go? It’s a tempting thought, and maybe one morning I’ll pick up a canvas and sketch the scene out again. It’s a good feeling to know that my drawing practices — and even my perspective practices — have helped me improve.

Meanwhile, I found it interesting to learn a little more about the Glade Creek Grist Mill. Surprisingly, it’s a real, working mill. When you visit, you can actually purchase cornmeal and buckwheat flour that’s been ground there. In the fall, you can buy cornbread, too.

The mill looks quite old, but it’s actually not. The parts, however, are. In 1976, the mill was completed using parts from a number of old mills which were no longer in operation. The basic structure came from the Stoney Creek Grist Mill which dated back to the 1890’s. That giant wheel — which I struggled to draw — came from the Spring Run Grist Mill, and additional parts came from the Roaring Creek Grist Mill and other defunct mills in the area.

Now you know! And now I’m going to browse a bit, look at various images of Glade Creek, and add them to my own artistic grist mill. I’ll soak up all the inspiration I can find, toss it all in, and who knows what I might be able to grind up and spit out!

I might find that painting such a scene is still far beyond my capabilities, but why not give it a try? Either way, I’m sure to learn something from the experience.



  1. Experience is (quite obviously) everything. It is interesting that you noted the irregularity of your waterwheel, but did not mention the perspective issues with the mill structure. Like everything else in life, experience is invaluable. Keep going! 🙂


      1. The house roof at the rear is incorrectly angled, even for an old building. The front roof eave on the left would appear to be in conflict with the wheel (easier to fix the wheel than the roof eave!). The house extension does not follow general perspective lines and, in fact, the two parallel “lines” in the lower area are in direct conflict with perspective. There appears to be a low level structure (?) on the end of the main building extension which defies explanation in the context of perspectives.

        I was taught how to manage distance by creating a square, and establishing a “disappearing point” off to one side. The four corners of the square are then joined to the disappearing point. To make it more applicable to a building, expand the square so you have a cube, and then extend the additional lines to the disappearing point. In this scenario (which is simple in that you are facing the “building” head-on), all doors and windows at the front will have horizontal and vertical lines. In contrast, all doors and windows at the side will have vertical lines for height, but width lines must end at the disappearing point so will not be parallel.

        That should be a pretty easy exercise, but to reproduce a building that is not a perfect cube, and has suffered sinking and possible structural distortion, and has multiple extensions, dormer windows in the roof etc. etc…… that is where practise and perseverance come in!

        As an aside … I used to work in a building with a long staircase which, when built, was wider at the bottom that at the top. When standing at the top, the perspective of decreasing width was cancelled out by the extra physical width. Conversely, when standing at the bottom, it seemed to be much narrower than expected. The architect’s explanation was that it was simply an “architectural feature”!

        Hope that all makes sense to you. Keep going as your progress is quite impressive. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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