Sketching in the Dark

Only a few miles up the road from Guadalupe Mountains is Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Even though I spent a few hours exploring the cave, and no matter how fascinating, dramatic, and visually stimulating it may be, it’s a bit of a challenge to draw in the dark. Plus, as patient as my wife may be, she does have her limits at times.

Here’s a quick rendering of the Chandelier, one of the prominent stone features.

Sketching and Hiking in the Guadalupe Mountains

After leaving Big Bend it was time to hike in Guadalupe Mountains National Park for a couple of days. It was evening by the time the RV was settled, so I only had time for a quick hike to a nearby spring and a bit of time to sketch out the Frijole Ranch house.

Of course, the first order of business the next morning was to hike up to Guadalupe Peak – not only the highest point in the park at 8751 feet, but also in all of Texas!

During a quick break I started sketching the true trail markers, rock cairnes. I need to add some background (a trail and second cairne) for context, but this is a good start.

Up on the peak, after eating lunch I pulled my sketchbook back out to capture the back side of the most famous landmark in the area, El Capitan. The pencil line in the background is the road circling off in the distance. I couldn’t quite decide what to do in the distance and will probably just end up erasing the pencil lines and letting the monolith stand on its own. Additionally, it was pretty hot and there was no shade or breeze for relief, so a quick sketch definitely won out over a watercolor option.

Art in Big Bend

After leaving Brant’s I headed further west in Texas to visit Big Bend National Park. Even though it was hot (and I’m out of practice with the heat, so it felt pretty miserable) I explored the park for 4 days. Of course, I carried my trusty little moleskine pocket sketchbook everywhere. In addition, on bigger hiking days, I tucked a few sheets of watercolor paper into my daypack and a mini art kit.

On the first day in the park I hiked into the Santa Elena canyon. Tucked in the shade of the cliffs, sitting next to the Rio Grande river, it was nice and cool. I loved taking a few minutes to capture the scene. The cliffs on the right, across the river, are Mexico.

The next day included a hike up to Emory Peak, the highest point in the park. After reaching it and enjoying lunch, I pulled out my watercolors and tried to capture part of the scene before me.

It was hot and humid, so it didn’t take long for my watercolors to dry out. As they did, I pulled out my little sketchbook for this quick render. It’s a zoomed in view of a slightly different angle of the Chisos mountains.

After getting back from the mountains, I zipped around on my motorcycle for a bit more sketching and painting.

The bright buildings in Boquillas, Mexico, really stood out against the natural desert backdrop of the mountains.

I sketched out this fun tunnel that leads down into the Rio Grande Village campground, where we stayed during our visit. Later I’ll go back and add some watercolor to it. On one of the trips out of the valley the timing was perfect and the sunset was highlighted within the tunnel. Of course, that was heading the other way on the road. This direction gives layers of mountains to play with and a big sky above them.

Visiting Friends

I’ve discovered that I’m not great at sitting and listening – I end up distracting myself through some chain of thoughts or another. Taking notes doesn’t help as speakers tend to spend longer on a point than it takes me to write down the bullet point.

Sometimes sketching helps. I stay (at least visually) focused on the speaker which helps me to keep my mind from wandering so frequently.

Visiting a childhood friend in Texas and attending Wednesday night church service. It was hard for me to not start a second sketch of everyone else in the rows in front of me… but I figured that would distract me from the lesson too much!

Strolling through New Orleans

I love cajun and creole-inspired foods. So how could a trip through Louisiana be complete without stopping for a meal in New Orleans? After stuffing myself with delicious creole staples (beans and rice, fried chicken, jambalaya, etc) at Dooky Chase, it was time to walk some of it off through the French Quarter. Down by the waterfront we paused to take in the view. I sketched this building, the home of Jax.

Sketching in Big Cypress

After leaving the Everglades, we headed to Big Cypress National Preserve. Though it’s not a park, it is managed by the National Parks department. The two border each other, so it was a quick trip. Unfortunately, we only spent a little bit of time there – it’s definitely worth a longer visit and more in-depth exploration!

The boardwalk in front of the visitor center was directly over a number of gators in the channel, offering wonderful, close-up vies. There were also turtles, and plenty of fish floating around. After the visitor center closed we continued on to a picnic/rest area and checked out the area. Then we cooked breakfast for supper and moseyed along our way.

 

Painting in Dry Tortugas

While I spent most of my time in Dry Tortugas sketching, I did complete some watercolors as well.

For the first I sat on the beach and sketched out the nearby lighthouse, with the fort nearby for scale.

With the sketch completed, I tried to capture the amazing colors in the water and the textures of the clouds in the sky. There were pelicans cruising by, scouting for fish. On the rainy morning, I went up to the second floor and found a comfortable spot looking out a window over the keys. A corner of a fort’s bastion provided an interesting contrast to the organic expanse of the water and keys themselves. I didn’t actually add any paint until later in the day, but the color of the water was more dramatic with more light so I’m glad that I waited.

 

 

Sketching in Dry Tortugas

While in Florida, we left the RV at a campground in the Everglades and motorcycled down the Keys to Key West. There we caught the Yankee Freedom ferry out to Dry Tortugas National Park, where we camped for three nights. Fort Jackson was a lot of fun to explore, the key (island) was gorgeous, and we just had an absolute blast!

I brought along some watercolor paper, a new mini moleskine sketchbook, and a handful of pens and paints. Everywhere you turned the view was stunning and I had a lot of fun sketching and even worked on a couple of paintings.

There was a tour every day, explaining some of the fort’s history and design/construction details. We caught the second half of a tour one day and I sketched the first three images while we were stopped, listening. After the tour was over I came back and added some details and shading.

Inside the fort, with a powder-storage building on the left. You can see a cannon up at the top left section of the wall.

Up on the second floor, looking down the hallway. The arches were fascinating, and made gorgeous patterns. (I added all of the brickwork that night by flashlight).

The final stop of the tour was up on the third level, looking down toward the front of the fort (just to the right of the lighthouse).

There are three ways to visit the island: the ferry we took, by private boat, or via seaplanes. These guys came in three times a day, dropping off visitors. You can see the chain of keys off in the background, behind the landed plane.

We walked the moat/sea wall at least a dozen times every day. Between the amazing colors of the water, the views of the fort itself, and the array of sea-life visible from above there was always something new to see.
These conch shells, down inside the moat, had hermit crabs living inside them – moving about less than an inch at a time.

One night it really rained. A couple of campers’ tents didn’t survive and they had to find somewhere else to sleep for the evening. Ours held up just fine, but it was still raining when we woke. I headed into the fort (which opens/closes with the sunrise/set) to stay out of the rain and spent a wonderful morning sketching and painting. Here’s a view of the bridge, the only entrance into the fort, and the old pilings for the coal storage, the current helicopter pad, and the hammock of trees where the tents are set up.

There were so many amazing things underneath the water. I tried to sketch them while walking along the moat wall but couldn’t quite capture the sensation of looking down into the water.

One of our favorite parts of the fort was that the moat had an actual crocodile living in it! Carlos apparently blew in with a hurricane about 12 years ago and has been living there ever since. One morning we spotted him directly below us while up on the second floor of the fort and I sketched out this view. I got to see him reach up out of the water and snap a bird down from its perch a few inches up the fort wall on our first day.

Since we only caught the second half of the tour, we joined in another day for the first half. Here’s the sallyport (entrance) to the fort while catching up.
It was so fascinating to watch the birds about the island. The pelicans were fun to watch. We tried to guess when they would suddenly dive into the water after soaring above it. Way more fun, and more interesting, than we thought they would be. Here are a few captured while at the dock. We also watched quite a few herons. They didn’t seem to like the pelicans when they got too close, and it appeared mutual.
The sunrises and sunsets were spectacular. I couldn’t quite capture this sunset in shades of black and white, but thought it was worth trying. From the bottom, the water with patches of lighter blue, a wall of clouds that set on the horizon, then the colored sky with silhouetted cottony clouds, and then a whispy cap of cloud cover over all. The next morning I quickly sketched out the fort silhouetted by the rising sun. Someone happened to be walking out the sallyport with a flashlight at the moment, illuminating the entrance and bridge.Next to our tent we had two hermit crab concentrations. There must have been hundreds just around our tent and thousands on the island as a whole. In the evening/night you really had to pay attention to where you stepped. Each corner of the fort had spiral staircases leading to the upper floors. On our final morning I found a comfortable seat and sketched out the beginning of the stairwell from the ground-floor. In our last hour, while taking some photographs from the roof of the fort, I quickly sketched this rotating cannon while walking. On the ferry back to Key West I added details and shading. On the ferry, waiting to depart I sketched the lighthouse in pencil. Along the ride I inked the image, added shading and details. So I blame any lopsidedness on the boat’s motion. With the lighthouse finished and more than an hour to go, I sketched fellow passengers.

What an amazing trip! We absolutely loved it and highly recommend an overnight trip to Dry Tortugas!

(Here are the paintings done while visiting.)

Park after Dark sketching

While visiting Biscayne we caught “Park after Dark”. However, since we arrived mid-day, that meant we had to hang out for a few hours until the event started. After snacks and sitting at a picnic table for an hour or so we decided to head into town for coffee, wifi, and a free bagel from Panera. Not only did we feel better afterward, but we also got some chores completed while out on the patio.

It was finally time to head back for the event itself, which was a lot of fun! They kept the park open after-hours, provided s’more ingredients and a fire, and had live music by a local historian/musician. We got to watch the sky change colors, silhouetting the trees and buildings while enjoying original music and learning a more about the area.

After the show, we walked down the boardwalk trail once again, in the dark, and then headed back to the Everglades before our next adventure.