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.

Sketching in Biscayne National Park

During our time in South Florida, we used a campground in the Everglades as our base and visited nearby parks. One of those was Biscayne National Park, where we spent a day exploring.

The boardwalk goes out a spit of land into the bay. At the end we could see a lot of water birds, looking for their dinner. As with so many water-centric drawings, I feel that this sketch would be drastically improved with a splash of color added… Still on the boardwalk, I had fun sketching the trail itself (though here it’s a rocky trail and not a wooden sidewalk). Ashley enjoyed the view over the water while patiently waiting for me.

Though we didn’t get to take a boat out to the Keys, we did visit while Park after Dark was being held, so we waited around until dusk for the festivities to begin. A couple hours at the picnic table resulted in this palm tree sketch.

Sketching in Congaree National Park

After wrapping up Ashley’s contract at the hospital, we headed to Congaree National Park in South Carolina. With only about 20 miles of hiking trails we only visited for two days (especially since we don’t have a canoe/boat to explore the waterways) but while there I quickly added some more sketches to the little black moleskine.

While checking out the boardwalk, we heard, and saw! three owls that were talking back and forth quite expressively. They were too far away for me to sketch, but I did get a quick sketch of the boardwalk itself, meandering through the flood plane with cypress trees (and their knees sticking up!)

This fabulous national champion Loblolly Pine was right next to the trail and I scribbled its outline in just a few moments before we continued on and I added in the bark texture and root details while walking.

Though there is no RV overnighting available, there are two tent campgrounds. We were able to snag a site for the night and leave the RV at the visitor center. Here’s a couple minute sketch of our home for the night.

While hiking out to the Congaree river, I sketched this image. The trail meandered through the flood plane, between the towering old-growth trees. During our lunch break on the river bank I added some details and shading with the marker.

Hospital Helicopters

With a week to go till the end of her contract, Ashley recommended a new place to wait as she finishes up her shifts at the hospital – a lobby up on the 4th floor which overlooks the main entrance and the helicopter landing pad.

I was only able to make it up there twice for a sketching session. Both times I opted to draw the same view, focusing on the helicopter.

Here’s the first sketch, in pencil and then finished with ink and marker:


After the fact, I realized that I spent too much time worrying about the dimensions of different components (which didn’t turn out accurate anyway!) and ended up with a stiff drawing. No sense of flow, no energy or life. Plus, if you don’t already have an image of the area in mind, it’s a bit hard to visualize.

So my focus on the second drawing was to capture more of the area and loosen up a bit.

Again, here’s the pencil sketch and then the finished ink and marker version. (It’s all one image, I simply do a quick sketch in pencil then ink over top of it, erase the graphite, and then add shadows with the marker.)


I think that this was a much more successful sketch – with everything fitting together better and giving a fuller representation of the view that I saw.

The second was drawn on Ashley’s last shift, so there won’t be any more hospital sketches at Cape Fear Valley. Horray for more adventures!