To join me on a virtual sketching trip, download a travel sketch-journal here.
I add tutorials to them so you can learn the techniques and details you see in the sketchbooks.

My former workshop students asked me to upload my workshop workbooks to make them available to everyone. So you can also download a workbook and give yourself a workshop! Enjoy!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Tucson Camping

My last day at Gilbert Ray campground
I was really sad to leave Gilbert Ray County Park Campground. It is the nicest campground in the area, in my opinion, and I would have stayed there to sketch for the entire time given a choice. 

But since there was no choice, I headed across Tucson to Catalina State Park campground on the east side.  Now, if you don't mind flat and urban, this is a fine campground, and it is right up against the Catalina Mountains, which boast wonderful hiking trails. Additionally, an adjacent nature trail which heads sharply uphill from the trailhead cluster just up the road is an excellent place to sketch and see nature. But the camp itself is a little more populated than I like.   

Eye-level canyon wren nest in a cholla
One of the attractions on that trail is a cholla cactus right beside the trail with a cactus wren nest in it.  That wren must be one of the bravest birds alive, since the nest looks out directly on the trail an arm's length away, at human eye level.  That would alarm ME!
A madrone tree at my house.
The Sonoran Desert has some pretty nifty trees, one of which reminds me of my bare-naked madrone trees at home with their cinnamon-orange skin. Here's a sketch of one madrone's trunk from my last summer Sit Spot sessions.  The desert look-alike is actually green, and its Spanish name, palo verde, reflects that, meaning "green stick."
Palo verde trunk
The skin is a lovely shade of chartreuse, and wrinkles and folds just like human skin, just as the madrone skin does. Other than that, though, they don't have much in common, because the palo verde tree has spike branches and twigs with miniature leaves, some no larger than 1/8" (see image).  
Palo verde twigs
Even though it's winter, many of the palo verdes still retained their tiny leaves. 

My spot at Colossal Cave campground

The next night I tried out the Colossal Caves campground, which is REALLY wild. You have to repeatedly cross washes to get to some of the campsites, but they do have water and restrooms. I was the only one in my campground most of the time. 
The next day while exploring around the campground I discovered two saguaros cuddling other plants ~ a small soaptree like the ones by my chair here, and a little prickly pear cactus. While I was sketching the one with the prickly pear, two mule deer approached within twenty feet of me before one saw me.  
Stalactites at Colossal Cave
Here's a sketch of the doe. She knew SOMEbody was there but couldn't spot me.

Since I was so close, I visited Colossal Cave. I was quite pleased with the tour. There are miles and miles of tunnels not offered on the regular tour, but the ones you do see have some interesting features.  
It was pretty cold staying down in the creek bottoms, though, so I opted for a nice night in a motel to get warmed up, have a good night's sleep, and a bath.  Since it was so cold at night that I had been sleeping in all my clothes, it was also quite nice to get "refreshed" as well.  
Hohokam mortar,  inset is from above.
Hohokam mortar and side-view
I  stayed overnight at Catalina State Park again so I could sketch on the nature trail some more and I was really glad I did, because I spotted some amazing Hohokam mortars, holes drilled into huge flat boulders where the Native American women once ground seeds, grains, and other foodstuffs.  I sat where they would have sat and sketched a mortar hole which had been worn into a deep V by generations of patient women. It was humbling.  
Javelina diggings at a kangaroo rat mound.
I couldn't identify these.

I saw a lot of neat tracks during my two weeks visit, from dainty ground-squirrel tracks to cougar pug marks (the cougar track was confirmed by a ranger), and I found a great "track tale" written on what had been a kangaroo rat mound by digging javelinas. I devoted a whole page to that in my sketchbook.
My catfood can camp stove.
I had been using my little catfood can camp stove nearly every day to make coffee and heat dinners, and Idiscovered that it made a wonderful ice-breaker of the conversation sort. I showed it to a number of other campers who thought its portability and simplicity were pretty cool. I met a lovely lady, Mimi, over that little camp stove.
Monument Wash, Saguaro Nat. Pk.
Saguaro National Park (East) lies adjacent to Catalina State Park, and I spent an afternoon hiking up Monument Wash then returning on the Loma Verde trail, sketching a verdin nest and seedpods along the way.  

I had been keeping track of the weather on the cell phone Dan had lent me. When the weather app forecast snow for my final night, I chickened out and opted for a motel again.  Mimi helped me jam my two extra blankets into my suitcase, and I gave away my camp chair and everything else I couldn't squeeze in, then tidied up the Jeep to remove the traces of my two-week residency. Then it was over: rental car returned, plane caught and flown, my car retrieved at the home airport and driven home.   

Sunset in the saguaros.
In retrospect, I will, in the future, either go to the warm tropics for a winter break, or I will go even further, to bask in summer in the southern hemisphere ~ some place where the days are longer than the nights, anyway.  That is my pledge to myself.  Hope I'm smart enough to remember that! But I'd love to go back to Saguaro country in the spring. It must be absolutely heavenly when the cactus blooms and the ocotillos burst out in red flowers [I apologize for the hackneyed sunset picture. But you have to admit, it IS pretty striking, isn't it?]

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Tucson Sketching Trip

(Sorry, couldn't resist)
Some people like their Christmas to be decorated with snowmen and conifer boughs weighed down with snow. I prefer to see lots of green, preferably steamy palms and junglish things.   
Christmas Cholla

This year I compromised and opted for a sketching trip with saguaro cactus and Christmas cholla. Contrary to my high hopes, I didn't escape the cold much, it being 25° several nights as I camped out in my rental Jeep SUV in the desert.

Saguaros in the Catalina Mts.
Actually, I had a lovely time during the days, when the temperatures ranged between 50° and 70,° but suffice it to say that spending from 5:30pm (when the sun goes down) till 9am the next morning (when it has finally gotten warm enough to bear getting up) inside an SUV is not ideal.
My "camper"

I had come prepared to camp out, with a little cat food can camp stove which I had made myself from an aluminum cat food can and a paper punch after finding instructions on YouTube given by this tattooed dude. 
The stove is sitting  in the skillet

BTW, you only need about half as many holes as he suggests. I also figured out that if you put the stove in a skillet and shape aluminum foil around it as I show in my photo, it makes a fine windbreak and confines the heat to where you want it. In the skillet, the flame is protected and the skillet and foil also protect your surroundings from wayward heat.

The stove here is out of sight UNDER the flattish pan, which is half full of my coffee water heating up, and the uppermost can is full of ravioli which I was warming up in the hot water.  It's a super stove in terms of being lightweight and taking up NO space, but you should experiment with it before you go camping to figure out how much fuel you'll need.  If you can't find Heet, denatured alcohol will work, but it's much more expensive. 
Ready to sketch

I sketched and journaled every day. While most of the time, I simply sat to sketch in the sand or perched on a rock, there were times when fallen cactus spines made this unwise. If my canvas chair was handy (I bought it on arrival for $6.95 at a sporting goods store) I'd set it up and draw in comfort. I sat in front of this cactus for a long time, sketching its demise, an astonishing sight.

Dead saguaro
For the first week, I stayed in Gilbert Ray County Park, a marvelous little campground west of Tucson in Tucson Mountain Park. I could step off my campsite into seemingly untouched saguaro/cholla/mesquite desert, and sketch to my heart's content.  

The people there were super nice ~ both the people who looked after it and the people in RVs and campers whom I met there: Jim, who offered me a heater to use during the cold nights, and made coffee for me in the chilly mornings; the folks who needed an aspirin for a hangover, then invited me for breakfast and admired my sketches...I met a lot of nice people on this trip.

Just across the road from the campground was a series of nature trails with lots more sketching opportunities.
Don't swing your arms whenwalking oast chollas!

This Barrel Cactus was one of many along the trail.  And walking along a trail through the Cholla was an other-worldly experience!

Daniel had lent me a cellphone for this trip, which meant that I could access my email and explain to people trying to order books that I would take care of it after my return in January..

Since I was spending as many as 14-15 hours in the "camper," I had brought along a tablet upon which I could read ebooks. That proved to be a real sanity saver as I could wrap up in my sleeping bag and fleece blankets to keep warm and read through the many long hours of darkness ~ after I finished sketching, of course.   

In the future, I'm determined to choose winter destinations SOUTH of the equator,  where it will be summer and there are more daylight hours than dark hours. Fifteen hours is WAY too long to spend cramped up in a car, and at 25°. there aren't a lot of other options when you're 20 miles from town.  Like I said, the days were lots better than the nights. Ah but the days!!!!
Great Horned Owl
Harris's Hawk
Gilbert Ray campground is fewer than ten miles from the famous Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. If you ever get a chance to go there, don't miss it.  One of their features is the raptor free-flight performances at 10 and 2 every day.  

I was able to photograph owls and hawks that you normally would spend months or years (or never) getting this close to.  

 These photos were taken during the birds' performance. They were all flying free in the desert, under no restraints. But if you'll notice, the Great Horned Owl and the Redtail perched on the same branch.
Barn Owl
Red-tailed Hawk

Great Horned Owl

There were other marvels at the Museum, as well.  I had a great time sketching the Desert Bighorn Sheep.  I suppose I MIGHT have seen Bighorns if I'd hiked to the top  of the mountains east of Tucson. But not likely.  

Their enclosure is about as real-looking as you're likely to find, and they're apparently contented, the ewe having produced offspring more than once while living there. She's the one with the smaller horns.   
There is other wildlife that chooses to live in the museum, as well, it being such a nice place.  This lovely cardinal apparently lives on the grounds.  
Unfortunately, campers are only allowed to stay at Gilbert Ray for seven days, then they shoo you out to make your way in the world.  There are more campgrounds east of Tucson, but before I went I visited Saguaro National Park (West) to see the famous Hohokam Petroglyphs, which perch on a nearby hilltop.
Hohokam petroglyphs

Here are the sketches I managed, peering around others as they came to respectfully examine them. 

I wonder what these petroglyphs were meant to convey.......... 

I ended up with twenty five pages of sketches ~ not bad for about twelve actual sketching days (that doesn't count flying-to-and-fro time or provisioning days spent at the grocery and sporting goods stores). 

In order to do as much sketching as possible, I didn't take the time to color ANY of the sketches. Evenings in the cold car didn't lend themselves to artwork because cold fingers don't easily grasp the ballpoint pen, which was my tool of choice here, or watercolor pencils, which I had intended to use for color.   I have my photographs from which I can add color here at home if I want.  But do I want to?  I may leave this sketchbook black-and-white. 
 Uh oh, I've run out of time.   More later!  Any comments about color or no color?  

Here's a grab-bag of other entries...

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