2016 Wanders: Death Valley NP > Joshua Tree NP > Organ Pipe Cactus NM > Saguaro NP > Bryce Canyon NP > Yellowstone NP
I have been back from my 2016 wanders for awhile now. When I first set out on the last day of February of last year, I loaded up my Honda Element with a small mountain of sketch pads, paint pads, pencils, colored pencils, markers, brushes, and paints. I didn't know what to expect, or what I was going to create, but I wanted to connect with the natural world in a new way, something different from my work as a landscape and garden designer. While on the road I ended up creating interpretive landscape sketches using my colored pencils, which I continued to create on subsequent wanders. The reference photographs I took of my colored pencils later influenced my Mondo a Colori poster series.
Join me on my journey as I tell my story and share my art. Most pieces are for sale, the sketches are originals and the posters are open edition, with the option of my signature. You can also download the digital files of my colored pencil photographs and print it yourself for your own wall. Now here we go...from Death Valley to Yellowstone.
My first stop was Death Valley National Park to see the much anticipated super bloom. It was amazing. Seas of yellow and gold swaying softly in the breeze; I sketched at sunrise.
Joshua Tree was my next stop (Mojave National Preserve sandwiched in-between!). I was greeted with a soft palette of tans, greens, and blues. It was out of a dream.
At first I went through a few different mediums, trying to find my grounding as an artist before settling on my colored pencils. My first series of sketches were pretty rough - trying to find my expression took some time.
The photographs of my pencils were originally reference photographs so I could remember which colors I had used and where I had sketched. But the reaction to these images was so positive, they quickly became an integral part of my wanders. I could hardly bump into someone without them mentioning my photographs.
It was my first time to Joshua Tree, and so I was easily swept up in it's beauty, though I feel my next trip back will be just as convincing.
The contrast of the rounded landforms against the sharpness of the spiky and rigid plants is very specific to this place. Joshua Tree has a spirituality within it that passes through you. While Death Valley felt vast, expansive and awe-inducing, Joshua Tree was intimate, mystical and nuanced.
The color combinations of the native plant life enchanted me at every turn. The textures added layers of interest as well, naturally.
I view my interpretive landscape sketches as minimal and impressionistic - like an exploded van Gogh. I loved the mark making process and the dozens of pages of sketchbook that I went through just to end up with a few sketches that captured what I felt and saw.
I had never filled a sketch book from the first page to the last until this wander. I felt accomplished as I ended with a small stack of filled sketch books by the end of 2016.
I have always wanted to use the Fibonacci sequence in a design or for a work of art - after all, the sequence is found all over nature, which completely fascinates me. So one winter evening, months after my wanders had ended and I was musing about my colored pencil photographs, I began to create the final art pieces from my wanders.
Using Adobe's Illustrator, I created several blocks using the sequence of 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34. I then developed the color palette directly from my colored pencil photographs. The layout of the blocks imbues a feeling representative of the space it was inspired by, and the skill to arrange came from my years of training and practice as a landscape and garden designer. It was a thrilling process to see all these moments from my life come together into one piece.
Walking among the towering Joshua Trees was like walking among sculptures.
This blooming Prickly Pear Cactus was the first I had seen on my wander, and the first I had seen in my life!
Even with my several trips to the Arizona desert, I was always too early for these blooms. The coloring here kept delighting me as I noticed the shifting of tones on the cactus paddles.
My most treasured location on my desert wander was Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Although I was warned against it several times, it was everything I was hoping for in an Arizona desert. I love the desert and this landscape reminded me why.
The creosote near my tent - and all around the campground for that matter - offered a smattering of green and mustard gold that the spring desert does so well. And with the little white fuzzy balls on the tips of the branches, they created glowing magic at sunrise.
I was impressed by the tall, strong lines that the Ocotillo made - with the little burst of red at the tops. They add a dynamic form to the scenery. Especially against a vivid blue sky.
Next stop was Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona. I was anticipating this part of the wander from the start, but I didn't have much time. And I was tired. Still, I mustered up some gumption to enjoy the sunset, despite the heat.
Bryce Canyon National Park was a quick weekend wander taken later in the year. I arrived at dusk, set up camp, and hiked the Peek-a-Boo loop the next day. I had been to Bryce one other time before, but I didn't know what to expect other than what I had seen in photos. So when I stood along the rim, and saw people hiking down amongst the hoodoos, I knew I had to come back when I had more time to do the same.
I loved the saguaro forest here.
Fall of 2016 took me to Yellowstone National Park. I hadn't been there since 1999, and I hadn't properly explored it since way before that. Driving through certain areas brought back memories of when I came here as a teenager with my extended family for a reunion.
I drove past the wooded area adjacent a large meadow where we ate warm egg salad sandwiches at the picnic tables. I would later write about that experience in an SAT essay - or maybe I was just daydreaming about it rather than paying attention to my timed test...I have always been a wanderer.
I made an observation after my wander to Yellowstone - about my sketches. I found that they were much more angular than my sketches from the Southwest deserts. It wasn't done consciously, but when I reflect on the two regions and what I was sketching - I see how my hand responded accordingly.
It could take me quite a while to find the right pencils for the locations I chose to sketch. After that it was keeping them from rolling away, which I learned the hard way.
Wandering around Yellowstone, I was quite thrilled when I came across these mudpots. A chance to create something monochromatic. I stayed here for a long time watching the mud pop, pop, and gurgle.
One of the wonderful things about Yellowstone, and the reason why it's one of the most popular parks in America, is the otherworldliness of the colors you see, and the otherworldliness of the formations and natural occurrences. There's a lot of people that visit the park, sure, but if you are up at sunrise, chances are you will have a decent amount of time to yourself.
As I left Yellowstone, completing the last wander of 2016, I took the long way home past the Grand Tetons. It was mid-September and the aspens were blazing in gold, setting entire mountainsides and valleys on fire as it were. I had never seen anything like it. And it reminded me why I go out on these wanders in the first place. To see what I have never seen before, and through my art, to see how I have never seen before.
I created so many sketches from the mudpots (not all are shown here). My enthusiasm definitely came through.
Thank you for following along as I shared my 2016 Wanders story with you. I love to reflect on the process and see how it all organically came about. I could have never planned for the end results from the beginning. Besides, knowing the end results would have taken out a lot of the adventure (and agony)!
I look forward to sharing upcoming wanders with you and seeing where they take me. And I hope your wanders, in whatever form they manifest themselves, take you to wonderful places and bring you lots of joy.
(Throughout my wanders, I also captured some images for my black and white galleries, which you can see HERE.)