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!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Wildflower Sketching on Table Rock

This mini-workshop was an experiment, sponsored by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and The Nature Conservancy, to see if it would turn out to be popular and well-attended. They'd never sponsored a sketching workshop before on Upper Table Rock. As it turned out, it was popular enough to fill up (12 attendees) but the day turned out to be off-and-on springtime-sprinkley, and not a perfect day for pulling out a sketchbook and exposing it to stray raindrops -- so only seven people turned up for the hike. Alas, the only sunshine we saw that day was the lovely yellow sunflower called Oregon Sunshine.

Table Rock is a local landmark, a mesa composed of volcanic materials rising 800' above the Rogue River in Southern Oregon. It can be seen for miles, and supports a great array of spring wildflowers, a Federally listed fairy shrimp which lives in the vernal pools on its flat top, and gives a spectacular view of the valley all around.

To make sure I could guide it properly, the week before it was scheduled I tagged along with an entomology hike (led by Pete Schroeder from Southern Oregon University, and coincidentally a former scientific illustration student of mine) along the route we'd take. I selected good wildflower patches and places to settle down in to sketch, and learned a lot about insects and Upper Table Rock's natural history along the way.

Then on May 27, under ominous gray clouds, my little group bravely started up the trail at 10am. Right away I realized that within the short space of a week the flower show was completely different. Showy purple camas blooms from the week before had nearly disappeared, but Henderson's stars were now blooming. Big yellow mule's ears were almost finished, but lavender brodiaea had taken their place. I realized it would be pretty much "potluck." My plans were relatively useless with the changed flowers and rain threatening.

But we started out in good humor, stopping to admire and identify interesting wildflowers along the way -- lovely pink and white morning glories, indian paintbrush......

About a quarter mile up the trail we stopped at a meadow dotted with purple, white and pink flowers and got out sketchpads, drawing lovely purple lupines, blue dicks (common brodiaea- pronounced bro-DEE-uh) and other small flowers, some of which we couldn't identify.

One artist working on a lupine drawing had just started to apply watercolors when it started to sprinkle. Sketchbooks turned damp and splotched. Darn! We regretfully packed up our art supplies and started up the hill again, stopping to admire and identify flowers as we went -- there wasn't much alternative, if we couldn't get out the sketchbooks at least we could admire the flowers and look them up in the flower book, Wildflowers of Southern Oregon by John Kemper, which I had brought along.

Some of us had brought cameras as well sketchbooks, which I had suggested in the hike write-up. It's wise to take a snapshot of a sketch subject in case you want to add details or color later on. So we stopped for photos fairly often, and I was able to pass along interesting natural history tidbits about the things we saw, but my knowledge is eclectic and spotty. The fascinating Barestem Lomatium has a swollen node at the top of the stem -- we wondered why....

We found false camas, Zigadenus venenosus, growing in the "real" camas patches. Native Americans had to watch out for this plant when digging for camas bulbs to eat, because the Zigadenus bulb looks very similar to edible camas bulbs but is extremely toxic.

Alas, it was very difficult to sit and sketch in the changeable weather, and the watercolor artist decided to call it a day and hiked back down the hill. Two energetic members preferred to hike quickly to the top to wait for us there. The rest of us hiked at medium speed to the top where we had lunch while gazing out over the valley (I can't believe I didn't take a picture of the panorama!).

The top of Table Rock was a gorgeous pastel scene. Where the vernal pools had dried up there were rings of pink, white and blue flowers. Most of the blooms on top were what some people call "belly flowers," best seen while lying on one's stomach peering at their tiny forms, and very difficult to draw. [by the way, fellow artists, remember that white papery flower we saw on the hike - the one we tried repeatedly to look up? I finally found it: it's called Blow Wives, Achyrachaena mollis, and is in the sunflower family.]

We turned around after eating our bag lunches and made it down to our parked cars by about 3pm, after admiring false solomon's seal, discovering a shy naked broomrape, and taking more photos and giving sketching advice on the way.

I always pass around evaluation sheets at the end of a workshop, and got some useful feedback from my remaining participants on this only-semi-successful sketching trip.

I asked for feedback, on a scale of 1 to ten, and here are the averages:
  • How would you rate the education or recreational value of this outing? 9.5
  • How would you rate the overall effectiveness of the group leader? 9.75
  • Did you feel the time allowed and the locale of the hike were suited to the activity? 9
  • Would you be likely to participate in this activity again or recommend it to a friend? 9.75
  • What did you enjoy most about this outing?
    • "hearing tips on sketching flowers, etc."
    • "Ms. Brady makes everyone feel welcome, despite their level of ability."
    • "Irene is an incredible instructor [I'm blushing here] -- I enjoyed all aspects -- looking at and identifying wildflowers, sketching, thinking, a great combo!"
    • "Learning about nature on the trail -- flowers, insects, interspecies relationships. Enjoying the beauty"
  • Can you suggest improvements or make recommendations for future outings?
    • "No, it was totally enjoyable"
    • "No -- well, rename the workshop to attract more people" [we discussed calling it a nature hike with optional sketching and photography]
    • All parts were great!
    • Perhaps focusing on 2 or 3 different locations for the sketching portion [instead of hiking all the way to the top].
So anyway, that was the workshop/hike. Nature Conservancy sent me a thank you note and wanted to know how it went and to send them any thoughts or comments about it. I think I'll just give them a link to this blog -- that oughta do it [Hi, Lyndia from Nature Conservancy, let me know if you need to know more].

I spent last week on the road, driving my car a total of 22 hours to and from my nephew's wedding in Idaho. In my next blog I'll report on the sketchbook/journal workshop I'm putting together. I had LOTS of time to think it out, and had a chance to discuss details of it with my brother, who is very wise. I accept wise anywhere I can get it ;^}

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