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!

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?  


Maria said...

Irene, you are truly a pioneer! I admire so much your travel-sketching spirit--you inspire me.

Your black-and-white sketches are stunning and have so much clarity--but I think color always adds an extra interest and visual information. Perhaps coloring in some of them?

Renie said...

Maria, thanks for your input. I will give it serious consideration. I'm always trying to think of ways to make my sketchbooks of use to others (that old Teacher inside just won't retire!) so what you said is important to me. Thank you.

Dorothy said...

Hi Irene,
Please disregard my question on your catfood camp stove in your latest post. I scrolled down to find this post and really enjoyed it! I think black and white sketches are could add a bit of color to some of them, but I don't mind black and white at all. Thanks for sharing your journey!! My hat is off to you for taking this trip and sharing it! Thanks!!!

Renie said...

Hi Dorothy, I get such a pleasure from sharing these trips with appreciative people like you! Thanks for stopping by to visit and comment. I've been running my question about color past other friends, as well, and yours (and Maria's) opinions seem to be in the majority. So I guess I'll color at least a few of them, and see how that works. Thank you both for your ideas!

Pat Holloway said...

i love your sketches. I visited this area in 2011 and your pictures look similar to mine. Now I need to sketch them. I love your adventurous attitude. I hope when I retire from teaching I think you are correct that teachers never actually retire), I can live such an adventure.

Renie said...

The truth is, Patricia, I'm not really very adventuresome. I often have to dare myself to do such things. But I'm always pleased (and just a wee bit amazed at myself) when I do ;^}. A friend once made me a little calligraphic card that said, simply, "Doit" ~ a great inspiration.

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