Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Tuesday 25th July - a 'rest' day

Kathy and Gordon flew back to New England and I washed and repacked for the next leg of the trip - including the pastels - and fixed final bookings.

The weather continued to be distinctly odd - it rained and then continued to be humid!

My plans were as follows:
  • Wednesday morning very early: fly to Monterey and pick up a car
  • Wednesday/Thursday: stay in Monterey/Carmel area for two nights
  • Friday: drive down Highway 1 - the Pacific Coast Highway - stopping enroute in the Big Sur area between Monterey and the MorroBay/San Luis Obispo area
  • Saturday: drive down to Ventura, stay overnight
  • Sunday: drive via Malibu and then avoid as much as I could of Los Angeles and back to San Diego
  • get as much drawing done as I could...........
Did anybody notice the use of the past tense? ;) More tomorrow..............

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Monday 24th July: 2,000 miles later - Louise drives the desert with style


"Louise drives the desert with style" 1.30am, 24.7.06. 118 degrees F
pen and ink and coloured pencil in moleskine sketchbook 8" x 10"

On Monday we were crossing two deserts during one of the hottest heatwaves the USA has ever known. Louise did it in style!

It was an odd day. We were all really tired after the very long day on Sunday. It had also been a long trip overall - Louise calculated late on Monday that we'd done about 2,000 miles on the trip altogether. I know I felt like I couldn't look at anything more. My eyes/brain simply did not want to try and absorb any more scenery given the surfeit I'd enjoyed the previous day. I took very few photos that Monday - but that was also in part because the scenery changed and then stayed the same for a very long while. However I did do three sketches.


"Cloud crossing the Sonoran Desert" 9.00am Mon 24.7.06. 101 degrees F
pen and ink and coloured pencil in Moleskine sketchbook 8" x 10"

From Prescott, we headed for Yuma through the Sonoran Desert. Louise was very keen we got started no later than 6.30am so that we got over the mountains in the Anza-Borrego Desert in California before the worst of the afternoon heat. She also seemed determined to drive with style as you can see from the sketch at the top of this post! How can anything go wrong if you drive the desert in a stetson hat with a splendid feather, sunglasses and silver earrings like Louise?

Probably one of the best ways I can describe the day is to to just 'download' the annotations for each sketch - with the temperature reading. They're succinct and paint the picture rather well
  • Mon. 24.7.06 9.00am 101 degrees F "Clouds crossing the Sonoran Desert"
  • 24.7.06. 11.30am 109 degrees F "Penny's Diner, Yuma, Arizona"
  • 24.7.06. 1.30am 118 degrees F "Sea level in (Mohave) Desert" (this is the sketch of Louise driving - and I'd misunderstood which desert we were in! The Mohave is actually above Interstate 40 and we were still in the Sonoran Desert)
.........and then, as we begin to climb 3,000 feet in the space of two miles up the major incline produced by Interstate-8 crossing the Jacumba Mountains, I started to make more notes on the sketch of Louise driving
  • no air-conditioning for the climb
  • tyres gone on three vehicles (by the side of the road)
  • 3000 feet - 101 degrees F (we'd dropped 17 degrees during the climb and heat in the 90s started to feel cool)
There were more notes I could have made on the trip such as how pink the Sonoran Desert looked that morning but how incredibly flat the desert colours were under the cloud cover; how odd it was to have yet more rain in the desert - and how amazing the rainbows were; how big the parking lots for the snowbird RVs were in the middle of nowhere; how the heat radiated off the metal on the outside of Penny's Diner in Yuma (a great 50s diner where we eat brunch) as we walked from the air-con of the car to the air-con in the diner - and how worrying it was to see the bins of water for radiators every few hundred yards as we climbed the big incline back into California without the air-con on.

As we began the long climb over the mountains, we entered the giant granite boulder fields of the Anza-Borrego desert. Switching the air-con off is instructed by road signs along Interstate-8 and is designed to avoid a car over-heating as it makes the enormous but rapid climb from sea level to 3,000 feet. It's a fast transition if you can keep moving, however most of the big trucks had to crawl up at a rate only marginally faster than snail's pace.

All we knew was that we were very glad when we got to the top with no mishaps - and could switch the air-con back on and stop avoiding thoughts of what would happen if our tyres burst!

As we came over the ridge and headed back down into San Diego County, there were fires burning off to our left towards Mexico, dense cloud cover and a very humid atmosphere - which apparently is very unusual for Southern California. Where had the sun gone?

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Monday, August 28, 2006

Sunday 23rd July: Big clouds, big holes and big rocks


20 miles outside Flagstaff, 6000 feet, 98 degrees F
coloured pencil in Moleskine sketchbook 8" x 10"

After breakfast, we travelled on from Gallup, along Interstate-40 and alongside Route 66, crossed over the state border back into Arizona and had a debate about whether we going to go and look at the Petrified Forest or visit cliff dwellings at Walnut Canyon. Pressures of time meant we couldn't do both - and in the end we opted for the latter - while keeping an eye out for dead tree rocks along the road side...........

As we approached Flagstaff we saw terrific cloud formations - of a lot less worrying variety than those we had seen the previous Tuesday. I photographed and sketched them in the Moleskine and had a go at trying to match coloured pencils to cloud colours - never an easy exercise. I also started to make a record of temperatures on my sketches - the car's dashboard said it was 98 degrees outside.

Walnut Canyon National Monument is a very big hole. It's 20 miles long, 400 feet deep and a ¼-mile wide and was carved by the Walnut Creek over a period of 60 million years.

It has very steep sides in sandstone and some fascinating geological features - such as what according to the website are "the wind-scoured dunes of an ancient desert." Higher up the walls turn to limestone and contain marine fossils from the sea which appeared later in thegeologicall timeline.

After lathering ourselves with high factor sun cream, we split up. Around 100 people lived here between 1100 and 1250. Gordon and Kathy walked down a very, very long flight of steps to get half way down the canyon and see the houses of the cliff dwellers........and then walked all the way up again.

I got about a third of the way and then realised, judging by the faces of the young and athletic coming back up (they were a bit 'puffed'), that I wouldn't enjoy the climb back up and stopped, sat on a step and sketched (see left). Louise, who has got 'the wise woman' off pat by now, stayed at the top and investigated exhibits.

Leaving the canyon, just before we got to Flagstaff we turned south and headed for Sedona. My goodness, those rocks are BIG and RED! None of my photos really did them justice and it was cloudy overhead so we didn't get the impact of the light on them. I was so close to them I couldn't sketch them at all - if that makes sense. It would have been great to have been able to stop but it had started raining and we still had miles to cover. Here's a link to a site which does show just how impressive Sedona really is.

And here's something else you don't see often. In fact the peacock green McDonalds sign in the centre of Sedona is very much a one-off!

We finally landed in Prescott after a side trip to Jerome which was once called 'the wickedest town in the west' where we think we found a brothel masquerading as an art gallery - which was something we all agreed was a new one on us! Staggering views from Jerome - but one of those - 'you have to be there to see it' ones, impossible to capture on camera - well my camera!

This is one of my favourite shots of the trip - I think it's the neon lights of the theatre and the cars on main street in Prescott against the more subtle but equallystunningy colour of the sunset - behind a great big mesa!

Prescott has the nicest town square and looks like it ought to be doing auditions for films - maybe something inbetween Back to the Future and Close Encounters.

We went to bed with strict instructions from Louise that we had to be up and on the road at the crack of dawn if we were to beat the heat the next day!

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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Sunday 23rd July: Back in time to Route 66........and a bit more

On Sunday I did three sketches before we even had breakfast!

This sketch of an extended family at their Sunday morning breakfast in Grants, New Mexico was done in pen and ink in my moleskine between sitting down and my breakfast arriving on the table.

We were up early as we had a long trip to get to Prescott, Arizona by the evening. We set off after saying goodbye to Nicole who was flying back east. We watched her jog off in her running gear (Nicole heaves a sigh of relief due to the absence of any photos from the photo opportunity presented by us driving by as she jogged along!)

Our planned route had to be changed because of the extreme hot weather being experienced in the southwest. Louise had originally planned that we should travel back through Arizona via Flagstaff and Kington Arizona and return to California through Death Valley - one of the hottest places . The increase in temperatures that weekend meant that was no longer wise - and our journey home was not going to be without some nail-biting moments.........

It was a "historic heatwave" which affected the whole country - with abnormal temperatures being experienced in the southwestern states and inland California during that weekend and the following week. Phoenix hit 118 degrees two days earlier on 21 July and it broke many local records in California with temperatures reaching 119 degrees in LA County on the 22nd. By the end of July it was identified as the cause of death for some 164 fatalities in California.

Check the temperature maps in the links - we traveled right through the big red bit labeled 110+ degrees. We expected it might be a bit hot and packed in as much water as we could carry.

We started early and travelled to Grants along Interstate 40 before stopping for breakfast. We were now traveling alongside Route 66 - America's most famous road which was opened in 1926 and stretches 2,448 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles.

Our route took us across the continental divide - that point in the North American land mass where all rivers to the east drain to the Gulf Coast or the Atlantic and those on the west drain to the Pacific. The sketches of mesas are of the scenery en route.

We planned to try and visit the Acoma Pueblo (Sky City) which is claimed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the United States. We didn't quite make it.........

One of the things I hadn't appreciated until visiting the southwest was the extent to which some of the tribal communities, within the larger native american community, have embraced gambling and casinos as a way of generating income. I also didn't realise that tribal territory is covered by different laws and practices. Examples in Arizona include most ( but not all) the territories being an hour different to the time in the rest of the State (which does not observe daylight saving) and all photography by visitors being illegal unless a permit has been obtained in advance. The latter is a point which is not well covered in guidebooks.........but it's now duly noted in my moleskine after the visit from the very nice policeman. I'm not going to embarrass any of us by saying who was taking photos on behalf of who - but it was rather funny to find out afterwards that there was no memory card in the camera anyway! ;)

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Blogger is not working properly

Apologies to anybody who's not getting the feed for this blog (although there's a bit of me thinking you're not going to see this either!).

Blogger is neither updating Technorati (according to them I last updated 10 days ago) nor is it showing archives in the way it should on this blog - despite Blogger working fine with my other blog.

Why? Who knows - it's a mystery to me............and I don't seem to be able to find any way of fixing it.

I'm at a loss as to what to try next so I'm falling back on that old chestnut of 'blog about it and see if somebody in the Blogger/Technorati blogworld sees this post, investigates the problem and it goes away' technique

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Plein Air Sketching - the Sandia Mountains


You will recall that in my post about Friday 21st July Plein Air Sketching and a Banquet I said I was in a quandary because the sketches are still in California. Well - it's sorted as you can see above! Louise has scanned the images and sent them to me. I've arranged them as the images are intended to be when developed - you can click on either of them to see a larger image.

So a recap and more details about approach and process, given I wasn't sketching on the run and actually had time to think about what I wanted to do and how to design the 'picture' before I started.
  • Just after 9am, after much walking around, I sat on a tiny patch of grass in a car park attached to the north of the Winrock Shopping Centre in Albuquerque looking across to the east at the Sandia Mountains over the tops of the trees. Nice and quiet and unlikely to be interrupted.
  • I was fresh from the slideshow the night before and my analysis of what gave a drawing impact and thought I should really try and apply a few of those messages if I could in the approach to and design of my sketches, so................
  • I tried both horizontal and portrait formats out in my sketchbook and plumped for the portrait as I began to realise as I sat there that the sky/clouds/light were a very big part of the 'story' about looking at the mountains. Also the portrait format just seemed to work better in terms of what I could actually see. I may have changed a landscape format if I'd had a better view of the mountains (given I also had Georgia O'Keeffe's landscape paintings at the back of mind eg Untitled (Red and Yellow Cliffs), 1940 and Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico/Out Back Of Marie's II, 1930).
  • Having plumped for the portrait I realised that a diptych and maybe even a triptych might be possible. So I started with the intention of doing at least two in a portrait format to produce a diptych and also if I could get more done later in the late afternoon/evening I might get a triptych of the mountains at different times of day.
  • Sandia 'north' is the left hand one and Sandia 'south' is the right hand one. I've been trying to find the names of places on the ridge but can't. There is a small gap between them in real life as there would be if done larger and hung (I feel a pastel coming on!)
    • the light in Sandia 'north' is early morning - the mountains are still bluish purple and the sky is a very pale aqua blue with lemony pinky streaks near the crest of the mountain
    • the light in Sandia 'south is late morning/midday - the yellow in the light has moved out of the sky onto the land which is losing its bluish tinges while the sky begins to intensify its blueness. The clouds have also changed and there are fewer 'little fluffy clouds' and more of a white haze just above the crest
    • the third one - never happened - but the mountain would have got reddish mauve in the late afternoon/early evening and the pinkiness in the sky would have reappeared along the crest.
  • Having plumped for the portrait format and more emphasis on the sky I placed the crest line about a third of the way down the page - but actually tried looking at what it would look like with the two together - hence why there is a connection between one ridge and another and the tree line is in about the same place. I've done diptychs before and there is nothing more frustrating and irritating than forgetting to design the whole as well as the individual drawings.
  • Initial outline sketch to sort out cropping, design of main shapes and the nature of the value pattern in my sketchbook.
  • Followed by an initial pencil drawing of the main shapes using a mechanical pencil and then coloured pencils to develop the range of colours - generally going from light to dark and working the whole sketch at the same time.
  • I seem to remember I didn't try to finish the first one before starting the next one. What i did was finish parts of it with enough information to allow me to complete it later - which is what I did. In other words, once I've established what colour the sky is at different places on the paper, if it doesn't vary then I can just complete one part and then develop the rest later. I don't need to get absolutely everything to a 'completed' stage when I'm trying to catch light effects - I just need enough information before I move on to the next thing in the sketch, or as in this instance, the next sketch. I completed the blue part of the skies back at the B&B.
Techie details: the sketches are 12" x 9" and are on Saunders Waterford Hot Press 140lb/300gsm paper in a block (which saves having to carry a drawing board).

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

22nd July: The CPSA Artists' Reception

Saturday evening saw us all at the CPSA Artists' Reception to see the exhibition and, in particular, Nicole Caulfield's piece ( 'Diner Reflections' 18" x 13" coloured pencil $1,100. A fine art print of this is available - for further details see www.nicolecaufield.com ).

Nicole had been to see the 2005 exhibition in Chicago and, in comparison to that, was very impressed by the size of the gallery and the space it afforded for hanging the 152 drawings (from the 781 submitted).

However, I personally found that the lighting in situ could have been better as not all works were well lit - including Nicole's. I couldn't quite work out whether it was a case of more spots were needed or they needed better adjustment but the lighting from the nearest spots hit the blank wall to the side of Nicole's work - which made it much more difficult to appreciate the subtleties of her colour mixing! We're always reminded of the importance of the quality of presentation when exhibiting work - the same might be said for the importance of the quality of lighting in a gallery so that work can be properly appreciated! I hope that having said that it doesn't scupper my chances for next year as, having now seen for myself 'up close and personal' the calibre of the work accepted, I may have a go at producing something for next year's exhibition.

Here we all are next to Nicole's work - check the spotlight! We had a pact to decide which were the three works we liked best (without saying until we'd left the exhibition) and proved yet again that judgement about art is all essentially down to the individual eye. While we all agreed on the merit of 3-4 works, we also all differed as to what we would have given first prize to and why! It makes it so much easier to understand and accept the reasons why work that you believe has merit sometimes gets rejected and why a piece might win a first prize in one exhibition but won'necessarily win so much as a sausage at another.

Cindy Brunk won one of the top prizes 'the Airfloat Strongbox award for outstanding recognition' for "Annabel Revisited" and is on the left in her husband's photo of her with Gordon and Kathy. I personally think Gordon's shirt should also have won a prize!

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22nd July: Santa Fe and Georgia O'Keeffe

"One paints what is around" Georgia O'Keeffe

On Saturday, Louise, Nicole and I went to Santa Fe for the day. The landscape as we headed north acquired bushes and then trees and became greener. As we got to the outskirts of Santa Fe, we began to see a vista of browny pink adobe buildings inbetween green trees and set against purple blue mountains .

My personal aim was to see something of Santa Fe - to try and understand why so many artists go there to live - and also to visit the the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. I came away absolutely certain I shall return and stay awhile and paint - it was a very impressive place. I think most of all I liked the wonderful colours of the area, trees with green leaves, the weather (temperature was mid 70s with a slight breeze) and the small 'people-sized' scale of its central / cultural area. It seems to have been conserved without becoming too precious.

The Georgia O'Keeffe museum was stunning. I've felt an affinity with the work of Georgia O'Keeffe and her approach to art (her focus on landscapes, macro flowers and colour) for some time and have been keen to know how she achieves such deceptively simple images. I've been wanting to go to the museum for a very long time - on the basis that you can't beat seeing art 'up close and personal' as an aid to understanding art - and was not disappointed. It was very busy but I think they keep a control on numbers so it doesn't become too unpleasant. All around the walls where quotes from Georgia O'Keeffe. I copied some into my Moleskine and these are mixed in with this post. I noticed that there was one book which she said had been hugely influential - "Composition" by Arthur Dow. I bought it!

"Nothing is less real than realism...details are confusing...it is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis that we get at the real meaning of things" Georgia O'Keeffe

The current exhibition on color and conservation continues to 10th September for anybody who can get there.

Below are two photos of two more museums (have I explained that if given the choice between shopping and museums I generally choose museums?). These are of the exterior of the Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe in Cathedral Place (opposite St Francis Cathedral) which I didn't visit and the interior of the Museum of Fine Arts in - which I did.

The latter is housed in a Pueblo revival building. The exhibitions included another Georgia O'Keeffe exhibition relating to the legacy of her paintings of New Mexico - with the simply stunning image of what I presume is the Rio Grande River (which I thought I'd just seen up the road?). It also had an exhibition of drawings by Frederico Vigil - who works in 'aqua crayon' and goache and ink. His drawings illustrate well known sayings - and were rather thought-provoking in terms of artistic technique.



We had lunch at the Georgia O'Keeffe Cafe, sitting outside under peacock green umbrellas. I had a wonderful lunch - so nice I had to take a photo of it! I'd have done a sketch of it too if I hadn't already started my one of the cafe - see the sketch at the top of this post - and we had more time.

Just a quick mention for the Artisan Art Supply Stores in Albuquerque and Santa Fe - again, art shops with a very wide range of stock (and a very impressive range of different barnds of soft pastels), good stock levels and knowledgeable and helpful staff. I also understand there is a branch in Taos and that they have just introduced a shopping cart and on-line shopping to their website - although this is obviously still under development.

"Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant. It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest" Georgia O'Keeffe

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

21st July - plein air sketching and a banquet




On Friday, Louise and Kathy were in a workshop all day - with Cecile Baird, Gordon was on airport duty and I was determined to get some time for "proper sketching" in the way I normally do - which essentially means on a much larger piece of paper than my Moleskine.

However, I'm in a slight quandary with this post - the reason being that the sketches in question are still sitting in California. I left my Saunders Waterford HP pad behind along with some pastel support - and that's being posted to New England rather than coming back to the UK and then back out there again.

Unfortunately I 'd done my sketches on the Saunders Waterford and had left the sketches in the pad!

So what we have instead are photos (click for larger version) of:
  • the view (rather limited by lack of car and how far I can walk carrying a chair and kit - this is the car park next to the shopping centre near the convention hotel)
  • the set-up - you see I really do take all that kit out with me when I go sketching!
  • and the initial stages - on the right is my Daler A4 sketchbook which I used to try out landscape and portrait formats (and the framing of of the content) for a slice of the view - plus, on the left, the first layers of the sketch. The yellow green is the background colour of trees - to be reserved for highlights as I continue with layers of darker greens. Then the blue mountains and then sky with clouds.
  • I was supposed to take another photo (in situ) when I finished - but I forgot!
I rather enjoyed my location. I was under a tree which gave good shade for three hours while I did two sketches which were both 12" x 9", had my feet in the grass while I sketched and then got to go shopping afterwards!

Nicole Caulfield - who had a piece accepted for the CPSA 14th international exhibition - flew in from New England and joined our group in the afternoon (L to R: Louise, Nicole, me and Kathy). We celebrated all four of us getting together in person for the very first time before heading off to the CPSA banquet where the prizes were announced.

Each year entrants to the CPSA international exhibition are judged by an independent juror - in this case the Director of the Gallery where the exhibition was being held. For a medium which seems to be largely dominated by female artists, it was very interesting to see quite how many men were left in the last group of 6-8 people getting the bigger money prizes.

The 'top' prize - the CPSA Award for Exceptional Merit ($1,500) and the CIPPY award went to Linda Koffenburger CPSA. Linda is an instructor in the Botanical Illustration Certificate Program at the North Carolina Botanical Gardens at UNC-Chapel Hill and teaches classes on colored pencil at the Sertoma Art Center in Raleigh, NC. She is a member of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators (GNSI) and is also a member of the CPSA Governing Board (as Director of Ways and Means). You can see her work and the names of the rest of the award winners and their pieces on the CPSA website here.

We all got to meet a lot of people who we have previously only known by their coloured pencil artwork and their screen names. It's very odd having to take-in what people look like, their accents and then remembering who was who - because, of course, you 'know' all these people even if this is the very first time you've actually met them!

And finally,
  • I've now posted a colour swatch and a commentary on the new shades of Prismacolor coloured pencil referred to in my last post

  • another hangover from the last post - this is the sketch of the corner of my room at the Mauger. We discovered that they were all decorated slightly differently from traditional and in keeping with the age of the house (like mine) to very contemporary. It's A3 in size (approx 11.5" x 17") which is a double page spread in my A4 Daler Rowney black hardback sketchbook
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Thursday, August 17, 2006

20th July - Old Town Albuquerque

Early Morning, Alburquerque
pencil and coloured pencils in Moleskine Sketchbook
In Albuquerque we stayed in a 'bed and breakfast' called Mauger's near the Old Town. It was great - and now comes highly recommended by me!

I sketched both my room (on tomorrow's post) and the view from my window early one morning. The clouds have a very different quality for about an hour or so in the early morning light.

On Thursday morning Louise was up bright and early to attend her coloured pencil workshop at the convention hotel on drawing the figure with coloured pencils. She's an artist who's very experienced at drawing from life and says it was an 'interesting experience'.

Kathy, Gordon and I went for a tour of the Old Town where there are lots of little alley ways with very small shops and galleries. I sat under the trees in the Old Town Plaza and tried to do a quick plein air sketch using pencil/coloured pencils in my Moleskine of the Indians selling jewellery on the sidewalk - very sensibly sitting in the shade as the temperature was just short of 100 degrees. Inevitably this is a composite of several people coming and going. I really don't think I did a terrific job of getting the value contrast right. I'm always perplexed by very light colours in very deep shade as was the case with this particular view. And it simply misses completely the bright, almost fluorescent, flashes of light on the edge of the castellations on the roof. Of course the photos are of no help as they always get the values wrong. But having written that down I'll now remember what's wrong with this sketch! I find if you make a notation on sketches about shortfalls and mistakes it can be really helpful if you want to work the sketch up later on.

Panpipes in Old Town Albuquerque
pencil and coloured pencils in Moleskine Sketchbook
A chilli ristra

At lunchtime, we mellowed out having a great meal at the Church Street Cafe. Check out the menu! This and other restaurants are listed in the link below. The building which houses it is located at the back of the church and was built in 1706 - around the time Albuquerque was founded . This makes it one of the oldest structures in Albuquerque and New Mexico. The walls are made of terrones (a type of adobe brick used before the swampy area around Rio Grande was drained in 1820). The walls are some two feet thick in places.

The photo is of a ristra hanging at the entrance to the restaurant - the colours are looking rather good against the adobe wall. Kathy and I explored the Turquoise Museum in the afternoon which was simply fascinating and well worth a visit if you're ever tempted to buy any turqouise.

In the evening Louise, Kathy and I attended the slide show at the CPSA convention which I've written about in my other blog, Making a Mark, here - "CPSA entries to the 2006 exhibition"

Kathy, Louise and I had also been to the Convention reception in the hotel where it was based the previos evening. We duly queued and and received our name badges, an envelope of handouts and our freebie box of the new (and interesting) Prismacolor shades for 2006 courtesy of Prismacolor as a CPSA sponsor.

We also had a good look at the exhibitions done by the southwestern branches - which were very good - and the blind auction of small works done by various CP artists. It must be very salutary for artists to see in a very visible way who rates their art and what they're prepared to pay. I seem to remember that Linda Lucas Hardy did very well with the bids against her piece.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

19th July - Chilis and a big elephant butt

Kathy contrejour against the Cochise Stronghold (Tombstone, Arizona)
pencil and coloured pencils in Moleskine Sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell
I laughed out loud when I came up with the title of this post. (Don't you just wilt at the extent to which we are sometime amused by our own humour?!) The explanation is further down the page..........

The view from my motel bedroom door
We woke on Wednesday morning to that sort of light high cloud you often get after a big rainstorm. From my open motel door I could see straight across to the dip in the Dragoon Mountains where the Cochise Stronghold is - and which is where, after he retired, Cochise lived, died and was buried.

You can read more about the activities of Cochise and the local Apache Indians during the mid-nineteenth century of on this very informative website. Did you know that Cochise means 'Hard Wood' in Chirachua Apache language? I didn't realise until we got home that Tombstone is located in Cochise County.

The air was very fresh at 6.30am and the humming birds were feeding on the verandah - and I managed to get a photo of one!

Humming bird feeding from sugar water
At breakfast, I sketched Kathy "contrejour" (which for those unfamiliar with the term term means 'against the daylight').  I really got carried away with the alliteration in the note which says "Kathy contrejour at Cochise Stronghold!

Kathy wishes to point out that I've aged her and got the chin wrong and that it doesn't have any hint of a companion. I wish to point out that getting any sort of sketch done in 15 minutes while eating breakfast means you're apt to get it a bit wrong, especially when your involuntary model will insist on eating, talking and drinking her tea! :)

I spent a lot of time in the car with the coloured pencils trying for an optical mixing effect to get the colours I wanted - with some success. I should point out that drawing contre jour means that her skin tone is supposed to be on the bluey purple side! There again I was trying for some unity of colour with the very bluey purple colour of the distant mountains!

Into New Mexico
pencil and coloured pencils in Moleskine Sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell
Soon after we left Tombstone (on I-80 and then I-10) we crossed the border into New Mexico and needed to adjust our watches by an hour for the change in time zone.

This sketch, done in my Moleskine while driving, is what it looked like as we crossed over the border and travelled alongside more spectacular rock formations from a massive uplift millions of years ago. You get a new perspective on things when surrounded by so much evidence of ancient rock all the time.

We left I-10 at Deming and travelled up Highway 26 to Hatch - the home of a friend of Louise and her husband - and the hot chili capital of the world with 30,000 acres of cultivated pods. It was very, very hot - over 100 degrees - but by then the record-breaking hot weather of the summer of 2006 had started so in retrospect that wasn't entirely surprising.

Hanging Deer, Elk and a Ristra @ La Cocina in Truth and Consequencespencil and coloured pencils in Moleskine Sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell
After a visit with Louise's friend and armed with information about where was best to eat we headed up the Rio Grande valley on I-25 to Truth or Consequences for lunch at La Cocina. I can't remember what I had to eat but I do remember that I was asking less about what all the names of the different Mexican food items actually meant! Louise introduced us all to sopaidillas. I've included a link below for a review below which is pretty accurate.

During lunch, I sketched the things hanging up in the restaurant that I could see from where I sat - a ristra of chilis, a deer and an elk. A ristra is a bunch of chilis which have been tied on to a string and hung up. They can be edible (rehydrated when popped in water) or treated for decorative purposes. They dry to this amazing deep purpley crimson colour. This was a really BIG one. I've included a link at the end to a place in Hatch which makes chili ristras.

You might think hunting was a big sport in the area - until you saw the number of boats in town........in the middle of a desert area.

Elephant Butte Lake, New Mexico
I'd spotted what looked like a lake on the map and insisted we had a quick diversion to go and look at the view (I like views!) Our jaws all collectively dropped when we saw the size of the lake. It was huge and took six photos to get a panorama shot!

This was Elephant Butte Lake which turns out to be the largest reservoir in New Mexico.  It obviously hosted a wide variety of water-based activities. I've always had a problem with the promunciation of buttes and mesas ever since I first learned about them in a geography lesson. Let's just say my pronunciation of butte in the UK causes much less hilarity than in the USA where it sounds like 'butt'. This is already a long post so I'll just make it a bit longer by quoting from the New Mexico Tourism people about the nature and origins of the lake
The name "Elephant Butte" was derived from the eroded core of an ancient volcano, now an island in the reservoir, in the shape of an elephant. Elephant Butte Reservoir, created by a dam constructed in 1916 across the Rio Grande, is 40 miles long with more than 200 miles of shoreline. Although constructed to provide for irrigation and flood control, the lake is New Mexico’s premier water recreation facility.

Over 100 million years ago, the area was part of a vast shallow ocean. Once the sea receded, the area was the favorite hunting ground of the tyrannosaurus rex dinosaur. Evidence of the Rex, the largest land-dwelling predator of all time, and other species of dinosaur have been discovered in area rock formations.
We then headed on up the Rio Grande valley to Albuquerque - and the CPSA Convention.

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Monday, August 14, 2006

A Tombstone epitaph

Tombstone, Arizona
The rain finally stopped and we reached Tombstone in the early evening - although the above photo is what it looked like the next morning just before we left.

Tombstone was christened by Ed Schieffelin - a prospector who called his silver claim and the camp that grew up around it after what he was told was the only stone he might find if he went "looking for stones" in Apache territory. He founded it in 1877, by 1879 it had 40 cabins and a 100 people. Two years later it had 5,000 people as the mining camp grew. It developed a reputation as a place of complete lawlessness and violence.

Tombstone has certainly been a very popular place in film history with four films made about it, its inhabitants (Marshall Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, the Clantons) and the fabled gunfight at the OK Corral in 1881 (it's the 125th anniversary this year) - see the links below.

  •  A resume of the various clashes associated with the Earps and Clantons can be found here.  
  • Archived extracts from the Tombstone Epitaph (the local paper - what else!) and photos can be seen here.
It's been characterised as "the town too tough to die". It faded into obscurity over the years but has recently been revived by those interested in restoration and the search for the tourist dollar. Overall, I was generally impressed with the quality of the restoration and the protection of original buildings - it suggested an authenticity.......minus the lawlessness!


Tombstone Cowboys
After a dinner of great mexican food (and an excellent margarita) at the Lamplight Restaurant at the Tombstone Boarding House, we ran into one of the Tombstone cowboys in the street still dressed in his clothing from the regular re-enactment of the gunfight at the OK Corral that afternoon. We chatted and it turned out that he was actually from Louisiana!

We finished the evening with a visit to Big Nose Kate's Saloon and stroll around Tombstone, which is when I snapped some of the modern day cowboys exiting one of the local saloons.

The sign at the OK Corral
Links:

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Gordon drives Dome Valley - with "the boss"

Gordon took over the driving as we left Yuma and became a captive model for my next sketch! Apparently the likeness is fairly good. It was not too difficult to sketch him as Interstate 8 through the Sonoran Desert is very largely a straight road so he didn't move much! ;) Sketching is an activity which I can highly recommend for passengers on a long trip who'd like to practice their skills at sketching people. The trick is to hold the pen fairly lightly. Let it skip over the page and don't mind too much if you hit a bump - it only adds authenticity to the sketch! ;)

"The boss" in this instance is Bruce Springsteen who started playing just as I began to title the piece. Louise's husband had lent us his satellite radio as reception on normal radio stations in the desert can be very patchy. Gordon managed to work out how the radio worked and then kept us tuned to a radio station which played a lot of Jimmy Buffet for most of the journey. Everybody was amazed I'd never heard of him......

After a while I began to realise that there was an opportunity to sketch from the car because the view is the same for mile after mile so accuracy in terms of what you can see from an exact spot becomes rather redundant and it's also easier to get a good sense of the place. Thus the next sketch (pen and ink and coloured pencil in my Moleskine travel sketchbook) is a composite of the desert landscape we were passing. The hills come from one bit of the road, the sky from another and the shapes of cacti were filled in as we passd them.

Although everything in the desert landscape looks really washed out at first, the desert colours in the desert are actually quite complex and quite unlike any other landscape. I found that I could see more and more colours the more I looked at it - which then became reflected in the coloured pencil work where I was trying for an optical mixing effect.

The large cacti in the sketch of this particular part of the Sonoran desert are called Saguaro Cactus. The other main vegetation we saw everywhere on this part of the trip is called the Ocotillo - and it's not a cactus, its a shrub . This is a photo of what an ocotillo looks like close up.

One of the main features of the trip that day were the cloud formations. We had great big cumulus clouds initially over the various mountain ranges in the distance and then just before we turned right on to Interstate 10 Louise and I spotted an anvil cloud - which usually means there's a storm hovering somewhere in the vicinity.

We drove past Tucson heading for San Xavier du Bac Mission on its outskirts The history of this church is explained in the history section of its website. In outline, the first church foundations were built in 1700 and the present church was built between 1783 and 1797. It's suggested to be one of the very finest examples of Mission architecture given the blending of various styles and the dazzling ornamentation and colour of the interior. It was incredibly hot and humid while we were there. As we began to leave we could not help but notice that there was a dramatic change in the sky - the storm clouds were gathering.

As we started the next leg of the journey to Tombstone the rain started - and it 'bucketed down' I feel it necessary to point out that I announced that this was nothing to do with me ;) as England currently has a ban on the use of hose pipe due to a lack of rain. I felt it much more likely that it had something to do with the man from Maine (and by the end of the trip I was calling him the 'rainmaker'). Two weeks later the area we were moving through had some really bad summer flash floods.

Then we arrived in Tombstone, home of the OK Corral........

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Gordon drives Dome Valley Arizona - with "the boss"

Gordon took over the driving as we left Yuma and became a captive model for my next sketch! Apparently the likeness is fairly good. It was not too difficult to sketch him as Interstate 8 through the Sonoran Desert is very largely a straight road so he didn't move much! ;)

8.00am Gordon drives Dome Valley, Arizona - listening to Bruce Springsteen
pen and ink and coloured pencils in Moleskine Sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell
Sketching is an activity which I can highly recommend for passengers on a long trip who'd like to practice their skills at sketching people. The trick is to hold the pen fairly lightly. Let it skip over the page and don't mind too much if you hit a bump - it only adds authenticity to the sketch! ;)

"The boss" in this instance is Bruce Springsteen who started playing just as I began to title the piece. Louise's husband had lent us his satellite radio as reception on normal radio stations in the desert can be very patchy. Gordon managed to work out how the radio worked and then kept us tuned to a radio station which played a lot of Jimmy Buffet for most of the journey. Everybody was amazed I'd never heard of him......

Once we passed Yuma and the Fortuna Foothills we were driving through Dome Valley - very near to the trail of the old Butterfield stage coaches which carried both mail and passengers in the nineteenth century.  In effect we were travelling eastbound along the I-8 but very near to their Butterfield Division 3 route between Fort Yuma and Tucson (click the link to check out the old stagecoach stops on this route)
The schedule was very specific. The westbound stage was scheduled to leave Tucson, Arizona, for instance, every Tuesday and Friday at 1:30pm, arriving at Ft. Yuma, California three days later at 3am.National Postal Museum - Butterfield Overland Mail Record Book
After a while I began to realise that there was an opportunity to sketch The Sand Tank Mountains south of I-8 (located within the Sonoran Desert National Monument) from the car because the view is the same for mile after mile so accuracy in terms of what you can see from an exact spot becomes rather redundant and it's also easier to get a good sense of the place.

Although everything in the desert landscape looks really washed out at first, the desert colours in the desert are actually quite complex and quite unlike any other landscape. I found that I could see more and more colours the more I looked at it - which then became reflected in the coloured pencil work where I was trying for an optical mixing effect.

Thus the next sketch (pen and ink and coloured pencil in my Moleskine travel sketchbook) is a composite of the desert landscape we were passing. The hills come from one bit of the road, the sky from another and the shapes of cacti in the Saguaro Cactus Forests were filled in as we passd them.


Composite Sketch of The Sand Tank Mountains
sketched from the car driving along Interstate 8
pen and ink and coloured pencils in Moleskine Sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell
Saguero Cactus at San Xavier du Bac
- this was a BIG one!
The large cacti in the sketch of this particular part of the Lower Sonoran Desert are called Saguaro Cactus (see left for one I photographed at the Mission) and there are a number of Saguaero Cactus Forests in the area.

Ocatillo in Arizona - this is not a cactus
 The other main vegetation we saw everywhere on this part of the trip is called the Ocotillo - and it's not a cactus, its a shrub. Below is a photo of what an ocotillo looks like close up.

One of the main features of the trip that day were the cloud formations. We had great big cumulus clouds initially over the various mountain ranges in the distance and then just before we turned right on to Interstate 10 Louise and I both spotted an anvil cloud - which usually means there's a storm hovering somewhere in the vicinity.

We drove past Tucson heading for San Xavier du Bac Mission on its outskirts The history of this church is explained in the history section of its website.

In outline, the first church foundations were built in 1700 and the present church was built between 1783 and 1797. It's suggested to be one of the very finest examples of Mission architecture given the blending of various styles and the dazzling ornamentation and colour of the interior.

Storm clouds gathering at San Xavier du Bac Mission
It was incredibly hot and humid while we were there. As we began to leave we could not help but notice that there was a dramatic change in the sky - the storm clouds were gathering.

As we started the next leg of the journey to Tombstone the rain started - and it 'bucketed down' I feel it necessary to point out that I announced that this was nothing to do with me ;) as England currently has a ban on the use of hose pipe due to a lack of rain. I felt it much more likely that it had something to do with the man from Maine (and by the end of the trip I was calling him the 'rainmaker'). Two weeks later the area we were moving through had some really bad summer flash floods.

Then we arrived in Tombstone, home of the OK Corral........

Location Links:

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Breakfast in Yuma

6.00am on Tuesday 18th July, the first leg of THE BIG ROAD TRIP - otherwise known as "Katherine, Katherine, Gordon and Louise go to Albuquerque" - got underway. We were off to the annual convention and exhibition of the Coloured Pencil Society of America which none of us had attended before. The road trip was an added extra.......

Some introductions:

Louise is a grandmother who owns and rides two Harley Davidson motorbikes, teaches people how to drive and operate very expensive machines of a rather different nature and is a lifelong artist and fellow art supplies addict. She's got more than me - she could open her own store! Louise is Driver in Charge and Chief Navigator for this trip - and insisted we all get up at 5.00am so that we could do as many miles of travelling through the desert as possible while it was still relatively cool.

In her very busy life in Maine Katherine Ellis manages to fit in being an award winning artist who works in coloured pencil. She produces stunning still lifes of food and shiny reflective objects - particularly ones with old advertising slogans and wonderfully life like dog portraits - which keep winning prizes. Check out "Not Begging. Much" on the main page of her portrait gallery to see what I mean.

Gordon, her husband, is 'in TV' and raises large sums for money for charity on a regular basis with various activities in his home town in Maine. Let's put it this way, the local police now provide directions to the venue of his Haunted House at Halloween production which people travel miles to see. He plays Brad Pitt in this road trip saga - except in this instance he has to sweet talk three middle aged women of strong character for four days. That's when he's not 'the man in charge of the satellite radio thing' or 'the man with his own well in a desert'. By the end he was 'the man who survived four days in a car with us'! Which I guess makes him a man of great diplomacy and infinite patience. Anyway, so far as my sketchbook was concerned, having a beard makes him interesting to draw so he pops up in a few sketches.......including the one at the top of this post which was done during breakfast in Yuma.


Back to the beginning - after we filled up at Starbucks with the essentials - including my small tray of cheese and fruit(!) Gordon opened the maps, I opened the guidebook and Louise guided us on to Interstate 8 and we headed for the deserts and Arizona. That's right - plural - we needed to travel through two deserts, the Anza-Borrego and Sonoran deserts. At this point I was going to include a link to the route from Google Maps but as it's crashed my computer three times so far I've had another think about that idea.

Our first stop and my first sketch was over breakfast at the Cracker Barrel in Yuma, just over the border in Arizona. I still hadn't quite got to grips with what the items on the menu (click for larger version) actually meant and this is what arrived.......... It was a mistake and I learned my lesson!

Looking back now, I've noticed that what is interesting about a number of the sketches on the trip is that, as in San Clemente, sketching has to be done while doing other things - there's usually no time to stop to sketch. Also, the speed means that decisions about 'what to do' have to be made very fast - and I found that this helped to produce some interesting decisions about focus and composition which I probably wouldn't have done if I'd had more time to think. No bad thing methinks! ;) The main sketch done at breakfast is an example of this. It was done in pen and sepia ink on a double page spread in my large Moleskine sketchbook while waiting for and then eating breakfast. Coloured pencil was then added afterwards while I still had a clear visual memory about colours in my head. The repetition of motif was entirely unconscious.

As I got back to the car the coloured pencils pencil cases (warms and cools) came out of the trunk/boot and made their way to the foot well. I had decided to try and sketch on the move.............

Addendum:  I was hugely impressed with some hot pink cacti located right outside the Cracker Barrel.  See also X is for Xerophytes at Yuma

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