Before we even left the cabin I saw this girl right outside the door and grabbed my sketchbook as she posed. This is why I always carry a sketchbook.
We drove and drove and drove through Yellowstone to the Grand Teton National Park and by the time we stopped at this view I was just itching to sketch. This was a pretty quick sketch using my favorite quick-sketch materials - a fat black pen and a limited range of grays.
We drove a little farther away for a better view and parked. I had lots of time for this one and just had fun with it. I sat on my little sketching stool right in those wildflowers and just tried to sketch everything!
By this time in the trip I had gotten to know the colors in my little watercolor palette really well - this is the Ultimate Sketching Palette from Expeditionary Art with colors selected by Jane Blundell (the watercolor color expert!), so I knew I couldn't go wrong with it, but it did take some use to get comfortable mixing the colors.
This was a super quick sketch and looks it! I thought it would be the best one considering I had the least amount of time for it, and that's when I learned that not all quick sketches will be my favorite sketches! But I do love what I did with the sky, and I love the simplicity of the line of grass and line of trees.
While we were on our trip, I sketched normal everyday things as well as wildlife and national monuments. We stayed in a cabin outside of the eastern entrance of Yellowstone for several days so we got comfortable and cooked eggs and lingered over coffee in the morning.
Since Devils Tower I'd been thinking about time and sketching, because I thought if I had more time there, I would have done a more involved sketch that took more time. I had time to sketch at the cabin and what I sketched - this nearby cabin - felt heavy and a little forced. I wondered if I was being too literal with paint, and if I should focus on being literal with a pen but looser with paint. It was bugging me because I had way more time than usual to sketch but I wasn't happy with what I was doing.
Then we drove all through Yellowstone and encountered big scenes with small amounts of time and everything worked out okay. It was like the overthinking part of my brain went quiet for a while. So my real issue wasn't about being literal with paint, it was about time and expectations.
The expectation associated with time is, "Oh, this is going to be a good sketch." The expectation when sketching within constraints - time, weather, light, a moving subject - is, "Yay, I get to sketch this thing/place/person."
When I had time at the cabin I tested that theory by doing timed sketches. The timed sketches felt more spontaneous, and I liked the marks I got out of them. Because I was sketching the same thing over and over, I learned from each one and put what I learned into the next one. So then of course I was like - "oh I figured out the secret! all of my sketches now will be both timed and good!" But I quickly saw that wasn't going to be the case, either.
But this idea isn't really about "good" sketches and "bad" sketches - it's more about finding ways to be satisfied with your work, and to learn from it. It's like what Helen Stephens (illustrator and #walktosee founder - @helenstephenslion on Instagram) encourages us to do - draw in the rain and draw in the dark to let go of our expectations and embrace whatever happens on the paper.
I've been pretty busy with work the last few weeks in a way that made me not very interested in revisit this super fun, relaxing trip, but now I can finally get back to telling you about the sketching I did while we were on our super socially distanced road trip.
First of all, Yellowstone was amazing! It is so easy to drive through it and stop anywhere and see something gorgeous. This was our first stop, at Yellowstone Lake, and the shape that the lake made at that spot really spoke to me so I made this quick sketch with watercolor and ink.
These are two separate scenes. First we stopped at one of the many places where you find stinky, gurgling mud. But the stinky, gurgling mud is so cool! I didn't even know how I would sketch all of the steam - a white gel pen came in handy there.
Next we stopped to see a buffalo near the water where we also saw ducks and geese and maybe swans - we saw swans somewhere but might not have been this stop. I love using a black pen and a brush pen to quickly sketch a scene.
I sketched this scene in watercolor at Artist Point (it really is singular - I just looked it up), but it was pretty crowded there so we didn't stay long.
This one was so much fun to sketch! It was such a challenge because again, how do you sketch gurgling mud and steam?! There weren't as many people at this spot so I was able to take a little more time to figure it out, but it was still a pretty quick sketch.
We stopped to eat our picnic lunch next to this pond full of fairy flowers. I don't know what they were, but they were magical - some of them moved up and down like they were magical. And I was totally stumped as to how to capture the scene in a sketch!
I was a little sad as we were heading back towards the park exit because I didn't feel like I was done yet. Then we happened by a beautiful view of the lake, so I got one more sketch in. It was cold and windy and I was sitting on a concrete curb - and it was perfect! I knew I had one more sketch in me, so this was very satisfying.
I made all of these sketches in a Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook (8.5" x 5.5) with a black pen, a brush pen, and watercolors. I spent this day doing the things I love most - driving around with my husband and stopping to look at things and sketch them. My sketching thrives within the constraints of time, weather, and (dis)comfort. The sketches turn out better when there's no time to think!
I was very excited about getting to see Devils Tower. Seeing it from a distance while driving was amazing - it's so tall! We camped right beside it, just to the east of it, so we had an amazing view. It was hard to look away from it but when I did I felt like I could sense its presence, sort of like how I can feel where the Mississippi River is at all times when I'm anywhere in Memphis.
We got there in the late afternoon and camped one night, and all I could think about while we were there was sketching it. I even woke up in the tent in the middle of the night thinking about sketching it the next day.
I drew the one on the left in the dark, and drew the other one the next morning in the light of day.
If you follow me on Instagram (@elizabethalley), you might know that at home in Memphis I often sketch and paint a building called the Clark Tower, and because I sketch and paint it so much, a friend declared it "my Devils Tower," as in the thing I'm obsessed with like the character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind who sculpted Devils Tower out of mashed potatoes. Anyway, all of that was an extra bit of excitement for being able to see it in person, but also caused me a moment of hesitation due to the expectations of sketching The Actual Devils Tower. But, I was happy to find that I didn't sketch it nine times out of a sense of obligation, but because I wanted to explore it. I could have sketched how the shadows changed on it all. day. long.
After we left, I kept thinking about how if I'd had more time I would have done a more involved sketch. But I later figured out that by doing nine quick-ish sketches I probably learned more and enjoyed myself more than I would have with fewer sketches that took more time. I'll tell you more about that lesson later.
My husband and I have been keeping to quarantine since mid-March and were going a little stir crazy, so we planned a trip in October that would result in maximum change of scenery with minimum interaction with others. We camped, stayed in cabins, and carried around our own food. We also went to grocery stores and stopped at gas stations and stayed in a few chain hotels. But we did everything we could to minimize interaction with others and ensure that we weren't spreading the virus around the country. We've been back for several weeks with no signs or symptoms of illness and we had a break that we were both extremely grateful for.
Here are sketches from the first leg our the trip:
First stop: camping in Knob Noster State Park in Missouri. The park was surprisingly close to a major road. At night we could hear the wind in the trees, the rustling of animals, and the swoosh of big trucks nearby. But it was a lovely spot full of pin oaks and other giant trees starting to turn colors. We went on a hike and saw deer, we listened to the wind through the trees, and we saw the milky way at night.
I have so many new sketches to share, but I'm sharing this again with the following words to make sure that any of you reading my blog or my social media know who it is you are following. You may ask what politics has to do with sketching, and as a response I will share this quote by Frederick Franck, "Art is neither a profession or a hobby. Art is a way of being." I make art because it is my way of being, and I cannot separate it from any other part of myself.
Now, none of my people won/didn't win my state, but I stand by these choices because I made them for the kind of world that I want to see and that I want for others. I believe strongly in and will defend and align myself with supporters of: Black lives (Black Lives Matter), trans lives and rights, gay marriage and all LGBTQIA rights, women's rights, reproductive rights, the rights of undocumented Americans (no human is illegal), science, climate justice and environmental protections... and there's more that I am forgetting – so much healthcare debt or limited/no access to decent healthcare, student loan debt, generational poverty, family separation, extrajudicial killing and police violence, sentencing based on racism and patriarchy, voter suppression, rolling back of climate change initiatives, oh yeah and uncontrolled spread of a deadly virus that has killed almost 240,000 Americans.
We show the world who we are through our words, actions, and choices. I have and will continue to say and do thoughtless things and make not-smart choices because I'm human. But I think a lot about the words I use and the actions and choices that I make, and I strive for empathy and compassion (neither of these comes easily to me), and I incorporate lessons I've learned from the people in my life.
Anyway, that's who I am and who I will continue to be. Thanks for reading.
I'm still making these sketches when I go to the grocery store and making sure I'm sketching at other places, too. I'm trying to document life as it's happening, including the small part of my life that happens outside of my house/neighborhood.
I made this sketch in two minutes before a doctors appointment. I started with color first - the pink colored pencil - to get the general shapes and then added black ink.
I've been throwing an extra color in my bag before I leave the house, just to shake things up a little bit.
But sometimes I just want to use black ink!
Sometimes I find ways to sketch with other people, such as joining The Good Ship Illustration's Art Club on Instagram Live. They've been hosting almost every Friday at 8:00 PM UK time (that's 2:00 PM CDT). They offer prompts and general silliness and it's a lot of fun. I joined a few weeks ago for continuous line drawing and it was so much fun!
Today (September 25) they are hosting their last ever Art Club! You should join if you have a chance or at least follow them on Instagram.
That same day I was able to join Suhita and Paul for Sketch/Play Lab, which they host several times a week as a casual guided exploration of sketching and materials - check out their Instagrams for more information. It was fun to play with textures and patterns and to see people from all over the world sketching along.
And sometimes I sketch with a few friends via Zoom. Using mapcrunch.com is a great way to do this - it takes you to a different place in the world via Google street view. We "went" to Wales and Croatia and focused on mark-making.
I made this illustration of my voting plan as a way to help me think through why I want to vote for each of these candidates. I am especially pleased to be voting for three women from Memphis, especially Marquita Bradshaw and Erika Stotts Pearson because they are Black women from Memphis. We all need to listen to Black women, and I know from experience that Black women from Memphis work so hard and give so much. And I'm also excited about Gabby Salinas because she is a scientist, though it's sad that one of my reasons for voting for anyone would be "believes in science." But Gabby also supports Medicaid expansion in Tennessee, and sees the direct correlation between the lack of expansion and rural hospital closures. It's easy in this blue dot in the corner of Tennessee to think of the rest of Tennessee as separate, but we need to work hard for rural communities AND the citizens of South Memphis and Hickory Hill (etc.) AND the other big and medium cities. We're all in this together, folks.
So typical! Lots of produce around here, and I love it. I love eating it and I love sketching it. This spread in particular was a joy to work on. I sketched the peppers quickly because I was cooking them, then sketched the tomatoes quickly because I was still cooking the peppers. The joy came from just making this two-page spread. Drawing often makes me feel better.
I bought myself a pilea plant recently and it has been a fun object to sketch - the round leaves and wonky stems just begged to be drawn in different materials. In this sketch I drew in ink first, then added watercolor.
Another plant! Do I sketch them because I have them, or do I have them so I can sketch them?
We read this book for bookclub this month - I love Adichie's clear writing and smart arguments.
There's that pilea again, but this time I sketched with color first, then added the lines. I did that with the yarn, too. It's a method I often use when sketching architecture, because it gives me a nice base to start from, but it works great for organic shapes, too.
The fatsia outside my window begs to be sketched, and on this day I was looking for a different way to work on them. I often get caught up drawing every leaf, so I was going for a more general shape here, and the colored pencil helped that because I could still indicate the shape and direction of the leaves without drawing every outline.
And then I got another produce delivery and sketched some of it.
Yarn is a very typical sight around here lately, too. I have been crocheting A LOT. I started crocheting again late last year hoping to get back into making afghans, but all I've made are little animals and I can't stop. I have a lot of small balls of yarn that I can't do much with until I get the urge to make granny squares, so instead I've been sketching them.
I started both of these with watercolor - first the one on the left, then added the lines with fountain pen. The lines in the one on the right are with Caran d'Ache Neocolor II Aquarelle. I liked making the lines out of the color of the yarn - it gives it such a different feeling than black lines on color.
I just realized I sketched about half of these while on Zoom with friends, including this one. Being on Zoom with friends has become typical as of late, so I'm happy to combine that with sketching because my friends and sketching both bring me so much joy.
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