Nature Sketching in the Sierra Buttes

Three of my sketch buddies and I rented a house in Sierra City, CA for a few days last week and indulged greedily in things we love passionately, nature and sketching in equal parts. Oh and some swimming, hiking, boating, and eating. The weather was sunny and hot of the dry mountain sort which is comfortable in the shade and sometimes even in the glaring sunlight for a while.



Day one we explored the Wild Plum Trail and falls, soaking our feet in the rushing mountain stream. I brought a concertina folded w/c “book” to explore whatever caught my eye, starting with the roaring stream.


Sketching rocks and rushing water and ferny side shows is a an entrancing form of meditation. There’s no way to get your drawing “right”, so you satisfy yourself with diving deeply into the shapes and colors, all the while experiencing the awe of discovery.


In the afternoon we moved to Sand Pond at the foot of the Sierra Buttes and went swimming. I struggled with the sky color and so tried out my different blues. Since that day I have decided to add Manganese Blue Hue to my palette and see if that helps. Please let me know if you have another suggestion.

The sun was literally blindingly white making it quite impossible to judge color or value while painting. I decided it was far better to view the sketch in the context of the natural setting where it makes the most sense!


My favorite shapes were the bare white ones against the dark green forest background, so I painted a strip of green and used dark paint and my white pen on top.


The dragonflies were everywhere. At one point three of them stopped on my towel and I was able to sketch quickly and then take a picture to finish .

sierrabuttes15This sketching in nature is no elegant affair, as you can see here where I sit perched on a rock, post swimming, with as much protection from the afternoon sun as I can muster.


Next day we found a lovely spot where the Wild Plum creek and Yuba River meet. I’d played around with spraying inks over seed pods from the forest floor and glued them into my sketchbook for a start. The tree was added on site and then more forest floor gems added for the picture on the rock before adding writing in the white space.


This mossy tree base just invited one to sit. But then it seemed to say, “sketch me” and,so I did, imagining the creatures that live in that hole.


Another day we took the ferry boat across Salmon Lake and hiked up to Deer Lake.


At times it was a steep climb up wildflower strewns meadows, past tiny lakes and even patches of snow.


And always the search for the perfect sketchable view of the Buttes, here once again.


And here in town with the last of our energy a timed 15 minute sketch of the church above below the Buttes.


On the last day I got my wish to take a boat out on Salmon Lake. We lasted about 30 minutes in the antique row boat we’d rented with the clunky paddles and found another sweet spot for the last sketches of the trip.





  1. What a lovely story about your trip. I enjoyed all these drawings especially since I am just beginning to learn how paint trees, rocks, and water. Love your color palette too!


  2. What a fabulous week. I love the drawings with watercolor and the writings. Yes, magnificence, breathing in the air of these trees, lakes and mountains. A real pleasure to go along with you thru your paintings. Yes, painting water – how? I’ve been trying for years. I’m just enjoying your trip.


  3. Oh my!! what a pleasant surprise to see your post because I love that area and have painted it so many times. The Sierra Buttes is magnificent but also very trying to paint in that particular lighting, I know! how fun to see your post.


  4. Oh, Susan! Living the artist’s good life! Your sketch/paint diaries of your exploits are such a treat! Thank you for always sharing them.

    Regarding sky blue colors, I always use Winsor and Newton cerulean blue for bright, mid-day sunny skies, beginning with light washes. It has such a bright, happy feel to it. Otherwise, light washes of ultramarine will fill in between clouds or suffice at twilight. Just my opinion of course. YOU are the master. I like manganese blue too. It has special qualities.

    Don’t forget about the Big Little Show you coming up in just a few short weeks! I’ll be sending out a reminder soon to folks to get me their titles / mediums for the name plaques. So glad you will be participating! 💜🎨🌹

    Grace and Peace,


    On Tue, Jul 18, 2017 at 10:57 AM, wrote:

    > Susan Cornelis posted: “Three of my sketch buddies and I rented a house in > Sierra City, CA for a few days last week and indulged greedily in things we > love passionately, nature and sketching in equal parts. Oh and some > swimming, hiking, boating, and eating. The weather was sunny” >


  5. Fantastic account of your trip, and love your sketches and collage! I’m heading up that way (even farther, to Lassen Volcanic National Park) in a few weeks — very excited. Re: sky blue, have you tried Schmincke’s ‘Helio Cerulean’?


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