Have you ever chased a sunset with your brush? Mixed paint for an old weathered barn from clay dug up in the woods? Dipped sticks found on the ground into ink to draw trees at twilight while the mosquitoes swarmed?
If you’d been with fifteen of us at the Sierra Nevada Field Campus in Laurie Wigham‘s workshop titled Rock, Wood, Water, Sky you would exclaim Yes! and so much more.
It’s been a while since I’ve “roughed it”. Some might consider this glamping. I mean, a big tent on a platform, hot showers and all meals provided. Bettina and I shared the tent which was named for a not particularly dangerous snake, the Rubber Boa.
A fork of the Yuba River ran right below us in a roar that drowned out our voices as we spoke to each other across the tent. That, combined with the birdsong in the morning and the stars at night. . .ahhhh!
When I wasn’t in class I collected memories in my little sketchbook.
This was no painting -botanicals- in- detail- workshop! Laurie encouraged us at every turn to use new materials and capture the essence of the forest and sky. We were encouraged to do practice paintings on 5″ tall accordian-folded watercolor paper. I did these trees at dusk with sticks dipped in black and brown inks. Later I practiced sunset colors over the top.
One evening we had a picnic by our cars to paint the sunset by the wetlands where there was more birdlife than I’d ever experienced in one place! Note that all the black marks on the photo above are not dust, but birds. Swallows, yellow headed and red winged blackbirds, Ibises, Sandhill Cranes, a Harrier or two, Grebes, singly or in massive flight patterns in the skies; all adding their melodious vocals to the night air. . .along with the bass notes of the bullfrogs.
We lined up with our stools on the one lane dirt road to paint the changing light on our 5X5″ pieces.
Suddenly it really was sunset and the colors changed so rapidly that each painting was about 3 minutes worth of trying to capture the impossible chromatic changes.
And then it was over, and on the drive back we kept calling out colors that we saw and the watercolor pigments that would express them.
Next morning we spread them out on the table to share.
Another morning we were up at Yuba Pass (6700 ft) painting the aspen trees with their white trunks and shimmering leaves. The lesson was to try many different ways to save whites. Here we are sharing masking fluids, gouache and special brushes (have you tried the eradicator?)
Here’s one of my 5″X2.5″ test pieces with a combination of negative painting the white trunks and painting branches in white gouache.
And here’s the woods with a combination of techniques.
And did I say that one of the best parts of the week was the people; our wonderful teacher Laurie Wigham and the other students? Here is Janet with the tortoiseshell butterfly on her hat. Happily, we had some nature-nerds along who could identify birds, bugs and plants!
And although the days were filled with activity from breakfast til nightfall at 9pm, some of us found some time to relax. Like my friend Cathy McAuliff, Laurie’s trusty assistant and veteran nature/urban/etc sketcher.
If this learning scenario sounds appealing to you, you can sign up for Laurie’s workshop nest year or one of the other wonderful workshops later this summer. Check out the workshop calendar.
Stay tuned for more sketch stories from my Sierra week.