The Wrenaissance Man attended a photography workshop at the Grand Canyon last week, and I decided to use this opportunity to do some sketching while we were there.
It’s been many years since I used pastels and I thought it might be fun to try them out instead of my usual pencil, ink and watercolor sketch technique.
It turned out to be quite a technical challenge!
The Grand Canyon is constantly changing as the sun tracks across the sky. Colors deepen, then fade into darkness or the soft uniformity of mid-day. Forms emerge from the mist of aerial perspective, then sink back into the background. Shadows grow and shift across the landscape. It may be an inanimate landscape, but everything moves so fast!
On top of this, pastels are somewhat awkward and detailed compared to the ease of watercolor. Colors are mixed by layering separate tones, rather than a quick blend and swash of the brush. Working up and down from the mid-tone paper was counter-intuitive after many years of painting from light to dark on a white background. I’d hoped to achieve an “expressionistic” effect, but what emerged seems more “naive” or “primitive” in style.
I was beginning to become anxious and frustrated by what I perceived to be a lack of my usual sketching success.
One morning I joined the Wrenaissance Man’s group for sunrise at Lipan Point and took my watercolor kit. Again, the rapid movement of sun and color across the canyon defeated me as I tried to keep up. Afterward, although the results were not what I sought, I realized I had a base upon which I could work further with pastels or pencils at home.
The last afternoon I observed sunset near La Maricopa/Powell Point. I allowed myself to settle into the quiet of the late afternoon. Observing and sketching, I found more details emerged in the landscape as I drew. I snapped some quick photos throughout the session to capture colors for later. The results were satisfying. I felt like I had achieved an understanding and communion with the location and the view.
It’s amazing the drawing that can be achieved when you let go of expectations and strip down to the essential tools of pencil and paper! This trip was such a wonderful experience and recharged my passion for sketching.