Travels with sketchbook: South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Abstract rock and shadow shapes seen at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Light, color and form move rapidly as the sun crosses the sky in the Grand Canyon!

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.

Pastel on paper, 12.5" x 9.5" Sketch of Mather Point by Wren M. Allen

My first pastel attempt in 30 years was made overlooking Mather Point this February.

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.

Bright sunset pastel of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, 9.5" x 12.5"

That afternoon, I found a quiet spot just past the Hermit Route Transfer Point near the Bright Angel Lodge. I felt more comfortable with new medium already.

It turned out to be quite a technical challenge!

South Rim of the Grand Canyon at sunset with Kolb Brother's historic cliffside home.

This is a detail of the view I sketched that first afternoon. The Kolb Brothers recorded an extensive photographic record of the Canyon. Their 5-level house/studio is the dark brown structure perched on the cliff.

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!

An early morning view of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, AZ, as seen from the South Kaibab trail.

The next morning I took the Hiker’s Express shuttle bus to the South Kaibab trailhead.

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.

Pastel sketch of a view from the South Kaibab Trail in Grand Canyon, AZ.

I spent a glorious sunny morning sketching on the South Kaibab Trail. Using white Rives BFK paper was more intuitive to me than the toned Sennelier card. I also consciously limited the number of colors to reduce palette confusion.

I was beginning to become anxious and frustrated by what I perceived to be a lack of my usual sketching success.

Watercolor sketch of Lipan Point, Grand Canyon NP, AZ

A frosty sunrise at Lipan Point was exciting to paint, even if the speed of the light changes defeated my brush. I realized that this would make a good base to work into later with other media.

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.

Cliff view near La Maricopa Overlook on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

I snapped quick color shots as I sketched the sunset view of this stone outcropping on the South Rim.

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.

Pencil sketch made near La Maricopa, Grand Canyon, 10" x 14"

This last sketch session was so enjoyable and serene! Taking the time to simply observe and stripping down to the merest essential of pencil on paper resulted in a meditative drawing experience.

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.

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2 thoughts on “Travels with sketchbook: South Rim of the Grand Canyon

    • Thank you! I hope to be going on location more this year for flower sketching.
      BTW, I love your idea of total social media fast for Lent.

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