I just got back from the Grand Canyon . . .

A watercolor sketch of the Grand Canyon's Bright Angel Point Trail, with the sunrise view that inspired the sketch.

It’s impossible to go to the Grand Canyon and not sketch the awe-inspiring sunrises! This is a view of Bright Angel Point Trail from the North Rim

. . . and Zion National Parks, where we spent a week hiking, sketching and photographing. The Wrenaissance Man was attending a photo workshop on the South and North Rims of the Grand Canyon, chasing desert monsoon clouds and lightning in hopes of photographic drama.

It was a very busy and inspiring week, packed with day hikes, landscape and flower sketching, botanizing and gathering photo research materials.

Later this week I’ll scan in some sketches and upload photos for sharing on the blog. Right now, I’ve got all the domestic details and etc’s to take care of after a long week away. Not to mention the pups are pouting a bit after a week in the doggie hotel.

Speaking of summer vacations: Check out ArtL8dy’s wonderful post about her newest art quilt, inspired by her visit with her elderly aunt.

How was your summer vacation? I hope you spent some time refreshing your mind and your soul, whether at home or away!

Portable studio tips for hiking and sketching with pastels

Spring is finally here, and that means sketching outdoors! Here are a few ideas for setting up a compact, sturdy kit for pastel sketching on your next hike.

Pastel Cases

An assortment of soft and hard pastels in plastic hobby boxes are prepared for travel sketching.

Hobby Lobby has a strange obsession with the color pink! The 2 binder pockets were the only ones I could find that were translucent colorless. Photo storage boxes are made of acid-free polypropylene. Use the foam liners your pastels came in to cushion them inside the hard cases.

Pastels are fragile sticks of powdered pigment. How do you protect them from getting crushed in your backpack? Before my February trip to the Grand Canyon, I went to Hobby Lobby and bought a clear-plastic school supplies box for ring binders and two polypropylene plastic 4″ x 6″ photo-storage boxes. I lined these with the foam rubber inserts used in the cardboard packaging the pastels came in. Further cushioning came from my chamois rub cloths. This set-up kept my pastels nestled securely while I hiked the trails.

Refillable sketchbook

I love making my own sketchbooks because you can customize the papers and size format to suit the type of sketching you’ll be doing as well as to fit snugly in your daypack. This sketchbook’s pages are 5″ x 10″, which is great for panorama landscapes, plus it fits perfectly in the Patagonia Atom mini-daypack that I’ve carried for about 10 years.

Handmade refillable sketchbook for sketching pastels in plein-air.

Store-bought sketchbooks are never quite right. Why not make your own refillable version in the exact size you want with the paper you prefer?

To make a refillable sketchbook like this, you need:

  • 2 pieces of chipboard, cut 1/4″ longer and 1/4″ wider than the size you want your pages to be.
  • Textured, archival cover stock
  • Decorative archival paper—scrapbooking sheets are a good weight and attractive. As long as the paper is heavy enough to withstand gluing, you can pick almost any type of paper. Japanese mulberry sheets are probably too thin.
  • Hole punch
  • Water-soluble PVA glue
  • 3 hinged key rings from the hardware store
  • Your preferred pastel paper, cut to your desired page size.
  • Glassine sheets or tracing vellum, cut to page size.

Assemble the covers and pages:

  • Cut the cover stock about 1″ wider and longer than the chipboard covers. Spread the glue evenly over the wrong side of the cover stock and place the chipboard onto the center of the glued surface. There should be about a 1/2″ of extra cover stock all the way around. Fold this excess over the edges of the chipboards, and miter-fold the corners. Place a board over these wet covers and weight them down so they’ll dry flat and even.
  • When they’re dry, cut the decorative paper about 1/4″ smaller than the chipboard. It should cover the raw edges of the folded over cover stock. Spread glue on the back side of the decorative paper and place on the side of the chipboard that still shows raw chipboard. Again, cover with a board and weights and allow to dry.
  • Punch 3 holes in the finished covers.
  • Cut your paper and tracing vellum to the desired page size. For this pastel sketchbook, I used ColourFix Suede texture pastel paper from the multi-color pack. Punch 3 holes in the papers to match the hole placement on the covers.
  • Make a stack of pages, alternating 1 pastel sheet with 1 tracing vellum sheet. The holes should match up.
  • Make a sandwich: 1 cover; stack of pastel paper/tracing vellum; 1 cover.
  • Thread 1 keyring through each set of holes.

Hope you find that some of these ideas work for you! Do you have any favorite tricks or gear when you hike and sketch with pastels? Please let me know in the comments. 🙂

How’m I doin’? First quarter update

Performance reviews are a boon and a bane, aren’t they? If you want to achieve a goal that is very complex or important, it helps a lot to look over your progress regularly to see what you’ve accomplished and what still needs to be done to reach success.

Here’s a brief update on how I’m doing on my own goals for 2013:

Corrie and Nevis, Scottish terrier puppies, on the sofa.

Caught at that rare instant of quiet! Corrie and Nevis are learning good manners, slowly.

  • 1. Civilize the hairy barbarians. Corrie has successfully completed the CGC certificate. Nevis is signed up for a recall class in May.
  • 2. Create a relaxing and welcoming home environment. The bedroom floor has been re-tiled, and a large strip where the plaster was missing when we removed has been patched up nicely. I sewed some cute fleece dog crate covers. We now have some lawn furniture. The guest bedroom, a banquette for the breakfast nook and some window treatments in key areas are the next on the list.


View of an orchid and sketches in the artist's studio

Getting my orchid-painting mojo in tune! Studying an orchid hybrid in preparation for the field season ahead.


  • 3. The New Mexico Orchid Project. Fortunately, none of the orchids in question start blooming til late May, lol. I have bought a guide book with photos. Next step is to contact the Santa Fe Botanical Garden and set up a guide for hiking into their restricted reserves in the Ortiz Mountains at the right season.
  • 4. Write a children’s book for submitting to publishers. Kind of falling off the radar here. 🙁
  • 5. The Silver Fox Chronicles. Got a cute haircut and found a hairstylist I like. Also discovered tinted moisturizer.
  • 6. Swim 3 miles a week. This month I swam 14.23 miles, for a total of 30.48 miles so far. The quarterly goal should be 39. I fell behind while the house repairs were being done in January and early February. This is a goal I can slowly get caught up on, but it means I have to stay focused on scheduling the workouts.
  • 7. Back re-hab work 4 sessions a week. So far, so good.
  • 8. Learn to ride my new bike. Waiting for spring on this one!
  • 9. Studio schedule of 10 hours per week. I am now so far behind in completed hours that I can never get caught up. Time to punt and figure out how to adapt this goal to one that I can successfully achieve. I’ve already started counting blogging and other studio-based projects as part of my total.


Valentines made with hand-lettering, sketchbook page by Wren M. Allen.

I love inspirational quotes! Some Valentine’s day lettering practice in my sketchbook.


  • 10. Experiment with new media. Picked up a couple of books on lettering, and have been playing around with them. Nothing worth showing off—yet.
  • 11. Improve my blog and attract more readers. I’ve joined the Bloglovin’ network, and have managed to stay on track with writing 3 blog posts per week, or 13 posts per month.



The end of March is a good time to look back. Discouragement is setting in, and the excitement of starting something is waning. It’s reassuring to look at your concrete accomplishments, and important to notice the problem spots so you can start working on resolving them before they become unmanageable.

How about you? How are you doing so far on your goals for 2013?

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