Color at Yellowstone

One of my favorite things about being in Yellowstone is an awareness of how active the earth is. All the steam vents, mud pots and geysers remind me that were skating on a thin crust over a huge fire pit.

That hot water and steam is what makes for a lot of surprising color at the park. Like this huge colorful pool, Grand Prismatic Pool. This is the pool sketched from the boardwalk.

But the more bird’s-eye-like view from the lookout point explains what it is about much more clearly. (and it only took a couple of minutes to sketch it and add notes to it.)

More surprising color, this time at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. This is Inspiration Point, overlooking the gorge carved by the Yellowstone River.

Here are previous posts in this series:

Off to the Grand Tetons
Grand Teton National Park
More from the Grand Tetons
The Geysers of Yellowstone
North Yellowstone

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North Yellowstone

North Yellowstone has an open, wild feel so different from the rest of the park. This stone arch, at the North entrance of the Park is the Roosevelt Arch. The sky feels so big here.

Roosevelt Arch, Gardner, Montana.

Locals call that peak Electric Mountain because it has a deposit of iron ore and gets hit by lightning more than 200 times a year. I got this far and then a storm came through.

Electric Mountain

I don’t always have enough time for a longer sketch like the two above. But a few minutes I still enough to record an impression. These limestone formations were sketched form the shade of a distant grove of trees on a very hot day.

If you see a school bus in Gardner, Montana, chances are it belongs to a river rafting trip company and is used to haul passengers and rafts from town to the Yellowstone River. Two-minute sketch, then the bus was gone…

This more relaxed sketch was over coffee at Tumbleweed Cafe. Gotta love a cafe that has a bookstore attached and a lovely eclectic collection of mugs for your coffee.

Previous posts in this series:

Off to the Grand Tetons
Grand Teton National Park
More from the Grand Tetons
The Geysers of Yellowstone

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Geysers at Yellowstone National Park

At Yellowstone National Park, Old Faithful had us betting on how close to the predicted time it would erupt (it was almost a half hour off)

I started this sketch before the eruption, accounting for capturing the eruption while it happened.

Below is the finished sketch, completed as the geyser went off (Photo taken when it was all done).

While it’s always exciting to watch a geyser that you know will go off, it’s especially exciting when you sit by a unpredictable geyser and are the only person by it when it suddenly goes off and puts on quite a show. No warning or tell-tale pre-going-off signs for Castle Rock Geyser. It put up a show for a few minutes.

That’s a sketching experience I’m not going to forget soon!

Here are the posts so far in this series:

Off to the Grand Tetons
Grand Teton National Park
More from the Grand Tetons

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More from Grand Teton National Park

More of the amazing Tetons. Who even cares what the final sketch looks like when you get to hang out at this beautiful bend in the Snake River, and take some time drinking it all in while you sketch.

We drove up to Yellowstone the next day. Luckily, that means driving across Teton National Park. This spot at Ox Bow Bend Lake is where we stopped and ate our sandwiches at lunchtime.

And as we approached the north end of the park, we were in for a treat.

All I got on my page on location was the drawing in pen. But making mental notes of the colors helped because my photos didn’t capture the purples in the distant hills as I remembered them.

In this series so far:
Off to the Grand Tetons
Grand Teton National Park

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Grand Teton National Park

If you visit Yellowstone, don’t skip Grand Teton National Park. Short of time? Skip some of what you planned to see and do in Yellowstone. The Grand Tetons are magical and amazing in a way that’s hard to put words or pictures to.

From almost anywhere in the park, you see majestic mountains. There are grand vistas and rivers, waterfalls and lakes everywhere. And vast spaces full of bison and deer that you’ll encounter on your drive around the park.

I drew the mountains and the lakes over and over in an attempt to wrap my head around their scale and beauty. With unending vistas like I was encountering, I often sketched just a small part of what I saw and suggested a more expansive view. There’s just no way to capture the grandeur of it all in a 20 minute sketch. (which is my sweet spot for a ‘long’ sketch when traveling with my family: they’re always willing to hang around at a spot about that long for me. Unless there are mosquitoes.)

Phelps Lake, Grand Teton National Park

Here is another take on the Tetons, this one while standing in line to get on a ferry across Jenny Lake. Just a little bit of a hint of the lake in this one.

Jenny Lake

For even quicker sketches, I used a blank Midori notebook. The Midori has pretty thin paper. It is an absolute joy to let the pen fly over this smooth page. And it can handle a light wash of watercolor.

When I paused for a sketch of Hidden Falls mid-hike, I used just Inktense pencils and a fountain pen.

And another sketch in that same book from Inspiration Point at the top of that hike, looking down on Jenny Lake.

More sketches from Grand Teton National Park in my next post.

The first post in this series is here:
Off to the Grand Tetons

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Off to the Grand Tetons

After a year and a half at home, we got on a plane and took a short flight to Salt Lake City and then drove to a wonderful week and a bit in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park. The next few posts are sketches in mostly chronological order from that trip.

It has been more than 18 months since I’ve been in an airport so everything feels a little bit new, strange and otherworldly at SFO. Masks stay on, and the airport is emptier than usual.

Waiting at SFO for our flight to SLC

I doodled through a full flight. (So many babies on the plane!)

“Waiting” seems to be the theme of this post. Here is one more sketch. Waiting for our car rental. I spot someone with a giant Blick Drawing pad.

I’m glad I sketched these aspens on day 1. I saw them throughout our trip and absolutely loved the shimmering effect of the leaves in the breeze.

Aspens in Teton Village

Coming tomorrow: Vistas from the Grand Tetons.

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Cat Tree Assembly

I’m back from almost 2 weeks of traveling and will post those sketches over the next week. These sketches are from just before my trip. We decided our kitty was going to be alone and needed a perch by the window to watch the action outside. An unassembled cat tree arrived in the mail. Another thing that arrived was a sample kit, the Derwent Line & Wash Paint Set.

So I used it to try some really quick sketches of the kids as they assembled the cat tree.

These quick sketches were fun to do. But they were a real challenge because every tool I was using was new: the pens that come with the kit are single-width pens. (I most commonly used fude nibs)The pigments are an unusual texture: more chalky than watercolor, closer to gouache. And except the a blue, red and yellow, all the colors were super muted colors. I’ll post more sketches done with them next week so you can see the color palette more clearly.

I don’t do thorough testing so I don’t consider what I write to be reviews. And this early in the process of using something I don’t even have a strong opinion (in case you’re going to ask).

Much as I’m fascinated by supplies, they’re kinda secondary to my sketching. In the end, these pages are a capture of an event and an experience. And that they’ll stay for always regardless of what I drew with.

If you’re curious about the cat and his relationship to the cat tree, for now, his only interest in interacting with it is if I put a treat at the top of it. Then, if he’s motivated, he might climb up, grab it and climb back down.

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Cafe Vignettes

One of the least stressful ways to draw people is to capture a page of little vignettes at a cafe where people are relaxing and catching up with friends. There’s a lot that can tell you about whether someone will be at a table for a while: Did they just order something to munch on? Can you tell if their drinks are closer to full than empty? (the tilt of a cup gives it away) Are the people deeply engaged in a conversation? Do they have fussy kids with them? Or pets that might look anxious to leave?

The nice thing about a page of vignettes is that they don’t all have to be “finished” to the same degree or share the same media. You can do some quick captures and mix them in with longer ones. You can intersperse line drawing with line and color, and annotate and explain bits of the scene that aren’t captured in your sketches.

Collectively, they are a capture of an experience with each sketch telling a small part of a bigger story.

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Marking the Summer

I draw at the Farmer’s Market almost every week over the summer.That’s because it’s part of my weekly routine and because I like chronicling the summer in produce as we move from early to mid to late summer.

This piece from early June says that the cherries and stone fruit had hit the market already.

On days when I can only do a 5 minutes sketch, a pen and crayons is all I use. You’ll notice some of these super-quick, mostly dry media sketches are in a book with really thin paper. This is a blank Midori notebook, not a sketchbook. I’ll write a longer post about it soon since I’m using it and liking it a lot.

A week later the melons arrive.

Sometimes I’ll add a bit of color or detail to an on-location sketch as soon as I get home. With this one above, I found the vertical strip of white space “spoke” too much, so I added in a darker color (below) to try and bring the focus back to the melons.

The end of June, and melons are everywhere. The first corn is appearing, but in small quantities.

And in July, it’s squash-takes-over season.

I’ll be back at the market next week to sketch (and buy) sweet corn from the Brentwood corn growers. Best corn ever. Especially when it’s roasted over coal and then smothered in a mixture of lime, red chilli powder and salt.

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Scraggly Trees and Mark-making

Scraggly, windswept Monterey Pines are a joy to draw if you love bold, slightly out-of-control mark-making. (I do!) Here are some trees from a lovely weekend in June by Asilomar State Beach.

Drawing on location is what I love best. But a year of running Sketching PlayLab with Paul Wang has really highlighted how much my studio practice works itself into my on-location practice. These pieces below are fragments of experiments in semi-abstraction and mark-making from a Sketching PlayLab session. In a PlayLab session, we’re consciously experimenting with a certain tool or concept. Out in the field, those become part of a big grab bag of techniques and tools I can choose from to best convey what I want to in my sketch.


If you’re wondering what happened to our Playlab sessions, Paul and I are taking a break through July to work on new sessions. We will be back with more sessions soon. If you want to join a session, email us at and ask to join our mailing list.

Speaking of signing up, if you’ve been considering joining my very first on-location 3-day workshop this fall in Santa Fe, sign up soon, last couple of spots left!

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