Category Archives: Sketching

A Trip to Another World

Sea Lions in Monterey Bay
As we left the harbor, two sea lions followed in our wake, while pelicans flew along the shore. Pencil and water-soluble pencil in a Hand Book Journal sketchbook.

Last October, I traveled to a different world. I went whale watching in Monterey Bay with John Muir Laws and the Nature Journal Club. It was an amazing day.  Sanctuary Cruises, with their small, bio-diesel powered boat, took us out into the middle of the Bay, to what felt like a completely different planet.  Humpback whales had been feeding there on anchovies all summer.  The sea lions would attach schools of anchovy in a frenzy, then the whales would join in around the edges.  It was a bad day to be an anchovy.

At times, we could see three groups of whales spouting or breaching at the same time: one group close to us, another a little ways away, and a third near the horizon.  Along with the humpbacks, we saw Risso’s dolphins, sea lions by the hundreds, common murres, and even a shearwater or two.

Common Murre in Montery Bay sketch
Common murres were everywhere, no doubt also feeding on the anchovy. Several tried to flee the boat, but couldn’t get airborne–bellies too full, perhaps? Pencil in Hand Book Journal sketchbook.
Humpack whales in Monterey Bay
The humpbacks were everywhere that day. Pencil in a Hand Book Journal sketchbook.

Because this was the Nature Journal Club, and the intent was to sketch nature, I didn’t even bring my camera. Instead, we sketched, sometimes furiously.  My sketches turned out to be more like gesture drawings.  What I couldn’t capture on paper were the smells—sometimes we smelled fish, sometimes whale breath (a bit like stale beer, mixed with fish).

From what I’m hearing, the humpbacks continue in Monterey Bay again this year. Is it the recovery of the population since we stopped hunting them? Or is it climate change that has brought them closer to the shore?  Bay Nature had an article about the humpback populations in the Bay again this year—it might be ocean currents or the periodic peak in anchovy populations.  Whatever the cause, I’m grateful I had the chance to see the gathering last year.

Whale in Monterey Bay
The landscape painter in me tried to capture the view of the shore from the boat. Pencil in a Hand Book Journal sketchbook.

Have you been whale-watching lately? What did you see? Leave a comment, below, and let us know.

Sycamore Leaves

Sycamore Leaves Sketch
Sycamore Leaves. ©2014 Stephanie Benedict. 3 1/2 in x 5 1/8 in., watercolor and water soluble pencils in a Moleskine watercolor sketchbook.

Autumn isn’t typically Sacramento’s best season. Most of the native trees don’t turn the brilliant colors you see in colder climates; we don’t have sugar maples or beech trees here. Oh, some of the newer subdivisions have planted Chinese pistache and liquidamber trees, which put on a nice show.  But many of our trees are quieter in color.

I decided to sketch some sycamore leaves, to see if I could capture the very subtle colors of the leaves as they lose their chlorophyll and turn first yellowy green. (They then just fade into a kind of gray-brown, and then fall off the tree.)  It made a good exercise both to try for the subtle changes and to practice my watercolor technique.  I added the pencil later, to try to get some of the texture of the leaves.

In the comments below, let us know what autumn is like where you live.

The Drought in Northern California

It rained in Northern California last weekend: a trace in Sacramento, and a few inches of snow fell in the Sierra Nevada. The week before, while most of the rest of the US was caught in the “Polar Vortex,” the temperatures here were deceptively mild. Indeed, if you are a bicycle rider or a hiker, this is a great winter: Central Valley and Bay Area temps in the 60s, perfect sunny weather. (Well, except for the dirty, stagnant air.) It’s not so great if you’re a skier, though: there’s no snow in the mountains. Almost literally. The early January snowpack measurements found that on average the snowpack is about 20% of “normal.” In the northern part of the state, the snow was at 10% of “normal.” So while last week’s storm helped a teeny bit, many of the cross-country ski resorts have closed; instead, people can hike on their trails.

Benedict Oak Tree Sketch
Oak Tree Sketch. ©2013 Stephanie Benedict. Watercolor in a Hand Book Journal.

What this means for residents, both human and non-human, is that, unless things change, there will be very little water this summer and fall. The fire danger will be extreme. There have already been red flag warnings in Southern Cal and in the Sierra foothills in January. There was a fire in Big Sur in December.

Here is Sacramento, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has cut the flows to the American River to 500 cubic feet per second (cfs). (A cubic foot is about 7.5 gallons.) By comparison, according to the Sacramento Bee, the median flow for early January is 1,728 cfs, over three times as much. Local lore has it that, when the flows are this low, you can walk all the way across the river in some locations.

Wildlife officials have already started warning people to beware thirsty wild animals. If the drought goes on long enough, it may affect the country’s food supply.

Here are a couple of photos from my local park, where there is a vernal pool preserve. Vernal pools are not affected by the pumping of river water. They only get water from rainfall, and no water flows out of them. The first photo is from December 2012, the second of our three dry years (so far). And the second picture is from last week (before this last rain).

 

Vernal Pools 2012 Benedict
Vernal Pools in Fair Oaks, December 2012. This was the second dry year in a row.

 

Vernal Pools Jan 2014, Benedict
The same vernal pools in January 2014. Sacramento has had no measureable rainfall since early December, and that was less than 0.1 inch of rain.

Since there is little I can DO about this drought, except conserve water*, I’ve decided that I’m going to try to document the drought in sketches and paintings. The sketch above is from that same park. With no rain, the oak trees kept their leaves very late, and they turned beautiful and subtle burnt oranges and reds.

I know I am supposed to end these posts on an upbeat note, and pose a call to action. So here’s my call to action for you: pray for rain. Do a rain dance for us. Whatever power you have with the Universe, send some rain and snow our way.

*Water in the West is an extremely complicated and complex topic, but since this blog focuses on art and nature, not politics, I’m not going to get into it. Yet.

 

Reboot!

My goodness, but I’ve been away from this blog a long time!

Vernal Pool sketch by Stephanie Benedict
Sketch for Vernal Pools. ©2012 Stephanie Benedict. 3″ x 4″ graphite.  I do love water-soluble graphite!

I learned a powerful lesson about the need for systems this year. Having good systems will support you in your whatever you do, from having an organized computer and file system, to building supportive habits of writing, drawing, or whatever it is you do. I fell away from writing at first because my computer decided to stop working, and had to be replaced. That meant recreating my old hard drive, re-installing software. (But of course nothing works quite the same. I would like to request that you software developers out there not fix things that aren’t broken.) And then I just got busy and never got back to posting.

So—I’m rebooting this blog. I intend to post approximately weekly, and to write about nature, painting, and painting (and drawing) nature. I hope you find something interesting here, and perhaps even learn something!

Just for Fun!

Here’s something I’ve been doing just for the fun of it.

Stephanie Benedict's sketches from Fun with a Pencil.
My versions of drawing assignments in Andrew Loomis’ book Fun with a Pencil. He’s right–it is fun!

These are my interpretations of the lessons in Andrew Loomis’ wonderful book, Fun with a Pencil.

I’ve never thought of myself as a cartoonist before, but these guys have been a ton of fun to do. Loomis was an illustrator who wrote several books on drawing. I’ve learned more from them than I ever did in art class! Well, maybe not more, exactly—but a lot.

What do you like to sketch? Have you ever tried sketching cartoon heads?