Saturday, September 14, 2019

Upper Bear Creek - Fall is Here

Upper Bear Creek

Bear Creek begins its incredible journey at Summit Lake just below Mount Evans. The picturesque tributary flows all the way down through the foothills to its terminus in Denver.

In the town of Evergreen, Upper Bear Creek is restrained by a stalwart dam where it’s transformed into a charming lake nestled in the mountains. A couple of miles upstream from the barrier, Dedisse Trail follows the winding path of the wild waterway.

Before drifting into the wetlands delta, the persistent stream cuts through a narrow, forest-filled canyon. Even though the water is running at its lowest level of the year, the rocks and boulders generate whitewater rapids that still exhibit some impressive force.

Down in the dark underworld of lush vegetation, giant conifer trees grow straight up from the water’s edge. It’s a lively habitat where a red squirrel scolds any stranger bold enough to enter its domain and a blue heron moves in a graceful manner while hunting for fresh fish.

The summer season is as fleeting as the flickering light that shines through the dense woodland, creating white sparkles across the water’s turbulent surface. The blooms are spent, the birds are gone, the elk are back, the days are short and the nights are cold - Fall is here.

A picturesque tributary

A wild waterway

A lively habitat

Trees grow up from the water's edge

A persistent stream

Flickering light

Whitewater rapids

Fall is here

Graceful Great Blue Heron

Temperamental Red Squirrel

Saturday, September 7, 2019

The Rocks and a River - Just Another Day in the Panhandle

The stormy summit of Courthouse Rock

Rising prominently out of the low prairie, Courthouse and Jail Rocks are historical landmarks that, once upon a time, guided wagon trains across western Nebraska. Today, the twin towers still loom over the Great Plains and after all these years, they’ve evolved into a formidable challenge to all free climbers.

As Jail’s sheer rock wall is virtually impossible to ascend, we attempted to scale Court on a stormy, Saturday morning this past summer. A careful approach to the base of the beast was necessary because it traversed a rugged grassland rife with deadly rattlesnakes.

We negotiated the lower sections of the imposing ziggurat without much concern as the sticky sandstone offered generous hand and foot holds. To reach the top, the crux of the climb was just below the final tier where we had to overcome the fear and physics of an unimaginable overhang.

While we rested on the slender summit, we enjoyed a panoramic view that ranged from the North Platte River all the way to Chimney Rock. The rapid descent was a little bit dicey because a light rain fell down making the clay crags and chutes extremely slippery.

The ensuing adventure took place on flat land but it traced the contour of a fast-flowing river and it was not less exhilarating. The muddy creek rushed through a flower-filled pasture inhabited by a few horses and a multitude of black cows.

The riparian environment was a haven for all kinds of insects but mostly we saw dragonflies, bumblebees and a profusion of colorful butterflies. A pair of pups led us on the expedition and after the clouds burned off it got hot so they spent most of the time wading in the shallow stream.

The long trek came to a sudden stop when we stumbled into a bog of stinking, sopping mud where we sank as deep as our shins with every step. It was an irreversible dilemma but we slowly sloshed our way out and it wasn’t too long before we found ourselves back on terra firma.

In order to return to the ranch, our final march required us to follow the loud call coming from the flock of peacocks that make our farm home. As we passed through the last gate, we were happy to be greeted by the braying of a little burro.

This annual excursion began on top of the rocks and ended in a soggy bottomland by the river. In our minds this summer’s gathering may have been another misadventure while in reality, it was probably just another day in the panhandle of western Nebraska.

A riparian environment

A fast flowing river

The pups led us on the expedition

A flower-filled pasture

Wading in the shallows

A stormy, Saturday morning

Jail from the Summit of Courthouse Rock

An imposing ziggurat

Jail is impossible to ascend

Historical Courthouse Rock

Just another day in western Nebraska

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Pikes Peak Winter - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Pikes Peak Winter" Colored Pencil

Dominating the skyline at Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak has been inspiring explorers, gold seekers and artists for over 200 years. It’s named after the adventurer Zebulon Pike who first beheld the majestic mountain in 1806.

Rising out of rugged terrain, Garden of the Gods is a glorious gateway to the remarkable peak. During the winter Pikes Peak is speckled with white snow as much of the powder has been whisked away by a ferocious wind.

The dramatic scenery features red sandstone slabs that stand out sharply against the dark greenery flourishing below. In this drawing, the white of the paper is the lightest end of the value scale while the foreground shadows are the darkest end.

Shading the bushes is an effective way to create variety in tone, describe forms and imply detail while generating interest in the foreground elements. The subtle gradations clearly define the separate sections of brush.

The composition’s warm undertone is a base layer that forms a foundation upon which to build the rest of the colors. The underdrawing also acts as a neutralizer for the cooler blues and greens that come later.

Toning down those brighter colors results in a more naturalistic drawing. The warm undertone continues to permeate through the finished piece, unifying the composition’s overall color scheme.

The soft shading in the snow gives a hint of the golden granite that’s exposed beneath the peak’s fresh powder. The sky, as it is here, is usually the lightest part of any given landscape because it’s the earth’s light source.

Displaying a simple sky in this composition works because it doesn’t distract from the featured elements - the snowy peak and the dramatic rock formation.

The rock line is a focal point of this drawing because it’s such a unique geologic feature. The backlit rocks display reflected light from the grassland so by shading them from left to right, a warm glow appears along their backside thus replicating an intriguing visual phenomenon.

The middle values are reserved for the middle ground elements. The colors have been subdued by the warm undertone and the details eliminated because that area is a transition zone. It links the two focal points - the red rocks with the white peak.

The green mountain contrasts a bit with the sandstone slabs while the far, blue peaks appear more distant. The snow shadows are a nice violet because of the pink undertone.

Adding yellow to the lower part of the landscape brings that area forward, organizing the illusion of distance as the viewer’s eye moves up the page. The delicate layer of Blue Slate slightly cools and neutralizes the Light Umber, producing a subtle gray in the snow caps.

Shading Indigo Blue into the bushes deepens their color and makes them the darkest objects in the drawing, placing them firmly in the foreground. Introducing Crimson Red into the rock formation directs attention there and being surrounded by contrasting green foliage, that important element becomes even more fiery.

Working Ultramarine Blue into the ashen rocks produces some of the drawing’s darkest values and sharpest contrast. The extra detailing also makes that area one of the more prominent parts of the composition.

The summit of Pikes Peak is intentionally positioned in a compositional sweet spot but the addition of Ultramarine Blue to its shadow also attracts attention. The high contrast between the blue pigment and the white paper pulls the viewer’s eye towards that part of the drawing.

Applying a single layer of Yellow Orange to the rock’s highlights prevents them from being bleached out by the bright sunlight. The soft application still allows for strong contrast but also offers a hint of color, leaving the white snow as the only part of the drawing untouched.

For detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to draw this mountain landscape with colored pencils, please check out the September issue of Ann Kullberg’s Color Magazine

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Beaver Brook Canyon - A Chasm of Chaos

Beaver Brook Canyon

Beaver Brook is a lovely, little stream flowing through a deep gorge gouged out of the forested foothills. A trail to the water follows a series of dark and steamy switchbacks descending the north wall.

On the way down, pockets of lush wildflowers grow discretely in the dark shadows. At the bottom, where the sun doesn’t shine, a broken trail criss-crosses the cold brook by way of several wooden bridges.

Flickering through the dense foliage, the fleeting light is fractured by summer leaves and brush. Like a beast’s lair, the confusion caused by several caves, caverns and rockfalls forms an imposing impediment.

Somehow, the stubborn creek continues to carve its way through the ancient chasm of chaos. Nothing stops its relentless course as a number of nice waterfalls slices through the entanglement of natural debris.

Ascending out of the deep rock well is a chore but slow and steady is the best way to climb the steep stairway back to the rim. It’s not long before the entire perspective changes and views across the ravine extend for miles.

Luckily, the way back up is made in the cool shade. You’ll know you’re out when the sunlight starts streaming into the scattering of ponderosa pine that clings to the cliff’s sudden drop off.

Before long the woodland breaks into an open grassland where buffalo roam. The strenuous return in sweltering heat requires some physical exertion but the gratifying payback is a lonely plateau full of peace and quiet.

Discrete wildflowers

A lovely stream

A chasm of confusion

Slice through the entanglement

Numerous waterfalls

Fleeting light at the bottom

An imposing impediment

A beast's lair

A stubborn creek

A relentless course

Looking across the ravine

A lonely plateau

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Meadow View Trail - Etched in My Mind

Meadow View Trail

Meadow View Trail in the middle of summer is the perfect place for peaceful meditation. A small pond situated at the start is the undisputed domain of the double-crested cormorant.

The beaten track traces the forest edge, traversing the broad flank of Bergen Peak. A number of natural overlooks offers the visitor spectacular views of the expansive valley.

The pretty pathway continues to follow the woodland contour while shafts of yellow sunlight penetrate through the scattering of ponderosa pine.

The luminous atmosphere is defined by a cascade of dark shadows that create pockets of sharp contrast throughout the brilliant countryside.

Fragile wildflowers and small stands of aspen flourish in the deep ravines that flow down from the summit. Elk Ridge is the excursion’s highest point where the unobstructed vista unveils the full splendor of the Front Range Foothills.

A careful descent empties the explorer into a vast grassland enclosed by a ring of volcanic peaks. From this lower perspective, the sky becomes a dominant force dwarfing all other elements of the landscape.

As I gaze into the wilderness, I hope the next time I touch pencil to paper this picture etched in my mind will remain as sharp as when I was actually there.

A small pond at the start

Double-crested Cormorants

A pretty pathway

Flowers flourish in a ravine

Shafts of sunlight and shade

Broad flank of Bergen Peak

A luminous atmosphere

Fragile wildflowers

An expansive valley

Elk Ridge is the high point

A vast grassland

Saturday, August 10, 2019

The National Mall - Museums, Monuments and Memorials

The National Mall

A few weeks ago I taught a colored pencil drawing class in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. My family tagged along so after the weekend-long workshop, we decided to extend our stay and visit the National Mall in Washington, DC.

Early Monday morning, during a severe thunderstorm that produced heavy rain and terrible flooding, we headed to Alexandria, Virginia. Upon arriving at our hotel, we hopped on the shuttle bound for Ronald Reagan Airport.

From there we boarded a subway train that carried us into the metropolis. We emerged from the darkness of the Smithsonian Stop and stumbled on a concrete jungle that was choked with chaos and confusion.

Still soaking wet from the persistent downpour, we went into the Natural History Museum first and were impressed by the lavish displays that filled the enormous halls. We examined hundreds of animal species, ancient fossils and impressive meteorites but the highlight of the collection was the astonishing Hope Diamond.

Our second stop was next door at the American History Museum where some of our country’s most compelling memorabilia is stored. The most sobering artifact we saw was the black, top hat worn by Abraham Lincoln on the night he was assassinated.

After the weather cleared, we walked over to and mingled with the crowd located just across from the White House Lawn. Things got wild when a disgruntled citizen jumped over a concrete barrier and attempted to scale the big fence before a force of armed guards, police cars, motorcycle cops and horse-mounted officers appeared on the scene to take him down.

The next morning was more peaceful since we began the day at the National Gallery of Art. Once there, it didn’t take long to realize how special the collection really is as many of the world’s most famous artists are represented inside the spectacular salon.

Some unforgettable highlights from the incredible institution of art was the American Pre-Raphaelites Show, the Rembrandt Room, enormous paintings by Albert Bierstadt and an extraordinary portrait by Leonardo da Vinci.

The different galleries were arranged chronologically so by the time you walked into the Impressionism Room, that movement’s revolutionary way of painting was a radical departure from the earlier works shown in the West Building.

A short stroll across the park took us to the Air and Space Museum where the magnitude of impressive exhibits was overwhelming. The massive building housed rockets, spaceships, airplanes and scientific discoveries that inspired contemplation of the mysteries of our universe.

A strenuous trek was required to reach the base of the Washington Monument which was an imposing structure that rose straight up into the sky. Over the hill and the World War II Memorial was a wonderful, fountain-filled tribute to all veterans who fought in that war.

We continued our hike through sweltering heat and ascended the steep steps to the summit of the Lincoln Memorial where we were rewarded with breathtaking views that extended the entire length of the Mall. The reflecting pool mirrored the beautiful park of patriotism laid out below.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial was especially heartrending because my father-in-law fought in that war and after he made it home, he refused to speak about his experiences over there. The statues depicting a platoon of American soldiers wearing raincoats while marching through dense vegetation was a powerful expression of courage under fire.

Although we covered lots of ground during our vacation, two days just wasn’t enough time as we didn’t see the Jefferson Memorial, the Roosevelt Memorial or the Martin Luther King Memorial. We also missed Arlington National Cemetery and the East Building of the Art Gallery so I’m hoping that someday we’ll be able to return for another visit.

West Building of the National Art Gallery

The White House

Reflecting Pool

The Washington Monument

U.S. Grant Memorial in front of the U.S. Capitol

Inside the Natural History Museum

The World War II Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

The Lincoln Memorial

Inside the Lincoln Memorial

The Korean War Veterans Memorial was heartrending

Statues of American Soldiers at Korean War Memorial

A beautiful park of patriotism