Sunday, September 29, 2019

An Autumn Excursion - The Season of Change

An autumn excursion

September is an unpredictable month that is sometimes warm and sunny, sometimes cold and windy. It’s that slice of the year when the people, plants and wildlife are in an urgent transition as they prepare for the inevitable winter hardships.

The weather this fall in the foothills has been mild so the dried grasses are a warm mixture of orange and brown. Most of the aspen trees are just beginning to change but in the deepest, darkest drainages, the groves are glowing bright yellow.

During our last excursion, along the forest’s edge, we watched as a herd of elk grazed heartily while the bull bugled theatrically. A family of Abert’s squirrels gathered food furiously and horded it safely in the heights of a ponderosa pine.

Most of the birds are gone but a few will stay through the cold including the hardy red-tailed hawk who will extract voles directly out of the snow. It must be the finches’ favorite time of the year as they feed on the seed-bearing thistle that thrives in the meadowlands below.

In the low light of a morning’s unblemished blue sky, the harvest moon still hovers over the mountain landscape. The structured ridge line is an idyllic setting that has served as the main subject for many pictures.

After such a short summer, I want everything to stay the same but I know that it’s just wishful thinking. I’m a rigid creature of consistency, stability and routine so I don’t deal very well with this - The Season of Change.

Seed-bearing thistle

Mild weather in the foothills

Along the forest's edge

The moon hovers over the mountains

Most of the aspen are beginning to change

Some groves are glowing

A short summer

The season of change

Abert's squirrel

Elk herd

Red-tailed hawk

Saturday, September 21, 2019

After the Storm - An Exquisite Setting

Evergreen Lake after the Storm

A solemn-gray Sunday morning started out with light showers and escalated into a severe thunderstorm that kept everyone shut in. Dark and cold, the slow moving system was characterized by heavy rain, marble-sized hail and scary lightning strikes.

After a few hours, the dramatic weather drifted to the east and the broken clouds allowed shafts of low light to confirm the event’s conclusion. Under such unusual conditions Evergreen Lake was awash with a sheen of surreal color.

After the storm everything was calm and quiet as the drenched landscape was completely devoid of another living soul. The mountain scenery was reflected, with stunning precision, across the water’s smooth surface.

What made the evening so extraordinary was the impressive cloud formation that dwarfed the foothills landscape. The evening’s celestial dispersion eased the tension generated by earlier, threatening tones.

A muddy trail led to the wooden boardwalk that skirted across the boggy wetland of ripened cattails. From that transitional platform, separating land and sea, one was able to truly perceive our fragile existence while soaking in the atmosphere of such an exquisite setting.

Dispersing clouds

A sheen of surreal color

Reflected with precision

Everything was calm and quiet

A celestial dispersion

Soaking in the atmosphere

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