Thursday, May 31, 2018

Yosemite, Part 1: Falling Waters

5/23/18 Upper and lower Yosemite Falls, morning

Inspired initially by the well-known photographs by Ansel Adams, I have been wanting to visit Yosemite National Park for decades. In his documentary series, Ken Burns called the national parks “America’s best idea,” and Yosemite could be among the best of the best. Greg and I marveled many times at how fortunate we are that previous administrations had the foresight to protect and make places like Yosemite accessible to ordinary people like us. (We thank Cathy McAuliffe, a regular park visitor, for many helpful tips, maps and other information. I call her the Rick Steves of Yosemite!)

And by “ordinary,” I mean people without rugged hiking or climbing abilities. Although we are strong and avid level-ground walkers, we don’t call ourselves “hikers” and certainly not “climbers,” and we were pleased by how easy it was to see and experience so much of the beauty of Yosemite without breaking a sweat (or an ankle). Of course, we had to share those experiences with many other people who had also heard that late May was Yosemite’s sweet spot (not yet hot but the waterfalls at their peak). But the park is a big place, and if we walked only a short distance away from the prime selfie spots, it suddenly became quiet, and we often felt we had the place nearly to ourselves.

One of Yosemite’s attractions is its four major waterfalls, two of which we were able to see up close in the Valley – Bridalveil and the upper and lower parts of Yosemite. As an urban sketcher in the Pacific Northwest, I don’t get many opportunities to practice sketching falling water, so I knew these falls would be a challenge. Remembering the small thumbnails I’d seen in Cathy’s Yosemite sketchbook, I made a thumbnail with tonal markers first of each challenging view before tackling it full-size. I know that many urban sketching instructors recommend making thumbnails to explore compositions before taking on a larger sketch, but I rarely do it on familiar territory. I admit, though, that thumbnailing was very helpful at Yosemite.

5/23/18 thumbnail of upper Yosemite
In fact, I found myself making thumbnails more often on this trip than I usually do, even when I didn’t necessarily feel a need to “practice” a composition first. There was so much to see and experience in the concentrated space of Yosemite Valley that I wanted to capture as much as possible. Sometimes I would stop just for a small, three-minute thumbnail, and if I had more time later, I would go back for a full sketch. Sometimes the thumbnail was all I had, but I’m happy that I captured it at all. It taught me that I don’t have to have a full-page sketch with color and details to scratch the itch for a sketch. It was an important learning for future travel.

My hero!
A personal tradition when I travel is to try to use a local natural source of water to fill my waterbrush or spritzing bottle. The first fall we experienced up close was Bridalveil, where we got close enough to the thundering spray that we had to put on our raincoats. I was a bit leery about stepping onto slippery rocks, but my fearless Spouse-Man filled my spray bottle for me. I was then able to sketch Yosemite Falls (and the rest of the park that we saw) with Bridalveil water! Its sketching meta. 

5/24/18 Upper and lower Yosemite Falls with late-afternoon
shadows behind the water.

5/23/18 Bridalveil Fall (inset: thumbnail of nearby river rocks and trees)

5/22/18 Upper Yosemite
5/22/18 thumbnail of upper Yosemite
Upper Yosemite

Bridalveil Fall

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