Friday, June 1, 2018

Yosemite, Part 2: Big Rocks

5/23/18 Half Dome viewed from Cook's Meadow

The sketch above is of Half Dome, probably Yosemite’s most famous icon, thanks to Ansel Adams. (His photograph, Moon and Half Dome, is the image that prompted me to put Yosemite on my bucket list all those years ago.) When I’ve seen photographs of an icon hundreds of times, I often wonder how different the real thing would be. In the case of Half Dome, it was both familiar and at the same time fresh, because no photo – not even Ansel Adams’ – can capture the scale and grandeur of something as awe-inspiring as this big rock carved by glaciers millennia ago.

5/24/18 Farewell to Half Dome and Yosemite
Needless to say, sketching it was somewhat intimidating (not unlike how I felt sketching the Eiffel Tower). My plan was start with a small thumbnail before attempting a “real” sketch, but by the time I finally saw it for the first time on the second day of our visit, I was so excited that I jumped right in. Ironically, the next evening I ended up doing a small “farewell” sketch shortly before we left the park for the last time (at right).

An even bigger rock than Half Dome is El Capitan. Its sheer vertical cliff is a favorite of serious climbers. (I’ve heard that if you look at El Cap after dark, you can see the lights of climbers’ lanterns as they turn in for the night in their rock-clinging hammocks.) The first morning when we drove into the park, we came around a bend, and suddenly El Cap loomed before us – a startling wall of granite that told me I was in Yosemite. As it was my very first sketch in the park, I made a couple of quick thumbnails from the road using gray-toned Pitt markers. My intention was to come back later to do a larger, more finished sketch, but I never got back to the right place to do it. As I mentioned yesterday, sometimes a thumbnail is all I can manage, but it’s just as good as a full-size sketch to feel like a complete visual memory.
5/22/18 Thumbnails of El Capitan
On our last morning before going into the park, we drove first to Tunnel View, a popular viewpoint for postcard photographers as well as selfie snappers. This stunning panorama displays many of the Yosemite Valley’s major sights, including El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil Fall. I also found it to be an interesting challenge in atmospheric perspective and trying to convey the vast space and scale (below).
5/24/18 Tunnel View panorama
I could have spent many weeks or months in the park sketching lots of big rocks, but I wanted to capture the small, moss-covered ones, too – not to mention the flowers, birds, squirrels and even people. I made small vignettes whenever I could.

5/22/18 Flower, Merced River, moss-covered rock
Stellar's Jay and squirrel (unfinished)

5/24/18 Selfie snappers at Yosemite Falls

5/26/18 Incense cedar tree (sketched from photo
with a Blackwing pencil made of incense cedar
-- more sketching meta!)
I regretted not having time to sketch the incense cedar tree – the type of tree from which the wood used to make most of my favorite high-quality pencils comes – that was growing in the outdoor part of the Yosemite Museum. I took a photo of it, though, and after I got home, I made a sketch from the photo (at right) as homage to the source of my favorite drawing tools.

Although we covered Yosemite Valley fairly well in three full days, the Valley is only a tiny portion of the entire Yosemite National Park. We saved plenty more for the next visit.

Mossy rocks

Sketching Tunnel View

Merced River

Between a rock and a hard place

Half Dome from Cook's Meadow

Merced River

El Capitan

Obligatory travel ice cream!


  1. I truly enjoyed Yosemite National Park through your sketches and description. Frankly, I was waiting for this blog :-) Thumbnails, great way of expression! Beautiful sketches Tina, thanks for sharing!!

  2. That just made me nervous, reading about those climbers hanging to the side of the cliff overnight. But the beauty of the later photos almost made me cry.
    Yes, thank you for sharing.


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