Monday, September 12, 2022

Smoky Skies

9/9/22 Maple Leaf neighborhood: yellow light

After a beautiful summer of mostly clear skies, the past weekend we had the first “red flag” wildfire smoke of the season. While it can be anytime for California, late summer and early fall tend to be the worst times for us in the north. Last year we managed to get away smoke-free, but in 2020 it happened right around this time of year. Two years before that, it was in late-August.

On the first day, taking my usual neighborhood walk, I was alarmed by the eerie yellow light (at right). Familiar with it now, I knew it could mean only one thing.

The next day I didn’t notice as much yellowness in the light, so I thought the smoke was dissipating. The air quality rating, however, was “unhealthy” for sensitive groups (and for everyone in some areas, including north Seattle where I live). We turned on our air purifiers and closed all the windows and doors (the latter distresses me – I love fresh air flowing throughout the house all summer).

9/10/22 Shoreline: orange sky

Heading to Shoreline for a quick errand that afternoon, I became increasingly alarmed as I continued northward: A thick, orangey cloud hung over the horizon (at left). Shoreline is only a few miles north; I didn’t realize the smoke was so much worse there. A few tiny flecks of ash fell on my windshield.

It’s heartbreaking to see that cloud of smoke because a gorgeous, clear sky is just beyond it. More heartbreaking still is knowing that, closer to the source, lives and homes may be in danger.

Color note: On location in a grocery store parking lot, I had hastily scribbled the sketch to try to capture that foreboding, orange hue. Perhaps as an unconscious expression of my alarm (and also limited by the primary triad I had with me), I made the color too bright, and my skyscapito looked more like sunset than smoke (below). After I got home, I applied a very opaque white Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle heavily over the sky, and the result is closer to the effect I was aiming for. I’d never used a white colored pencil that way before, and now I know it’s an effective way to de-intensify colors.

Before I applied white, my sky looked more like sunset than smoke.


  1. It is scary to think about what damage these fires are doing to lives, health, and property. I am hoping for the best for all of you.

    1. Thank you, Joan! We're out of the "unhealthy" zone here now... for now!


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