Yellowstone Institute

Yellowstone Forever Institute Class

Writers at Obsidian CreekI've just returned from a trip to Yellowstone to teach a class for the Yellowstone Forever Institute.  My co-teacher was Gardiner-area teacher, writer and poet Ilona Popper--she led the writing component of the workshop and I led the watercolor painting.  The photo here shows the students writing at Obsidian Creek. We took turns writing and painting; as students shared their writing my experience of Yellowstone was very much deepened. I've taught several times there and have never gotten such insight before. 

Yellowstone Plein Air Painting

Swan Lake fall colorWe encountered all kinds of weather at Yellowstone, sun, rain, wind, temperature in the 40s to begin with, shooting up to the 70s in the afternoon. It's fascinating how different areas of the Park have their own climates. Swan Lake can be cold and windy (to the left is a photo of the Glen Creek Trail, just north of Swan Lake), Mammoth is heated by thermal activity, Gardiner is desert-hot at times, the thermal basins can be much colder in general.  Well, all of that made painting difficult, but I heard no complaints from my students. As I wrote yesterday, they really impressed me with their can-do approach to plein air watercolor!

Yellowstone Association Seminar

Sheepeater CliffsI've just returned from a trip to Yellowstone, where I taught a plein air watercolor class for the Yellowstone Institute. We visited numerous sites; the fall color this year was wonderful, probably the best I have ever seen there. Swan Lake displayed golden grasses and sedges along its shores, Sheepeater Cliffs aspens and willows, and fireweed was turning scarlet and maroon in several locations, too.  Students enjoyed trying all these locales.  I recently read an excerpt in the New York Review of Books from Wislawa Szymborska's Nobel prize acceptance speech and I thought of it as I saw the unique interpretations of landscape created by each student.  Szymborska addressed Ecclesiastes, who wrote, "There's nothing new under the sun."  She said: "But you yourself were born new under the sun. And the poem you created is also new under the sun, since no one wrote it down before you. And all your readers are also new under the sun, since those who lived before you couldn't read your poem. And that cypress that you're sitting under hasn't been growing since the dawn of time. It came into being by way of another cypress similar to yours, but not exactly the same."   

Yellowstone Flora & Fauna

Elk Cow and CalfI've visited Yellowstone National Park many times in mid-May in order to see all the new life, the buffalo calves and pronghorn and sheep babies. This time, arriving just a little later, I got to see the elk fawns, all spotted and very newly born. And the wildflowers were putting on a grand show. Mahonia
To the right is mahonia, also known as Oregon grape. I saw it growing in the shade of the aspen groves, and it's really quite a small shrub there, unlike the wild mahonia that grows in the Pacific Northwest. Prairie Smoke
One of the participants in the class that I taught for the Yellowstone Institute pointed out this lovely flower (photo above) among violets and larkspur at Swan Lake Flats. It's called Prairiesmoke (Geum triflorum), and I'd never seen it before. It is covered with delicate hairs on both leaves and flowers; at first I thought it might be a Pasqueflower, but they're not related. This plant is a member of the rose family, also known by these names:  Grandfather's Beard, Long-plumed Avens and China Bells. I do have a garden geum--the cultivar is called Lady Stratheden and once I looked up the scientific name I recognized the resemblance in leaf shape at least.  This is one of my favorite discoveries in wild places--discerning similarities and relationships between wild and cultivated species.

Sketching Yellowstone in Watercolor

Jane Mammoth
Watercolor by Jane Kilthau
Working in open air requires a certain spontaneity and the attitude that you aren't going to get anything permanent, exact or perfect. These examples of work done by participants in the class I taught last week for the Yellowstone Institute demonstrate that fresh approach. We visited the Lower Mammoth Terraces as well as Norris Geyser Basin to view the travertine terraces and thermal hot springs.
Watercolor by Kathy Agnew




Molly sketch
Watercolor by Molly Hurley


These last 2 sketches were done in the classroom on our first day, when I demonstrated and encouraged a quick method of working; Molly and Joan grasped this right away and came up with some excellent sketches.




Joan sketch of tree
Watercolor by Joan Hansen


Canyon Views

Canyon viewOn the second day of touring and painting Yellowstone National Park for the class I taught for the Yellowstone Institute, we visited the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River; just minutes away from the famed Artist Point we sat and sketched this view in relative peace--no crowds visited us. We perched on the edge of the canyon on the trail and witnessed the play of sun and shadow on the canyon walls.
Barbara Canyon
Watercolor by Barbara Henon

Barbara Henon began this painting on location and completed it back in the classroom and once she'd returned to her home. I find I work this way frequently, beginning on location and making minor adjustments back in the studio. If I re-work something entirely it no longer has the freshness of a plein air watercolor, so I try not to do too much. I don't expect perfection, just a sense of light and shadow and local color, and some feeling that yes, I was there!

Aspens: Variations on a Theme in Yellowstone

Aspens for paintingTody I am featuring more of the aspen paintings done by students in the workshop I taught last week for the Yellowstone Institute. In the photo to the left you can see how the aspens glowed in the morning light. Here are several variations on this spring theme.
Watercolor by Eleanor Rosenzweig






Watercolor by Malinda Jones

Watercolor by Toni Lusk


Yellowstone Aspen Grove

Aspens and PaintersAt Yellowstone last week in the class I taught for the Yellowstone Institute, we visited an area new to me, a grove of aspen trees just below the Hoodoos. I found them exceptionally beautiful in springtime, newly in leaf, in brightest green. Each one of the students created an excellent sketch or painting here; sometimes I believe a very special place brings out all our best work.
Sketch by Amy Kocurek


I brought along a bunch of Stylist felt tip pens; I've written about them before on these pages. You can create very quick little sketches on the go with them with just the pen and a waterbrush, as you can see to the right in Amy Kocurek's sketch.

Linda and AspensTo the left Linda Carlson paints a view of the aspens. I've included her watercolor below.

Linda 2
Watercolor by Linda Carlson


Yellowstone Plein Air

Cathy and ToniI've just returned from teaching a plein air watercolor workshop for the Yellowstone Institute at Yellowstone National Park. Today I'm sharing some photos of artists in my class painting at Norris Geyser Basin. Molly at Norris
We enjoyed amazing sunshine and mild temperatures in the early morning we spent at Norris, and the painting conditions were ideal.

Malinda at Norris
We attracted alot of attention from the other Norris visitors; many people stopped by to admire the work we were doing, and it was most gratifying to me to share this other way of experiencing the Park. How better to take in the visual marvels of the place than to slow down and take time to find the perfect colors to express this other-worldly palette! Emily & the girl

Portland painter Emily Smith's striking watercolor at Norris intrigued this young girl and they spent a long time talking about painting.

Watercolor by Emily Smith


Drawing in Yellowstone with Alan Petersen

Upstream from Olo 800 A Petersen
Upstream from Olo, drawing by Alan Petersen

On June 1st to 4th, 2013, Alan Petersen, Curator of Fine Art at the Museum of Northern Arizona, will be teaching Drawing the Landscapes of Yellowstone for the Yellowstone Institute. In addition to his teaching and curating, Alan also paints the landscapes of the Colorado Plateau and Grand Canyon, and is writing a book about Gunnar Widforss, a watercolorist of the 1920s who was championed by Stephen Mather, first superintendent of the national parks. I met Alan while I was doing a little bit of my own research online about Widforss, an artist I deeply admire. I've written about him several times on this blog. I am thrilled that Alan is giving a lecture on Widforss one evening during my June 5th to 8th class at Yellowstone, The Pleasure of Plein Air Watercolor.  Alan's drawing, pictured above, beautifully captures the topography of the inner Grand Canyon near Kanab Creek; I was reminded of the work of William Henry Holmes, "one of the greatest field artists America ever produced", according to Henry Fairfield Osborn of the American Museum of Natural History.

Holmes Basalt Cliffs
Basalt Cliffs, Drawing by William Henry Holmes

Holmes faithfully and magnificently recorded the  topography of Yellowstone in trips he made in the 1870s, beginning with the Hayden Survey in 1872. Colleen Curry, curator of the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center, shared several of Holmes' drawings with me, including this one of basalt cliffs.