Daily Sketch #14: “On Belay”

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Inspiration for today’s sketch is El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Another reference photo from a very memorable trip a few years ago. I actually did a sketch at the site en plein air while we had a picnic and watched the climbers work their way up the wall, so small I can’t even find them on the reference photo. Amazing feats of strength. Look out Festivus, here they come!

Even as a quick sketch – took about 90 minutes – I learned some interesting techniques that I was too inexperienced to consider when I first attempted this drawing. First, the simple long sketch lines naturally help define the contour and direction of the granite face, which means this is one of the rare occasions that you don’t have to worry too much about “hiding” a mass of disorganized sketch lines. Secondly, the challenge of value transitions from the light side to the shaded side is not as straight forward as it looks. The reference photo throws you off b/c it’s not accurate, but I didn’t figure that out until I had a black and white cookie on the paper instead of a iconic rock mountain. In other words, the shadow side has more variations than what it appears to have in the photo. But most importantly, the random cracks and crevices that aren’t in the shade can easily be worked too dark, which makes them jump to the front of the sketch, so I had to use a lesser value by about 2-3 scales to ensure those areas stayed tucked into the rock face instead of looking like they were dark bumps popping onto the surface.

This is one of those projects that I could stay glued to for hours. The complexity of the rock face is a fun challenge, and would be a fantastic drawing on a much larger scale (this sketch is on 9″x12″). I’ve also come to realize that compositions like this are probably much more interesting with graphite instead of paint.

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