Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Snowy day

It doesn't snow often in Vancouver, but when it does, it does it well.  This weekend had a solid 20cm in North Vancouver.  I did one sketch in the cafe down the street.  People there should really get more fresh air, or maybe I should change the colours I use for skin tones. Then I spent the rest of the day thinking that I should draw the snow itself before the inevitable slushy melt. I thought so long about doing that that it was late dusk before I managed a quick watercolour sketch out the window, trying to get the impression of the snow on the deck railing, tree and neighbour's roof.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Ecuador - Rio Napo II

Last of the Ecuador trip pictures - one of the amazingly huge rainforest trees, a kapok maybe.  I decided that the only way to draw the immensely complicated tangle of understory, midstory and canopy was not to, but to focus on the gradient from almost twilight conditions at the ground through green leaves to the upper layers catching the sunlight, and then the branches of the emergent tree against the blue sky.

Then the boat trip back to the harbour on the river at Coca, and the sweltering wait in small airport at Coca, before the long journey north.  The headline in the paper in Quito on the way back translated as "Canada gripped by icy cold".  You expect the weather to be a bit colder in Canada in January than in the Amazon, but not international-headline-worthy colder...

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Ecuador - Rio Napo I

 The last part of our trip to Ecuador took us by plane to Coca, along the Rio Napo, a main tributary of the Amazon.  Coca is the Fort MacMurray of Ecuador, a not-very-pleasant oil boomtown - except that it is +40C at this time of year, not -40.  From there, we went 2 hours downstream in a motorized canoe, then into Sacha Lodge on a blackwater lagoon in the rain forest.  It is a lovely lodge, the height of rustic luxury in the middle of the jungle (mind you, anywhere that provides a waterproof roof and cold beer in the Amazon would qualify as luxury to me).

Plants were a big part of my drawing there, because, of course, that's the whole point of a jungle, but also because I love the old botanical drawings, particularly from the tropics.  Unfortunately, my tropical botany doesn't extend much past the level of "big leaf", "funny-looking red flowers" and "sap-green-with-a-bit-of-Hooker's-green stem".  The lodge owns a big reserve of forest with a network of trails, as well as towers that let you hang out in the canopy with the monkeys and birds (even if you don't have a prehensile tail).

The birds are so diverse, and the lodge's guides so good, that my bird list for two days filled most of a page, although I managed to fit in a quick drawing of an extremely odd sunset that we saw over the lagoon - a great place for a swim, unless you get unlucky with one of the many piranhas, caimans or electric eels that you are sharing it with.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Ecuador - Quito II

Quito sprawls right below a volcano, with a gondola going up to one of its ridges at 4050m elevation.  We walked from the gondola station through the beautiful grassy paramo - open alpine meadows - up to about 4250m, stopping to breathe every 100 steps.  I drew the peak, by far my highest-elevation on-the-ground drawing.

Back in the city, we climbed up the huge basilica.  It's not a good idea for people who are afraid of heights, because the last part of the climb is on a set of rickety ladders on the outside of the top of the tower.  But it has a great view of the old part of Quito.  Instead of gargoyles, the gothic cathedral has parrots, penguins, boobies, frigatebirds, toads, and, at the top, condors.  A church for naturalists.  Many parts of the adornments on the building seem to be missing, presumably cast down by God to smite passing sinners.  The architecture is immensely elaborate - the only way to cope with drawing all that complexity from the top of one of the towers is to do it really quickly.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Ecuador - Quito I

Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is in a high central valley in the Andes.  It sprawls 30km north-south but is only a few km wide, with barrios heading up the hills on each side.  The old colonial part of town is a lovely chaos of narrow streets, open plazas, some grand buildings, innumerable tiny stores and restaurants, street vendors, and far more people walking than driving.  We stayed at an old family home in the centre of the old town, with a beautiful courtyard, original nineteenth century furniture, eclectic modern art, and an incredibly friendly and helpful family running it - all for 1/4 the price I pay to stay in Edmonton.  The view is of Panecillo ("little bun") a prominent hill with a huge angel statue that can be seen from all over the city, which helps get you home when you are disoriented in the twisting streets.

Quito has a reputation as a dangerous city, although we had no problems at all using basic common sense about watching packs and pockets, avoiding empty streets (which would be hard to find anyway), and looking like we knew what we were doing.  But even more so, there were police everywhere.  When I was drawing in a busy street, 5 of them ending up standing around me watching me draw - couldn't have been safer! 

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Ecuador - Papallacta

From Mindo on the west slope of the Andes, we went up, back through the crazy labyrinth of Quito (where people stand in busy intersections selling newspapers, flowers, tamales, inflatable penguins and charged cell-phone batteries), and over Papallacta Pass to the top of the east slope.  The destination was the village of Papallacta, just below the pass.  It's a stormy place, where the hot humid tropical air meets the cold alpine.  Thus, "Andes at Papallacta, storm coming up from the Amazon" - not quite Church's Heart of the Andes, but dramatic enough when I was drawing in the cold wind with the black clouds piling up in all directions.

A local man I talked to there said (I think) "Everything you see here will be gone one day" - which is true of everything, but more imminently in Papallacta, built right below the big, active volcano Antisana.  The upside is that the valley is full of hot springs in the meantime, including a relatively swishy "resort" that was our destination.  You can sit in lovely pools among the strange subalpine vegetation, right beside the rushing mountain stream that is the very start of the Amazon (or one of many very starts, anyway). It's all quite relaxing - until you get on the bus back to Quito, with its failing brakes and very much not-failing sound system playing Funkytown, along with the usual lurid poster of Jesus, Mary and Little Bo Peep(? - my Catholic theology is a bit weak).

Monday, 10 February 2014

Silver Star

An intermission from Ecuador drawings, for a long-weekend trip to Silver Star ski resort, near Vernon.  It was too cold for lift-skiing, but great for cross-country and snowshoeing.  And, of course, for drawing.  One of the mornings had a cold clear sky, but all kinds of sunrise colours on the clouds low down in the valley.  The village at Silver Star has a western-mining-town/Victorian theme going, so many of the houses are cheerfully coloured and ornate.  I drew the yellow house standing outside at -15C, getting increasingly frantic as I tried to get the details down before I lost all feeling in my hand.  I can't seem to draw with any kind of glove on - which is good for speeding up the sketches, not so good for retaining a full set of fingers.  I added the colour in front of the fire.  There was a snow-sculpture contest going on in the village, fortunately visible from a cafe window.  I'm not sure if the standing fellow was one of the snow-carvers, an artistic director, or a model - the sculpture ended up looking a lot like him. Interestingly, an avant-garde abstract snow sculpture won the competition.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Ecuador - Mindo

The first stop after the Galapagos was overnight in Quito, then we on to Mindo the next morning (more Quito later).  Mindo is a village part way down the west slope of the Andes, in cloud-forest.  It is in the Choco region of northwest South America, one of the most diverse small areas in the world, and also one of the most threatened, as most of it has been logged or converted to agriculture.  The Mindo area is an exception, with some large areas of privately and publicly owned protected forest extending up into the mountains.  As a result, it is a mecca for birders.  It has the highest per capita number of people with binoculars around their necks of anywhere I've been, including many locals who work as bird guides. We stayed at Hacienda San Vicente, known as La Casa Amarilla (the Yellow House).  They own a big area of forest with their own set of trails, heading well up in to the hills above town.  The first page below is the house, and a view of the town in the forested valley from part way up one of the cloud-forest trails.  Part of the reason for the diversity of the area is the weather, which typically involves a sunny morning, clouding over in the early afternoon just as it gets really hot, then rain beginning in the late afternoon and lasting through the night - ideal growing conditions for plants.  And great for hiking, if you time it right, which we didn't quite do.

The birds are clearly a main attraction - including the 7 species of hummingbirds I saw from the back porch - so the bird list started to take over my sketchbook, especially when we hired a guide for the morning to take us up to an Andean cock-of-the-rock lek (communal display site for the absurdly red-plummaged males) and point out all the other species in the tree tops.  But there are also chocolate-makers in the area, so we could experience the whole process from cocoa pod to eating.  And it is a lovely town just to hang out in - without having to be self-conscious about displaying binoculars, or sketchbooks.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Ecuador - Galapagos III

The last legs of our Galapagos trip took us to the small island of Rabida, where Galapagos sealions were doing what they do - which is, lounging.  They are great models, except that they don't really have any shape.  Then we sailed around Santiago Island to Sullivan Bay, where there was a big flow of lava from the 1890's, with just a few lava cactuses and small plants colonizing it.  The water at it edge, on the other hand, was full of reef fish, sharks and a flock of penguins.  The small island of Bartolome just off the bay has a strange tombstone-like rock formation that defied geological explanation, until we learned that it was the result of the American air force bombing a volcanic caldera.  Apparently the troops stationed there didn't have anything else to do during World War II.

A couple long trips gave lots of time to draw the sails and rigging of our catamaran, the Nemo II.  The last stop was at Genovesa, one of the more remote islands in the north of the archipelago.  It is a flat old island, surrounded by cliffs, and is covered in nesting seabirds - three species of boobies, two frigatebirds, tropicbirds, storm-petrels, gulls and herons, as well as a unique Darwin's finch.  It's also fascinating for its remoteness in the open ocean.  The next day was back to Baltra and the plane to the mainland.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Ecuador - Galapagos II

Our other stops on Isabella island were at Urbina Bay and Tagus Cove.  The area we walked at Urbina Bay didn't exist until 1954, when volcanic activity lifted it out of the sea.  It has scrubby young vegetation, and was a bit barren on a cloudy day.  Tagus Cove is an almost-complete circular harbour formed by a flooded volcanic crater, and a popular stopover for ships through the ages.  Crews from many of these carved, or later spray-painted, the name of their ship on the cliffs - a somewhat jarring thing to see in the otherwise pristine area, and now prohibited by the park service.  One of the carvings was supposed to have been made by Darwin, but what I could see looked like "DWNA...".  Maybe he was just a bad speller?  I tried a 360-degree drawing of the cove, with limited success.  One of the hardest things about drawing in the Galapagos is that the dominant tree, palo santo, is completely white - it's just not possible to draw a bunch of white lines with a black pen, so the drawings miss the ghostly look of the forested slopes.

We continued on to Fernandina, the westernmost and most volcanicly active island.  There is only one area on the island where visitors can land, a recent lava flow.  The shoreline is thick with big marine iguanas sunbathing, fighting and mating, penguins, sealions and flightless cormorants.  We then headed north across the equator, around Isabella island to Puerto Egas on Santiago island.  This was the site of a salt mining operation years ago, with one abandoned building being the main sign of any settlement.  The big excitement from a biologist-sketcher's point-of-view was that Darwin's papers include a reference to drawing marine iguanas while sitting in a round rock "chair" at this site.  There's only one option for that "chair", so I was able to sit in the same spot and draw an obliging iguana.  I don't know how long iguanas live - maybe it was the same one?  Charles' drawing is probably better than mine, but it brought up the idea of historical drawing re-enactments - a new subgenre for sketchers?

We then crossed the bay to Espumilla Beach, a long red-sand beach with turtles mating just off-shore prior to coming ashore for egg-laying.  The beach and forest were otherwise mostly quiet, except for herds(?) of ghost crabs, but the reefs offshore were teeming with fish when we snorkeled.