The Science of Sketching Clouds with Sarah F. Burns

On a bright Saturday morning in May, we sixteen headed south from Hobart Bluff. Our mission: to find inspiration within the diverse bioregion that is the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. From the start, we appeared to have our work cut out for us. Most adventurers would have delighted in the clear blue skies stretching from horizon to horizon, but not we.  We were in search of clouded vistas.      

 Pilot Rock view with Sarah Burns' Hike & Learn sketch group in search of clouds, on Hobart Bluff. John Ward photo, May 2017

Pilot Rock view with Sarah Burns' Hike & Learn sketch group in search of clouds, on Hobart Bluff. John Ward photo, May 2017

Local artist, Sarah F. Burns, would be our guide through our artistic journey. She struck out south from the trailhead toward a rocky overlook that she had visited in the past.  She had great reason to return. After a short hike our group found itself looking out, on one side, over Pilot Rock toward Mt. Ashland and toward Mt. Shasta on the other. As we took in the scenic panorama, small patches of snow could be seen, hiding from the warm sun, in the shade of large conifers. The view was accompanied by a melody of songbirds, including at least one Olive-sided Flycatcher.      

 Grizzly Peak and Cumulus Clouds.  Painting by Sarah Burns

Grizzly Peak and Cumulus Clouds. Painting by Sarah Burns

Sarah set up her easel and gave a thorough sketching demo, with tips and tricks of how to immerse oneself into the sketch without falling into common pitfalls. She discussed how to frame an image for composition, how to use an outstretched thumb to determine scale, and then keep the original idea of your sketch in mind as you work out the smaller details.      

We each then found our own inspirations and comfortable seats among the rocks, and set out on our sketching with hopes that the clouds would continue building on the horizons. It was not long before we were immersed in our processes, occasionally taking short breaks to meander about taking in views and observing our fellow hikers’ works. Our wishing and positive energy paid off as small puffs of stratocumulus clouds built up along the horizons for us to incorporate into our sketches.         

In no time at all, it was nearing time for lunch and time for us to head back down the mountain. We each made a few final touches to our sketches, snapped some reference photos for future inspiration, and began to pack our artist tools back into our daypacks. After pausing briefly for a group photo, our gathering was joined by a brightly colored crab spider for us to marvel at. We then made our way back to the trailhead and dispersed back to our individual lives, sketches in tow.  

Text and photos by John Ward, Hike and Learn Coordinator