• Inspiration
August 30, 2023

A Desert Girl Sketches at the Lake

Ambassador Lisa Spangler is used to the sunny, arid conditions in her home state of Texas, so when she set out for a road trip to visit family up North, she looked forward to seeing how her paints played in a cooler, damper climate.

By Lisa Spangler

A paint-filled Folio Palette, swatch card of greens and blues, and a thumbnail sketch of a pine tree on a wooden table.

Hey, friends! 

In my last post, I shared what I packed in my Duotone Desert Art Toolkit—now for something completely different: this desert girl went on a road trip to visit family in Ohio, and of course, my art supplies had to come with me.

I’m used to the sunny, arid conditions at Big Bend National Park, and I really looked forward to seeing how my paints played in a cooler, damper climate. Our family goes camping every summer at a lake in Pennsylvania, so I packed with that area and climate in mind.

An open Art Toolkit, Pocket Palette, and sketchbook with scenes from a kayak lay on a wooden table.
My trusty Royal Blue A5 Art Toolkit filled with supplies for lakeside sketching.

Before leaving home in Austin, Texas, I spent quite some time pouring over photos of the areas I’d be visiting, trying to decide what to bring. This is always the hardest part for me — sometimes it keeps me awake at night!

Then I packed up my trusty Royal Blue A5 Art Toolkit with the following:

They all have the same core colors that I can’t do without: Hansa Yellow Medium, Yellow Ochre or Raw Sienna, Ultramarine Blue, Quinacridone Magenta or Quinacridone Rose, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Teal Blue and Transparent Red Oxide.

To the larger palettes, I also added Quinacridone Gold, Phthalo Green, Phthalo Blue, Cobalt Blue, Quinacridone Coral, Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet, Van Dyck Brown, Lavender, Indanthrone Blue, and Bloodstone Genuine. I’ve had the Bloodstone Genuine sitting in a drawer for years, and I’ve really enjoyed playing with it on this trip!

A strip of paper with little vertical swatches of greens and blues with a pinecone on top!
Try making a little scrap paper cheat sheet when heading out to sketch in new locations. I focused on greens especially for this trip.

I made a little cheat sheet of some mixes I thought I’d be using on the trip, and it really came in handy — especially when it came to the greens, as they’re so different than the desert greens that I’m used to. I found Quinacridone Gold mixed with Phthalo Blue to be a wonderful summer green. Now let’s have a look at a few of my favorite sketches!

Belted Kingfisher Alarm Clock

A chattering belted kingfisher woke us up first thing in the morning (they’re so funny!), so I had to sketch one!

Two photos side-by-side showing an open sketchbook with a sketch of a long-beaked blue, white, and brown bird on a branch.
This was the first sketch I did at camp and was so fun! I added some swatches with the colors that I used so I wouldn’t forget the new color mixes.

I used Black, Blue Grey, and Red Grey Document Inks and added watercolor after it was dry—which took way longer than I’m used to in the desert! I love that spiky hairdo!

Seagull Gesture Sketches

Next, I did some quick gesture sketches of some seagulls that came through camp.

An open sketchbook of simple sketches of gulls lays on an open blue toolkit filled with sketching supplies on a wooden table.
I used Black ink for the quick gesture sketches, then added in notes with Red Grey ink.

I loved watching their comical expressions and trying to capture them on paper. One even tried to steal some kindling that was in the fire pit from the previous campers!

The trick with gesture sketches is not to overthink it: just make quick drawings and move on to the next one if your subject moves.

Lakeside Studies in Camp

Now for some lakeside studies on Arches cold press paper. I had so much more working time at the lake compared to what I’m used to in the arid desert.

An open toolkit covered in little square thumbnail sketches of water, distant treelines, and pine trees next to a small image of a hand holduing up a lakeside sketch of water and a sun setting behind blue-green hills.
5" square studies on Arches cold press paper.

I played with scratching waves using a pocket knife that I keep in my Toolkit—so fun! This can be harder to do in the desert because everything dries super fast.

I really enjoyed the extra working time that this more humid environment allowed. I’m used to having to race the clock and plan my moves out in advance. Here, I was able to relax and experiment.

Sketching from a Kayak

I rented a kayak and just had to try my hand at sketching out in the middle of the lake. I brought along a Demi Palette, a Sharpie, Water Brush (which I refilled from the lake, what a first for me!), and a shop towel.

The wind kicked up, and things got choppy—so I didn’t feel safe taking my phone out of the protective Ziplock bag, which made all of my photos slightly out of focus, darn! It also made the kayak rock like crazy and made it super hard to paint.

Blurry image of a hand holding up sketching supplies from inside a yellow-orange kayak next to one of a full sketchbook spread with mini sketches of the boat, lake, and area.
Sketching on a kayak was harder than what I thought it would be, so once I got back to camp I did some more sketches to remember our adventures!

But I didn’t care—I had a blast anyhow! And I have a new respect for artists who sketch on rocking boats. Once we were back at camp, I did some quick sketches in my sketchbook while things were fresh in my mind.

A person sits on a rocky shore, sketching on their lap with grass in the foreground and lake and sky behind.
Our campsite was right on the lake. I loved sitting on these rocks and sketching while listening to the waves wash on shore and the seagulls laughing.

All in all, this desert girl had a blast sketching at the lake. I can’t wait to sketch in snow someday and channel my inner Max Romey!

Whether you’re sketching in your own backyard or a totally new location, don’t be afraid to try something new! Try experimenting with new techniques like using a pocket knife to scratch in details, or try new color combinations. Make a little cheat sheet to take with you on a trip for the color mixes you think you’ll use. Most of all, enjoy the process and have fun because that’s what it’s all about.

All images courtesy of Lisa Spangler.

An artist sites on a rock, dipping a paintbrush in a Pocket Palette.

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