This past August, I went to Calgary for a wedding with my best friend and her whole family. The wedding was incredible and it was so much fun to spend time with everyone.
I was really excited for the road trip portion of the adventure. It had been eight years since I last visited Calgary, and eight years since I had been through the Rocky mountains. Even more exciting, we were traveling on a route I had never explored before, the Hwy 3 Crowsnest Pass. Typically, whenever I’m headed anywhere beyond my hometown, I bring a camera and snap pictures to inspire art projects. This time I wanted to do something a little different, so in addition to a camera, I filled up a pencil case and packed small sketchbooks. As an obsessive list maker/over packer I took care into what made the cut for the trip— nothing too messy, nothing that required a brush or water, not a bunch of different mediums, or every colour available- just a variety of graphite pencils and pens.
On Wednesday, August 22, we left Christina Lake, BC and headed out for Calgary. Road trips are one of my most favourite things. I love being a passenger and looking out at the landscape. Listening to music, going in a single direction for a really long time and letting my thoughts wander. The entire province was on fire at the time, and the Kootenays were incredibly socked in with smoke. The worst of it was in Castlegar. Gradually, the smoke dissipated a bit as we passed through the mountains but it was ever present all the way to Alberta. Everything on the way had an incredibly dark and eerie feel to it.
For seven and a half hours, I sketched off and on. Sometimes without even looking at the page all while mountains transformed into hills and prairies as we headed east. I would observe a group of trees, or a formation of rocks, a mountain, streams, and quickly scribble it into the book. Not really paying much attention or caring too much about how it all looked. It was more about translating what I was seeing and feeling it spill out, page after page. My sketching style is always a messy rushed affair, it’s never precise and much like my note taking at work, a mad dash to get everything on a page as quickly as possible before I forget.
There is a grand debate on how we should put down our cameras and phones and “live in the moment”, while I agree with this to an extent, I’ve always used photography as a way to influence my art and remember the moment. Sketching on this trip was a great balance of living in the moment and using my art practice as a way to remember the trip. I can’t believe I didn’t think of doing this sooner! Those drives around the Kootenays, Vancouver island, Oahu, Ontario, and to California and back… I have a ton of great photos, but I could have been sketching too! Sounds like a reason to hit the road again soon.
One of my favourite memories from the drive was cruising through the Foothills. The air still smokey but the sun continued to shine through and illuminate the wheat fields into this brilliant golden colour. After hours (and really weeks of smoke in Kelowna) of dark, ominous, eerie smoke, this golden landscape was so inviting. I’ve been through Alberta before, but I think this is the first time I have fallen in love with the landscape. CBC radio was the only station with reception and this francophone song came on that captivated my attention. Hubert Lenoir’s “Recommencer” has this really chilled out jazzy David Bowie-esque vibe to it. We live in incredible times where if you have cell service, a heart beat, two thumbs and the Shazaam app, you can usually figure out whatever song is playing. By 5:30 PM I was down to my last two pages as we approached the city. I felt so accomplished.
I didn’t have much time during the stay in Calgary to sit down and sketch out my surroundings. I do want to go back and spend some time in the city sketching. After the wedding, I came home, unpacked, shoved the book in a drawer and pretty much forgot all about it. A month later, I found it while I was puttering around the apartment and started flipping through each page. It’s fascinating to observe how these scribbles, lines and scratches translate how the landscape changed over the course of those 7 and a half hours. I can almost pinpoint certain sections of the drive.
Densely scribbled trees together in a row with tiny rock formations and wild flowers as we were leaving the Kootenays. Patches of small squares outside of Creston BC to a hurried scribbling of a shack outside of Fernie BC. Stacks of boulders piled on either side of a pathway to mark The Frank Slide — another incredibly memorable scene from the drive. Sharp steep edges for the Rockies, casual flowing lines for the prairie hills.
We live in such a vast, incredibly beautiful country and each village, township, city has it’s own unique beautiful qualities to it. I’m excited to see how these sketches will translate into my abstract work and look forward to more road trips in the future.
Click through the gallery below to see some of my frantic scribbles, and stay tuned for a future post with new work inspired by the sketchbook.