Corvidsketcher Becomes a Bisonsketcher

On today’s walk I headed north to Golden Gate Park. My intent was to go to the Bison Paddock in the wild western portion near the Chain of Lakes and do some bison sketching.

Bison are good subjects because well, they just sit there allowing you some time to get a sketch in. They are certainly better subjects to sketch than say, a Wilson’s warbler, a hyperactive bird that is a challenge even to photograph well. I had practiced sketching American bison in the wild, on a fall trip to Yellowstone National Park in 2017.

This is a sketch from a photo of my October 2017 trip to American’s oldest National Park!

The goal I set for myself was to loosen up my sketches and apply some of the things I have learned in a book I am currently reading, Felix Scheinberger’s excellent: Urban Watercolor Sketching. He advises “less is more” when it comes to watercolor painting and I also take this to mean the economy of the sketch itself. I’m not sure if I succeeded but every sketch can be considered a success because you learn something with each one. And sometimes you learn what not to do!

I picked my spot near the fence and making sure I was at least 12 feet away from any other park visitors (The Bison Paddock is a very popular spot) and I started to sketch a lounging bison. I started using a Micron sepia PN, not using any underlying pencil sketch! I then laid in some color, making sure to leave parts of the sketch unpainted (featured sketch).

An overenthusiastic art lover walked over and would have stood above me breathing into my left ear had I not halted his progress by proclaiming, “I’m practicing social distancing!” He stopped and admired the sketch from a distance.

A bison wandered by, grazing as it went along. I couldn’t let this happen without getting another sketch in! This time I challenged myself to do a continuous line sketch. This means that I sketched the bison without lifting my pen (although the rules of continuous sketching say you can lift your pen for a rest but you have to return to the exact point where you left off). This type of sketching is good practice for loosening up your lines and injecting improvisation into your sketching life.

A continuous line sketch of a bison. To get to other parts of the sketch you have to retrace lines you have already drawn. This is such a freeing way to draw!

American Bison

The most visible large animal in Yellowstone National Park is the American bison (Bison bison). I would see many of these large grazers in all parts of Yellowstone but I hoped to see this emblematic animal in the snow, and I didn’t have long to wait.

When I first entered Yellowstone from the south, it began to snow, the first real snow of the season.

The first snow of the trip, just as I entered the southern boundary of America’s first National Park. The National Park Service arrowhead (on the right) features a sequoia tree and a bison to represent wildlife.

I drove north into Yellowstone along the road towards West Thumb, the snow falling but not yet sticking to the pavement. At the junction I headed west and then north towards the ever popular Old Faithful geyser. After I passed Old Faithful, the road was paralleled by the Firehole River. Up ahead a few cars were pulled over. I soon learned to stop because this always meant there was something interesting to see near the road. Could it be a bison, bear, or bald eagle? How about a bison in the snow? Check.

American bison in the snow on the banks of the Firehole River.

A few days later, when I was on a wolf hunt in the Lamar Valley I came upon a ranch: the Lamar Buffalo Ranch. The American bison was close to being hunted to extinction in the United States. In the late 19th century, poachers where hunting bison in Yellowstone and only 40 bison remained. In 1907 the Lamar Buffalo Ranch was founded with the mission of protecting and increasing the bison herd in Yellowstone. The ranch was in operation until 1952. Because of these efforts there are now about 2,000 free roaming bison in Yellowstone.

The entrance to the now closed Lamar Buffalo Ranch in the Lamar Valley, Northeastern Yellowstone, Wy.

A Yellowstone traffic jam. The bison always have the right of way.