Many people’s first thought on the topic of a backcountry sketchbook is “I’m not an artist”. Well, I am here to explain why it does not matter; bringing a sketchbook into the backcountry could be one of the best decisions of your life.
Now, bear with me, I am prepared to explain why. First and foremost your sketches, much like a journal entry, are for you. They are a unique way to capture and connect with a place, person, event, or afternoon through your own interpretation and perspective. But, unlike a journal entry, sketches also have potential to become more; they can be used as a tool for further preservation and conservation of the land. Sound abstract? Let me elaborate. Sketching in the field gives you time to truly develop a sense of place. This sense of place can then be shared with your friends and family through the sketch who could then feel inclined to build their own love for the subject of your sketch by visiting it themselves. This process can be seen as a cycle of ‘free advertising’ for that region, resulting in more people falling in love with it. The more a wild area is loved and respected, the more likely it is to be protected.
Here are some tips and tricks to sketching in the backcountry.
1) Take a Moment to Enjoy a Moment
After a long day on the trail, a little R&R is often top priority. With hiking boots thrown aside, rump perched on a rock fireside with friends, it’s time to pull out the sketchbook. Moments of reflection in the backcountry have the potential to be some of the most impactful in life and sketching can help facilitate this. Whether you are surrounded by friends or giving yourself some alone time, capture these moments in a way a camera never could; this will allow you to remember these glimpses of meaning long after they pass.
|Drawn while watching a Ranger fly-fish in a mountain lake.|
|Drawn while sitting with Forest Service friends around a campfire.|
|Sketched in my tent after an unexpected encounter|
2) Capture the Views Your Camera Cannot
While hiking down a trail on a hot August afternoon in the northern Idaho wilderness, I encountered
an unexpected visitor. I jolted as I heard rustling in the bushes; looking to my right, I spied an equally startled young black bear 15 feet up a dead fir tree attempting to hide from me. I hooped and hollered and let the young bear know I was moving away and not to be messed with. After exiting the heat of the moment I was unable to shake the image of the little black bear, with fear in his eyes, staring at me from its tree. That evening I pulled out my sketchbook to remember the moment.
Sketching can be used in the same way a camera can, using your minds eye as the lens of the camera.
3) Connect to a Place
Imagine you have reached your destination after a long days hike; this could be a desolate peak with vast views, a crisp alpine lake with fish leaping to and fro, or even a cabin you are will rest at for the night. Regardless, each location means something to you as a temporary home. A place you love, or have grown to love, and a place you hope will remain wild. Pull out your sketchbook and capture this spot through your own perspective. The sketch might not look like the actual landscape, but it’s the beauty that captured by your own eyes that counts. This act could end up being playing a crucial role in the protection of that landscape.
|Drawn while taking a break at the summit of a peak and absorbing the views.|
|The view form my cook spot at a Forest Service cabin.|
|Some of the necessary tools for sketching in the backcountry.|