Thursday, April 6, 2017

Hiking and Painting and Musing in Zion National Park

A few weeks back I spent a weekend in Zion Canyon National Park. If you haven't learned by now that I love hiking, you have not been paying attention. If you want to make me happy, just take me outside. Or give me an armful of kittens.. or let me pet your dog... Anyways, that is unrelated. Again I went with Ellie (awesome website here) to paint the landscape and hike and camp. Whether you like any of that stuff or not, everyone needs to visit this incredible place at least once. There are options for all levels of outdoorsy to not outdoorsy at all to see and experience this wonder. And it is a wonder.

The first thing we did when we got there was to do a little exploring. We went to the east side of the canyon via Mount Carmel highway, just outside of the park, and pulled over to the side of the road. We climbed down into the sandy bottom of the dry riverbed and walked. We had to scale a few sandstone walls, dodge the sinking sand, and walk through muddy water but the view was worth it. Plus we were the only ones on the "trail", and that's hard to find in Zion! 

Eventually we reached an odd rock formation that my friend calls the sumo bun. Which it really does look like a hair bun. Sandstone makes odd shaped formations. With all the whorls and rippling lines, I felt like I was on a different planet! Unfortunately we couldn't explore more than that, with the time constraint of meeting with an art gallery. But when I go back again, I will get further on that path! 

Setting up camp that night was super easy. We dispersed camped, which is the best way to camp at national parks, because it's free and on public lands. The next day we hiked Observation point, which is the peak that looks down upon Angel's landing, though the hike isn't nearly as precarious. It's about an 8 mile round-trip hike, and it's best done in the morning, because once afternoon comes around, the trail is in full sunlight and gets very hot. But the view is incredible. You can see south all the way down the length of the canyon past Springdale and beyond. 

We set up and painted on the top of the point, Ellie with her fancy oils and me with my sketchbook and watercolors. But that was for sure one of the hardest scenes I've ever tried to recreate. I'm including my efforts below, but only because I had a great experience. the painting itself didn't quite turn out. 

By the way, if anyone is interested in why I have 'Mitchy Slick' written on the top of the sketchbook page, that the youtube channel of a guy we met while hiking. I've always thought people are at their friendliest when hiking, and that day's hike was no exception. Mitchy Slick and his friend were recording people on his gopro asking for life advice. It was quite entertaining. Just FYI, I don't think the video is up on his channel, and I don't know if it ever will be, but it was cool to meet some new people. It just goes to show that everyone has a story and anyone could be a friend, you just need to open your mouth, and give them a chance. This is something I constantly battle with. Social anxiety is a real thing. I've realized that there is a difference between having nothing to say and being too afraid to speak. People can be quiet for different reasons. I know I have felt both before. But it's hardest when you want or even need to say something and that fear paralyzes you and it feels like making your vocal chords move is the hardest thing you will ever do. And what a relief it is when they finally work, but saying that one thing could leave you shaky and weak and embarrassed for a while after. To all my extraverted friends out there, adopt someone who seems shy as your friend. Being around you will help them to blossom and open up in ways they never thought possible. I'm thankful to all the extraverts that took me under their wing. They know who they are, I hope. Wow, super random tangent. Sorry. Here's a super awkward picture of me just to make things better because I think it's funny. 

After getting back from a hike, don't you just love how exhausted your entire body is? Maybe I'm weird, but I love that feeling. It reminds me of what I can accomplish and that I deserve a giant bacon cheeseburger. That's not what we ate after that hike, unfortunately, but I did get amazing tamales from the Bit'n Spur in Springdale, so I can't complain. 

Later we went to the River walk near the Narrows trailhead and Ellie painted again, while I decided to walk and be contemplative about life and such. But seriously, walking that trail I realized just how incredible a place this world is. That little spot on the globe is an amazing place, and over thousands of years those soaring canyon walls were carved by water and air! At that moment I felt like I could see history written in those rocks, and I could see the future being created one piece of sediment at a time. I stared in awe for a long time at the canyon walls I felt like I had never truly seen until that moment. 

That night, we dispersed camped again, sleeping under the stars for the second night out near the Subway trailhead. Waking up with the sunrise is one of the most gloriously peaceful things to ever occur, I recommend trying it sometime. Trying to capture the sunrise is another thing entirely, although it is still very peaceful. 

The last day of our trip was spent on as much as we could possibly squeeze in. I have to admit that at this point I was a little frustrated with my watercoloring so when Ellie wanted to paint again I opted for a solo hike. She painted the West Temple while I hiked the Watchman lookout. It's a short hike, and not very strenuous, so I took my time, turning it into a leisurely stroll. I had the trail to myself until I hiked down. And that was glorious. I was able to clear myself of all the accumulated garbage in my thoughts and recenter myself. I read somewhere that dirt has healing properties, and I don't know if that's true scientifically, but I think emotionally and spiritually it definitely does heal. Being outside, being close to the earth, that is where I can feel peace and a closeness to God that I can't find in very many other places. The Watchman hike will forever hold a special place in my heart because of the communion I experienced that day. 

We had time for one more hike, so we speed hiked all three Emerald Pools then ran down to catch the shuttle back to the visitors center (which we barely missed, much to our chagrin...sorry to everyone we almost knocked off the trail in our mad dash down the trail...By the way, Chacos are not meant for running). This trip left me with so many blisters and sunburns it was insane. But I came home so much happier than when I left. Life gets messy, and sometimes you don't know which way is up or left, and taking a step back, even if it's only for a day, will help to recenter and refocus your heart on what's important. 
Until next time. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

A Birthday Adventure: In Which I Use The Word Incredible Too Much

All this rain here in Utah recently has reminded me of a trip I took in the rain last year that I wanted to write about, but somehow forgot and never got to... Well, it is about time I post again.

...Going back in time to September 2016...

The week before my birthday, I went to Escalante (pronounced ES-Ka-LANT or ES-KI-LANT-IE...Actually I never could figure out what the correct pronunciation was...Sorry to the Spanish speakers who are reading this and wincing at the mispronunciation of their beautiful language), and I went to keep my friend Ellie company while she entered and painted for a Plein Air painting competition (again, here's her beautiful website, go buy her art. She's incredible).

We went for four days of incredible sites and incredibly wet weather.
We camped for two of the three nights, then finally gave in when we woke up in puddles and got a hotel room for the last night. But still, camping in a rainstorm, and it was a crazy storm, was a really cool experience.
We painted in the Kodachrome Basin State park. Well, Ellie painted, I explored the teeny park. The coolest part for me was walking through the deep dry riverbed, with the canyon walls high above my head and looking for the little animal footprints in the mud.

I drew some pictures of the horses, which you can take on an excursion through the park, if anyone is lucky enough to visit.

Kodachrome Basin is a little known, off the beaten path park that I definitely recommend you stopping by if you're in the area. It's a beautiful, hidden treasure. 

After visiting Kodachrome, we spent the night in a tent off the side of the road by a little stream we learned later was called the Escalante River (in Utah, rivers are usually not very big, but they don't have very much else to compare them with - it is a desert after all). The next morning Ellie had to get some more paintings in for the competition. We went down to the river, trying to stay out of the muddy cow tracks, and found a quiet place where the water descended over a little incline to form a small waterfall. I tried to get most of a painting in, but it started raining really in earnest. And as we know, watercolor and rain don't work very well together. I had to go back and finish that particular painting later. You can still see little spots in the paint from the rain. I actually really like the texture it creates.

After my attempts, Ellie realized the other thing we all know - that oil and water also don't mix very well together, and so after that, I became the umbrella holder. Despite the rain, being able to spend time with a good friend makes it all worth it.

Did I mention that umbrella was broken? You'd think that growing up in Oregon would teach me a little bit about how to use an umbrella.  I guess that wasn't the case. Regardless, it was a good character building experience. Later that same day we got a few more paintings in. By the end, we were painting in the car, the rain was so constant and the umbrella so broken. But you do what you need to do to get the job done! Ah the things we do in the name of art!

Escalante is the little town near the Grand Staircase National monument. If that town name is making sense now, you'll understand how appropriate it really is in just a moment.
When we went to go see the Grand Staircase the rain was finally abating. But what we didn't know was what was to come later concerning rain. But a little bit more about that later.

We drove about twenty minutes out of the town before we turned a curve in the road to see a pull off with a sign, looking out over...nothing. It was a void, I could feel that much, but the clouds were so low, they covered the landscape in fluffy grey-ness. It was here we got out of the car and wandered around the rocks until we got to the edge of a cliff looking over into the void. You know that dizzy feeling you get when looking down off a mountaintop? Well I could feel that at this moment, but what was so strange was that I couldn't see anything. It was the freakiest feeling ever. We soon decided to drive down the road and see if we could get under the clouds. That moment, following the curve of the road and finally driving through the mist to get a glimpse of the monument, was the most incredible view. It's a good thing I had a friend in the car with me to remind me to watch the road and not the view, or we might have driven right off the cliff.

The Grand Staircase is aptly named, but I felt like on that day it would be more appropriate to name it the Grand Waterslide because though the rain had stopped for the time being, the water had not stopped flowing. The monument is made out of slick rock sandstone that does not soak up water - hence the name slick rock. The water just sits right on top and follows the pull of gravity down the whorls and whirls of water-carved sandstone. It's beautiful and alien, but so cool to explore.

After our explorations, Ellie fixed up her paintings. And then, my wonderful friend took me to dinner for my birthday to the only restaurant in the whole town, and she got me CHOCOLATE CAKE. Probably the best chocolate cake I have ever eaten too. I still dream about it sometimes.

Southern Utah is one of the most incredible places in the world. Anyone who has had the fortune of being in the desert during a rainstorm can attest to how even more incredible a world it becomes as the rain soaks into the parched ground. This water-deprived landscape blooms in ways I could never image without seeing it. Things come alive where before they seemed dead. It's an alien world, and yet it is our world! What an amazing place we live in!

This quote on the wall of the Grand Staircase Visitor's Center describes it perfectly:

"It is a lovely and terrible wilderness...harshly and beautifully colored, broken and worn until its bones are exposed...and in hidden corners and pockets under its cliffs, the sudden poetry of springs.''
                              -Wallace Stegner, 1960

I made the life goal last New Year's to go and experience at least one new place every year. Southern Utah was definitely the fulfillment of that goal this year. I can honestly say this was one of the most memorable and incredible birthday weeks of my life.

That night, we stayed in the tent one more time. You know it's going to be a rough night when you start it out by setting the tent up in a thunderstorm! The rain was back in earnest. Thunder and lightning crashed, and rain pummeled our tent all night long, and we woke up in a puddle. But even taking the tent down in the same conditions we put it up wasn't enough to dampen our moods, because that day was the hiking day!

We decided to hike to Calf Creek falls, a little waterfall within the Grand Staircase. We hiked in the rain, of course, and the 5.7 mile round-trip hike was only partly flooded. We ended up wading in the water up to our ankles on the way back. Though, if you know me well, you'll know that that just served to make me more exhilarated at being outside. Add another thing, that "little" waterfall was definitely not little! The rain had swollen it to almost three times its normal size! Needless to say, we got back to town soaked to the skin. And that is when we caved and got a hotel room for our last night. Because even though I love rain, even I have my limits. Taking a hot shower never sounded so good!

 There was a reception that night for all the plein air artists, and we met some crazy cool local artists. The next day was the judges results, the fair, and the drive home through beautiful aspen groves and snow in the Dixie National Forest and then through a quick detour through Capitol Reef National Park. We were only able to explore it for a couple hours, and a lot of the roads were closed because of the heavy downpour the night before. I would really like to go back and see more of it! We didn't even get to do any of the hikes! It's a beautiful, sun-beaten area.

We got to the end of the road, after stopping to see some really old petroglyphs (and some newer ones added by visitors in the 70s and 80s), and meeting this cute old couple from England who proceeded to prod us about the election that hadn't happened yet (which we didn't know very much about, I'm ashamed to say). Capitol Reef used to be a settlement, there are old buildings and fruit orchards scattered throughout the park. That made it very unique, unlike any national park I'd been to - where the might of nature and human came so close, they coexisted side by side. 

We drove until the road was blocked by a barrier, indicating the end of the paved road and the beginning of the muddied and rain-drenched dirt road. We parked the car and decided to walk on the road a little ways to see what was beyond the pavement. We trod through red clay mud that caked our sandals, and soon we were surrounded by monolithic walls of rock on either side of that muddy road. We walked, clambering on rock formations as we went, passing walls of rock pocked with natural caves of all sizes. I still don't know how they were caused. But it was incredible. 

At the end of the day, we were back in Provo, exhausted, but with such a beautiful experience now a part of our memories. I keep reading all these posts on social media sites indicating what a horrible year 2016 was. And I am certain that there are many bad things that happened, but to me, 2016 was a wonderful year, I learned a ton, graduated from University, and had incredible experiences. Call me selfish for just focusing on my own life at this moment, but I hope we can learn to focus more on the many good things that happen to us and less on the few bad things. If there is anything this trip taught me, it is that. You can't control your circumstances, but you can control your reaction for sure, and despite all the disappointments, you can still find joy. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Brontë's Heights

Those who know me at all know that reading is my passion. I was one of those kids who always carried a book around with me wherever I went... I may have only kind of grown out of that. 
But it is through reading that I found I loved to draw, if that makes sense. Reading is what made me want to be an illustrator.
I recently finished Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.
I know, it's taken me a really long time to get to this one. I know most people probably read it in High school. But I've always been a little worried about reading it because it seemed like most people I knew don't like it. I found out those fears are unfounded. 

Don't hate me because I loved this book. Despite the evil nature of most of the characters, despite the gloomy setting, despite the difficult Yorkshire some of the dialogue is written in, despite everything awful about the story, I thought it was brilliant. Who would have thought such a time-resistant story could have come from such awful? But it has withstood the test of time and is still a classic today. And I now understand why. 
Because it is beautifully, hauntingly written.
I think I liked it most because despite how much Heathcliff tried to destroy all the happiness of anyone related to those who ever scorned him, they still triumphed, love overcame hate, light over darkness, and justice was served to the one who really deserved it, through his torment by the ghost of the one he thought he loved. I disagree with those that say that Heathcliff and Catherine's love for each other redeemed them. If they truly loved anyone there would have been a lot less sorrow. the love that redeems them is the love that Nelly has for them. She raised them, they are detestable, but she forgives them, and it is through her biased narration that we are able to tolerate their behavior to stay with the story and hope for a better ending. This is mistaken as a love story. It is not a love story, at least not of romantic love. But it is a story of goodness and evil. There is so much more to this book than just the story. The question now that we should be asking ourselves is, who would I have been in this story? Which of these characters would I react like? When I am scorned? When I am pampered? When I am rejected? Just some food for thought. I am done with the literary rant.

Anyways, I couldn't get the image of the specter Cathy haunting Heathcliff's footsteps, and so I decided to try my hand at book cover designing. And since I've been using Adobe Illustrator a lot at work, I wanted to try that out as well. I hope you like it! 

Also, if you want to know more of my favorite books, check out my Goodreads bookshelves. If you're into that sort of stuff.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Inktober 2016

This year, I have successfully completed #inktober by doing an ink drawing every single day, for 31 days.
You guys don't understand how big of an achievement that is for me. When I first started school as an art student I barely could get myself to draw in my sketchbook once a month, much less every day. These past five years have been more of a lesson in discipline than anything else. I learned that I could keep feeling guilty that I wasn't doing what I knew I should be, or I could buckle down and actually do it. I realized it was a lot less painless to just draw, and I actually realized that keeping a sketchbook on me almost all the time is the best way to capture the ideas I was missing before. And I have grown to love my sketchbooks, they are all very precious to me.
You know that question of what would you grab if your house was burning and you could only grab one thing? Without hesitation it would be my sketchbooks.
The drawings in them are sometimes ok, but mostly bad. But that doesn't matter, because they are a record of my life, I can look in my sketchbooks and remember moments. Where I was, if I was eating, who I was with, how I felt. It's all recorded in those falling a part bundles of paper.
But I digress. This year's Inktober is a witness to how far I have come, from never thinking of drawing to being infinitely excited to get started.
So I have decided to share these drawings with you. They are all not great, some are better than others, but I still have far to go. But they represent an landmark in my life. So they are important.

The Theme: So for my prompt each day, I decided to focus on human faces. I did it less because I wanted to get better at drawing them, and more because I wanted to get over drawing them. Let me explain - I draw faces too much. I reasoned that if I drew them everyday for a month, not only would I get better, but I would also get tired of drawing only faces. I feel that drawing just human faces all the time, I have become frozen in my ability to draw pretty much everything else. I know this about myself: that when I repeatedly do the same thing too much, I get tired of it and lose interest. My life needs so much balance in all things to stay engaged. So I felt that by drawing faces everyday, I would lose the overwhelming desire to just draw faces and move on to improving in other areas.
And at the conclusion, I can honestly say that when I think of what to draw, my mind does not automatically shift to a face. So I guess my method worked.
So peruse them at your leisure. Inspiration came from all sorts of places - books I read, images from Pinterest, movies I like, master artists I admire, people around me, even my dreams. Which is your favorite?
P.S. sorry about not being able to look at them much larger - I hate formatting on here. It was driving me insane and so I gave up and used Photoshop. But you can definitely see larger images on my Instagram - @ambermstotts
They are all on there, just backwards in order.
Happy November! On to a new month with new art!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Spring City

About a month ago I was goaded into participating in a plein air painting competition with one of my dear friends. For those of you reading this who don't know what plein air is, it is painting in the open, on the landscape, from the landscape, from life. It is so beautiful but so hard, especially once it gets cold. Then it's just impossible. For me at least. I admire those who trek out into the snow to paint the beautifully frozen landscape.

My friend is a landscape painter (she has beautiful work, and a cool website, so you should check it out here) and is always bringing me along with her on her painting adventures, and I enjoy them. Landscape painting does not come naturally to me, but I love being outside more than I care about how my painting turns out, so I tag along.
This time around, we went to Spring City, Utah, which is a little town somewhere between Manti and Provo. Basically in the mountains far away from everything. It was originally a farming town, and still is largely, but in recent years, it has become known for it's art scene, of all things. There are a few little galleries along the one street in town, and it is surrounded by the most gorgeous mountains. It is a beautifully peaceful kind of place.

I don't know much about plein air competitions, but it was cool to be a part of one. I got a badge and a bag and everything! My favorite part though was the place we went to paint. Out away from the town even further from civilization, around this little fishing lake. There were a few cabins, and sheep grazing fields, but mostly just rolling hills, pines, and aspens. And we saw a fox! I'd never seen one in the wild before and it was magical. He was hanging out with a deer, and I'd like to think they were friends. We really only glimpsed a flash of his tail, but there was no way of missing or mistaking it! Those creatures are the most vibrant color!

My first painting came after wandering through the grazing fields and almost getting chased down by some sheep dogs. By the way, who thought up the clever idea of using white dogs? Because they definitely fooled us, we didn't see them until they barked, when we tried to touch the sheep- they did not like that. Thankfully they actually let us pet them (meaning the dogs, not the sheep. I am convinced dogs are the jealous type and can't stand letting anyone get attention other than themselves. I still love them though) instead of biting our hands off.
Then I painted the lake, while trying to fend off curious sheep from eating my paints.

My second painting came after we decided to hike the "small" hill. I like to think we almost made it to the top, but it probably was just a false summit. Either way, we got high enough to see this incredible view, right as the sun was beginning to dive to the horizon.

The trek up was partly on hidden deer trails, and mostly through the undergrowth. We climbed through pine trees and then through the beautiful aspens. There was so much peace in that place, I was amazed. It is just incredible how everything mundane and inconsequential about everyday life just disappears when you are standing in a mountain meadow with your eyes to the sky. The calm of being in God's creations enters your heart and leaves you with the feeling that nothing really matters but that moment. 

After the above attempted painting, we hiked back down in the most glorious golden light I've ever had the privilege of seeing. It got me thinking about the sacred nature of this world. Just the simple act of being out in the trees was enough to feel how much God loves us. I believe he made this world for us, why shouldn't we enjoy it and see as much of it as we can? In fact, I believe it is our duty to protect it. It is not ours. It is on loan to us. We should do our very best to not destroy it.

Thanks for coming with me to revisit this memory. If you are interested in owning one of these paintings, or any of my work, the link to my Etsy shop is in the About Me section of this page. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016


For the next couple of posts I would like to talk about the natural wonder that is the state of Utah. If you have ever been here, it is a place unlike any other, and not just because of the high density of Mormons, although that definitely adds to its peculiarity. There are five National Parks, over a dozen state parks, and many more national monuments, national forests, and many historic sites related to the pioneer heritage of this state. It is every camping, hiking, skiing, mountain biking, nature lover guru's dream. Utah is a place that everyone needs to come to at least once in their life, just to experience the beautiful variety that is the landscape here. From red rock to aspen forests, it is when you get above and away from the smoggy valleys that you see the true glory of the Utah landscape.

You can't be afraid to get away from civilization though, that is for sure. Many of the sites are far from major cities. But there is nothing that compares to standing atop a mountain ridge completely alone with the whispering trees as your only companions. Some of my most spiritual experiences have happened where there are very few people, surrounded by God's creations.

I didn't use to think this way about Utah. But I had never been in the mountains. Once I stepped foot on my first hiking path here, I knew I was in love. In love with the landscape, in love with the forests, in love with the mountains. The mountains are holy places, and I hope you will have the chance to visit them. They are my old friends, and they welcome all.

Those who know me well know that I bring my sketchbook everywhere I go. I would call it my comfort blanket, except it isn't really that. It has taken me a while to be ok drawing in front of people. and I still feel self-conscious. But my desire to try and capture the beauty around me is stronger than my embarrassment. And so I draw. I paint. And when there isn't time, I take photos to come back to paint and draw from. Utah is a rich beautiful place to try and capture. 

 And so I come to my conclusion, I would like to share the images I create from my wanderings around this beautiful state, and beyond. So this is the place they will be. I am never content with just knowing one place my whole life, I don't even know if that would be possible for me. I need to see and experience new things all the time, even if they are just a couple hours away. I hope you will enjoy coming along with me.

Monday, August 15, 2016

BFA: Timeless Tales

Timeless Tales: Folktales from Around the World

This is it, I am graduated. With the completion of this project I officially finish my time as an Illustration student at Brigham Young University. Below is a brief description of the project, and you can also find the links to every story after that. My show will be up for three weeks in the Harris Fine Arts center on Brigham Young University campus.

I decided to focus the theme of my show on folktales from different countries around the world. I chose seven different regions from around the world and chose one group of people to read stories from; Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, South Africa, Russia, and Japan. There were so many stories to choose from, but I decided to focus on stories that were visually appealing to me. Maybe I should have focused it a lot more than that, but it turned out working out well for me. I love stories. I love to read the intricate details contained in each and every story that I read. I get invested in the stories, I want the characters to succeed in their endeavors. I learned a lot about the basics of storytelling, and even though these stories seem simple at first, they really do hold eternal truths in their words.

The folktale is a story, passed down verbally from
generation to generation. Each storyteller told
the stories a little differently, making them more
interesting as the ages passed. Different folktales bear the
characteristics of the culture, folklore and customs
of the people from which they originated. We can learn
about different cultures by studying their folktales, and the
more we know and understand about each other, the easier
it becomes to empathize with those who at first glance
would seem very different from ourselves. But we are
not so different as we at first appear to be. It is through
stories that we learn what people value: love, learning,
family, kindness, gratitude, and happy endings.

“And those who think that the legends here
recorded are childish and frivilous, may rest
assured that they bear on questions which could not
themselves be called either childish nor frivilous.
So, however silly a legend may be thought, let him
who knows such a legend communicate it to somebody
who will place it on record; he will probably find that it
has more meaning and interest than he had

Prince Ivan and the Firebird - a Russian fairytale
Jabu and the Lion - a Zulu tale
The Grateful Crane - a Japanese folktale
The Little Frog in the Stream - a Quechua folktale
East of the Sun, West of the Moon - a Norwegian fairytale
Maui and Mahuika - a Maori legend
Diarmuid and Grainne - an Irish Celtic Myth