Photographs have their place, but I don’t think they do justice to a scene. Part of what we “see” in a landscape are the emotions it makes us feel. Our memory of a place is a combination of what our eyes saw and also what it felt like to stand there and take in the view. To me, it’s what our feelings add that are the core of any memory—or dream—of a place.
This is why I started my American Landscape Project—I’m sketching fifty of the most iconic landscapes across the country, and I’m sketching them so that they don’t just come across as beautiful places, but as experiences. I want people looking at each of these to be transported to a place they know and love, be inspired to go and visit a new place, or to connect with a place they’ve dreamed about. I’m an explorer and dreamer myself.
Crater Lake, Oregon
The project is so exciting for me that it was the motivation I needed to retire from what I spent the bulk of my career as an artist doing—painting trail maps for ski resorts around the world. (Over my 35-year career, I created trail maps for more than 200 ski resorts spread across five continents.) This is the first time as a professional artist that I have the time necessary to process a project like this. It’s a true passion project, a dream that I never would have comprehended at the beginning of my art career and one that is influenced by the 30,000 hours I spent painting all those maps.
Picking the 50 landscapes out of every beautiful view in this country is not easy. With ski resorts, I knew I’d be painting the resort that hired me. With the American Landscape Project, literally every gorgeous vista in the country is an option. Originally, I thought “iconic” scenes meant national parks, which is still broad, but at least finite. But this country has so much amazing scenery that isn’t in a national park. For example, in Wyoming I sketched the major peaks of Grand Teton National Park, but then also did the Cirque of the Towers, an absolutely stunning place of soaring granite spires in the Wind River Mountains, which are a much larger range of mountains than the Tetons but not a National Park. And Colorado National Monument, which is within miles of where I grew up and was a place I explored so much as a kid, is stunning.
Last autumn road trip with my wife Dora, I added two other national monuments to my list: Scotts Bluff, in western Nebraska and Wyoming’s Devil’s Tower. And I started sketching out Haystack Rock in Ecola Beach State Park and Heceta Head Lighthouse, both in Oregon. Driving through Twin Falls, Idaho, we stopped at “The Niagara Falls of the West,” Shoshone Falls. The Snake River drops more than 200 feet here. I want to do that scene too, and also Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge. It’s possible I’ll never be finished with the project. I’m saying 50 drawings, but there will always be another view I want to do. Even if I started it decades ago, this project could fill a lifetime.
While I did my first sketches for the project in 2021, I’ve felt a connection to landscapes since I was a kid heading out with my grandfather rockhounding or on photo shoots—photography was a big hobby of his and he loved landscapes. That’s where my fascination with capturing their beauty began.
Yosemite National Park, California
They are challenging because they’re affected by so many things; I think a good image captures that complexity. The black and white photography of Ansel Adams made a lasting impression on me: He documented great landscapes, and did such a great job of capturing mood, contrast, texture, and complexity. But I am not trying to emulate his work in my images; I’m not trying to emulate any particular artist or style. I just jump in and compose landscapes as I see, and experience, them. That’s how I’ve always worked. While I found my niche painting trail maps and had great fun with them, this project is me fully inhabiting my calling. These drawings are exactly what I want to be doing—expressing a unique and enriched take on America’s incredible scenery.
I’d describe my style on this project as “romancing the realistic.” I pull in a lot of atmosphere and work with clouds and shadows to create highlights. I do manipulate things—maybe taking a wide-angle view for a portion and a telescopic view for another part of it. But I keep it all in the realm of credibility. I want to heighten a scene to what a person experiences on location—to take what I see in my mind and share it with someone else who might then remember their own trip there or who might start dreaming about a new place.
If you are interested in purchasing wone of these prints, you can see my entire collection here.
Crater Lake Backstory
Originally, I wasn’t excited about this national park. I first visited Crater Lake with my wife Dora and our kids in the 1980s. We were there in the spring and the road wasn’t plowed past Crater Lake Lodge. From where we had to stop, we could see the lake, and it was impressive, but didn’t strike me as something particularly exciting to do a painting of. Dora and I went back in the autumn of 2021 and my reaction was completely different. The road was open and we stopped at Discovery Point. I was just floored by the views. Crater Lake is the main element and it is beautiful, but it was the rim and the drama of the features around it, Wizard Island, and the old growth forest that made it an incredible sight. Looking down onto the lake and realizing that the slopes are so steep—it was invigorating. If you slipped there, you wouldn’t stop until you reached the bottom. This was a scene I wanted to capture.
In the details: Mt. Thielsen, a prominent peak in the distance to the north, isn’t in your view from Discovery Point, but you see it as you’re driving to the point. It disappears from view at the last minute, though. Even though Thielsen isn’t a part of the view from Discovery Point, it is part of the remembered view. So I put it in this drawing.
Cirque of the Towers Backstory
I did this sketch for a friend who is just infatuated with the area. At 76, getting to the Cirque myself is beyond my capabilities. It’s about an eight-mile hike that climbs 3,000 vertical feet from the Big Sandy trailhead, outside of Pinedale, Wyoming. But from the photo and topographical research I did, it doesn’t surprise me that rock climbers from around the world come here. Carved by a retreating glacier thousands of years ago, the Cirque has a cathedral-like feeling because of the granite towers, peaks, and spires—Lizard Head, Shark’s Head, Wolf’s Head, Pingora, Warbonnet, Warrior 1, Warrior 2, and Overhanging Tower, among others—that soar thousands of feet skyward from Lonesome Lake. Two of the many climbing routes here are included in the book “Fifty Classic Climbs of North America.”
Because I was drawing the Cirque without having been there, it was more of challenge for me. I wasn’t worried about capturing the feeling of being there because of how my friend described it to me. He just lit up and I could see the emotion on his face as he talked about why the Cirque was so beautiful and special. But for the actual shapes and elevations of the features, I spent a lot of time on Google Earth. I felt like I got it when my friend saw the final sketch and said, “It’s just like I remember.” That was exactly what I was hoping to hear. Because the Cirque is a popular spot, I want anyone who has been there to look at this and see the trail they hiked in on, or where they camped, or the summits they’ve stood on. Maybe looking at this will help them remember a story about their time there.
In the details: To get a more dynamic representation of Warbonnet Peak, I turned it just a little. If you were to actually see Warbonnet from the point of view of the composition, the silhouette from Lonesome Lake would be unrecognizable. It is a very striking element and I wanted it to be more prominent. As with many vertical elements I added a tad more height because when you are on location your interpretation of the features are relative to your surroundings.
I wanted the first sketch in the American Landscape Project to be very iconic. People have probably seen more photos of Yosemite from Tunnel View than of any other landscape out there. Picking this view as the first one in the project was easy. By mixing and manipulating perspectives, this sketch shows El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Falls, and also elements not possible in photographs: Yosemite Falls, the Royal Arches, the highway heading up the valley to Yosemite Village, and Yosemite Village itself.
In the details: I pulled the perspective from a higher viewpoint and twisted it a bit to get Yosemite Falls into the composition because in real life, the falls are hidden behind Three Brothers. And, of course, in reality the road going up the valley is lost in the trees. I thought showing it made the composition more representative. I also brought the Royal Arches into view. If someone looks at this, I would like to think they’d relate to where they were at each spectacular view they experienced.