nature journal

Hawks Prairie Reclaimed Water Ponds

w/c pencils, pen and watercolor in Etchr sketchbook

Monday was the third meeting of our new nature journaling group.  After sharing about our favorite workshops from the Wild Wonder Nature Journaling Conference which had just ended (at least the live-streaming part), we headed down the path to the ponds. Hawks Prairie reclaimed water ponds are not far down the road from the dump and just off the freeway, a handy location for this few acres of land, where wastewater from homes and businesses in a three city area is cleaned of pollutants and released back to the environment for irrigation and other vital purposes other than drinking. 

For us it quickly became a sensory wonderland as we gobbled up observations and shared them with each other before settling down to our nature journal sketches. We noticed for instance that the temperature on this very warm morning dropped noticeably as we got closer to the ponds, and we drank in the cool damp air hungrily. 

The ponds were covered with pale yellow-green cover of duck weed so dense that it looked like you could walk out on it. Soon the ducks showed up, and after a few quacks, lay down with their heads flat on the water surface, vacuuming up their namesake weed.

The nature seemed to court us and in different ways. Some were drawn in by the foliage patterns of the striking tall trees, others by the variety of reeds around the pond edges and the berries and flowers and flying insects. And the textures of the oak galls so delighted a couple friends that they laid out them out to sketch with intense concentration to detail -which generated pressing questions of what? and how? and associations with a host of other memories and on and on.

And in this way we all woke up a bit. Got away from our screens for a bit (except perhaps for using the Leaf Snap app and that would be me). Woke up from the indoor lives we live, or even the way we go outdoors mostly to exercise, not stopping to notice the spider on the bloom, the dragonflies sewing up the air in sudden dips and swoops, the shiny bright red berries that were not there yesterday.

Just to let you know, the Wild Wonder Nature Journaling Conference is still available for a while in video recordings at a ridiculously low price here.

Wild Wonder out in my garden

I was sitting in my studio, glued to the screen, watching and sketching along with the many live streamed teachers at the Wild Wonder Nature Journal Conference, and finally broke away to explore the wild right outside my studio door. Usually when I spend time in the garden it is to harvest vegetables or dead head flowers or discover garden chores that are overdue. So, strangely, it took some very clear intention to head out to the garden with my sketchbook!

fineliner pen and watercolor in 9 X 12″ Canson Mixed Media sketchbook

I started with my most recent discovery of wasps swarming Grandma Marie’s paper birch tree in the Ancestor Grove. It was so named because we found two side by side birch trees in our new home garden and planted ashes from our two mothers’ urns under those trees. Grandma Marie’s was chosen by a colorful Yellow Bellied Sapsucker as a place for his preferred meals of sap, opening the way for others to dine as well. At the moment it is hosting swarms of what look like wasps. One could say that the tree does not look happy, being blackened and sticky, but that would surely be from the standpoint of our very own species and not that of a tree, which gives generously to the cycle of living things, throughout its life and decomposition. In any case it was a story to tell in my nature journal, recently fortified by ideas and tools of other nature lovers in the conference. I started drawing while standing and gazing at the swarm on the spot close by, then started feeling uneasiness when I realized I was in the flight path!

Next I was drawn to my favorite small corner garden, no more than a yard long and a foot deep. It is filled with seeds, which I must remember to distribute to other areas of the garden, and blooms steadily from spring through early fall with wildflower tenacity. The Calendula and Love in a Mist are the stars of the show.

And on then to the end, you might say, of the blooming season for the Bee Balm flowers. I am so struck by the beauty of these going-to-seed plants whose seed vehicles are golden chariots in shape and tone and texture, and rival their spring beauty.

The late summer sunset was then upon me, so I brought the Bee Balm inside to have better light to view it. Also at that point I was wondering how all these drawing/paintings would sit in a balanced way on the page. Text, boxes, descriptions and personal feelings were easy ways to fill the empty spaces and put down more of the late summer afternoon experience in a way that I can never forget.

Oh how I love you, Love in a Mist!

Lakewold Gardens

pen and watercolor in Etchr sketchbook

I finally got to join the Tacoma Urban Sketchers for a meet up at the lovely Lakewold Gardens on Gravelly Lake in Lakewood, a suburb of Tacoma, WA , actually only 35 minutes drive from my home. The grounds are spectacular with giant trees like the Copper Beech that you’d like to live in, formal gardens and meandering trails through the woods with views of the lake below. And more! 

Since I had already begun the Wild Wonder Nature Journal Conference, I was inspired to find a place to look closely and learn. This “pollinator house” drew me in with its shaded slots for nature materials, like a Home Depot for building supplies for bees and birds and mice and such. One stop shopping! As I sketched the contents I tried to imagine which creature would make a shelter here. 

It was situated under a leafy canopy whose branches partially blocked my view, so my interest was drawn to them. My Leaf Snap app identified the tree from the pink flowers: a Harlequin Glorybower! No wonder I was so attracted to the spot. I was in a Glorybower, entertained by a Harlequin. When I stood up I saw that I’d sat on a white star and then found the last of them, the ones that had not yet blown off, on the same tree. 

By the way, the Wild Wonder Nature Journal Conference is blowing my mind, and if you haven’t joined in, it’s not too late. The classes you missed were recorded and you can catch up at your own rate. Gotta go now. A challenge for today was to listen to the song [nature sounds] of the place where you are, and get that down in your journal. Sign the bird’s song back to it in order to learn it?

Squaxin Park

Normally when I take walks in parks I leave my “gear” behind, preferring to swing my arms freely and not carry unnecessary weight. But the weather on Friday was lovely, and there would be few people on the trail that afternoon, so I headed off to Priest Point Park with my nature journaling gear.

Entering the park I noticed a new sign showing that the name of the park had been changed to that of the original inhabitants, namely the Squaxin tribe. Hooray! Better late than never. 

The park is just outside of downtown Olympia and along the shores of Budd inlet, with one of those mystical northwest forests of towering trees and ferny, mossy, living understory. A feast for a nature journaler creature. I walked out to the beach and wandered there a while until I my shoes alerted me with that sucking sound of the tidal muck, and I turned around. The tide was looooow, and the mud/muck was giving off that rich briny fragrance as the sea creatures breathed out through the doors of their under-muck homes.

Fountain pens and w/c in Etchr sketchbook

I’m always drawn to the holes and textures in tree bark and thought I would focus on that. What creatures live in those holes? The tree is of a generous nature, like a hotel or apartment owner, who invites such habitation, but never charges rent. Or perhaps its more accurate to say, like the host who invites those who not only need a home, but who begin the recycling of the host’s body while it is still alive!

But I was also struck by the exquisite patterning of the tidal  waters, and wondered how it would change over the hours and days with the steady ebb and flow.

It was a peaceful spot to sit and sketch, undisturbed, at least if you don’t count the bugs and the crow that perched himself directly above me and kept up a banter of heckling as I sketched. Was it derision or approval? Maybe he was calling to other crows to fly over and see what the lady was doing?

Here’s some of the nature delights that I would have painted . . .

So many creature homes in this view. . .and what manner of things are inside the web-hammock I could never imagine disturbing?

Down on the beach, (recently at high tide, the sea bottom), the remains of an old dock. But a sculpture park? cemetery? the ruins of an ancient civilization? The imagination goes to work on it.

Not hard to imagine what happened here, but was it gull or heron or ? that ate the crabmeat?

You probably guessed that I’m warming up for the Wild Wonder Nature Journaling Conference that starts this Wednesday, September 14-18, with 30 teachers and speakers, online classes and talks, curiosity and community, wonder and fun! It’s not too late to register for the conference at the unbelievable price of $85 and stream it all online live and in recordings for a few months afterward. I’m hoping to pick up lots of tips for this kind of journaling and appreciation of nature, and it would be great for anyone just wanting to start a nature journal. If you live in the Olympia area, let me know and I hope to invite you to some upcoming nature meet ups.

Wasps? Hornets?

I like to eat my lunch in the garden and watch the flying insects. For the most part they are not interested in me, and only occasionally will a yellow jacket check out my lunch and drive me inside. There is one tiny, skinny bee-like insect that likes to hover close to my face, a bit unnerving but it does me no harm. 

Lately I’ve become an insect voyeur, spending time observing bees, wasps, dragonflies, butterflies up close if I can. The honey bees and bumblebees tend to be so drunken with their nectar cocktails that they will even fall asleep (especially on the sunflowers) and get carried in the house if I don’t shoo them off. I take a lot of close up pics of the others, who move too quickly for me to sketch them from life. 

But then there’s the labeling conundrum. For instance, these two didn’t quite match the pictures I found online. But the word “handsome” popped to mind. Then “hornet”, and I liked the alliteration and wrote them down on the illustration before I realized that these two were more likely wasps, because of relatively small size. I’ve always had a problem with the distinction. All hornets are wasps, but not all wasps are hornets. Hornets tend to be bigger than an inch and “meaner” than other wasps because they release a neurotoxin in their sting. Ouch! But they can all sting repeatedly, unlike honey bees who have one shot at it. And wasps are carnivores. Unlike those pollen fuzzy bees and bumblers, they eat bugs, and that’s a good thing for us vegetable gardeners who don’t appreciate the bugs sucking the juices out of our vegetables and leaving behind big holes in the leaves.

But of course you know all this. But just in case you’re a little fuzzy on distinctions like myself and are prone to lump bugs and insects into the same category. . . Insects always have three body parts and six legs. They also usually have four wings and two antennae. Whereas true bugs have specialized parts of their mouths to suck juices, mostly from plants. In other words insects will get you from their back end and bugs from the front end. Haha! or neither, which is what we hope. End of science lesson for today.

You entomologists out there . . .please correct me where I am wrong!

Nature Journal meeting #2

the beach at Tolmie State Park on the South Puget Sound

10:00am on Monday, the time we’d chosen for the tides which rule the beach access in the Puget Sound. We met at Tolmie State Park as the tide was slowly ebbing and revealing the creature life, seaweed, driftwoods and muck, in patterns of movement and stillness. A windless sunny morning with a smattering of tidal bounty seekers and some nature loving sketchers. We were ready to focus on some aspect of the vast tableau, sit in wonder, and honor the memory with a journal entry filled with observations, questions and contemplations.  

brown fountain pen, w/c pencils and watercolor in Etchr sketchbook.

I love a good nature still life! Just pull up a stool somewhere on the sandy/pebbly beach at the tide’s edge where the seaweed, shells and barnacles collect, and the sea is stretched out to touch the land and blue mountains beyond. Inhale the salty sour sea air, and let the mind go blank as it fills with gratitude. What happier spot can there be for pulling out the sketchbook?

And then the “dessert”. Joining friends on the beach to braid together our discoveries, questions, and the wonders of the day!

If you missed our first meeting’s post, you can see it here. And if you live in the south Puget Sound area and want to join us for some nature journaling leave a comment here!

Sunflower Festival

In the summertime Thursten County, WA, where I live now, reminds me so much of Sonoma County, CA! It’s the dry sunny weather and the farms, just a few miles from my house. Last week their Sunflower Festival became a perfect opportunity to get out and sketch with friends. Rutledge Farm is best known for it’s Corn Maze, Halloween, and pumpkin harvest activities which draw the crowds. 

For the price of admission we got a very bumpy, dusty ride out to the four acre sunflower fields where 46 varieties awaited, and later the opportunity to pick our favorite bloom to take home.

These best friends hopped into the car ahead of us and later posed for a picture. This is a yearly activity for them, and they were loaded with t-shirt and bags and jewelry from previous sunflower doings!

pen, w/c pencils, watercolor in Etchr sketchbook

There’s always some kind of unexpected challenge when approaching a new location, even one as picturesque as a field of sunflowers. The obvious ones this day were: no shade, dusty ground, air thick with pollinators, aka bees, and humans of all ages trampling around with their clippers, looking for the biggest and brightest “stars” of the show to cut and take home. I did some standing sketches and retreated to the shaded picnic tables to add color.

We ended the morning by sharing sketches, eating homemade berry ice cream, and showing off our blooms to take home.

Proud of my choice! Something about the slump of the seed center that added to the personality.


w/c pencils,ink, and watercolor in Etchr sketchbook

My friends at Jubilee retirement community invited me back to lead a nature journaling workshop last week. We met at their shaded pavilion next to the woodland trail that leads to the beach on Puget Sound. It was a welcome opportunity to meet up with other artists who are nature lovers and share the desire to make more art IN nature.

There’s always a barrier to sitting out alone sketching on a trail or anywhere else where you may feel exposed. So no matter how appealing this kind of nature/art making is, it tends to not happen without a group of friends. 

To prepare for this workshop I went back to “the source” of nature journal practice, John Muir Laws, otherwise known as Jack and his website and books for inspiration 

No one speaks more eloquently than Jack about taking a sketchbook out with you in Nature.

“The process of attention is what makes you fall in love with the world. It’s through attention that we create memories. A sketchbook helps you to preserve the integrity of those memories.”

We practiced his three very simple tools in the form of verbal questions:

  1. I notice. . . .(where you observe what interests you, focusing here on sense perception, not label or concept)
  2. I wonder. . .(asking questions out of curiosity with no need to have the answers)
  3. This reminds me of. . .(making connections as memories surface).

And then we took our sketchbooks out on the trail with the instruction to observe and record our interests including at least one of each: a sketch, a word, and number (date, time, measurement, etc). The Salal was abundant on the trail and eye catching in all its variations. In preparation I had brought a small ruler with me, wanting to be a tad more scientific than my usual approach. We were so absorbed that I regrettably forgot to take pictures. The resulting nature journal entries from this group of artists were inspiring! And I definitely felt the wonder factor of our nature-filled afternoon reach a high point.

If any of this sounds intriguing to you, or perhaps serves as a reminder, you might be interested in the upcoming Wild Wonder Nature Journaling Conference coming up September 14-18. It will be live streamed so it doesn’t matter where you live. I’ll be attending and posting my favorite moments!


Tahoma is what the local indigenous people named the  mountain with the tallest peak in the Cascade Range. Now known as Mount Rainier, it rises solitary and imposing to 14,410 feet. Here where I live, it remains cloaked in cloud cover during the dark rainy months, then inspires spontaneous awe and wonder when it suddenly appears sunlit and shimmering on the horizon, looking close enough to touch! 

The opportunity to explore the mountain arose last week when my friend Janet came to visit. We picked a weekday and thought we’d leave early (for us) at 8am to make the two hour drive to Paradise where gentle trails lead to views of glaciers and the cloud bonneted summit. Or rather that would be the timing at other times of the year. But we hit peak wildflower season, a sunny day in the 70’s, and summer vacation. So when we’d finally trudged up the mountain from the overflow of the overflow parking, we began our hike at noon, joining the throngs.

No rocky trails for us. We took the well tended ones with expansive views of alpine meadows undulating with magenta Indian Paint brush, Lupin, Mountain Arnica, Arrow-leaved Groundsel in clusters, arranged by Nature’s curator. There was no way to capture it in pictures, though we tried!

But later, sitting outside the visitor center by the road I made a quick stab at telling a bit of the visual story. We were tired and hot, but so happy to have spent the day in Paradise!

We stopped along the way home for some dinner at the Base Camp Bar and Grill to enjoy some local live music and watch the suntanned mountain climbers enjoy their beer and pizza after a day on the glaciers.

Leopards and Tigers in my yard

brown ink fountain pen, watercolor, white gel pen in beige toned Nova sketchbook

A neighbor told me about the ice storm a few years ago that felled a lot of trees on the block, including one out front by the mailboxes. The loss of a shade tree helped to clarify something I haven’t understood, namely, why anyone would plant shade loving plants in an unprotected sunny area.

But there they are, hydrangeas and hostas, well established and flourishing in the spring, until the first week of 80-90 degree heat like we’ve been having. The large leaves droop and then crisp. 

Chief among them is the Leopard plant, a shade plant, large bush-sized with leaves about 1-2ft across. Right now it’s blooming with those yellow orange clusters, impervious to the heat.  I just had to sketch them and ponder their imperviousness, which is far superior to my own in the hot hot weather.

And Tigers, you ask? Well I’ve got some of those as well now, though I haven’t had time yet to train my paintbrush on them.

I’m discovering that so many of these plants, in the garden that I did not plant, are far-eastern varieties, from Japan and China. Exotic, in other words. This one doesn’t seem to mind the sun, and happily is not also tasty to the deer who regularly graze here.

And then there’s the vegetable garden, which I did plant this summer, and have been struggling to understand and learn by. This picture say a great deal about that learning part. The cabbages are a great success. This one weighed in at 3 lbs! Meanwhile the zucchinis are stunted. Weren’t they they ones people said, don’t plant too many, you won’t be able to eat them all!? The beans are beautiful but I didn’t plant enough. And the beets will be good, but soon we’ll have eaten them up and they’re gone!

But back to dahlias. . .has there ever been a gaudier flower? And these I had nothing to do with. Planted before I arrived. And a bit difficult to arrange in a vase. Each one seems to want to take over and steal the show. So I decided on the second best thing. . .a floor arrangement.

And the third best thing, hiding behind a lavender dahlia, stealing her beauty!