John Muir Laws

Salmon, Squirrel, Bird

I bring all my visitors to Tumwater Falls for its Wow factor. Last week when Laura and Liane were here we really lucked out. One of the more anticipated events was going on – the salmon run! The fish swim from the salt water of the Puget Sound up the rivers, navigating turbulent waters and fish ladders to spawn and lay their eggs in the same rivers where they were “born”. 

Chinook and I

Here I am greedily snapping pictures as the salmon swim by in the tanks on their way up the fish ladder and through the viewing portal.

while below in the Deschutes River the hundreds line up for their turn

And down below the falls here the Chinook Salmon are waiting their turn, either to try to leap the falls (which many did!) or make their way up the “ladder” maze. The mind boggling part is that they find their way from the ocean back to their natal river and there they spawn and end their lives. An epic drama.

Another day I headed out to Woodard Bay with Gals Go Birding, a very friendly group of “bird nerds” (my son Andrew’s words, not mine. He’s actually impressed.) If you’ve been following here, you’ll remember that Woodard Bay is where we got our kayak stuck in the muck after seeing the Cormorant rookery. 

There was a light drizzle going on as we headed out to the viewing spots. Since I’m a neophyte wannabe bird watcher whose only gear is tiny binoculars that I bought for my boys when they were little, ahem, I relied heavily on the company of these veteran bird watchers. They would stop and go silent, scanning the trees and ground cover, listening intently, while their world filled up with birds and their stories, and mine waited to see and hear what I was missing.

The Douglas squirrel was pointed out to me – an adorable cousin to the gray squirrel with whom I’m better acquainted. Later I added him to my sketchbook.

I don’t remember what they spotted here. In the background you see the bare trees where the Cormorant rookery has denuded the trees in the past years. Bald eagles are sort of ho hum here where they are so plentiful, but oh, seen through a powerful scope they are breathtaking.

I’m not sure how I’m going to add a sketch kit to my gear, which must already grow to include rain gear and better binoculars! but I’ve been going back to the lessons of John Muir Laws and his nature journaling school. In his book on drawing birds he describes how to sit so you hold steady your binoculars with your non-dominant hand/elbow by bracing it on your bent leg, while drawing/painting with your dominant hand on the sketchbook on your lap, keeping your eye steady on the bird that’s moving and. . .haha! The fun of it is in trying. And this is nothing compared to my friend Chris Carter who has tried sketching while hang gliding and even while under water!

S.F. Botanical Garden

On Sunday I spent the day at Golden Gate Park’s Botanical Garden with over 40 nature journalers and John Muir Laws.  If you don’t already know, Jack is a Bay Area treasure; a naturalist, artist, author-illustrator of numerous nature guides, and entertaining guy who helps people to wake up and interact with the natural world by journaling about it.

 

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You can’t help but fall in love with the massive tree that greets you inside the gate. While Jack was talking, my eyes were tracing the curves, like a warm up doodle. I must admit, the tree got compacted to fit on my paper, but it didn’t seem to mind, and neither did I.

 

Next there were docent-led tours of the park to get us started thinking about what we might want to sketch.

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With such a multitude of exotic species to choose from, it was particularly hard to pick a subject to examine and sketch. I decided to try some of the more exotic varieties that would never be found growing in Sebastopol.

And started with a close up of this Snakebark Maple, which was labeled RARE. When you take the time to look closely, not only do you start to see so many different patterns and green mixes, but bright pinks and reds as well.

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The Ancient Plant Garden gives the opportunity to go waaay back in time and trace the evolution of plant life. Admittedly I used a bit of artistic license in the coloring here, but this giant fern was mostly in the shade.

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The leaves on this Gunnera plant from the Jurassic era were about four feet across, but I was drawn in by the reddish “fruit” cones, and the fact that there was a bench with a good view of this. There was also a lady from the sketch group who was drawing there. We engaged in lively conversation, which made it difficult for my eyes to follow the lacy folds . . .and I got quite lost and had to make stuff up. Once again lots of red in all that green.

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With just a few minutes to spare and no time to draw, I took a different approach, sketching a familiar plant, Anemones, from a distance and with watercolor. As my eyes began to focus better I caught sight of the familiar figure of St. Francis in the background.

On Becoming a Nature Nerd

I spent that gorgeous day yesterday out on the Las Galinas Wildlife Ponds with John Muir Laws and a bunch of nature nerds. It’s OK to say that because Jack (John) told us to approach our nature explorations and journaling like a nature nerd and he should know. In case you don’t know him, he’s the author of The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling, and other nature journaling guides, and the founder of the Nature Journal Club here in the Bay Area.

So what does it mean to be a nature nerd?  Well, it’s things like data collection: location/date/weather. It’s walking along a trail and looking for something weird, something that tweeks your curiosity. It’s not just making pretty colored pictures, but writing down your thinking about what you’re observing.

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What I love about this approach is that you don’t have to know the names of the plants and animals or be able to identify the bird calls. You draw and describe what you see and hear and your questions and guesses, and it’s all in the service of being there in your experience of “the wild”. Like those red patches on the red winged blackbirds that look like military medals or epulets. Or the ole coot dunking his head up and down while fishing, and that sound like an “ow, ow”. Was that the ole coot complaining?

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If I had been there alone i would have drawn the familiar outline of the sleek black cormorants lined up on the pipe. But Jack and the other bird watchers were there with their fancy tripods and telescopes and I got to see what a truly exotic bird this common bird of California wildlands is, with its hooked beak and orange face, electric blue mouth and lavishly patterned back! And then they were doing the orange gular pouch flutter and double crested fluff-up of the mating dance. All that can’t be seen without binoculars of course, and you can’t draw what you can’t see!

The young night heron however was quite visible from the path and not inclined to move. While sketching him/her I couldn’t help imagining that the mother had given strict instructions for him to stay put until she came back.

lasgalinas3 Here’s the setting where Jack is showing us an example of how to draw a quick map of the area and use symbols to illustrate different types of wildlife. Along with the usual Marsh wrens, egrets, geese, ducks and cormorants there were spottings of otters and maybe even an orange tailed weasel?

If you want to be on the email list to find out about these outings and courses, go to the Nature Journal Club, and maybe I’ll see you there some time.

 

Audubon Sanctuary, Tiberon

On Tuesday this week I joined the nature journal folks in Tiburon for one of John Muir Laws (aka Jack) lectures on “How to Draw a Forest”. Jack is a master naturalist and accomplished nature illustrator whose teaching methods are engaging as well as informative.

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

Tiburon

Jack does these workshops all over the Bay Area and leads monthly nature trips as well. The Richardson Bay Audubon sanctuary in Tiburon is a heavenly spot on the Bay across  from San Francisco. I was ready to try out the “how to draw a forest” techniques but was so wowed by the yellow house on the bay that I couldn’t resist, damp and cold as it was that day! And then it was lunchtime.  The inside of a forest sketch technique will have to wait.

And how bout skies?! Laurie Wigham will be teaching the next Nature Journaling class “What’s in a Sky?” next month.  Laurie knows how to capture the mystery and eloquence of skies and break it down in steps for the watercolorist.

And if you’ve been thinking about taking my Watercolor Painting Tips for the Urban Sketcher workshop May 11, now is the time to decide! There’s one spot left. For more information and to register for my workshop or any of the other 10 X 10 Bay Area Urban Sketch workshops this spring visit my blog post here.