#naturejournaling

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!

Salal

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!

Evergreen

The word evergreen is of course very descriptive of the west coast of Washington state where I live. It’s on our license plates, the state college here in Olympia, as well as innumerable public places, groups, and commercial products.  

When I set off to explore the forest at The Evergreen State College on the opposite side of Olympia from where I live, I was searching for yet more varieties of fungi life. A few paces into the forest on the Beach Trail (trail to the Eld Inlet of the Puget Sound) it felt like someone had hit a dimmer switch on the day. The greens had all gone greener or darker and momentarily felt ominous. Gulp. Until I switched into something I will call forest bathing vision and started to feel like a kind of relaxed excitement. There was just so much life there talking to me! I slowed way down to listen, sense, absorb, linger, and take time to look in a different way.

fountain pen, watercolor, white gouache in beige toned sketchbook

The trees were like alien creatures, reaching their visible roots everywhere, entwined like fingers, claws, hands held. Trees growing out of downed trees (aka Nursery logs) like this image I had to paint.

Then I remembered I was there for the mushrooms!

And was not disappointed, because even though this one had already been found, it lay on the ground where it could not only thrill hunters like myself, but contribute its spores to the living forest floor.

So I decided to take nothing, even the smallest sample, home with me. I mean, would you take even the smallest votive candle from a cathedral?

like this translucent umbrella

I walked slowly so as not to trip over roots, staring up in puzzlement at the towering giants with their fuzzy monkey green tails.

then putting on my reading glasses to focus in on the tiny creatures like this elegant slug

until the waxy cap mushrooms stole the show for a few minutes

At some point I started to realize that without eating the magic mushroom I was being given an almost psychedelic ride in this enchanted forest!

And then I arrived at the promised beach of the trail’s end and was given a reminder of the drama of the salmon run and evidence that at least one of the salmon did not make it back up the river, but nevertheless contributed its nutrient rich flesh to the circle of life. Or is the footnote here about man’s destruction of vital habitat and sustenance for the indigenous tribes?

Back home again I confronted the limitations of my palette in the quest to celbrate the infinite greens of my evergreen home!

Deer Island with John Muir Laws

When the boys were little we were always going out to find pollywogs or caterpillars, shiny stones or interesting seed pods. So spending the day at yesterday’s meet up at Deer Island in Novato with naturalist John Muir Laws and the Nature Journaling Club was a great reminder of how much I enjoy getting out to some wilder areas and feeling that freedom of fresh air, birdsong, wind in the hair, and a million discoveries large and small.

deerisland1b pen, pencil and w/c in 8.25 X 5.5″ hand.book travelogue w/c sketchbook

Jack (nickname for John) started out by letting us all know that our goal was not to make lovely little paintings but to take visual notes of our observations, questions, sensory experiences, etc. Along the trail he invited us to explore, occasionally leading us in discovery and a method of delving deeper into the experience of the natural world. We sketched small and mostly standing so as not to interrupt the flow of discovery.

Among his suggestions were the “landscapito”, a drawing which is tiny enough to take mere minutes rather than an hour; annotations and arrows to say that which could not be sketched; and starting with a quick sketch of the trail map (which came in handy when my little group started to feel lost)

Walking a trail behind Jack is a novel experience. When he stops to take a closer look you are invited to look for the unexpected and formulate questions, like why are the leaves (which he measured with a tape measure from his bag) smaller on the bottom than the top of the tree? One suspects he knows the answer but prefers to get one noticing more, and soon a million questions and hypotheses come to mind and you’re noticing the smallest things popping into view everywhere you look! Not to mention your ears become more animal-ian and pick up sounds that were not audible before.

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This buckeye tree in its winter nakedness invited close examination by a several of us, enamored by its unique shape and jigsaw puzzled skin (bark). I might still be there sketching it, but we were already overdue for the lunch meet-up on the hilltop.

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Sketching along with Jack here on the hilltop, scribbling down his advise along with sounds and sensations, looking upward occasionally as one of the experienced bird watchers shouted out a sighting. Kite! Harrier! Sharpee! (sharp shin hawk)

By the way, if this sounds like your idea of fun, try one of Jack’s day outings or classes in how to sketch and paint all things in nature! I’m already looking forward to the next.

Alice in BlakeGardensLand

Last week I met up with a few of my urban sketch buddies for a day at Blake Gardens in Kensington. The property is owned by the University of California and the garden managed by the school of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning. To say it’s a spectacular setting is an understatement. Indeed I felt like Alice in Wonderland walking through the gardens, and then there was the panoramic view of the S.F. Bay and Golden Gate Bridge. Sigh. Choosing one place to start sketching was a challenge.

Blake1

fountain pen and watercolor in Field Watercolor Journal, 7 X 10″

I anchored myself with the “scarecrow” figure, a girl I think?

BlakeGardenSusan

I think I was overawed by these violet beauties towering over. Some of the other sketchers managed to capture their essence better than I could.

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I expected a Lepracaun or other enchanted character to jump out at any moment!

Have a look at Cathy McAuliffe’s sketches from the day.

Nature Sketching in the Sierra Buttes

Three of my sketch buddies and I rented a house in Sierra City, CA for a few days last week and indulged greedily in things we love passionately, nature and sketching in equal parts. Oh and some swimming, hiking, boating, and eating. The weather was sunny and hot of the dry mountain sort which is comfortable in the shade and sometimes even in the glaring sunlight for a while.

 

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Day one we explored the Wild Plum Trail and falls, soaking our feet in the rushing mountain stream. I brought a concertina folded w/c “book” to explore whatever caught my eye, starting with the roaring stream.

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Sketching rocks and rushing water and ferny side shows is a an entrancing form of meditation. There’s no way to get your drawing “right”, so you satisfy yourself with diving deeply into the shapes and colors, all the while experiencing the awe of discovery.

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In the afternoon we moved to Sand Pond at the foot of the Sierra Buttes and went swimming. I struggled with the sky color and so tried out my different blues. Since that day I have decided to add Manganese Blue Hue to my palette and see if that helps. Please let me know if you have another suggestion.

The sun was literally blindingly white making it quite impossible to judge color or value while painting. I decided it was far better to view the sketch in the context of the natural setting where it makes the most sense!

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My favorite shapes were the bare white ones against the dark green forest background, so I painted a strip of green and used dark paint and my white pen on top.

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The dragonflies were everywhere. At one point three of them stopped on my towel and I was able to sketch quickly and then take a picture to finish .

sierrabuttes15This sketching in nature is no elegant affair, as you can see here where I sit perched on a rock, post swimming, with as much protection from the afternoon sun as I can muster.

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Next day we found a lovely spot where the Wild Plum creek and Yuba River meet. I’d played around with spraying inks over seed pods from the forest floor and glued them into my sketchbook for a start. The tree was added on site and then more forest floor gems added for the picture on the rock before adding writing in the white space.

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This mossy tree base just invited one to sit. But then it seemed to say, “sketch me” and,so I did, imagining the creatures that live in that hole.

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Another day we took the ferry boat across Salmon Lake and hiked up to Deer Lake.

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At times it was a steep climb up wildflower strewns meadows, past tiny lakes and even patches of snow.

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And always the search for the perfect sketchable view of the Buttes, here once again.

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And here in town with the last of our energy a timed 15 minute sketch of the church above below the Buttes.

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On the last day I got my wish to take a boat out on Salmon Lake. We lasted about 30 minutes in the antique row boat we’d rented with the clunky paddles and found another sweet spot for the last sketches of the trip.