#naturejournaling

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.

deerisland2

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.

deerisland3

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.

Blake2

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.

 

sierrabuttes1

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.

sierrabuttes6

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.

sierrabuttes7

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!

sierrabuttes8

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.

sierrabuttes3

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.

sierrabuttes5

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.

sierrabuttes4

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.

sierrabuttes11

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

sierrabuttes9

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

sierrabuttes10

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

sierrabuttes14

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

sierrabuttes12

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.