Friday, July 17, 2020

Nature Journaling

It's been five years since a very thoughtful friend presented me with the gift of a small, colorful book titled "Art Before Breakfast," by Danny Gregory. At the time, I was definitely feeling called to draw more and create new art, but still struggled to sit down most days and actually put pencil to paper. Thankfully, this bright little book was just the friendly nudge I needed, and its message would ultimately help recalibrate my entire creative process.

Reading Art Before Breakfast helped me to recognize and release the unconscious pressure I had been placing on myself to create "good" art. Which then enabled me to create more art, and inevitably led to creating better art. The book also inspired me to incorporate the practice of art making into my daily routine (even if only for a few minutes "before breakfast"). Over the past several years, this casual approach to art making in my sketch journal has played a crucial role in my creative growth.

This past year has been especially rich with growth and inspiration, as I've delved in deeper into my interests in both printmaking and the natural world. From immersive natural history lessons in the Sierra Nevada mountains through the UC CALNAT program, to linocut printmaking in the letterpress studio at Penland School of Craft, I've had the honor of learning from some truly incredible artists, scientists, and teachers. One of my first and most influential experiences of 2019 was learning the art of nature journaling from the master of the medium himself, Mr. John Muir Laws.

In March of 2019, I had the good fortunate of attending a two day workshop led by renowned Bay Area-based naturalist, artist, author, and teacher, John Muir Laws. Designed for educators, the experiential workshop engaged participants in various journaling practices that inspired deeper scientific observation and inquiry. As students, we were invited to notice, wonder, and reflect - not just upon our natural surroundings, but upon our inner, personal experience as well.

Looking at nature for the first time through an interdisciplinary lens of science, art, and soul ignited a powerful spark for me. And I haven't looked at the world in the same way since. 

Nature Journaling in the field with John Muir Laws


Smitten with this newfound medium of nature journaling, I began looking into other classes to further develop my skills in scientific drawing and observation. A few weeks later, I was enrolled in an online course in Natural History Illustration offered through the University of New Castle, Australia.

The course helped me to sharpen my eye and gain a beginner's understanding of things like botanical structure and animal anatomy. It also provided me with a crash course in drawing fundamentals, and taught me the basics of value and composition (concepts that I'd never formally studied as a self-taught, "figure it out as I go along" artist). Though much of my art has long been inspired by nature, and plants and animals have always factored heavily into my work, up until my introduction to nature journaling, I had simply been content to interpret my subjects stylistically. But after leafing through the exquisite pages of Laws' nature journals, and later marveling at the beautifully detailed and scientifically accurate drawings of Portland-based artist Zoe Keller, I was inspired to take my skills and understanding in this department to the next level.

Now, I feel as though my fascinations with art and nature have fused into a single, powerful force of curiosity and creativity. And I'm excited to see where this journey leads.

Specimen studies in my sketchbook 


Pages are often filled slowly over time
 

A squirrel skull - A lucky find





Back home at my desk


A female Western Tiger Swallowtail
that my husband pulled from a spider's web in our backyard


Lots of detail


After a light wash of watercolor