We’ll follow lessons inspired by the English Victorian, John Ruskin (1819-1900) and his book Elements of Drawing. He aspired to train anyone to draw, to be an artist, so that they ‘might see greater beauties than they had hitherto seen in nature and in art, and thereby gain more pleasure in life’.
Tucked in a sliver of land in a county park, Earth Sangha’s Native Plant Nursery stands out as a leader in the conservation of native plants. I helped staff and volunteers pull invasive stiltgrass and porcelain berry at Rutherford Park. Then I visited the nursery to talk with conservation manager Matt Bright about other recent projects. Here’s what I learned, as reported in the September issue of Plantings.
In master naturalist training we identified trees by looking at their shape, bark, leaves and seeds. While hiking near Barcroft’s bog, we found oaks and poplars growing tall above a thriving poison sumac. Be aware, and if you’re in doubt about a plant, don’t touch or taste! Poet Jacqueline Jules stresses the importance of learning our plant IDs — and watching out for poison ivy!
by Jacqueline Jules
I beg you. Reconsider
and identify the difference.
Three together. Mitten shaped.
Small stem on the center leaf.
Pointed tips. Shiny. White berries.
Not the same as Virginia Creeper
and its cluster of five.
Do a little research. You’ll find
most are harmless. Don’t despise
every green vine gracing the path
because one or two
produce a nasty itch.
“Identfying Ivy” copyright by Jacqueline Jules — printed with permission of the poet
Only a few weeks ago, I met a group of Arlington Regional Master Naturalists to talk about journals inspired by nature. To prepare I headed to Barcroft Park, the site of our March field trip. The trail, covered with snow, wound past a seep bordered by tall trees. Quiet prevailed.
Our leader Jan had pointed me to the work of John Muir Laws, biologist, artist and journal mentor. Laws advises beginners to include numbers, words and pictures in journal entries. Near the path, I found a branch with dry leaves. It was just the right place and just enough of a specimen to start my notes. I recorded time and temperature. I described features like color, shape and location, and I finished a quick sketch.
Jan stressed that journals can be exclusively written work, too. That brought to mind autumn meetings with a group of poets and visual artists at Fort C.F. Smith Park. The year? Possibly 2004. My friend John Clarke shared a poem at each session. I thought of John, as I heard rumbles of automobiles and leaf blowers and beyond that, the calls of crows and the trills of other birds, perhaps sparrows, in the trees above. Further up the path, I reached the playground of a school deserted through the winter — a pandemic silence, broken only by brief tapping by a woodpecker.
Taking in the sunshine, I decided that the best journal was one that you enjoy working on!
Start with an idea and a piece of paper, and you have the beginning of a book. Fold the paper in half. Then draw or write or create secret code or mark with musical symbols. It’s your idea, so express it in your own unique way.
Colored paper adds pizzazz! Don’t forget that paper has two sides. Be sure to remember the name of the author and illustrator.
Stories can be told in many ways, and the tale might change each time. Young children often like to make audio recordings of stories. Adults who want to help might also write down the words.
You’ll find a million ways to embellish and add to your books. Check back and we’ll look at a few of them here.
If viral news is getting to you, take a break from work, school or washing everything in sight. Try blind contour drawing! I guarantee that you’ll create something strange and probably funny. Here’s my sketch.
I’m right handed. I drew with my right hand but made the entire sketch without looking at my paper. You can do it, too. All you need is something to draw, a piece of paper and a pen or pencil. I used a pen.
Step one: Place the tip of your pen at a spot on the inside of your paper. Then look at what you want to draw – the subject.
Step two: Focus your eyes on a point at the edge of your subject. Now move your gaze ever so slowly along that edge. Move your pen at the same time, noting every dip and variation that you see before you. Look only at your subject. Do NOT look at your drawing.
Step three: Follow the contours, moving in and out, all the way around your subject. You may draw both inside and outside edges to make a complex network of lines. Remember, go slowly. Keep your pen on the paper, and do not look at your drawing!
Step four: When you have finished, look at your paper. What do you think? I love the surprise of seeing what I’ve drawn.
As you do more drawing, you might change your process. Allow yourself to look at your paper now and then. Focus on the contours of your subject, but from time to time check the location of your pen. If you need to, lift your pen and move it.
When talk of viruses or social isolation gets you down, have some fun. Contour drawing is easy. It’s guaranteed to be silly, and you can share the results online!
This approach to drawing was made popular by Betty Edwards in her book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.