Landscape Drawing In Your Nature Journal-With Charcoal!

Do you want to practice landscape drawing while improving your nature sketches? If so, practicing drawing landscapes with charcoal can help you.

First, and most importantly, drawing with charcoal will help you see values better. But what are values, you might ask.  Value is the art term for how dark something is. We think about color a lot but actually value is more important. Below is an example of a value strip showing  levels of value.

landscape drawing requires an understanding of value. This value strip shows light to dark in nine stages.

While charcoal is not the most convenient material for the field it offers many benefits. Foremost being its ease at achieving precise values (especially compared to watercolor). It can also be challenging for perfectionist people like myself.

Landscape Drawing: How to Use Charcoal in 10 Steps

  1. First, choose a landscape photo that has extreme values. For more about how to choose a good photo for a landscape see this video
  2. Next, start by drawing in some of the darkest areas that you see.
  3. Don’t think about edges. Instead focus on the mass of objects and use your charcoal to draw from the inside then towards the outside of shapes. This goes against how we usually draw.
  4. Next, use a rag or paper towel to smudge the charcoal around the paper. By so doing you are knocking the values back down towards the middle.
  5. After knocking the values back to the middle ground take some time. Look closely at your subject and adjust the values in your drawing accordingly. What in your landscape drawing needs to be darker.
  6. Now you can knock the values back down with the rag.
  7. Next, use an eraser to lighten some of the values in your drawing that are too dark.
  8. Repeat steps four through seven a couple times.
  9. Stop before you start fussing over details too much.
  10. Start another drawing. You will get better by doing many landscape drawings. Don’t rest on your laurels if your first try looks good. And don’t give up if your first try looks bad.

For more inspiration around drawing landscapes in your nature journal check out this video by John Muir Laws.

 

Botany Basics For Nature Journaling

In this video we learn botany basics to help you understand flowers. In so doing we can draw them better in our nature journals.

Sometimes it is easier to draw something that you know nothing about. And sometimes it is easier to ask novel questions and make new observations if we know nothing about a subject. However, there are other time when a little bit of background knowledge can provide an important foundation for future learning.

Basic Botany for Nature Journalers

  1. First and foremost, you must learn some taxonomy. Why? Because if you understand a plant’s evolutionary lineage you can unlock a lot more learning. But don’t worry, it’s not that hard.
  2. In order to facilitate taxonomy you have to learn families. If you can learn plant families then you can go anywhere in the world and understand the botany better.
  3. Finally, to understand families you need to understand flower morphology. And don’t worry, morphology is just a fancy way to say shapes. Many people look at plant leaves and hope to learn something from the leaves. However, the leaves are not a useful characteristic. Similarity in leaf shape does not mean that plants are closely related. On the other hand, flower features are the basis for determining how related plants are to each other.
Botany basics on a nature journal page fro drawing flowers
Some Flower Drawings in my Nature Journal Reflecting Botany Basics

Flower Morphology for Nature Journalers

Next time you look at  a plant, look at the flowers first. As you approach the flower we will focus on a few key things. (we’ll keep the botanical terminology to a minimum for now).

  • First, how many petals and sepals are there?
  • Then we will look to see how many male parts and female parts are there.
  • Third, we will check to see if the flower has bilateral or radial symmetry.
  • Lastly, we want to figure out if the ovary is above the petals or under them

By figuring out the above information we can often identify a plant to it’s family if not to genus and species. Once we know the family we can make a lot of assumptions about the plant. We can make guesses about its ecology, it’s phytochemistry, and  its potential ehtnobotanical status.

For a great tutorial on drawing wildflowers check out this video by John Muir Laws.

For some great educational and thoroughly irreverent botanical lessons check out this channel on youtube: Crime Pays But Botany Doesn’t  This channel does use a lot of profanity so if you are sensitive about language you might want to skip it.

 

 

 

 

 

Best Watercolor Palette

A good watercolor palette is one of the best art investments you can make so I am going to show you my favorite palette and four reasons why it is the best!

When you are nature journaling or even urban sketching you can produce more compelling sketches faster if you have watercolor. As it turns out there are tons of watercolor and palette options out there. However, finding a good portable palette and choosing watercolors that work well is a daunting task. You could spend all your time looking for the right supplies and not have any time left over for making art! Therefore, I’m gonna help you avoid that problem by showing you the best watercolor palette I have found. Let’s get into it. Cue the drum roll!

The best watercolor palette for nature sketching and journaling is the customized palette by John Muir Laws!

You can buy one of these palettes on his website here. But be warned, these palettes are hand made and often run out of stuck so be sure to get yours first. Or you can even make your own from John Muir Laws’ instructions because he is such an amazing and generous guys (more details on how to make your own palette below).

Using the JML watercolor palette in the field
Me using the John Muir Laws watercolor palette for nature journaling.

4 Reasons it is the Best Watercolor Palette

  1. You are going to save so much money! Because this one art tool can eliminate the need for hundreds and hundreds of dollars of other art supplies. You can make so many combinations with the 32 watercolors included in this palette. Also, watercolors are so concentrated they will last a long time.
  2. Excellent Color Choices! Because a professional illustrator and naturalist has carefully chosen all 32 colors you can avoid the guesswork. Therefore you can focus on making the art and learning how to use the colors in your paintings. Most of the colors come from Daniel Smith Fine Watercolors, a small company based in the US that still cares about quality art supplies.
  3. So Organized and Compact! From the arrangement of the colors to the clear labeling on the outside this watercolor kit is dialed in! There are also mixing areas in all the right places. You don’t have to experiment over and over again to find a system because John Muir Laws has done it for you. The kit is also compact enough to fit in your purse or back pocket. That’s a lot of art power in your pocket!
  4.  Field-Tested and Child Approved! Finally, this watercolor palette has been tested by many artists in some of the most challenging field painting conditions! John Muir Laws and myself have both used this palette in places such as British Columbia, the Amazon Jungle, the Serengeti, Rwanda, the Sierra Nevada mountains, and the Ecuadorean Cloud Forest. This palette is tough and has stood the test of time.

Ok, One More Reason To get this Watercolor Kit

Last but certainly not least. This watercolor palette is the best because John Muir Laws shares the entire process of how to make it for FREE on his website! Just follow this link. That proves that he believes in this palette so much he would rather share how to make it than just try to make money. What a great guy!

Look at all the colors you can make with this kit! Here is a chart that I made showing all the combinations.

What about a watercolor palette for the studio?

If you want to get some more ideas about what would work good for the studio check out this video

But what paper should I use?

Now that you know the best palette for nature journaling you might want help choosing the best sketchbook. Check out this post where I share all the criteria you need to know to choose the best sketchbook for you!

Science Illustration

DSCN3562 Here is an example of one of my illustrations.

My diversity of interests, unique perspective, and holistic outlook have frequently complicated my search for a clearly defined career in today’s myopic and overspecialized world. I often lamented the fact that I could not pursue the multi-faceted life’s work of the renaissance man, such as Leonardo da Vinci, or the diverse skill base of the 19th century scientists and natural historians, such as Darwin and Alexander von Humboldt.

In my continuing quest to find a way to connect my widespread interests and follow a life path that is in tune with my earliest predilections I have found the field of Science Illustration. In particular I have decided to apply for the Science Illustration graduate certificate program at CSU Monterey Bay. This program used to be at UC Santa Cruz and I heard about it when I was studying anthropology there. However, I somehow thought that it was not really a viable career path. Some type of deeply ingrained and insidious bias against art had me subconsciously convinced that art was not something to major in or seek a career in.

For more about the program that I’m applying for checkout the website here:

http://scienceillustration.org/index.htm

Make sure to check out the gallery with alumni artwork here:

http://scienceillustration.org/gallery/galleryhome.htm

Since I was a kid I have loved drawing and I have loved nature. Drawing was always a personal thing for me and I never really pursued formal instruction. Looking back, part of me wishes I had taken it more seriously, took more classes, or majored in art. However, I know that the path I took, no matter how circuitous, has allowed many experiences that are essential to my personality and outlook today. If I had majored in art in college I might not have gone down the path that taught me so much about sustainability, agriculture, homesteading, primitive skills, and tracking.

One of my inspirations for pursuing science illustration is John Muir Laws. He is the author and illustrator of a field guide to the Sierra Nevada and several other books. He fits the bill for a 19th century Naturalist with keen field observation, countless hours of dirt time, evocative and accurate illustration skills, and a strong science background that is not overly specialized, corporatized, or computerized. Laws is also extremely generous with his knowledge and techniques, often teaching workshops in the San Francisco Bay Area and posting many useful tutorials on his website.

Check out John Muir Law’s excellent website:                                   http://johnmuirlaws.com/

I have sent in my application for the CSUMB program and should hear back in the next month or so. It is a very exciting turning point in my life and I am looking forward to an extremely stimulating and challenging learning experience!

I’ll get a portfolio of my work up soon.