Tree drawing is a cornerstone of nature art in general and nature journaling in particular. When you learn how to draw trees better your sketchbook or nature journal will improve greatly.
So if drawing trees is so important why do so many people do it wrong? People learn bad tree drawing habits at an early age and we also tend to focus on the wrong things when we look at them. Despite all these problems there are a few tips that can help you draw trees better.
Five Tree Drawing Tips
First, take a different perspective. Most tree drawings, even technically skilled ones, show the tree from the same boring perspective. Especially,since we are nature journaling and our goal is to learn it is important to look at things from new vantage points.
Next, look for cylinders. If you want to draw realistic tree shapes you need to understand cylinders. Tree trunks and branches are made of cylinders. You need to be able to accurately observe and sketch cylinders from different angles. (Be sure to watch the video for a special trick for learning this). Not only will this technique help your drawings of trees but it will also help your figure drawing and animal drawing.
Third, separate volume from texture. If you just spent thirty minutes or three hours accurately drawing a tree and its shape you don’t want to ruin it. One potential way to ruin it is by trying to add in all the complicated texture of the bark. Instead, try showing the bark in a separate drawing. And if you do decide to draw trees with bark texture, keep it limited and suggestive. Otherwise you risk messing up your whole drawing!
Next, look for major value blocks. Value is the difference between light and dark. Most people focus on the idea that a tree should be green, however capturing the values is most important.
Last but not least, keep it simple. If you can keep your tree sketch simple you are more likely to succeed and/or try again.
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.
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
First, choose a landscape photo that has extreme values. For more about how to choose a good photo for a landscape see this video
Next, start by drawing in some of the darkest areas that you see.
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.
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.
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.
Now you can knock the values back down with the rag.
Next, use an eraser to lighten some of the values in your drawing that are too dark.
Repeat steps four through seven a couple times.
Stop before you start fussing over details too much.
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.
Have you ever witnessed an exciting event in nature? An action even that you could not represent in your nature journal? If so, then nature comics might be the perfect strategy for you to practice.
This video did not turn out the way I was planning…However, nature is like that. And if we practice some of the techniques of comics and graphic novels we will be ready for the unexpected.
First, and most importantly, don’t give up if what you are observing in nature doesn’t turn out according to your plan. I thought that I was going to make a nature comic about my snake eating. However, my snake was shedding and was not interested in eating. Unfortunately, I had already laid out my page assuming it would be about the snake eating! At this point I almost gave up but instead I stuck with it. A comic can tell any story so don’t worry if it is not the story you were planning on.
Nature Comics Tips
First, Be aware of anthropomorphizing. It is easy to project human feelings and thoughts and communication onto non human beings. This can be useful in some ways and can make your subject relatable. However, it is important to be aware of this. It is therefore important to be aware of the fact that we can not truly know what other animals are feeling or thinking.
Next, be intentional about choosing your frames. Unlike a video, in nature comics you have an extreme limit on the perspectives you can show. As such, it is important to choose your frames with care. What is the most useful for telling the story you want to tell? For more about this check out the book Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
Last but not least, look for subject matters around you in your house. Maybe there is a pet or something that you have never paid attention to. Perhaps the way that your cat eats its food or plays with a toy could be the source of a nature comic that will help you hone your skills.
Do you like flowers? Do you like drawing? If so then this video about flower drawing in your nature journal is for you!
First, it is important to understand some basic botany to help you draw flowers accurately. In addition to making your drawing better this will also help you understand plant families. However, we will keep the technical terms to a minimum.
Drawing Flowers: These three Botany terms help.
Inflorescence. This is a grouping or cluster of flowers. Many “flowers” that we think of such as a sunflower are actually an inflorescence.
Corolla. This is not the car by Toyota. The corolla refers to all the petals combined, whether they are fused together or not.
Calyx. Similarly to the corolla this term refers to the next parts down. Underneath the petals on many flowers there are sepals. We can use the term calyx to refer to all the sepals whether they are fused or not.
Now that we know some basic terms let’s start drawing flowers! We are going to do three plant families today and draw flowers representing each one.
Drawing Flower Families
First, let’s look at the amazingly diverse Malvaceae. This is the cotton family and currently contains around 4,225 known species! When drawing these flowers pay attention to the 5 petals, and the 5 to numerous male parts often forming a tube. For more check out the wikipedia page about this plant family.
Next, is the Solanaceae. This notorious family contains many edible plants such as tomatoes and poisonous ones. When drawing this flower family look for 5 part symmetry such as five petals, five sepals, and five male parts. The female part is usually solitary. Sometimes, the petals (corolla) form into a tube. For more check out the wikipedia page about this plant family.
Lastly, is the Boraginaceae. This family contains around 2,000 known species including borage, Pride of Madera, and Forget-Me-Nots. When drawing these flowers look for a scorpioid inflorescence. Also look for 5 lobed calyx and corolla. For more about the Boraginaceae check out the wikipedia page on this plant family.
Come nature journaling at home with me as we explore my fridge! What is nature and where is it? And do you have to drive somewhere to find it?In spite of our tendency to look for it in national parks we can actually find nature at home. To start, I will show you how to nature journal using something we take for granted.
As it turns out, your fridge is brimming with subjects for nature journaling, science experiments, and creative art projects. First, you just need to get over the idea that nature is only to be found at the park. Next, you need to look with new eyes which can be hard. However, nature journaling provides the tools for seeing novelty in the everyday. Below I will give you a list of ideas to get you started.
Tips for Nature Journaling at Home:
First, do a sketch collection. This is a good place to start because it will get you warmed up. It’s especially good if you set a time limit to sketch each item. Start with a theme such as vegetables, condiments, etc. Then sketch ten items that fit that category.
Second, try a quantification exercise. Because nature journaling is about using images, words, and numbers it is important to not leave out the last one. Use a thermometer, a scale, a ruler, or any other measuring tool. I estimated and counted cabbage leaves!
Third, create a color palette for your fridge. Practice color matching with your watercolor and try to create swatches to represent the colors in your fridge.
Fourth, try to make a nature journal comic showing a process of cooking or a before and after.
Fifth, try designing a science experiment, make a hypothesis and test it. I want to try freezing different liquids such as milk, water, vinegar, alcohol and see how they freeze at different paces.
Lastly, if you or your home school kids are feeling adventurous, try letting something ferment or putrefy in your fridge. Nature journaling this process would be a learning adventure! For more ideas on how to do nature journal process page check out this video by John Muir Laws
If you want even more nature journaling at home ideas check out this post.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
In this video you will learn ten drawing prompts that are fun, helpful, and engaging.
Have you ever experienced creative block? Have you ever felt a lack of ideas or motivation to draw, make art, or nature journal? You are not alone. It is for that reason that I have created this list of prompts.
Before we get into the list I want to say something about using the internet for inspiration. Basically, using the computer and the internet to inspire art is a double edged sword. On the one hand you have access to millions of images and ideas (Historical artists would have cut off their ears for that.) On the other hand you have the greatest source of distraction ever. Therefore I have separated my prompts into 5 without the computer and 5 with the computer.
Drawing Prompts (Analog Style)
Trace shadows. In order to get warmed up we will start with an easy one. First, we will find a spot with cast shadows. I like to find tree branches or other vegetation. Next, we will position our sketchbook to catch the shadows. Finally we will trace them and color them in if we want.
Paint a scene through your window. Now that we are warmed up we will find a window in our house that has a nice view. Because the window provides a frame we can skip some of the steps I talk about in my landscape painting video.
Draw from a book. This is a lost art. When was the last time you looked for a reference image in a book instead of online? Drawing from books has many benefits.
Draw your food. Do you want motivation? Don’t let yourself eat unless you draw the food first. Hunger will motivate you. Just kidding. But seriously, try drawing your food.
Nature Journal in your Fridge. Similarly to the last one this nature journal prompt is about looking for novelty in all the boring places. I’m gonna make a whole video about this one next week.
Drawing Prompts (Digital Style)
Draw from slow motion videos. Pick your favorite nature documentary on youtube and put it in slow motion. Try sketching. This is a great practice for improving your speed and confidence in the field. I used this technique before my trip to Tanzania.
Do a species profile from Wikipedia. If Youtube is too distracting for you then try this nature journaling prompt. It is the same as a regular species profile but you get all the info from wikipedia instead of from looking at the real organism. Don’t know what a species profile is? Check this video out.
Draw a landscape painting from a photo. Even though it might not be as fun there are many benefits to landscape painting from a photo. It is best to work from your own photos and you probably have a bunch on your computer. I did a whole post about this.
Nature journal conference call. You still can’t get motivated to draw? Try getting on a video conference call with a handful of friends. Instead of talking a bunch just keep each other company while you draw. It’s like study hall! You will feel more accountable and less distracted.
Draw from a webcam. Last but not least, this is a drawing prompt that I am really excited about. There are many examples of live cams or webcams at different zoos and aquariums around the world. You can watch many of these on youtube. Because it is live and the animals are moving it gives your drawing or nature journaling more urgency. Therefore this is good practice for the field.
John Muir Laws (aka Jack Laws) could inspire a hard boiled egg. In fact, after this interview you will never look an egg the same. But maybe you have never nature journaled before and you do not even have access to “nature.” regardless of whether you live in a national park or you live in an apartment this interview will show you how to connect to nature. We also talk about his amazing new book which could really help you if you are stuck at home with your kids right now. Actually, this curriculum could really help you even if you are and adult and stuck at home by yourself right now.
He’s our mentor. He’s our teacher. Jack Laws is our fearless leader. In this video he drops some huge bombs of wisdom. In particular let us look at 4 shining examples from the interview.
John Muir Laws Wisdom Bombs
First, “You can still help people during the social distancing of a pandemic.”
“You want reality? You can’t handle reality!” (be sure to watch the video to get this one…)
“It’s not where you look it’s how you look.” Jack emphasizes how the way we pay attention can reveal the wonder of a green bean or an egg. In other words, we don’t need to go to Yosemite or the Serengeti to appreciate the wonders of nature.
” The greatest organ of pleasure in the human body is the…” In spite of what you might think, John Muir Laws argues that the biggest organ of pleasure in the human body is the brain!
Do you need some inspiration and structure for your nature journaling? Or do you have kids at home that you are homeschooling? Regardless, be sure to check out Jack Law’s amazing new “How to Teach Nature Journaling” curriculum.
Trust me, this curriculum is kid tested and parent approved. Jack is giving it away as a free PDF. You can also order a hard copy of your own.
Have you looked at your very first nature journal recently? Or are you just starting out with nature journaling? In this video I share the good, the bad, and the ugly from my very first nature sketchbook. Hopefully, it will not be too embarrassing…
I first started nature journaling in February of 2014 after learning about the idea from John Muir Laws and looking at some of the content on his website. Because I had been inspired from John (aka Jack) I dove right into the practice. In addition to diving deeply into the subject I also practiced it frequently and used my journal for everything. In other words I did not get too “precious” about my first nature journal.
3 Tips for your First Nature Journal
First, JUST START! You have to find a balance between being prepared and actually starting. If you find yourself watching more videos and buying more supplies before you start filling pages then stop. It is better to err on the side of “starting before you are ready.
Second, JOURNAL MEANS DAILY. Try to get into a regular habit of working in your journal. Even if you are putting something on the pages that is unrelated you will build the habit of using the book and becoming comfortable with it. If you can try to create a time of day where you always use it. The word journal literally means daily (from Latin through French)
Last but not least, FIND OTHER PEOPLE to nature journal with. Hopefully, a mix of skill levels. Not only with they help you stay motivated but those who are above your skill level will push you to improve your skills.
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).
4 Reasons it is the Best Watercolor Palette
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.
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.
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!
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