Tag Archives: sketchbook

Writing about Nature in a Sketchbook

If you’ve visited my website http://www.kathy-oneill.com then you know that last year I went to western Nebraska to  learn more about cliff swallows. I’d seen them building mud nests all over a hotel in the Texas panhandle. 

With cliff swallow expert Dr. Charles Brown of Tulsa University and his assistant, Wes and I trekked through fields and waded into culverts. Using a flashlight and a dental mirror I got to peer into their mud nests and see their eggs! Dr. Brown has been studying cliff swallows for many years and has learned lots and lots of fascinating stuff about these birds that live together in colonies.  Don’t miss the good news about my trip and research at the end of this post!!!

And look carefully for Molly, too, and make a guess about why she’s hiding!

Before I traveled to Nebraska, I made notes about what I had already seen and heard, asked questions about my observations, and did some initial research.

 

Using these steps you can learn more about the plants and creatures you’ve been observing on your walks:

  1. Stand still and carefully observe, take photos, make drawings
  2. Make written notes about what you see and hear
  3. Ask questions about what you observe
  4. Look in books and safe, reputable online sources to answer your questions

1. Notes

In my last post I suggested you leave some white space around pictures in your sketchbook, because one of the easiest places to write about nature is to make notes in those white spaces. Here are some things to make notes about:

  • Where you were, what the land was like–forest, meadow, seaside, rocky, hilly, etc.
  • What kind of trees or plants you saw
  • What the weather was like
  • The things you saw, heard, smelled
  • The colors of plants or animals you focused on
  • Tell what you think creatures were doing

Here in my new neighborhood in Colorado is a large marsh, and since early spring when they first arrived, I’ve been watching hundreds of red-winged blackbirds. Here are some photos of the marsh and as close as I can get pictures of  the birds.  Because I couldn’t get closeups of the birds I drew one from a nature guide. But you can see my notes all around the drawing about the place and the birds.

2. Questions

Questions help focus your research. As you research you’ll probably think of more. Here are some I had about red-winged blackbirds:

  • Do only the males have the red and yellow shoulder colors?
  • Where did they migrate from or do they live in Colorado year round?
  • What do they eat?
  • Where do they build their nests?
  • What do their nests look like?
  • How many eggs do they lay
  • what do the eggs look like?

3. Research to answer your questions.

  • The nonfiction section of your library is a great place to start. Birds have a whole section, as do insects, mammals, fish, etc., etc!!
  • If you go online, be sure to use safe and reputable websites. For example for my questions about the cliff swallows and now the red-winged blackbirds, I start with the national audubon society’s website.  http://www.audubon.org
  • Use the blank pages of your sketchbook to write the information you find. Make notes about where you found the info

Have fun finding out about lots of interesting creatures or plants. God is so creative, and His world is amazing beyond our wildest imaginations!!

NOW…. my news:   I enjoyed finding out some amazing things about cliff swallows and then wrote a nonfiction article about them. It has been bought by a children’s magazine! I haven’t heard when it’ll be published, so I won’t tell you which one yet, but I’m excited, and I’ll let you know when it comes out!

What can you do with all your new knowledge? write a report, write a fiction story, make an informational poster , write an email or letter to a distant relative telling about your experiences….  For a few ideas, stay tuned for the Picture Lady’s next post. It’ll give you some ideas about how to write creatively about all your observations!

So don’t forget to sign up to receive the Picture Lady’s posts before you go!

AND check out my website http://www.kathy-oneill.com

There you’ll see lots of ways that I can help your class or group in person or by skype learn about and make art!!

And I’d love to hear from you about your summer nature walks and studies!

Finally, can you find Molly in this photo? Comment and tell me why you think she’s hiding.

I’ll tell you why in my next post.

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Exploring Nature In Your Own Neighborhood

Are you all ready with a sketchbook

and some nature guides so you can explore nature this summer?  Your own neighborhood is a good place to start!

While we waited for you to get ready  Molly and I walked around our own very ordinary neighborhood and used our five senses to appreciate God’s beauty all around us. We took lots of pictures with my cell phone. Here are a few of those.

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 Here Molly is using her sense of smell on these flowers, while I enjoy the smell of new-mown grass. Don’t miss that God has put the complementary colors violet and yellow right next to each other.

       I picked a dandelion so I could rub its golden yellow onto my hands. Then I blew the seeds of another to dance away on the wind.

We looked up and saw a messy nest with red strands woven in and listened to birds singing nearby.

 We bent down and saw flowers with bees and bumblebees looking for nectar. (We didn’t get too close!)

And delicate wildflowers growing just along the sidewalk!

 We looked and looked some more at the intricate patterns of weeds and

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 peered down this hole but decided to leave its homeowner in peace.

On really hot days we waited until evening to walk so we could feel soft, cool breezes on our faces and enjoy colorful sunsets.

Sometimes we couldn’t get close enough to take a picture.  One day we saw a goldfinch perched on a thistle. Each time it pulled a seed out, bits of thistledown blew away.

Other times things moved too fast for a picture. We watched two trails of ants meet on a sidewalk. They bumped and seemed to exchange greetings, but then hurried on their way.

At those times put the phone or camera away and pause to look and listen as carefully as you can. It takes time to be a good observer.

Before you head out to take pictures or draw, here are some safety tips:

  1. Be sure an adult has approved where you are going
  2. Take along water and use sunscreen
  3. Don’t wade into any water unless an adult is with you and approves
  4. don’t pick flowers from anyone’s yard
  5. Leave wild animals alone for your safety and theirs
  6. Unless an adult is with you, don’t touch or pick wild plants. Some are poisonous

Using Art

Now grab your sketchbook and choose some of these ideas to record your observations:

  • Print out your favorite pictures and tape them in your sketchbook.
  • Arrange them in your book by categories such as trees, insects, flowers,
  • Or arrange plants and creatures with a photo of their habitat
  • Make drawings from your photos or from your nature guides
  • If you can sit and observe a flower, etc. draw it directly into the sketchbook
  • Use crayons, colored pencils etc. to add color to your drawings (If your sketchbook pages are thin, avoid marker and paint)

Using a close up of this wildflower, here are 2 drawing techniques that will help you look and draw accurately.

Gesture drawing, which I showed you in a post about A Young Girl Reading can be a  helpful way to start with nature drawing. It helps you look carefully at the overall object and its way of growing or moving. Here are some examples:

 

 

 Contour drawing on the other hand, helps artist look carefully at details. Like gesture drawing, it’s not meant to be a finished artwork, but to help you look more carefully at your subject. Here are some contour drawings of the same flower.  Look how different these look from gesture drawings.

 

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You slow way down for contour drawing. Your eye follows every small detail, and your pencil tries to follow along on your paper. You don’t sketch as in gesture drawing, but move your pencil along as if it is a snail inching along every line. You should spend lots more time looking at the subject than at your paper!

Have fun observing in your neighborhood and arranging photos and making drawings in your sketchbook!

In my next post I’ll give you some ideas for writing about what you see. You can do that right in your sketchbook, so leave some white space around photos and drawings and some blank pages after things you’d like to write about AND be sure and sign up to receive the Picture Lady posts in your inbox!!

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I finally got the children’s book about Maria Sibylla Merian from the library, and it’s really informative about her life and work, and has lots of pictures!20180712_095316

And here’s a great nature guide for children, I was impressed with all its information on animals, insects, birds, wildflowers, trees, etc. , including where to find them.20180712_095400

But I thought, it was way too heavy to carry around. Now thanks to a post by Jean Hall who reviews children’s books on her blog, I’ve discovered that the original chapters are available as separate, more portable, books. Here’s one she reviewed.

https://jeanmatthewhall.com/2018/07/06/picture-book-review-seashells-crabs-and-sea-stars/

Recently I heard about another woman naturalist who battled many obstacles to lead an amazing life and start a stationery business using her linoleum block prints of nature.   Nature’s Friend, The Gwen Frostic Story by Lindsey McDivitt.  Another children’s book, it’s due out this month.

Please comment and let me know what sort of plants and creatures you see in your neighborhood!