Want to feel connected to nature? Go field sketching.

3pm at the barn. It’s at least 90 degrees in the sun, and I’m sitting under a willow tree by an overgrown pond, waiting for my friend as she visits with her horse and does mysterious things (not sure I really want to know what it means to ‘clean his sheath’). It’s a parched, dusty, yellow afternoon. Out on the pond, invisible frogs make thrumming noises that sound more like generators than croaks, an egret (or perhaps a crane or a heron — I don’t know my birds) stalks on long legs, redwing blackbirds swoop from above, and hundreds of blue and red dragonflies shimmy a few inches above the water. I am sketching to pass the time.

This is one of the plants growing by the pond. It’s called little mallow (Malva parviflora), and you probably have some near you.

Caption: ‘Mallow – edible but slimy’

(Here’s a real photo of little mallow. Nope, I definitely don’t have a future as a botanical illustrator. Oh well.)

As my friend Emily puts it, sitting quietly outdoors is a great way to reconnect with nature. 

I’m not a spiritual person, but field sketching is one way I connect to the world around me. I wouldn’t be an environmentalist if I didn’t have that appreciation of all the weird and wonderful things that call Earth home. I also like sketching because drawing switches off the noisy, word-oozing part of my brain, and lets me see without the filter of language. It doesn’t matter that I’m not particularly good at it. Every time, I rediscover how interesting everything is when I pay enough attention. And, while you’re being still, you might just see some other things you wouldn’t have seen.

So…I have a challenge for you, if you care to accept: go outside and draw something this week. I think you’ll come away with a different understanding of the ‘ordinary’ things you rarely really look at.  If you like, send it my way and I’ll post it here with a link back to your blog.

I talked to Emily, a science illustrator, for her top field sketching tips, and here’s what we came up with.

  • Be able to identify poison oak / ivy / sumac and know whether it grows in your area. You’ll be sitting while drawing. Picking the wrong spot is definitely capable of ruining your spiritual experience. Or any experience, for that matter.
  • Pack a picnic and go with a friend (if you like company).
  • Find a comfortable spot first. Then choose something to draw close by. While some things are worth discomfort, that’s not the point of this particular exercise.
  • Pick a good subject. Something stationary and relatively small, like a plant with countable leaves, is a good place to start.
  • Insecure or uptight about your drawing skills? Emily recommends a little alcohol to loosen you up. (I haven’t tried this personally.)
  • Don’t worry about the results. No one expects you to turn out fabulously detailed and precise sketches. It’s one of those journey-not-destination things.

Have you gone field sketching lately? Or do you feel inspired to go now? I’d love to hear about your field sketching experiences and see your drawings. 

7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by smallftprints on 06/18/2012 at 17:10

    We always carry sketch books with us and try to take a few minutes to draw whenever we’re out in nature. It’s so good in so many ways … it gives me an appreciation for the intricate beauty & organization of plant structures … helps me notice subtle behavior in “critters” and their grace in action … it is totally relaxing rather like a meditation … and later, when I look at the drawings, I know exactly where I was and how I felt. I think it helps me “see”. Thanks for the reminder … now I’m anxious to get back out there!🙂

    Reply

    • Hi Smallfootprints,

      It’s pretty cool how the simplest little plant suddenly becomes intricately detailed when you really look at it. I don’t meditate, but I think drawing serves a similar purpose for me, and it’s satisfying to end up with a sketch at the end. I hope you’ll post some of your sketches!

      Reply

    • Posted by Vicki on 06/18/2012 at 20:55

      …”helps me ‘see'” is so true…like photos, drawing, painting connects us in some way to what we’re viewing so we can look into rather than just glance over.

      Reply

  2. Your description of the process is dead on. When I was teaching art–to middle school kids–my most successful admonition was to “move your hand at the same speed as your eyes and tell you head to shut up.” After which they would all smack themselves in the head and say, “Shut up, head!” Then they would draw with a great deal more confidence.

    Reply

    • Hi R. K.,

      I didn’t know you used to be an art teacher. I love your advice! My head doesn’t shut up nearly often enough. I think a lot of adults don’t draw because their heads tell them that they’re bad at it or get in the way of seeing. I agree we should just tell our heads to shut up!

      Reply

    • Posted by Vicki on 06/18/2012 at 20:58

      Memories of drawing classes…”draw what you see, not what you know”🙂 Thanks for the reminder to keep slowing down and get out the sketchbook.

      Reply

      • Hi Vicki,

        I hope you’ll come back and share your sketches! Having put up my scribbles, I am hoping someone else will join me in being shameless.🙂

        Reply

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