I follow the Red Rock Canyon Interpretive Association on Facebook. A few months ago they posted information about applications for people interested in being artists in residence. I had no idea that we had an artist in residence program at Red Rock. I shared the information on my Facebook page hoping that artistic friends might take advantage of the opportunity. Weeks later, I spotted a Facebook post about an upcoming free hike to be led by one of the chosen artists in residence, Susan Thiele. I was so happy that it was scheduled for a day that I could go, so I registered right away.
Rather than share a step by step account of this adventure, I am going to share practical tips I learned about hiking and sketching. It does not matter whether you know how to draw or not. If you want to spend a peaceful day with nature, paying close attention to its details and habits, take along a notebook, a pen, and something soft to sit on.
Bring Something Comfy to Sit On
You can use the seat cushions you would use at any sport event. I used a seat cushion that would normally be used on a kitchen chair.
I think we used fine tipped Sharpie markers to sketch our drawings. Rather than holding the marker towards the bottom like normal, we held the markers at the top. This allowed us to sketch quickly and not precisely. It freed us up from worrying about making things look exactly how we see them. Instead, we were able to quickly record our observations without expectations that things should look exactly right.
Don’t Mix These Colors
I am intimidated by watercolors because of childhood memories of watery, blobby, mucky paint disasters. Thiele reminded us not to mix red/green, orange/blue and yellow/purple. I was sure to follow this tip, and it made a huge difference.
Try Painting with a Pencil
You can use a sketch and wash pencil to add simple shading to a sketch. Just wet a paintbrush, brush the tip of the pencil and then paint on your paper.
Sometimes large landscapes can be overwhelming. You can use a viewfinder to focus your mind on a small area that catches your eye. I don’t know where you can buy view finders, but I think I will try making one using card stock.
Make a Light-Weight Sketchbook
With just one piece of paper you can make an easy to manage sketchbook. You need a large rectangular piece of paper and a pair of scissors. The size of the paper and the thickness of the paper depends on what you want to do.
Fold the paper in half like a hot dog.
Open the paper up. Then, fold it in half like a taco.
Finally, fold it in half again and open up the paper.
Fold the paper like a taco again. Cut along the hot dog fold line until you get to the first intersecting fold line.
Folding the paper to look like a book is the tricky part. You have to play around with it a little bit. I like to bring up the folds in the middle to make them look like a mountain.
I fold the the top to the side of least resistance and then fold the bottom to the opposite direction.
Then I fold the paper back.
Here is the last step. Fold the paper in half again to create the book.
If you will be using marker, pen or watercolor, be sure to cut out a piece of card stock that can be inserted between pages. It should stop the colors from bleeding through the pages.
Whether you go on a hike in a park or spend an afternoon in your backyard, I hope you have a chance to sketch what you see. Try the fast sketching method and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. If you can’t get outside, find a favorite photo of nature that you can sketch. Enjoy the beauty of what you are so intensely focusing on and the peace when you have found that focus.
Years ago I attended a teacher training that focused on merging language arts instruction with science instruction. One of my instructors was Ruth K.A. Devlin, author of Desert Seasons: A year in the Mojave. We didn’t get to leave the classroom, but she did teach us how to sketch what we see in nature and complement it with poetry and observations. Her book is a combination of sketches, photos, poetry, observations and facts. It is a beautiful tribute to the life of the Mojave Desert. I recommend it for teachers, families and anyone who loves nature in the southwest.