To join me on a virtual sketching trip, download a travel sketch-journal here.
I add tutorials to them so you can learn the techniques and details you see in the sketchbooks.

My former workshop students asked me to upload my workshop workbooks to make them available to everyone. So you can also download a workbook and give yourself a workshop! Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Second Day of the Nature Sketching Workshop

The second day of the workshop is always fun ~ the air is charged with expectation, but now people know each other so there is good interchange between arriving students (usually missing on the first day). In my experience, students learn a great deal from each other, so I encourage students to notice and try useful things that other students are doing (or not doing!).

Day 2 is our Landscape Sketching Techniques class, so a workbook by that name is at each place when the students arrive, along with pencil, kneaded eraser, and click-eraser (no tortillon). I begin with some helpful hints for finding proportion, and advice on using light/dark and atmospheric phenomena to indicate distance and perspective. In a one-day landscape techniques class there really isn't enough time to get very detailed about perspective, so I only touch on the most prominent aspects they're likely to encounter.

The students warmed up with first a contour drawing of a lizard, then a modified contour drawing, then finally a freehand rendering (Aha! Now they have a lizard template to go with the pigeon template from yesterday!). I was seeing some excellent lizards ready to flit off the pages to disappear under nearby drawing kits or sweaters.

The next step was to learn how to transfer a viewed landscape onto the page, so I introduced some ways to do this, then we examined a landscape drawing I had made for this exercise, utilizing a goodly number of textures suitable for wooded mountains from far distant to fairly close. We discussed how to make water look like water with horizontal lines, and how NOT to make amateurish-looking conifers. They worked diligently to replicate the demonstration drawing on a blank part of the page and to duplicate as many of the textures as time allowed.

The next step was to examine what makes a landscape interesting: rock and foliage textures, gnarly sticks, grass clumps, rock formations and clusters, and other such goodies. As a hands-on exercise, the students tried some grass and leaf textures, then selected and drew a gnarly stick, working on "seeing" the stick shape, using good line weight for various parts of the stick, adding texture and 3-dimensionality to the shape, and discussing things that might be left out or added to improve a picture. As always, I was roaming around the tables stopping to encourage, praise, and suggest different approaches if someone appeared to need assistance.

After a useful critique of the stick drawings, the students were asked to do something that surprised them, and I'm not going to tell you what that was because I teach this workshop regularly and if I blab, it won't surprise future students. The element of surprise is important to that exercise.

Throughout this workshop I stress working quickly and not concentrating on a small area of the drawing until the entire outline is on the paper. This "hurry up" directive is disconcerting to some students at first ~ they're trying for accuracy, but here is the instructor urging them to work quickly!

But a quick first sketch is extremely important in nature drawing. After all, you're not illustrating a vase of flowers on your kitchen table, and whatever you are sketching is likely to move away or disappear entirely; you may not have a comfortable or safe place to work for more than a few minutes; if you are sketching with a group, they may choose to go on to the next spot; it may begin to rain or the light may change or fade, or mosquitoes may come out for a feast . . . all kinds of things make it essential to learn how to get a first sketch down quickly.

As I tell my students, after creating the initial outline, always begin working on the most important part ~ a drawing of a chimpmunk's head without the body (it ran away before you finished) is a "portrait." A drawing of the body without the head is, well, "a corpse." So, on we forged, practicing some typical foliage for trees, shrubs and grasses.

Lunch was fun ~ most of us stayed in the classroom to eat and we got into an interesting discussion about art in the schools and a lot of other off-the-wall stuff. After lunch, we began our final landscape project: to draw a landscape scene from a photograph, laying out the forms with confidence, inventing or adapting textures to show foliage, rocks, earth, water, sky, etc., and applying enough contrast to make the final rendering interesting. I provided a large selection of landscape photos from which each student chose one that suited his or her tastes.

We broke for a critique with about fifteen minutes of class left, then worked on the suggestions that came up in the critique for the rest of the class period. I also demonstrated and had students make a large tortillon out of tissue and tape to use in applying large areas of sky and water.

The homework assignment is to finish the landscape and bring it to class next Saturday for the final day of the workshop. I like running this workshop on two successive weekends for this reason ~ there are several days available for the students to really get into their drawings if they wish, and sometimes the results are spectacular. We'll see what comes of this group!

I had demonstrated some techniques for drawing symmetrical objects previously, so I also sent a sequoia cone home with each of them, so that they could try out the technique if they had time. Sometimes students return without having done the homework. That is always too bad, because you get more out of the classes if you apply the techniques just learned to the homework project. But if you can't find the time, I don't scold ~ circumstances sometimes make full application impossible. I just hope for the best.

I've been sorting out my workshop materials from the Costa Rica Journaling Workshop to reassemble for the final day of this sketching workshop. I also need to punch and comb-bind the workbooks. But I'll be ready by Saturday ~ if I don't play too much hooky in this gorgeous weather. It's a lovely sunny day out, about 50 degrees and no breeze. Yesterday was even warmer. Ahhhh, spring! I can hardly wait!


Leslie said...

Oh, these are nice, Irene! it sure looks as if your workshops are thorough. I know your students come away feeling much more able to draw what they see!

I love the chipmonk comment, btw! :)

Anonymous said...

Oh, heck! I was hoping to find out what the surprise was. From the photographs it looks like the students are doing well.

Kirk Whiteside

Just because said...

Some beautiful and inspirational sketch work here. What a great skill to work on!


Irene said...

Yes, I try to give my students their money's worth. And they do come away feeling empowered, with more skill, as a rule, than they believed possible, especially with only 3 days of instruction (and an intervening week during which they may or may not have had time to work on it).

This group is doing very well, and I am pleased to have all ages present -- I think we run the gamut from 15 (or is it 16?) to somewhere in the 70s. Hey, it's never to late to polish a skill!

Love you comments! If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

Leslie said...

I'm looking forward to finding out how everyone did during the week and today! I am SURE they got their money's worth. :)

Irene said...

Hi Just Because, Leslie and Kirk,
Thanks so much for the great comments. We had a super day today, and I can't WAIT to share the homework landscapes. You'll really like them.
I'm played out this evening, but should have the energy to put them up tomorrow.

I've just made arrangements for a whole stack of workshops this week, so if you'd like to see what and where, check out my upcoming workshops site at:
I haven't finished working out the day-to-day details yet, but it will be another journaling workshop with a few slight changes in the presentation (Fun Vacation Font instead of Calligraphy, for instance).
Till tomorrow....

Irene said...

I got ahead of myself -- I meant to first mention that I've scheduled another journaling workshop for Costa Rica, then I would have said (see above) "I haven't finished. . . "


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