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!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Observing Nature With Kids July 6, 2009

July 6 dawned bright and clear, a beautiful day, not too hot, not too cool, and most importantly, not rainy. What a relief! I was scheduled to teach a workshop with 12 kids, and the weather cooperated perfectly. Our classroom was the outdoor pavilion at North Mountain Park Nature Center in Ashland, Oregon. Our sketching arena was the nature center's natural area with two ponds, Ashland Creek, a reconstruction of a Shasta Indian umma (bark-covered dwelling) and the semi-wooded flood plain along the creek. Perfect.

This was my first go at teaching kids the Observing Nature class, and although I was nervous about it, I was also relieved that I was getting the opportunity with this Reading Camp, led by Debi Blair and Max Schmeling and sponsored by the Oregon Writing Project for 4th - 8th graders. Part of a week-long event, the kids would participate with the Klamath Bird Observatory, which was banding birds during the week, among other projects. I was to start the week out for them with instructions on how to observe the natural world around them, then sketch and journal what they experienced.

Teaching the half-day class would give me valuable insight on the workbooks I had been creating for area nature centers. And since I am scheduled to teach local teachers/naturalists how to teach the course, it greatly relieved me to get first-hand experience. I had been working from detailed notes sent to me by CeCe Bowerman, at the Deer Creek Nature Center in Selma, Oregon, who had used one of the workbooks to teach a similar class, so I knew what to expect and had lots of good advice on how to effectively teach it ~ but DOING it is a whole 'nother thing.

I didn't tell Debi or Max that I hadn't taught the class yet (one Nervous Nelly was sufficient) , so they were perfectly confident that I knew what I was doing.

Miraculously, my previous experience stood me in good stead, and we were all pleased with the results ~ and the kids were prepared to sketch and journal their way through the rest of the week. They were a great bunch of youngsters, ranging in age from 10 to 13 or so. And they were all eager, responsive, and well-mannered (well, a little goofy at times, but hey, that's kids!).

I started them out with the typical Right-Brain exercises I teach in my adult classes. Age has utterly no effect on results as long as the student can understand the instructions, so their drawings looked identical to those of beginning adult students. No surprises there.

They drew oak leaves and bones, then I passed around a collection of interesting natural touchy/feely items for them to examine: fuzzy mullein leaves, prickly pine cones, cottonwood fluff, porcupine quills (poked through a file card), plaster tracks, horsetail (Equisetum) pieces ~ also called scouring rush by pioneers and miners who used them to scrub pots ~ and a number of other fascinating items. These sparked curiosity and questions, and we had a lively discussion as things passed from hand to hand.
Although they didn't draw them, this exercise centered and focused the kids, who were intrigued and interested in the various objects similar to things they might find to draw later in the session.

We worked our way quickly through the rest of the workbook, which featured good journaling examples, how to use the magnifying glass and a lid to show enlargements, and what should go on a journal page. They examined a page showing insects, spider, flower, and plant diagrams with parts labeled with their correct names, plus a page of skulls showing a squirrel, raccoon, otter, muskrat, great horned owl, deer, and woodpecker skulls, plus an owl pellet ~ all items they could conceivably find in this area. Those had parts labeled, too.

Finally, we reviewed the Question Page, listing questions they could ask themselves about a subject to help get them started on their journaling: "what ate part of this plant?" "what is this insect doing?," etc.

Now they were ready to cruise. We handed out a magnifying glass and a 1½" plastic lid to each student (the lid was to make a circle into which they would draw a magnification they observed), and made sure they had pencils. Students from Ashland High School had come to help and to supervise groups of students in order to earn community service credits, and Max took a group as well. Each group went off to find a spot to settle down in and observe, sketch and journal.

At this point, I tidied up the mess and put away my natural history items, then went out from group to group to visit each student at work, making suggestions, reminding them of their objectives, helping them identify what they were looking at, and sharpening pencils. I was excited to see how they threw themselves into the exercise, sketching and drawing intently.

One group was lucky enough to spot a blacktail doe leading a new fawn past them. The same group also observed a gray fox trotting down the trail with prey in its mouth (there is some dispute as to whether it was a bird or a piece of red meat). You can read about it on their journal pages.

The sketching sessions were each 20 minutes long. Between the first two sessions, Debi, who had sketched along with them, talked for a couple of minutes about ways to observe and and journal. We broke for snacks after the second session, after we had admired all the artwork and journaling. Some of the students read their journal entries out loud for us. The kids were really courteous during the readings and the show & tell ~ I didn't hear a single unkind remark about drawings or writing. For the third sketching session, Max and Debi and I decided to send them out to draw a "mystery item," writing 3 or more clues to help others identify their subject later.

I photographed the journals after the final session, but I may have missed a few because parents picked up their kids punctually and may have made off with some of them before I had a chance to take a picture. Debi got me permission slips from all the parents for photographing their kids and their journal pages.

Max and Debi and I debriefed after they'd all gone. That's when I told them I hadn't taught the course before, and to my gratification they claimed they thought I'd done it many times previously. Very nice people to work with! We discussed improvements that might be made, and a few surfaced: the magnifying glasses should be on strings which the students would hang around their necks ~ one of the plastic lenses got badly scratched, and I had seen one being fished out from under a boardwalk.

And I decided the supervisors should have a checklist of things to help students with (what should go on each journal page; don't forget the magnification; put name, date and location up in the corner, etc.), so they could be a positive influence rather than simply herding the kids to and fro. They had done a great job, everything we asked of them, but I think they would have enjoyed a more active part. Still, all in all, it was a resounding success. Thanks Debi and Max!!!


I'll be teaching teachers to teach this class in two or more workshops in August (see my workshop website). I've now incorporated all I learned in teaching it myself into their workshop workbook (that's its cover above), and include lists of things they might use as nature items to focus their classes; ways to present them; equipment they'll need; resources for finding supplies; course objectives; a guide and checklist for the supervisors; a simple, oral evaluation sheet to run past their students; a permission slip template to get permissions for photographing the students and their work for use in newsletters, and much more.

I'll be teaching ~ elementary teachers, nature center volunteers, high school teachers, and whoever else is interested ~ the half-day Nature Observation class just as I presented it to the students. They'll be asked to complete all the exercises, including going out to sketch, just as the kids do. This will give them valuable insight on how they can teach their own classes. But they'll go out for only one sketching session since we'll spend the rest of the session going over techniques, exchanging insights and suggestions, and discussing the course objectives, managing supervisors, the evaluation, etc. I'm really looking forward to this.

And now, here are the journal pages of life along Ashland Creek, as observed and recorded July 6, 2009, by twelve naturalist/students.

And finally, the page Debi sketched alongside the students. It was in doing this page that she noticed tiny, remarkable egg cases on the underside of the leaf, which prompted her to suggest to the students that they watch for their own small miracles.

As they say, "a good time [obviously!] was had by all."

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Journaling With Calligraphers! June 6-7

Oh my! Where did this last month go!?!
A week of it was spent on vacation in Idaho with my brother (that's him at right). In addition to swinging in a hammock, helping prepare for a family party and larking about in the Owyhee Mts looking for fossils (in the craggy area above left), and lots of other good times, that journey included a 1065 mile road trip. Ouch!

Much of the rest of the month was consumed in an illustration job I'm doing on some interpretive signs showing a coho salmon stream, complete with coho, rocks, eggs, crayfish, assorted snails and other stuff. Plus a cottonwood tree and sedges on the bank. Ayeee!

And then, there is the online watercolor pencil class I'm taking with Kate Johnson with it's multiplicity of assignments (for those classmates who wanted to see the roadside flowers I sketched this Dirty Socks flower from, go to the end of this blog entry) and the 4th of July weekend (I went with Daniel and his mother up into the Siskiyou Mountains yesterday to admire the wildflowers, which are in their prime up high where it's cooler {it was 99° down here in the valley yesterday, and 100+ this last week!}). There wasn't much time to sketch, but I was wishing, wishing! I mean, look at that incredible flowered mountain meadow at left!

Oh, and I forgot to mention the consultation job I'm doing with the Oregon Trail Institute on a proposed publication. Additionally, I'm preparing a brand new workshop which debuts tomorrow at the North Mountain Park Nature Center, teaching Nature Observation and Journaling to kids ~ 12 in all. Of course, you never want to let on to participants that they're taking an untried workshop, so I shall have to appear as though I know what I'm doing....

So, I hope you delightful calligraphers who took my class on June 6 will forgive the lateness of this blog about our riotous and delicious class. I've been trying to get at it for quite some time!

Cynthia, from the local Calligraphers Guild contacted me to ask if I would teach a journaling class for the members. I was a little nervous about teaching calligraphers because, well, they can callig a whole lot better than I can ;^} and I thought they might be, well, you know, snooty about it. But Cynthia was SO nice via email, I decided I must be wrong ~ and was I ever! I don't think I've ever laughed as much in any other class I've taught.

Some students brought hand-made journals to work in, and by the end of the class had made quite a lot of headway in them. The cover of the one above is made of wire "hardware cloth" interwoven with textile strips, ribbon and yarn, a gorgeous thing.

Because the participants were already well acquainted, it was an uproarious class, full of jokes and laughter and experimentation, and the results were remarkable.

Although their calligraphy skills were well developed, and some had art skills and training, others were nevertheless beginners at art and not experienced with journaling. So I went ahead with the usual agenda, starting with the contour drawings of hands, then sketching a leaf, then drawing sea shells.

The next step was designing attractive pages using the freeform shapes I brought to class, and writing descriptive paragraphs about their shells. Things progressed quickly from there with the introduction of the "Fun Font" for adding titles, then we stopped for a break and critique, a cuppa tea or coffee, and ruminations about their progress.

I think because they are calligraphers, they are used to working with art tools, which gave them a distinct edge over the average beginning artist. I passed out the watercolor pencils to add color, and soon they were coloring their shells with great relish, while I trotted around the group offering suggestions, praise, and advice about problem areas.

[Did I mention that when I arrived at our workshop in the local library meeting room I was greeted with my very own calligraphy name tag? THAT's a first ~ I'm usually the one handing out name tags!]

Beginning artists worked slowly and cautiously, while more experienced ones sailed ahead enthusiastically, adding color to their hand and leaf contour excercises. I was delighted to watch their experiments in mixing colors and trying out watercolor pencil techniques.

By the end of the day, they had turned out some beautiful journal pages. Not all were totally finished, but that's the beauty of journaling ~ one can always add to or finish things later, but in the meantime, they still look nice. Here are the first day's results:

At the end of the first day, I had asked them to bring ephemera to glue into their journals the next day. Few people manage to remember this the second day, so I was gobsmacked when they brought in BOXES of ephemera. It seems that calligraphers like to play around with stuff like this, and they even scrounge around at yard sales to find goodies. I had brought leaves pressed in my little microwave plant press, so our table was a veritable cornucopia of ephemera! They also brought art books and journals and other delights and examples to share. I didn't get a chance to look at everything, alas!

Our lone male student had assigned himself the homework of producing his own Fun Font, and he displayed it with quite understandable pride. I finally managed to get this unruly bunch seated for the writing session, and soon they were hard at work crafting creative paragraphs and haiku, sketching new subjects with great skill, and studying the placement of various bits of ephemera on their pages.

After lunch I introduced decorative borders and initial caps, so the afternoon was a riot of sketching, writing, snipping, gluing, flower-pressing and creating imaginative borders around pages and between elements on the pages.

I think I probably learned nearly as much as they did in this class. My usual classes lean more toward hesitant beginners, so watching these folks at work was quite entertaining. (Don't get me wrong -- I LOVE teaching beginners, helping them open doors they didn't even know had doorknobs on 'em. But this was fun, too.)

In order to keep from interrupting their trains of thought, I tried to keep myself busy doing their assignment along with them (sort of) with examples of borders, shaped creative paragraph, ephemera, labels, haiku, Fun Font and color. The only thing lacking, since I was trying to squeeze so much on the page, is any sort of sophisticated "design." But it's a fun page to look at, and it was GREAT fun to make.

The students shared their paragraphs and haiku with the class, to everyone's delight, and we had a couple of critiques during the afternoon. Since some students were moving pretty fast, a few extra journal pages were created, one on black paper:

I left the afternoon journal page subjects wide open, and some interesting things popped out. There was even gold-leafing (this was done by one of the students, who, at the end of the day, demonstrated for us how to apply the tissue-thin gold)!

Here are some of the products of Day 2. I muffed Kathy's the photo of page -- it came out so blurry I couldn't use it. You can see it in progress here at right. I'm sorry Kathy ~ it was a lovely page, with ferns, pressed plants, and a really excellent creative paragraph.

So here are the second day's masterpieces, minus Kathy's:

Cool, huh? My thanks to the Calligraphers Guild students who made this such a fun class!

And here, as promised to Kate Johnson's online watercolor pencil students, is the wild rock garden south of Bend, Oregon, and the sketch and photo I made there. The mosquitoes were siphoning off my blood as I sketched, so I only got some of the flower heads in before I caved and ran for the car, but I sketched more from the screen of my digital camera the next day. I didn't add them all, as you can see, as the number can be variable and I needed to finish the drawing for class.

Here's a grab-bag of other entries...

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