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!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Observing Nature: a Teachers Course 8-12-09

Well, THAT was fun! Last Wednesday I taught the Observing Nature Workshop for teachers for the first time at North Mountain Park Nature Center, in the pavilion. It was a gorgeous day, in the 80s, with a flirty little breeze.

I had taught the sketching/journaling half of this workshop previously to a group of children ages 8 to 13, but this current group was adult teachers and nature center volunteers who wanted to learn how to teach the same class.

Still untried, the second half of the workshop looked great on paper, and would consist of debriefing the teachers on their experience as students (observing, sketching and journaling nature), showing them how and what to prepare to make it work, and then jamming on their ideas and suggestions. I was scheduled for three hours, and ran over about ten minutes at the end, but everyone was so into the process that only one person left before it ended. That's a good sign.

So. Here's what we did. After introducing myself, I explained that they were to take the first part of the session as observing teachers but also "as children," and I would teach it as I would teach the course for kids. To clearly signal my role, I put on my orange baseball cap to signify that now I was Teacher and they were Kids. This was very helpful in keeping things straight, because if I wanted to comment to them as teachers I could whip off my cap to speak, then clap it back on again to get back to the curriculum. I'm not sure why, but that drew laughs every time I did it.

As with the Observing Nature class (click on the link above for more info) we began with a Right-brain introduction. If non-artists are to teach this course, this grounding in the process will help them feel confident enough to teach it to others. The photo shows the contour drawing of the hand (drawn without looking at the paper) on the right, and making a modified contour drawing on the left (okay to look from hand to paper while drawing). The contour drawing always gets some chuckles because a blind drawing looks so silly.

With the confidence gained from the hand drawing (quite a bit of confidence, in fact), they were up to the task of drawing either an oak leaf or a bone. Here are some of the drawings they produced.

Now I put an Observation Tray on each table and encouraged them to rummage around in them, pulling out interesting things and guessing what they might be. They found these intriguing, as I hoped. The "trays" were simply cut-down boxes ~ you can see some examples beneath my improvised flip-chart in the image below.

Creating and filling the Observation Trays had entertained me mightily for the last couple of weeks, as I roamed along Bear Creek, through the woods around my house, and along roadsides gathering goodies to put in them.

I had found some amazing things. Owl pellets, oak galls, bark beetle tunnels on sticks, yellow-jacket nest paper, quail eggshells, raccoon scat (they're in order below)....and much, much more, including lizard and woodrat scat in little tamper-proof boxes (that's a lizard scat with a white blob at one end, the signature of a lizard poo). In fact, there are about thirty items in each box, and four boxes, so that's close to 120 items. I collected four of everything that I could, so the trays are very similar, but each has some unique things in it. Click on the images for a close-up look.

The Observation Trays are an integral part of the course, both to center the students and pique their interest, but also to serve as sketching/journaling models if the weather isn't conducive to trooping outside to draw.

By now they were eager to get started, with ideas about things to look for, so I assigned them to groups of four and sent them out to sketch (the only thing missing was an assistant/guide to herd them around. Kids need these, but I figured adults could keep on track and hang together without a leader).

Here are some of them sketching. It was pretty hot in the sun, but if that's where your subject is, well, waddaya gonna do? One journaler's solution was to drape her overblouse over her head. Others found more comfortable benches to sit or draw on in the shade.

And they went through every trial and tribulation faced by every child who takes the course ~ and every joy and wonder as well. The magnifying glasses, hung on lanyards around their necks (with stern caveats to not remove them until they returned to the classroom ;^) and proved extremely popular. The journalists made some fascinating discoveries as they got close-up and personal with their subjects.

As with the children's class, I think it only fair to show you what they produced. After all, only one of these people had much in the way of art backgrounds. That person had enough confidence to make her journal entry in ink (a sure sign).

So here are the journal pages. There were fourteen workshop participants, so it took me quite some time to get these tweaked, and I confess that I didn't spend as much time getting the shadows out as I would have liked. But they DO look good, don't they? And now they can teach this to the kids, right from the workbook. One reason I know they can do it is because I purposely refrained from giving any art advice to anyone as they were drawing. This keeps everything on a level playing field ~ they didn't learn because I'm an art teacher, they learned because everything they needed was in the workbook they were working from.

I visited them three times during their time out sketching, mainly being supportive or answering questions (not giving advice except once when I forgot!), then I whistled them all in with my sports whistle, offed my Teacher-to-Kids hat, and we finished off the workshop by going through the Teachers Manual I had produced for the second half of the class, complete with Class Plan, Assistant's Guide and Checklist, Permission Slip, Observation Box instructions, Resource List (did you know you can buy owl pellets for $2-$3?), and other good things.

We wound up the class with an open discussion, as Kari, one of the students but also the organizer of the workshop, took notes on the flipchart.

I did forget to hand out the workshop evaluations until after more than half of the people had gone, but four of them generously stuck around to fill them out anyway, and the results were encouraging.

End analysis: a serviceable workshop with absolutely GREAT people. I had WAY too much fun.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Watercolor Pencil Workshop 8-1-09

I haven't given this workshop in a while ~ since April, actually ~ so it was fun to have a fresh run at it. It was a small class, just four students, so it was quite intimate and enjoyable.

Three former students attended, two of whom brought their own watercolor pencils to use. Normally I provide all the pencils, but I don't mind if students bring their own as long as they keep them separate from mine, since sorting them out at the end of the workshop could be a headache.

After a spin around the color wheel, we made a brief sortie into Right-brain contour drawing to get started on the right track. In this class, we only do a little drawing, concentrating instead on learning how to use the watercolor pencils effectively.
The class has some "coloring book" aspects, since there isn't time to do a lot of drawing AND coloring instruction in a two-day workshop. So I provide most of the drawings and they practice the techniques and processes of coloring them.

Still, it's nice to do at least some projects from start to finish. So our subjects for the contour drawings were seashells, which they later would come back to color with the watercolor pencils after gaining some experience on subjects in the workbook. Here's one of the drawings.

Students often get hung up on finding exactly the right watercolor pencil to use, so I chose their next subject to be totally boring, color-wise ~ a eucalyptus seedpod, dark brown and rather plain. I encouraged them to try mixing opposite colors from the color wheel to get different shades of brown. I also suggested adding touches of unexpected colors for interest, and they took me very literally. Click on the thumbnails here to see the larger images. They're WILD.

Another area which causes either a lot of trouble or terminally boring results is how you shade white items. Gray should be the last resort. When a white subject is near a colored one, the color reflects back onto the white subject with interesting results. You can experiment with this yourself ~ put a white object on a colored surface, and notice how the color reflects up onto the white. In the picture here, you can see the strip of colors I provide to play with these effects.

I gave them interesting white subjects to draw: when I was in Idaho in June I collected a LOT of white bones in the desert, picking them up from where they had been bleaching amidst the fragrant sagebrush plants, crystal-lined geodes and horned lizards. Here's Rachelle sketching a muledeer's jawbone.

What a great job they did on the reflections!

By the way, these were drawn with ballpoint pens, no pencil or erasing.

Then, to get back to a more genteel subject, I taught them how to make dewdrops (or raindrops, take your pick), and we finished off the day by first practicing some textures in ballpoint pen, then going back to color the seashells they had drawn earlier. They could either use the photo for color, or an actual shell from my collection. Here's what those looked like when they were finished:

Fran had to leave at noon to go to her job, so she didn't get to color bones and shells. Fortunately, she was reasonably experienced, and she was able to pick up much of what she had missed by working extra hard the second day.


We started out the second day with another run at the dewdrops. I always do the dewdrops twice because the first time around the results are usually not terrific, and a brush-up the next morning usually produces much nicer results.

Open your coloring books, ladies! On the second day we got into color intensively, learning how to make landscapes, ocean, and water in the first few exercises.

About this time, students who haven't used paintbrushes much before have progressed from just getting color onto the paper to trying to finesse the strokes, so I do an intensive project with a spotted orchid to work on this aspect.

This exercise also teaches a quick, easy, and very effective way to make a background which is suitable for just about any subject. The students produced some nice results, and Gayle used what she had just learned to add a dewdropwith some reflected colors, both pink and green, to her orchid. Be sure to click the orchid below left for a close-up look!

One of the returnees, Marlene, is something of a workshop junkie, and she has learned the value of taking notes during workshops. (It's amazing how much you can forget after leaving the class even with my nice workbooks to refer to later). She incorporated her notes into her journal, along with simple little sketches and paint demos to remind herself of important points.

I wanted to quickly cover fur, tree bark, and sunlight on foliage before starting our final project, so we did our Five Color Bobcat, with students selecting five different brown-orange-yellow-red colors with which to make the fur vibrant (if you watch the hair ads on TV, you'll have noticed how they hype multiple color hi-lights for beautiful hair? Same thing.)

Finally they were ready for their Final Project, for which the local market had produced lovely nectarines. They spent the last hour of class busily coloring their nectarines and practicing ways to add highlights. Don't these make you hungry?

I am proud of this bunch of students. They really rose to the occasion!

My next posting (soon, I hope) will be of the teachers workshop I did yesterday at the North Mountain Nature Center. I taught 13 teachers/volunteers/staff of the nature center how to teach the Observing Nature course, a half-day journal/sketching course for young people. I'll teach it again next week, but this was the first run and I'm happy to say it went without a snag (except that I forgot to hand out my evaluations until half of the participants had already left. A Freudian slip?)

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

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