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!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Raptor Workshop

Last month I did a rather unusual workshop on sketching raptors (birds of prey) in conjunction with an ornithologist, Dr. Frank Lang, from Southern Oregon University, with whom I used to teach Biological Illustration. The workshop was sponsored by the Siskiyou Field Institute.

It was unique because it was mainly a drawing class for birders, who had spent the previous two days in the field with binoculars and Frank, watching and admiring hawks, falcons, eagles, owls and ospreys. Normally my workshops attract artists, and I focus on the right-brain processes involved in improving drawing skills in a studio setting. For this workshop of birders I was asked to start out with raptor anatomy, then move on to drawing actual birds.

As a naturalist, I know quite a lot about birds, but ANATOMY???? After a week of cramming, I was ready for the anatomy part. With my new knowledge, I made a heavily illustrated 8-page book I titled "Raptor Anatomy for the Artistic Bird Watcher," which covered bird parts, construction, and function. I added a page of sketching techniques for raptors. I have a little comb binder in my studio, so I ran these off on my laser printer and bound them with covers. They look nice, if I do say so myself {grin}.

Using that book, plus skulls and feathers, and an actual foot from an owl, I taught my nine students about raptor parts, then I handed out a workbook book I had made, "Sketching Raptors," and each person tackled some basic drawing techniques right on the workbook's pages. I love this technique, since students can take the workbook home with their drawings next to instructions for later reference (as in, "how the heck did I do THAT?"). [Later: Due to several requests, I have bound the Raptor Anatomy and the Sketching Raptors workbooks together under the Raptor Anatomy cover and I'm offering these for sale for $7.95 on my Nature Works Press website (you can get there from the links bar at right).

The workshop met at Wildlife Images, a wildlife rehab center with a terrific outreach program. A handler stayed with us all day to make sure the birds stayed happy and calm and to answer our questions. After an introductory drawing session, a red-tailed hawk was brought in, which they all sketched as I moved about the room advising and suggesting ways to capture its shape. Over the course of the day we sketched a red-tailed hawk, a great horned owl, a Swainson's hawk, and finally, a spotted owl. I did some quickie demo drawings of the great horned owl to show techniques and how to get the general shape.

I kept the workshop really loose and casual since I figured the people were mostly there for love of the birds, not to learn how to draw perfectly. Only one person had signed up specifically because of the drawing session, and he apparently was satisfied, according to his evaluation. I always hand out evaluations at the end of class, to help me meet expectations and improve future workshops.

Our critiques, one after every bird, were fun -- this very supportive group gave kudos for every speck of improvement anyone showed over the course of the day. I always ask groups to keep their comments positive, and this was a MOST positive bunch.

In addition to discovering their sketching talents, these dedicated birders got the bonus of being close to the raptors for a long, quiet time. One older student was weary by mid-afternoon and spent the last hour or so simply gazing raptly at the spotted owl we were drawing. It WAS magnificent....

In my next entry, I'll write about last Sunday's Wildflower Sketching trip to the top of Upper Table Rock, a local landmark visible from all over the Rogue Valley. Talk about gorgeous....!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

And For My Next Workshop.......


We left Costa Rica today, flying out of Puerto Jimenez after an early morning hike on which I discovered a beautiful passiflora vine in flower, and sketching a red-capped manakin. Dan and I said goodbye to El Remanso with great regret. We have so enjoyed this tropical paradise, and being looked after so wonderfully. We want to come again soon, and I want to lead another workshop of eager students as they discover the wonders to be found here and become aware of their increasing ability to draw and add color to it. I can’t think of a more rewarding way to spend my time.

I’m developing another workshop right now on nature journaling for those people who enjoy keeping a journal and would like to add life and breath to it with drawings in pencil, pen, watercolor pencil, watercolors, whatever. It will be a chance for participants to develop their writing skills as well. I think this would make a particularly fascinating workshop here.

When I go on trips, I always take photos for my journals, and I usually sketch. I’ve found it’s the journals with sketches that I take the most pleasure in, by far. I visit them again and again, while the photo albums languish.

A journal is not only a record of what you see and do, but a narrative to return to again and again later. My journal of this workshop and all the sketches I did will provide pleasure frequently in the coming years – and it will be great fun to share with family and friends.

Colorful descriptive writing can make a simple journal a work of art. A walk in a wild Costa Rican jungle or beach, your local woods, the city park (or even a willful back yard) can provide lots of opportunities for a great journal page, but there are other sources for a wonderful sketch/journal, too.

For instance, a gardener is in contact with nature on a daily basis, and many gardeners keep journals of what they plant and when, the date the veggies ripen or the flowers bloom, etc. But how much richer their lives would be with an additional focus on journaling and sketching about these miracles. Here’s an example of a simple garden entry:

“5/27 planted 2 ponypacks of snap peas today.”

Now consider how much more enjoyment you could get from this entry – not only as you write it on 5/27 but as you read it on 11/30 when it’s cold outside and the peas are long-ago consumed – if you had journaled:

“5/8 10:30am Sunny with a slight breeze, and the blossoms on the madrone trees fill the air with a sweet honey scent. We’re having an unseasonably cool spring, but that makes it perfect for planting since I haven’t been able to turn on the irrigation drippers yet. I just planted two ponypacks of snap peas in a big pot on the deck, and looped the tiny tendrils through the chickenwire so they could begin their climb to the sun. The chickenwire keeps Jesse [the cat] out of the pot – he thinks those pots are there for his personal enjoyment.

The lettuce and bok choy I planted 2 weeks ago aren’t quite big enough to provide a full salad bowl every day, but by adding a few pea leaves (yum!) I can give a small, delicious taste of spring to my daily lunch menu. The peas are so robust and lively they’ll never notice.”

And along with that entry you sketch the pea plants and their spring-like tendrils, or the pot and chickenwire, or Jesse peering wistfully into the forbidden pot, or even the whole deck with its array of pots and salad greens. And just imagine drawing (and maybe painting) your roses or clematis blooms! As you gain experience and confidence, you can get really detailed about the drawing, and add color or shading as you wish. And no matter how skilled you are at drawing now, you will get better with practice – and your enjoyment in the journaling, the sketching, and even the gardening will grow exponentially. Reading back in your journal is like a time-machine visit. It fully evokes the day, the time, the scent and quality of air (if you write about it) and the very event you chronicle. What a lovely gift to make to your future self!

So THAT’s the workshop I’m putting together, to help people get started on a fascinating-to-read journal decorated with pleasing drawings. Having done it for decades myself, I’m really going to enjoy sharing the pleasures of it. I hope you can join me here at El Remanso for the adventure. Be sure to click on the link to get on my newsletter list so you won't miss it -- plus the art tips and techniques you'll also find in the newsletter. By subscribing to my free newsletter, you'll also let me know how much interest there is in such a workshop. Keep in touch!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Beach and Waterfall Massage


10:30am This morning Dan and I started down to the beach at seven, reveling in the pounding surf, skeins of brown pelicans patrolling the waves, and the fringe of palms, kapok, and beach almond trees fringing the beach. Crumpled papery eggshells littered the soft gray sand where a turtle nest had been raided overnight by a pizote.

We meandered south to the tidepools to bask in warm pools shadowed yet awhile by the cliffs. I lay in the pool floating weightlessly as the occasional incoming wave washed almost-hot water from more distant pools into mine, then surged across the pool to meet a similar frothy wave coming around the rocks at the other end, gently, gently. Sheer bliss.

We visited Dan's favorite wave-catching spot and let the rising tide froth around us. One largish wave broadsided us and swept me, giggling, ten feet up the sloping beach. We played and talked for hours in the shade of the cliff, hoping to avoid a tropical burn although since this is nearly on the Equator it’s possible to get quite a burn even on overcast days. Reflections off the sea can burn, too.

I’m off down the beach to the waterfall lagoon up a narrow canyon. Dan’s following at his own pace. He wanted to nap and I want to sketch, so away I go. We’ve seen twenty pelicans and a frigate bird, we watched a pod of humpbacked whales swimming south, and Dan saw flying fish rising and splashing back into the sea. (Later: IrenĂ© says the flying fish were probably mating manta rays!)

I’m sketching sprouting coconuts in the lagoon, and flowers with a most incredible gardenia scent. Gerardo just descended out of the narrow canyon, escorting an athletic group who just finished rappelling the waterfall. He says this is a flower from the guayaba plant. (Later: a tea made from the leaves of this plant is sometimes offered to guests who are suffering from upset stomachs.)

12:22pm Daniel came up from the beach and we went up to the waterfall a short distance up from the lagoon. This is a magical place, and even though five people had just rappelled it, it looked primeval, as though we were the first ones to ever see it. A wide stream of silvery water pours of a stone lip 30’ above us into a pool in a deep grotto. We stepped into the grotto and stood under the falling water, getting a breathtaking shoulder massage for as long as we could stand it.

Coming back out, we discovered a tiny poison-arrow frog, shiny black with bluish legs and a red band around its froggy outline. We found another one further downstream near a meter-long string of brilliant red flowers hanging from a sturdy heliconia plant. Termite nests like nubby black footballs perch in trees. A pizote forages on the bank above us and macaws flash in the trees above.

2.23pm Up the trail..... I have left Daniel back down on the beach again – he loves to sit and watch the waves, but Gerardo told us there was a sloth alongside the trail and I don’t want to miss it. I mean, it COULD move away. So I’ve been sitting at the edge of the trail for some time now watching through binoculars and I have spent a somnolent session sketching a sloth sleeping (say that fast three times!). Ah, movement! It has turned it’s head to look over its shoulder! And it moved its foot! Now its chin has drooped and it is sleeping whilst looking backward. The sloth is slightly below eye level, about 200’ away. It’s sort of tannish gray, and I’d never have found it on my own.

5:14pm I sat on my little sitting pad watching and sketching for about forty minutes.

The sloth began the session in one position (see the drawing with leaves) and ended in the other position (looking over its shoulder) which it held for fifteen minutes with occasional head movements. I finally left with a numb bum, tired but elated with my good fortune. Dan came along an hour later and admired it too, apparently in the same position.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Hiking the Passiflora Trail

April 27

7:04am Last night after a marvelously decorative dinner, Gerardo brought us a Bufo marinus to inspect -- a HUGE toad about 8” long and 4” wide. As Gerardo was showing us the huge glands behind its eyes which exude an irritant (to discourage predators), the toad swelled up bigger and bigger as it gulped down air. Soon it resembled a cantaloup with a face and legs. When Gerardo released it, it gradually deflated and hopped away into the shadows.

Only four frogs serenaded us from the pool during the night, but no eggs floated on the surface this morning. Perhaps the frogs gathered to reminisce about the delightful time they’d had the night before. Or perhaps the guys came back to brag while the ladies went off the recuperate. That seems more likely...

There were ten crabs in the pool this morning (two expired) but I fished out the rest with the net. These land crabs live out in the forest in holes in the ground. I saw one yesterday on the Ridge Trail popping back into its lair.

8:55am This morning I’m hiking the Passiflora Trail. Daniel drove me up to the trailhead in an El Remanso car because it’s a steep climb and I stubbed my toe yesterday (it’s a bit swollen, but I can’t miss an adventure!). At the trailhead we watched a troop of titi’s (squirrel monkeys) crossing overhead, one with a baby, tiny enough to have held in the palm of my hand, riding on her back. Then a troop of carablancas (capuchins) followed, leaping from branch to branch fearlessly. I’m working on my Spanish, and it’s fun learning new words.

Only a few steps into the shadowy trail I startled up a quail-like bird, very quiet and mousy, which I had trouble seeing in the dim light. It may have had markings, but I couldn't see any as it tip-toed furtively into the dark under some big leaves. (Later: Joel says it was probably a Little Tinamou.)

More monkeys are overhead. Titis are barking like chihuahuas and dropping hard little fruits down on me, and a bit farther away a sound like someone throwing around sheets of cardboard or heavy paper is capuchins leaping through heavy leaves in the canopy. It has begun to shower lightly – I heard its approach as a light tapping on the canopy to the southwest. I looked for the darkest bit of canopy to stand under and I’m staying dry enough to keep writing. This may last awhile.

I just sketched a young monkey ladder vine detail. I love this vine with its pockety flat lianas and split leaves. Some of the vines grow as big around as my waist at their bases on Ridge Trail. (Later: I found and photographed a really big one on this ridge, too)

The carablancas are now almost directly overhead. When they make a long leap, big water droplets come plummeting down. So far I haven’t gotten drenched.

10:40am I’m having a delightfully poky morning trying to spot creatures before they spot me. I have had success with an anole, two katydids and a giant cockroach. They blend in or hide so perfectly, they're hard to see before they leap (and it's even harder to get a crisp, clear photo in the dim light).

There are some incredible giant buttressed trees in this part of the forest. Joel recently went out with Dan and Gerardo, and they found bats, spiders and other fine things in the crevices of buttressed trees. Wish I had a flashlight!

4:19pm I'm back from my hike and it’s downpouring. Sitting on our cabina's veranda, I am dry and content to watch the natural libation. Daniel and I had planned to go down to the beach this afternoon, but we paused for a siesta and it began to rain. The downspouts are flowing, the sea is silver, the pool is rippling with dimples and the air is soft and cool. Actually, I don’t mind the enforced relaxation.

Over the roof of the restaurant I can see the red and blue flash of macaws, and there’s no missing their raucous, grating cries. They speak often to each other over their fruity lunches and as they fly two-by-two, hither and yon, over El Remanso. The toucans, with their outsize bills and brilliant markings, sing a melancholy hooting cry and fly singly, while the green parrots gabble noisily and labor mightily as they flap along.

I’ve been sketching the skulls in the skull box. I love skulls, and I've been experimenting with the various colors one can use to show "white." I did the pizote skull yesterday with lavender and yellow.

Today I'm going to try blue and black (gray, more likely) on the monkey skull, then maybe ochre for the sloth skull. The skulls are actually all a sort of grayish-white, but hey, I'm the artist here!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Hiking the Ridge Trail


Well, now the workshop is finished but the fun isn’t over and I’m going to keep sketching, for sure! Last night the masked tree frogs invaded the pool, nine of them, about 3” long, tan and so fearless that we could approach and touch them. They have charming faces, friendly and a bit goggle-eyed. At first, as we sat by the pool with our margaritas and jugos (juices) and cervesas (beers), they’d let out an occasional “wank!” But during the night they came into full voice.

“Bwrawk! Barawk! Brock!” They’d sing awhile, lapse into silence, then sing another chorus -- all night long. After awhile we fell asleep to the raucous lullaby. This morning, clusters of eggs dotted the pool. I estimated a couple of thousand. We could barely see the gel surrounding the little black dot of a yolk The gardener dipped them into a tub and took them away to hatch elsewhere. The frogs left the pond before sunrise and are perched fearlessly on palm leaves by the pool, in plain sight with people passing by barely a meter away. When the frogs dry, they are slightly iridescent.

I managed to photograph a huge iguana through the spotting scope from the restaurant. I think I could really get into this! The lodge also has a box of skulls that have been found out in the forest over the years, and I want to sketch the oddest ones while I’m here. This is a pizote, the coati, long and skinny.

10:44am, 85degrees (I have a little thermometer on my keychain). Today I am tackling the Ridge Trail. It goes back to the head of the ravine to the south of the lodge, then out onto the next ridge to an overlook, then down a steep scramble to the beach. It is humid and the air is very still in the forest, and rather dark – I’ve been trying to photograph things like cicadas and anole lizards without a flash, but I’m having trouble holding the camera steady enough to get a picture. Next time I think I’ll bring a little tripod. Earlier, a troop of spider monkeys were eating from clumps of fruit above me, with most unmannerly insults shouted from full mouths. I had to dodge a branch that came crashing down. Did they do that on purpose?

Right now I’m sitting quietly on one side of a steep canyon trail. For about fifteen minutes I’ve been watching a pizote foraging along the opposite canyon wall about 50’ away. It has no idea I am watching it nose under roots, leaves and into crevices and crannies, snapping up insects, spiders, and other goodies. Earlier three pizotes spotted me and barked “Wuk! Wuk! Wuk!” in alarm then slipped away through the forest.

This part of the trail descends into the ravine at its very head, then turns around and starts up the other side. At the cul-e-sac I spotted an oval wasp nest looking a lot like a potato, hanging from a tiny tendril loop. Approaching closely, I stopped short when I saw little wasp faces peering out at me. No WAY am I getting any closer. Most of the wasps here are gentle and tolerant, but I’m not taking chances. About 30 feet away I lurched into another wasp nest hanging from the underside of a big leaf. THEY got mad, and gathered into fighting formation, so I quickly retreated (without incident).

It may rain – it’s thundering regularly. Hope I don’t get this journal wet! It’s so humid my glasses keep fogging up as I write, so it’s actually bathroom moist, and right here/now it is now 87 degrees. I keep smelling a skunk, maybe it’s some plant like skunk cabbage.

Oh my! I just almost ran into a palm tree with bands of 3-5” spines up and down the trunk! Very sharp and nasty. They surely protect this palm from climbing critters! (I just broke a spine off and am using it as a toothpick. Perfect.)

Noon: HAH! I made it to Buena Vista point and the view of the Pacific and the beaches below is terrific, although it's a bit overcast! I think I’ll lunch on my granola bar and cool down in the cool breeze off the ocean, then I’ll head back up the ridge since I took some loop routes and didn’t get to see all the trail. There’s so much to see.

Speaking of which…as I sit here munching I am seeing something seriously strange downslope about 40’ below the viewpoint. It’s a sphere about the size of an orange, maybe 3” in diameter, but creamy white and it has a fascinating design…..which I have finally realized is wasps clinging to the outside of the sphere. Okay, lunch is done, time to go see.

Well, it’s not a sphere as I thought from above—more a cream-colored disc, but the slope is so steep and crumbly there’s no way to get closer than about 6’ to inspect it. These may be wingless wasps, each about an inch long with black head and thorax and shiny cream-colored flattened abdomen.

The mass looks solid, but while the upper ring of wasps hangs onto the edge of the disc, I can't see what the ones beneath are grasping... There’s been almost no movement for the fifteen minutes I’ve been watching. Wait. I think maybe they have wings, but they’re smallish and pale, and held low. [Later: only by viewing a close-up of the photos I took am I able to see the wings: tan, and, as I finally surmised, held down alongside the abdomen.]

1:30pm I've headed back, and just came through a grove of "walking palms." They're called that because the trunk has multiple legs at the base, and it keeps sending down new roots on the sunniest side, allowing those on the darker side to die -- so it eventually "walks" to a more advantageous spot.

I've also seen more than one magnificent specimen of monkey-ladder vine along this ridge. The biggest one loops and twines around the trees (and itself) in intricate arabesques. It must be ancient, and it certainly gives a junglish character to this forest.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

4th Day's Class

April 25
7:17am -- overcast.

It rained during the night, starting at about 3:30. Now there are about 2cm of water in the rain gauge and the air is smooth and freshly washed. As always, the howlers awakened us with their moaning roars and barks. I love waking up that way. That's one of the things I'll miss most when I get back home to Oregon.

It’s clearing off now and my last class session will begin in about 45 minutes. I think it is beginning to dawn on my students that perhaps they can indeed draw, and they keep telling me, without prompting, that they are having a great time. They certainly have been working energetically on their drawings, so we are all well pleased. Today we'll work on intensifying colors and how to paint (using the watercolor pencils) a landscape simply but realistically. The watercolor pencils are ideal for applying colors on-site while sketching (especially with the water-charged paintbrush), but they're equally nice for doing finished art later on.

The workshop is finished, and it was a great success. All of the students now have a whole new array of skills and capabilities, and have expressed great pleasure at finding their new talents.
Ann has thanked me more than once for creating the opportunity for her to come here to El Remanso and take the workshop. (Her traveling companion, Mary Ann, has spent the time Ann was in class photographing mushrooms and hiking the trails. They went horseback riding on the beach, too.) Adriana would like to make sure these workshops happen again – she says now she can tell potential participants "about the amazing things that happen in the class." So I expect I will be scheduling more workshops here. Maybe this fall or next spring!

2pm. I'm sitting on my patio sketching a pod from a kapok tree. I’ve found many of these lying amidst palm fronds and coconuts in the soft sand where the beach meets the forest. If they don’t get wet, the woody pod sections splay open and the fluffy kapok bursts out in a gigantic soft puff, 4” x 6”, soft as goose down. Sometimes I sketch interesting things like this on the spot. Other times, I tuck them into my fanny pack to draw later. I usually carry along a few empty ziplock bags, just in case.

5:13pm. Joel has brought Dan and me and Gerardo via zipline out to a platform in a huge canopy tree! The zipline ride was fun, sailing over the forest floor 100’ below. Joel is (as Belen says) “Mr. Security” with immense attention to carabiners and ropes and knots with an eye to safety. I felt totally safe on the zipline, and now, attached to the platform by two nylon tethers, I am sitting in the high green air sketching a mossy branch with mosses, ferns and orchids clinging to it.

Dan and I are just tag-alongs -- Joel invited us to come along while he gives Gerardo, the new naturalist, exhaustive instructions on how to work with the equipment, so we’ll have a nice long time to gaze out over the tops of the trees and watch for wildlife. Dan just spotted a hummingbird nest on a branch about 20’ above us, when the hummer came back to the nest. Now it is settled into its little walnut-sized nest staring at us.

The scene is primeval with the trees mounding below us with wonderfully various shapes, textures, and colors. Across the forested ravine we see other huge canopy trees broadside instead of from beneath. We sit on the platform edge, legs dangling, and breathe the sweet wild air, entranced.

This platform is 120’ above the ground in an ajo tree, about 190’ from the launch platform near the cabinas and restaurant. Joel came over first, then Gerardo, then I came and finally Dan. Duende stayed at the platform end to pull the riding slings back for the next rider. He later sent over a bolsa (bag) loaded with coffee, creamer and crackers. Daniel, grinning, says we are having ‘high tea!” Yup!

It has suddenly started to get dark. These equatorial evenings are gorgeous but WAY too short! I'm about to get strapped in for the return zip -- I'd like to stay up here forever but.....!

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

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