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 29, 2007

On Talking to Yourself

Yesterday was the second session in my current 3-session Nature Sketching Workshop, and I must confess I am having fun with it. I think my favorite part is bringing home the importance of cognizant observation -- and the amazement (of my students) that mere looking is not the same as cognizant observation.

Here's what happens in the class: As part of the landscape sketching instruction, I include (and stress) sketching foreground items such as sticks, pinecones, shrubs, grasses, etc.

I show the students a sequoia cone, and go through the thinking-out-loud process of observing the cone: what is the shape (egg-shaped, with a flat end), how are the scales arranged (diagonal rows, at cross angles in a grid), what does the perimeter look like (very jagged, outlining the scales), and what does the end of each scale look like (a bumpy diamond, with a "kissy-lips" shape). They help select and create the verbal descriptions, and say them out loud.

Then, as an exercise, I ask the students to choose either a sequoia cone or a gnarly stick from my gnarly stick collection and draw it for about fifteen minutes. We don't describe the sticks out loud, as each one is different. As they draw, I go from student to student helping them get the shape right, applying shading, showing gnarliness and wood grain, etc. The results are generally good, and the students end up being reasonably pleased with the results (NOTE: artists are way too hard on themselves).

But then I remove the sticks or cones and I ask them to redraw their subject on a fresh page from memory, without reference to the stick or cone or the previous drawing.

Amazingly, the students sketching sticks they had just examined and drawn for fifteen minutes, often cannot remember the shape of the stick, where twigs protruded, which way the stick curved, or other major landmarks on the stick.

Students drawing a cone, however, can produce a creditable drawing, right down to the design on the ends of the scales. They have developed an internal "template" of a sequoia cone which they can use for later reference.

You'd think that the stick image would be deeply imprinted in one's brain after fifteen minutes of intense study, but I think there is something else going on here, and it has to do with our highly developed left brain, which uses words and symbols to operate.

Since we described the cone in highly descriptive words and related features to known shapes and symbols, then drawing the cone from memory is easily accomplished by applying those symbols and shapes to the paper.

The gnarly stick however, hasn't been "labeled," so it is difficult to remember its amorphous shape accurately. This also makes drawing the stick a challenging task since each line has to be drawn on its own merit instead of as part of, for instance, a "kissy-lips" shape.

The solution to the drawing problem of a loosely structured form like a gnarly stick is to keep up an internal (or if you're alone, an external) dialogue while drawing. For instance, to tell yourself that "this stick is an inch wide and six inches long" or "it is five times as long as it is wide," or "it's shaped like an open-mouthed whale." And to describe protruding twigs: "there are two twigs on top, three on the bottom, and the middle top one forks." Additionally, "twigs emerge at a 45 degree angle" and "the long crack extends from the first twig to the fourth, and has a triangular break in it." "Two knotholes, one is oval, the other is round and both look like volcanoes." Sometimes a negative shape (the shape around the subject) can be described instead: "the negative shape at the end of the stick resembles a dog's head." Descriptions like that.

If you have words to hang a scene on, it is easier to remember for later reference, and it is also far easier to draw it the first time than if you are simply trying to push your pencil in the direction a line seems to go in the scene.

Next time you draw, talk to yourself. You may find the conversation quite stimulating and educational ;o}

p.s. The Journal/Sketching workshop is proceeding quickly -- I'm on the journaling part now! And I'm into the Common Moorhen (used to be the Common Gallinule) page in the swamp book illustrations -- did you know that moorhen chicks have blue foreheads and lipstick red bills? And bright candy-pink skin showing through sparse black hairs on the top of the head? They're a hoot!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Journal = Diurnal

Definition of "journal": A type of diary, from the Latin diarium

Hey, did you know that "journal" is the same word as "diurnal" and comes from the same Latin root for "day?"

My friend Daniel was just in Ireland. He had lunch with a duke, and says the Brits pronounce duke as juke.

While we usually pronounce the first syllable of diurnal as "die," the Romans, who spoke Latin, likely prounced it "dee," so it would have sounded like "dee-urnal." So if you say diurnal as the Latins would have then, and as the British do today, it comes out REALLY close to journal!

Aren't words fun?

I'm working on my first Journaling Workshop workbook today. I mention that there.

I'm thinking of calling the workshop "Creative Journaling." What do you think? Drop me a line with your input!

Additionally, a lot of people keep blogs and I'm thinking of making that a possible line of approach, as in:
  • NOTE:
  • If you already blog online, keeping another journal on the side may be just too much. You may want to consider creating your journal by printing out your blog entries and keeping them in a loose-leaf binder to which you can add pages of drawings and other materials. The pages could be printed onto heavy paper to allow for sketching and the entire journal could be bound at a later date.
I'm looking for input. Do you think that would be a good idea?

Friday, July 13, 2007

My next "Nature Drawing with Irene" workshop

My July workshop is almost upon me, and yesterday I stopped by the North Mountain Park Nature Center, which is sponsoring this workshop, to make sure all my ducks were in a row. They appear to be.

This workshop, "Nature Drawing with Irene Brady" will be held at a classroom in The Grove, which is near Ashland's (Oregon) City Hall. I've not taught there before, so I don't know what the ambience will be like, but hey, I expect we'll all be so busy we won't notice.

The cost for the 3-day class [9:30-2:30 on Saturdays, July 21 (Sketching Techniques), July 28 (Landscape Techniques), and August 4, (Watercolor Pencil Techniques)] is $95, and I provide all the tools and supplies, and a set of three workbooks (one for each class) with extra sketching pages and lots of tips and exercises so that students not only have something to take home from the workshop but something to work from later to continue their sketching education.

The workbooks are popular and I've even had people contact me online to ask if they could purchase just the books. At the moment I'm only using them in the class -- but later I might put them together into a combined book for aspiring nature artists.

But back to the workshop....I just checked out a great idea I had with the nature center and they agreed to let me invite just the people who have taken my classes previously to drop in for single refresher sessions of the workshop at $35 each. For instance, someone might like to attend just the second class, Landscape Techniques if that is the only aspect they'd like to brush up on. Provided there is room in the class, they can just appear and pay at the door (however, I'd suggest they contact me by phone or email to confirm a spot before the day of the class -- there's a link in the panel at right, and you can learn more about the class here).

We haven't tried this before, so it remains to be seen if there will be interest in such a plan. Of course, if the class fills up completely, it won't work. But sometimes I get a dropout, so a spot could open up even then.

I love teaching this class. It is always exciting to me to see "I-can't-draw-a-straight-line" people realize they CAN draw, and watch them, by the 3rd session, shading and coloring their very presentable drawings with great satisfaction. Just as exciting, though, is to see artists who have been drawing or painting for a long time markedly improve their ability to draw more accurately what they see. And I love it when I have all kinds in the class -- they are an inspiration to each other and to me, too.

I've been getting some email feedback on my last blog about the Sketch/Journaling Workshop plan I posted. In the next blog I'll discuss what has come in. If you'd like to be part of the discussion, read the previous blog (below) and send me a comment or email about your reaction to the proposed workshop. I'd really appreciate your input.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Journaling Workshop Lesson Plan

I blogged yesterday that I would try to get this up today -- the lesson plan for my upcoming workshop-in-progress. {I've been trying to work as I listen to the marvelous Beverly Sills retrospective. She was a remarkable woman with a fantastic voice!} And, at least on the west coast, it is still July 5.

I'd appreciate any comments, advice, criticism or words of wisdom you have to offer. It would actually be nice to hear from you in the comment box at the bottom of this entry, so others can see what has been commented on and add grist to the mill.

I love help on things like this. I always pass around evaluation sheets at the end of my workshops, then work very hard to improve to meet the needs of my students.

Even better, though, is to work out the kinks BEFORE giving the class. So lend a hand if you can. Pro or con.


Nature and Garden Journaling, with Sketches and Words

First Session is drawing, Second Session is writing, Third Session is for showing results of workshop training and improving writing/sketching skills.

All journal entries will be made with intent to share with the class – no private observations!

This workshop can also be presented in four sessions, with the addition of a watercolor pencil techniques session for learning how to color the artwork.

DAY ONE: Creative Drawing Session

VISUALS: my journals or samples from them
Right-brain workshop stuff
Examples of things to glue into journals

Introduce self, discuss my journal keeping, hand out workbooks

Show some of the journals I’ve kept

Go around room and elicit what people want to do with their journals. Record this on a flip chart for all to see and get inspiration from.

Refer to workbook, list of types of journals

Discuss styles and types of journals

Have pile of books on journaling on display, discuss & recommend good ones

Right-brain Exercises: contour, modified contour, leaf, negative spaces

Drawing Exercise: students make sketch of a natural article around which to journal on the second day – leave area around sketch empty for use in the second session.

Students decide on journal type they will use for this class
  • Garden
  • Nature
  • General
Discuss designing a journal: gutter margins, planning ahead, illustrations first, adding flat things: movie tickets, leaves, pressed flowers, etc.

Assignment 1: research the natural article sketched during class and/or make notes (not on page around sketch) to utilize in applying the creative writing information gained in the next session

Assignment 2: make a 1 (or more) page entry as a baseline example in order to gauge later improvement. Add illustration if desired.


DAY TWO: Creative Writing Session

Examples of good and mundane writing in workbook
Discuss examples of using a thesaurus to replace mundane words

Creative writing exercise: take a single sentence (from workbook) and expand it to an interesting paragraph, 100-150 wds

Creative poetry exercise: 4-liner rhyming, 4-liner freeform, haiku

Discuss examples of nature journaling entries, garden journaling entries and general journaling entries

Exercise: journal around the illustration done in previous workshop session.

Assignment for final session: Create at one or two entries with illustrations, one snippet of poetry, at least one paste/tape-in article, using information on designing a page and leaving a gutter.

(Select one of the categories below)
  • GARDEN ENTRY SUGGESTION: make an observation about a plant in the garden, a sketch of the plant, a haiku, a pressed leaf, flower, seed, seed packet, or cut-out photo from magazine, etc. with notes and arrows.
  • NATURE ENTRY SUGGESTION: make an observation about a found natural object, a sketch of it, a haiku of it, a pressed leaf or flower or another natural object found nearby, with notes and arrows
  • GENERAL ENTRY SUGGESTION: make an observation about anything you’d like, a sketch to illustrate it, a poem about it, a related flat article (or just something interesting) glued or taped onto the page – if it’s unrelated, label and annotate it.


Students bring their journals with assignments done

Each participant presents his/her journal to class

Class critique and admiration of journals, with suggestions and praise

Share ideas for future journal entries and approaches

Respond to student requests for further sketching or writing exercises.

If there is time, students sketch and journal the meeting during class

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

What am I DOING!

I'm hearing fireworks -- even out here in the woods. It's supposed to get up to about 100 degrees today, so I didn't go to the parade. Anyway, I have WAY too much to do. I just sat down to do an inventory of my ongoing projects and discovered that I have
  • a workshop to develop from the ground up (although I've begun the planning)
  • two workshops to give within the next two months
  • 23 full page illustrations to design and execute and 125 spot illustrations to rework (from bitmap to halftone) before the end of the year for The Southern Swamp Explorer.
Yikes! That's about one full-page illustration and 5 spot illustrations per week. I have started doing the spot illustrations on my laptop in the evenings while I "watch" TV. Actually there isn't much watching going on, just listening and an occasional glance up to the screen. It helps that most of the stuff is reruns so I can run pre-stored visuals of the storyline through in my head as I listen and illustrate.

Here's one of the big illustrations I finished a couple of weeks ago. I've done two since then, but I don't have them in jpg form so this will have to do. It's a mink in a bog, with pitcher plants and white-topped sedge and sphagnum moss (click to enlarge). I posted it to, where you can upload your stuff to share, then revised its front paw after a viewer suggested it needed improvement. She was right! See for yourself!

So my days are exceedingly busy, with filling orders and illustrating and keeping up with the business matters of running a business (Nature Works Press) (and sometimes blogging, like now), then quitting that at about 5 (when I'm pure stiff from sitting in front of the computer) and going down to Plant Oregon Nursery where I weed, prune, and do trouble-shooting "runabouts" on the golfcart until dark -- about 3-4 hours, then I come home and illustrate in front of the TV. I usually don't make it to bed until around 11. (I'm not whining, honest! I am just floored that I have so much to do!)

Now, tomorrow, I'm hoping to post my Journaling Workshop class plan, and see if anyone wants to poke holes in it or make suggestions. I'm hoping for some real feedback, so if you want to take part, feel free!

Remember last week I took a journaling class to get a feel for what should be in one? Well, Elaine Frenett just sent me a photo of the painting she was doing for that journaling class. She noted that the painting wasn't quite finished but that the text was, and that she hoped to finish it later after her show this Friday and send me the results. Here 'tis. Click on it for a closer view.

Elaine's show will be one of the highlights of Ashland's July "First Friday" tours -- on the first Friday of every month Ashland galleries and other participating entities throw open their doors to the public from 5 to 8pm. People walk from gallery to gallery, and it's a delightful sort of community experience. Elaine's show will be in the Headwaters building at 4th and C Streets.

At any rate, here's the painting, and you can see how the text enfolds it comfortably.

Gotta go.

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

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