Monday, February 18, 2013

Paper and Pencil

Most of us are artists at a young age.  We love to take pencils, crayons, and markers to paper when we are young, creating "masterpieces" that we give to anyone who will take them.  Every refrigerator in a house with small children is an art gallery.  As we get older, many of us draw less and less.  We decide that we don't like to draw, that we aren't any good at it, that we don't have the time, or that there are better ways of recording information.  Some of us stop drawing altogether. In this age where every person has a camera in their pocket, or on their cellphone, or strapped to their head, what is the point of using a pencil and paper to draw anything anymore?

Most of us do not walk around wearing a helmet cam to record everything we see.  Sometimes things happen too fast to take out a cell phone to take a picture.  Or it is too dark.  Or it is too bright.  Or maybe you left your camera/phone/tablet at home.  If there is something that you want to remember, what do you do then?

What if you find something in your adventures that you cannot identify?  Maybe a bird, or a butterfly, or a wildflower.

Maybe you just want to remember a scene, with its colors and emotions.  Maybe you want to show someone later.  What can you do?

Take a step back to when everyone was an artist.  Take out a pencil (or crayon, or pen, or marker, etc.) and a piece of paper (or flat rock, or piece of wood, etc.) and start making marks.  Draw what you can see.  It doesn't have to be perfect.  Write down some notes to help you later.  Often the best moments in the outdoors are those that we never take a photograph of - a drawing can help us share them with others.

These first few drawings are of objects that I found and drew the same day.  The first drawing is of a Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) from late summer.  I did not color the entire leaf but instead made notes about the color along the margin.

Silver Maple Leaf - notice the notes on color.
The next drawing was also of a Silver Maple leaf, but this time in the fall.  I colored this entire leaf to show the uneven coloring it had taken on before it fell off the tree.  There are also a number of holes in the leaf from insects.  Below the Silver Maple leaf is a drawing of a Small White Aster (used to be called Aster vinimeus, now called Symphyotrichum racemosum). 

Fall Maple Leaf and Aster

This next drawing of a Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum trilobum) was made to show the stem, leaves, and fruit and their relationship on the plant.

Sometimes drawings can show subtlety in colors.  A crabapple might look red from a distance, but up close that red is joined by white and even blue shades.

Crabapples on the branch
The next two drawings show other details.  The gall on the goldenrod was formed by a wasp laying an egg in the plant's stem.  The ribs in the stem deformed as the gall swelled.  The Highbush Cranberry leaf below shows little splotches of color where the leaf was stressed by drought or insects.

This drawing of grasses was done for largely so they could be looked up and identified later.  It shows some of the fine details of the seeds that might be required for identification.

Fall Grasses

This drawing of a Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) was done on vacation.  It shows a type of tree that is not found around home.  If I had not known what type of tree this was, I could have later used this drawing to identify the tree.

Tulip Tree

The next drawings are of things that were collected and drawn much later.  Both of these sets of drawings of beach rocks (and a walnut shell) were collected and forgotten for many months.  Then they were brought out and drawn at the dining room table.  Studying them closely revealed lots of details of color and texture.  Drawing indoors means you can control things such as direction of light.  You can also go back and finish a drawing over time, filling in details as you go.

Beach stones

Walnut half-shell and beach stones

The last set of my drawings are ones that were drawn of a scene.  The first was drawn on site as I was observing the scene.  It includes details that I could see at the time.  The remaining three were drawn later to help remember what I had seen.

Dune Scene

This next drawing of starling on power lines is not really an accurate drawing.  The poles were taller, there were more power lines and way more birds.  I just wanted to show that the birds were covering every inch of the lines.  I used this drawing to show other people what I had seen.

Birds on a line

This next drawing was of something that I felt and saw.  The largest Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) that I had every seen was hidden along the shoreline of a local pond.  When I wend down to the edge of the pond, it swam away directly at my feet.  Its shell was easily 24 inches long and its head was larger than my fist.  The size of this turtle made an impression on me.
A 2-foot long Snapping Turtle

This drawing of incoming storm clouds was all about color.  The purple clouds, green trees, red barn, brown grasses, and bright yellow flowers gave the scene an Impressionistic feel.

A scene before a storm

The last two drawing were made by a student during a field trip to study forest ecology at a local preserve.  The students were given a notebook and encouraged to draw what they had discovered.  The first drawing is a very good field sketch (with notes) of a plant.  If the plant had not been identified for the student, they could have used their drawing and notes to make an ID later.

The second student sketchbook page shows some of the plants, animals, and other things that the students discovered during their explorations.

I encourage everyone to pick up a pencil and paper again and rediscover the joy you felt when drawing as a child.  Not only will you have fun, but drawing might help your observation and identification skills.

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