What I learned about sketching from birds

Most of us have something that intimidates us when we think of doing a sketch. Some fear buildings because of perspective issues, others its people and faces, for me it is (was) birds. Past attempts were usually disappointing.

Thanks to Lyanda Lynn Haupt the author of Crow Planet, and Nature Together in Mukilteo, WA, I was challenged to paint birds. Crow Planet stimulated my awareness of the nature around me, which includes birds. Nature Together is sponsoring my Nature Sketching workshop on April 17; I have sketched a lot of leaves, flowers, and rocks in preparation, but, what if someone asked about birds, oh no! 

I have sketched a lot of leaves, flowers, and rocks in preparation. But, what if someone asked about birds, oh no! 

So I had a little talk with myself, I do that often, trying not to let people see me. “Terry, you tell people to stop thinking about lines and paint the shapes, so do it with birds.” Wise advice from a wise person I am sure. So I gave it a go. 

“Don’t define, don’t think of lines just look at the shapes and paint them with globs of paint.” This is how I teach people to paint anything because it works – and I discovered it works with birds. The temptation is always to want to outline the shapes with the brush, but it is better to work from the center and push the paint outward into the shape. Then use a bit of Micron ink for some details.

These two robins were my first attempts with the technique, and I must say I am quite pleased. When you follow the technique it works, wether it is buildings, flowers, shells, or even birds. Now I am finding birds are a favorite. And I am confident that I can pass this on to others.

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Travel and Nature Sketching

For many years I had the privilege of traveling to Australia a couple of times a year, yet it was not until my last trip, the twentieth time, that I finally saw the icon of Australia, a kangaroo. And even then it was from a train window as Tricia (Travels Through My Lens) and I were on our way from Melbourne to Sydney – a fleeting glance as they bounded over a hill.

‘Roos and Koalas may be iconic, but the diversity of nature, unfamiliar to my other-side-of-the-hemisphere experience, are abundant. Flocks of colorful birds, spiders that I sadly never sketched, and the most amazing plants you can imagine.

To get a real feel for a place go where the locals go, and slow down enough to sketch a plant, a spider, a tree, a rock in the water, a mountain. Nature sketching is a part of travelsketching.

This colorful flower was in the city park in Darwin, Australia.

Here are two from Japan. The trees in Japan have the most interesting shapes, I sketched this one from a bench while soaking up the quiet ambience of the park.

The plants and planter are from a quiet little hideaway at the Niwa Hotel, they called it a refreshment place, a pond and plants, on the third floor yet – a quiet place to refresh.

Learn more about combining nature sketching with your travels, be they near or far, at this upcoming workshop.

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Nature Sketching vs. Botanical Illustrations,o

Elisa is a friend of mine, the daughter-in-law of my friend Tim. She is one of those artists whose work leaves me speechless. Elisa does botanical illustrations, a specific form of art not for the weak of heart.

Botanical Illustrations must be scientifically accurate in all ways, color, proportions, and details. They are often artistic, yet they are not open for interpretations by the artist. Here is an example, though not done by Elisa.

Nature Sketching is different. Much like travel or urban sketching, nature sketching captures the moment while it enhances observation and awareness. Explorers of nature have always gone into the world with a sketchbook or field journal in their pocket, to record what they see, and what they experience. Theirs is the work of the moment – the botanical illustration is more likely the product of the studio.

Many of my earliest memories took place in nature, up through my first year of college my intention was to become a biologist. Life has a way of redirecting the confident certainty of youth, yet my curiosity and love of nature is alive and well all these years later. I am looking forward to leading workshops that will attract non-sketchers to the joy of seeing the world around them, and capturing in in a sketchbook.

Here are a few recent nature sketches:

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Nature Sketching Workshop

I am so thrilled to be partnering with Nature Together to do a workshop on sketching nature – hopefull there will be more in the future.

Nature Together Sketching

Wednesday April 17, 10am-12.30pm at Nature Together shop in Mukilteo, Washington

$60 includes

  • Professional travel size watercolor pallet
  • Waterbrush
  • Micron 02 pen
  • Sketchpad
  • theTravelsketcher’s tip sheet

For centuries observers of nature have sketched to record their experiences. Sketching captures the moment and place, while improving our observation skills. This workshop will cover some basics of sketching the rocks, twigs, leaves, flowers, trees and small critters in our urban nature environment. (Watch for future workshops with more emphasis on trees and flowers, etc., as well as workshop on nature journaling.)

If you have little experience in sketching, this is for you, as it will be basic. Yet the more experienced will pick up a tip or two.

Register at Workshop page from tab above

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Piling on the beach at Mukilteo

Ask most folks, those who have even heard of Mukilteo that is, what is here and the first response is most likely the ferry to Whidbey Island. Those with a bit more knowledge of the area will identify the Lighthouse and it’s park. A few will of course know that Ivar’s has a restaurant on the water, and Arnie’s on the hill, and a brewery called Diamondknot. Yet there is a lot more to this beachside town.

Just a bit, sadly (my personal opinion revealed), north of Ivar’s is a hotel, which takes up way to much of the limited waterfront. Just north of the hotel is a Fisheries Research building, which is breathing its last breaths as it will give way to the complex of the new ferry terminal.

Tucked in between the hotel and the research is a tiny access to the beach, frequented by scuba divers. Decaying pilings in the water are testament to long-gone times. They still serve a purpose as subjects to paint, add cloudy skies, dark waters, and rugged rocks – just right.

This is a 5×7″ acrylic on a canvas panel.

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Yes! You can travelsketch. April 13, Mukilteo, Wa

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If you have ever wished that you could capture travel moments with pen and paint, BUT think you “can’t draw,” then this is for you. All levels are welcome and will pick up tips and tricks, but special attention will be given to a basic technique that may be different than you have tried.

I have developed a step by step approach that will simplify the process, and your first sketch will surprise you. In addition to hands-on sketching each person will receive

  • Professional grade compact watercolor palette, just the right size for pocket or bag
  • Waterbrush
  • Micron 02 fine point pen
  • Travel sketchbook

You will be ready to keep sketching and keep improving.

If the weather is cooperative we will paint on the patio, even if it’s a bit cool we are good, if not we are inside. Red Cup is being so generous that I am hoping everyone buys coffee, tea or munchies.

I will do a quick demo. Then lead you on a step by step sketch from a photo of your choosing. So each person needs to bring a few meaningful photos from a trip, no portrait types though. Either printed out, or on iPad.

Register now in the Workshop tab above

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Nostalgia in Independence, Oregon

When I was young, 8-10, I would spend a week every summer with my grandparents in Independence, Oregon. My grandpa drove a Union 76 oil delivery truck. On the day he delivered to the farms I got to ride along. The highlight was stopping at a little store on a narrow road, grandpa always got me an Orange Nehi, these are the best memories I have of my grandpa. This is a preliminary for an acrylic of nostalgia series.

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