Saturday, May 10, 2014

Nature Journaling at the FNPS Conference!

This Thursday I’m thrilled to be leading a Nature Journal Workshop for the 34th annual Florida Native Plant Conference in Ft. Myers, Florida!  Just one of the many exciting events at the 4-day event, the Nature Journal Workshop is open to 10 aspiring journal-keepers.  The workshop takes place Thursday, May 15th, from 1 to 4 pm at Florida Gulf Coast University (see conference site for exact location).  We still have spaces open!

At the workshop, you’ll learn the basics of starting a nature journal and have the opportunity to start a journal page with the art supplies provided.  Yes – a starter kit of artist-quality supplies is included in the cost of the workshop!  Each participant receives a lightweight tote bag with the FNPS logo, a 6 x 9 inch spiral-bound sketchbook, Micron Pigma ink pen, pencil, and eraser.  A small folding palette with primary colors and a medium size waterbrush rounds out the kit, along with a few other items.  You’ll also receive a handout of drawing tips to take home, a great reference for beginners and experienced artists alike to use later. 

If you’re not sure that this workshop is for you, I invite you to read some of my thoughts.  Scroll to the bottom for links and contact information.

Keeping a Visual Nature Journal

The process of keeping a visual nature journal is a path.  It isn’t about creating a finished product or a pretty picture, but is rather a reflection of my curiosity and explorations.  Every time I sketch something, I deepen my relationship with my subject by experiencing it differently.  I ask questions and think more deeply, and get to know my subject on an intimate level.

Those of us who draw and write about the natural world carry on a long historical tradition of curiosity, exploration, and investigation.  We need not be accomplished artists – just alight with the fire of curiosity and a desire to put thoughts and observations on paper.

Our own visual journals may contain quick sketches, detailed studies, photos, maps, poetry, or scientific observations.  We might record the progress of our garden, our explorations of nearby habitats, or simply our emotional responses to the beauty and diversity of the natural world.

Here’s what I’ve discovered that makes these journals valuable to me:  my drawing and painting skills have sharpened, especially when I draw on a weekly basis.  My observation has improved – I find myself specifically seeking out details in order to capture them on the fly or to write them down later.  My knowledge base has become more dimensional; not only have I learned more, my emotional connection to nature has become more specific and I have a deeper sense of how individual parts fit into the whole.

I recommend that you try to keep in mind the process, and not get over-involved with the outcome of each page.  As you practice, you’ll find your skills improving in every area.  Don’t be discouraged if you start and then stop.  When you’re ready, you’ll pick up your journal again and the words and pictures will flow onto the page.  Remember that it all “begins at the beginning” with that first step.  This is your exploration of  the natural world around you!

For more information: 

FNPS Conference home:

Nature Journaling Workshop at the conference:

Contact Marlene Rodak ( or 239-273-8945) for more information on the conference and how to register for the workshop.

Contact Elizabeth Smith for more information or questions on the Nature Journal Workshop (

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Old Port of the Isles Hotel ~ a.k.a. Remuda Ranch

A landmark from SW Florida's past.

In 1967, I turned thirteen, the year the original Port of the Isles Hotel was constructed.  Growing up in the Midwest seemed far removed from stories of innocent consumers buying Florida swampland.  The Gulf American Corporation (GAC), notorious developer of Cape Coral and Golden Gate, built the hotel in order to wine and dine potential buyers and investors, who were often flown down to experience the beauty and bounty of Southwest Florida. 

Now condemned, the hotel displays No Trespassing signs on every chained and padlocked door.  The predominant paint scheme reflects the pink and turquoise  hues of the 80’s, but in a sadly humorous attempt to update the exterior, someone has painted the front of the lobby and entrance wing a more fashionable yellow. 

The hotel was actually in operation last spring, when we had an opportunity to sketch the building and grounds, and meet the friendly and helpful managing-family-in-residence.  We were also allowed to see the interior and to use the restroom off of the defunct bar, which was a memorable experience.  I’m sorry to say that this once lovely building exuded mold and decay, fraught with broken and rusted fixtures, peeling paint, and weedy borders.  This year we returned in March, wondering if this trip would be our last chance to experience a piece of old Florida history and culture. 

The hotel was also known as Remuda Ranch, and its past includes drug smuggling, clandestine meetings, and a gathering place for concerts and parties.  In its more demure days, the ballroom hosted annual proms for nearby high schools. It’s sad to see it aging: the buildings deteriorating, the parking lot cracked and weedy, the pool drained and dry.  I can imagine the happy laughter, baking sun, splashing water, and the clinking of ice in highball glasses around that pool…

The Hotel lies 22 miles east of Naples off Tamiami Trail, to the north of a community called Port of the Isles, and nestles alongside Fakahatchee Preserve State Park.  I sketched a montage – the edge of the parking lot first, adding the hotel entry and butterflies flirting with the nearby weedy flowers.  I’m using a 6x9 inch Aquabee spiral-bound sketchbook, a sepia Micron Pigma, my small travel palette of Daniel Smith watercolors, and two sizes of Aquabrush.  I’m drawing directly with my pen, so you’ll see a lot of sketchy lines and draw-throughs.  We’ll just call those the charm of plein air sketching!

For more exploring about the history of this area:

A 1968 aerial photo of the hotel and surrounding land in the Marco News.

“Golden Gate Estates Nefarious History”  excerpts on To Twit, perchance to dream blog/forum.

“Paradise Crushed,” Broward-Palm Beach New Times article about the history of GAC and how it and the Fakahatchee affected one man’s life.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Art in the Preserve ~ Sketching at Fakahatchee

Strathmore sketchbook, Micron Pigma Sepia pen,Daniel Smith watercolors, Niji aquabrush.
Yesterday I had an opportunity to go sketching at Fakahatchee - and what a glorious day it was!  Temperatures in the middle 70's (F), a tall blue sky stretching to infinity, and the golden sun glowing through the tapered ends of wind-tossed palm fronds and grasses.  This watercolor sketch was done along a section of a piece of the Old 41Highway south of the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk, a spot also known as Weaver's Station. 

I wrote about Weaver's Station in a previous post, and learning about the history of this area made re-visiting it even more memorable. Looking across this broad expanse of wet prairie, I imagine that my view isn't that much different than one from the 1930's.

Strathmore sketchbook, Derwent 8B water soluble pencil, Niji aquabrush.
Sketching another part of the landscape, I did a value study of a falling-down shed with it's weathered wood and rusty metal contrasted against the lushness of grass and fern.  There is something about the never-ending flatness and vastness of Florida prairie that feeds my soul, a sense of spreading out and reaching up, of infinite possibilities.

Pitt artist pens on an unknown smooth paper.
Baby lubbers are called nymphs.
And then, a sight to make me smile...tiny black  grasshoppers all over my palette and water bottle.  Little lubber grasshoppers trekking across the asphalt and heading for the grassy margins along the road.  There must have been nearly a hundred of these sturdy little fellows, 3/8" long, black with neon orange "swooshes."  One even posed long enough for a short study with my Pitt pens.  Karen tells me that they hatch from eggs laid in the ground, and that these were probably recent hatchlings.  Little black lubbers grow into beautiful large grasshoppers, which I was able to sketch a while back.

Ahhh....  happiness is windy hair and a messy palette! 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Upcoming Nature Journal Class!

Previous Nature Journal Workshop, 2013 Florida Native Plant Society Conference.  Photo courtesy of Ginny Stibolt.
I'm very excited to be part of the Life-long Learning series at the Naples Botanical Garden!  Starting Monday (November 4th) I'll be teaching a nature journal class from 9-11 am each week for four weeks.  The Garden is a fabulous place, full of color and texture, sounds and gentle scents.  It will be hard to leave after only two hours of sketching...

For more information or to register, call the Garden at 239-643-7275, or go online to their Education page at  Be sure to scroll down and look at their other upcoming classes!

Watercolor sketching at Naples Preserve.
P.S.  Feel free to email me if you have questions about the class.  There will be a sketch kit available for purchase.  Email: lizardart (at)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Weaver’s Station

Weaver's Station, looking south (watercolor pencil).

It feels good to be back after my break – and I thank you for your patience.  I’d like to catch you up on where we sketched last spring in the Fakahatchee area, starting with our February outing.

For our Saturday meeting in February, our group met on the south side of the Tamiami Trail across from the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk.  Participants sketched both sides of the road: along the boardwalk to the north, and scattered throughout a clearing to the south. 

The area on the south side is historically known as Weaver’s Station, once the site of one of six “comfort stations” completed in 1928.  The stations were created to service motorists traveling the newly constructed 107-mile section of the Tamiami Trail between Naples and Miami.

In the early days of automobiles, horseless carriages of that time were not the comfortable, reliable, and speedy machines we drive now.  Many of them were open to the elements, an unpleasant prospect during our rainy season!  Engines and tires were not always dependable, and the gas tank held a modest 9 to 10 gallons of fuel. 

Those 107 miles were largely unsettled, and I can imagine the wildlife that drivers must have seen.  The canal that was dug for fill in order to raise the roadbed still parallels the highway.  Alligators sun themselves along the banks, much like they did 100 years ago, though not in the same numbers. 
Red mangroves along the canal (watercolor sketch).
Situated every ten miles along the portion of the Tamiami Trail linking Naples and Miami, the stations offered fuel, food, and other necessities designed to provide the “comforts” needed for a driving adventure through the Everglades.  They were established by millionaire entrepreneur Barron Collier, who also financed this section of the road.  

Operated by a husband and wife, the stations also provided roadway security.  The husband (authorized by the county sheriff) would patrol a five-mile stretch on each side of the station by motorcycle during daylight hours to assist motorists in need.  According to Collier County’s Historical and Archaeological Preservation Board, Weaver Station hosted a restaurant with restrooms on the ground floor, and living quarters for the husband and wife team.  Also available were unfurnished cabins to travelers who carried their own bedding. 

The men patrolling the Trail became the Southwest Mounted Police, which in turn was the foundation for the first Florida Highway Patrol.  An article in the November 1928 edition of the Collier County News mentions the first officer at the Fakahatchee station as S. M. Weaver, presumably the namesake for Weaver’s Station.  What a life it must have been, husband and wife living in relative isolation, vast stretches of wet grasslands dotted with hammocks all around them. 

I sketched the grassy areas to the south and east (top image), framed with a stand of tall leather ferns and a cabbage palm.  The small painting was made facing west and a bit south, along a portion of a north-south canal lined with red mangroves and Australian pine.  With a wary eye out for alligators, I sat in a mowed area filled with butterflies, with a cool and clear blue sky overhead.  Looking at these images in my sketchbook today in September, I’m amazed at the detail of memory they bring back.  I can almost feel the February coolness on my skin, see the swallowtail kites kettling high in the sky, and hear the passing traffic on the road.  The buildings are gone now, the land in possession of the Seminoles.  The road remains, our contemporary path across the Everglades.

Super Deluxe Aquabee sketchbook by Bee Paper, 9x6 inches
Daniel Smith watercolors
Kimberly, Derwent, and Inktense water soluble pencils
Prismacolor white colored pencil
Niji Aquabrushes

 For more reading:

A slideshow of our day:

Friday, July 12, 2013

Will be back soon...

Hello my online friends,

I’ve had a bit of a sabbatical from my blog this past month or so, and I appreciate those of you who have been asking about me.  All is well!  As usual, Life presents challenges and opportunities, and there are still only 24 hours in the day.

I hope to get back to weekly explorations and postings, but in the meantime, I’ll be revisiting some past outings that I haven’t written about yet, all centering on the Fakahatchee and the unique landscapes and history that shaped this part of Florida.

This blog is one of the loves of my life, and I feel honored that others enjoy it as well.   
Thank you, my friends!


See you soon...

Monday, May 20, 2013

Nature Journal Workshop at the FNPS Conference

Quercus falcata leaves, souvenirs from Jacksonville.

Last Thursday I led a Nature Journal Workshop on the opening day of the 33rd Annual Florida Native Plant Society's (FNPS) conference, Celebrating La Florida: The Land of Flowers.  Eleven enthusiastic participants and I met on the back deck of the Herbert University Center at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, ready to learn.

It was a varied group, with some having had some sketching experience, and some just beginning.  Some wanted to learn nature journaling to document their native gardens, some wanted to use it as a learning tool, and several people mentioned that they hoped it would help them slow down and improve their observation of the natural world.

Starting out - learning about the supplies provided.
As part of the workshop, each member of our group received a starting sketch bag with a 6x9 inch Aquabee sketchbook, mechanical pencil, Micron Pigma pen, Dick Blick folding palette with a few Daniel Smith watercolors, a medium size Niji Aquabrush, and a White Pearl eraser.  I also included a handout on the paints provided and a booklet of drawing tips that everyone could refer to later.

After an introductory overview of materials, we set off to do some sketching on the lovely grounds of the university.  I did  a short demonstration of my process, then participants had a chance to draw.

Walking around the lake to find our sketching spot.
I tried to get around to each person to help with any challenges.  There were some beautiful yarrow plants blooming -- which means feathery foliage and multiple flower heads -- definitely a challenge for anyone's skill level!  Halfway through our three-hour time frame, we took a break and learned about the waterbrush and the watercolors I selected.  Needless to say, the waterbrush was a big hit!

Painting watercolor swatches was a good way to learn how to use the waterbrush.
We took some time to play with our watercolors, and wrapped up with a look through some of the reference books I had brought up.  I also brought along some of my sketch journals for people to look through since I use a variety of techniques and approaches to nature journaling.

I had a great time sharing what I love to do, and hope that my new-found friends continue on with their sketching.  Keeping a nature journal has given me a lot of joy, helped me learn more about the natural world around me, and broadened my observation skills.  It's also helped me improve my drawing skills, and given me a chance to slow down and take time to enjoy the process.

Getting some great feedback on the workshop!
I'd like to say thanks to Ginny Stibolt, FNPS member and author, who invited me to present the workshop.  You can also read more from her live blog on the FNPS website, with photos of our sketching time.  I'd also like to say thanks to those who attended the workshop for your enthusiasm and feedback -- Happy Sketching!

Click on any image to view larger.