Friday, August 8, 2014

Nature journal tip learned at the 2014 FNPS conference Nature Journal Workshop

My demonstration page - complete with clear contact paper!
One of the things I love about facilitating workshops and classes is that we all learn from each other.  In mid-May, seven participants joined me for a 3-hour nature journal workshop at the annual Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS) conference at Florida Gulf Coast University. 

We normally start out getting to know each other and talk about what we’d like to get out of our time together.  We had a great group of people, some who had very little sketching experience and some who were looking to brush up on rusty skills.  One of our group was Dr. William(Bill) Hammond, professor emeritus at FGCU, and long-time visual journal keeper.

During our time together, Bill shared a tip he’s been using for years in his sketchbooks.  When he comes across a plant he’s unfamiliar with, either to identify or to learn more about, he flattens it out on the page of his sketch (or the page opposite) and seals it to the paper with a piece of clear contact paper.  What a great idea, and one I wish I’d tried years ago! 

Two months later!
Bill donated a bit of clear contact paper that I used on a sprig of winged sumac that served as my subject for a demonstration sketch during the workshop.  Even though flattening the plant against paper doesn’t allow for the play of light through and reflected by the leaves, it does allow for a general color reference, accurate measuring, and a record of the shape, number, and placement of leaves. 

Now you’re wondering, how does that leaflet look since two months have gone by?  Answer: as good as the day I mounted it!  The clear film seems to darken the colors a bit, but they are still vivid.  This is a great tool, especially for those times when you’re only able to get in a rudimentary sketch.

A few marks describe the habit.
The demonstration plant is Winged (or Shining) Sumac, Rhus copallina, which was growing alongside a nearby road.  On my sketchbook page, I typically note the date (sometimes the time), and the context of the sketch.  The context here was the FNPS workshop in Palmetto Hall at FGCU, and I included the weather (hot! and windy).  On the page opposite my drawing, you can see that I was showing how to mix and test out colors. 

I like to quickly sketch in the habit of the plants I’m drawing: whether it’s a tree, shrub, vine or herb including quick color notes.  In this case, most of the shrub was green, only some of the leaflets were bright red/magenta.  As I washed the leaves with a watercolor wash, I attempted to show the shininess of the leaves by drawing up pigment with a clean, nearly dry brush. 

Variations in color bring it alive.
If time permitted, I would have completed the entire leaflet, but now that I look at this page after the passage of time, I like the look of just the few leaves in color.  At the time I also wondered about the bright red coloring of some of the leaves – I noticed that the nearby area had burned, perhaps causing the coloring that I associate sumac having in the fall and winter. 

Looking at my sketch again brought all of these memories back to me.  This is one of the reasons I love keeping a nature journal!  Seeing my drawing and reading my notes brought back a vivid recollection of creating those two pages.  I can almost experience again the hot wind and the bright sun when I collected this specimen.

By the way, clear contact paper is now a staple in my sketch kit!

The sketch was done in my:
Aquabee Super Deluxe  spiral-bound sketchbook
9x6 in, (22.86 x 15.24 cm), 93 lb. paper
Sakura Micron Pigma pen 01,
Daniel Smith watercolors.

To read more about Winged or Shining Sumac:

Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida factsheet