Thursday, March 19, 2020

A Sanibel Island Workshop

“The sun shines not on us, but in us.”
  ~ John Muir
The back of the Bailey Homestead and the native nursery.
Any wacky angles are the artist's, not the construction!

A workshop
Last Wednesday (March 11, 2020), I facilitated an introduction to nature journaling workshop.  We spent a sunny and serene tropical afternoon in the pavilion behind the Bailey Homestead Preserve at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF), on Sanibel Island, Florida.

It’s a good memory today, because of increasing concerns about the spread of COVID-19.    Rather than dwell on a subject that’s over-done and everywhere, let’s share something far more pleasant.   It will be so much better for our immune systems.  :- )

A group of us met for three hours under the pavilion behind the native plant nursery, the light breeze bringing the promise of ocean air, and that soft, yet bright sun’s heat that I associate with mid-March in Florida.  The light is clear and clean, with none of summer’s dusty tiredness and intense heat and humidity.  The sky still has traces of winter’s cool blue, with puffy clouds that don’t yet build into summer’s cumulus towers.  Greens are still fresh, with that particular color of crisp spring green emerging here and there.  

Starting off
We are in just a small part of the Bailey Homestead Preserve, which is just a small part of the overall conservation foundation.  To the front of the preserve is a restored Florida house, to the back are trails and wilder areas.  There is a wide open lawn for events, the native plant nursery and retail sales, and an open-air pavilion with chickee-hut-style roofing. you can see us in the pavilion in the photo below.  I'm standing behind the table while Jenny Evans, Native Landscapes and Garden Center Manager, is starting us off.

The breezy open air pavilion - with nature everywhere!
 At break, we get to chat and to browse through the many reference books I like to bring along (yes, I have way too many books!), plus a collection of my past nature journals.  Some of my sketchbooks are over ten years old, but have held up remarkably well – so I can tell the care that others use when handling them.  Thank you.

Drawing time
After our break, we choose a spot and draw individually.  This is the time when I try to visit each person privately, to help with a challenge or to admire their progress. 

A group of twelve is about my maximum, but even then it can be hard to find the artists once they scatter.  I apologize to those who found secure hiding places from me!  We typically spend the first part of our time together on introductions and a presentation on the large screen of different ways to create a nature journal. 

Bright lemon- and buttery-yellow sunflowers and daisy-like flowers abound.  Beach sunflower, coreopsis (tickseed), and gaillardia (blanket flower) are all blooming.  Vibrant shades of pink-to-lavender-to-violet:  verbena, railroad vine, and iris.   And a dash of bright scarlet – tropical sage.  Mmmmmmm… heaven for the artist within.  These are just a few of the flowers along the brick walkways of the native garden center and preserve!  I found myself longing for the entire week to explore this magical place.  However, fledging nature journalers  await.

And time to share
Our next step is to group back in the pavilion to share our experiences,  This (to me) is where a lot of our very real learning takes place!  Sharing our work is always optional.  Our group is here to provide a safe and supportive place with like-minded folks. 

Taking time to share, to learn, to grow.
We see our work through their eyes, and suddenly (!) the parts we felt were failures become successes.   This is not about comparing and competing - we ALL start at the beginning of this journey.  We all have good days and bad.  The important thing is that we're DOING.  So... let the judgements go.  Use those powers of discernment to get to where you want to go.  When we change our internal dialogue, we do much better, plus we're happier.  :-)

When we share, we experience the joy of someone’s new paint color, we thrill to a sketchbook of exotic paper, we learn the name of an unidentified species.  I always learn something new.  It’s exciting to me to see our natural world through the eyes of architects, nurses, or accountants.  Each of us has a different lens of experience that informs our work as an artist.  How cool is that!

Thanks for letting me share my Sanibel adventure – I hope you get to feel a bit of the tropical sun and the breeze feathering your hair... 
And remember to let yourself shine.

Watercolor sketch media:
Canson CP watercolor paper 140 lb.
Mechanical pencil .7mm
Sakura Micron Pigma black artist’s ink pen 01
Molotow making fluid pump pen 2 mm
Daniel Smith watercolors
Round WC brushes #8, 12

Friday, February 21, 2020

Exploring the Food Forest through art

Nature journaling at FGCU

On February 11th and 18th I visited Professor Mary Voytek’s Environmental Art class at Florida Gulf Coast University in Ft. Myers.  One of the projects for class is to keep a nature art journal – a wonderful and effective tool for exploring our natural world.  I shared my own nature journals and a presentation on how to use watercolor pencils with ideas on themes, as well as a wealth of reference books and art tools.    No better way to spend the hours than to explore art and nature!

This is my third or fourth annual visit here, and each time I get to connect with a brand-new group of students.   And each time, I’m inspired by their creativity and unique viewpoints.  Some of the students are artists, some are environmental or biology majors.  They share one thing in common: all are invested in our environment.

In the studio: drawing and painting natural specimens that resonated with each artist.

Part 1 (Feb. 11) 
Because the class session is nearly three hours long, we have a nice chunk of time to draw after my part is done.  The found nature objects brought in to class for drawing range from pine cones to a sand dollar and shells, to leaves and wood and a dead honeybee.  And – wow! – the range of expression is quite remarkable.

Observation is the key to a great drawing! Mary and Elizabeth,and the joy of making art.

Completed artwork from our class time.  Sharing at the start of our Food Forest jaunt.

Part 2 (Feb. 18)
The week following our indoor class time typically takes us to the Food Forest at FGCU, and we spend our class hours drawing the plants and trees that line the trails.  Professor Voytek fills us in on the history of how one student’s initiative brought the Forest into being.  The project emerged into reality in 2011, and the half acre site continues to thrive (even after Hurricane Irma!), serving as a classroom and a food source, but also as a space for inspiration.  Apart from the cycles of predator-and-prey, it is a safe place for living things, with no pesticides or herbicides used.

So yes, there are honeybees and spiders, and the occasional black snake.  They are as essential to the ecosystem as butterflies, birds, and bunnies.  It makes me happy to see the abundance of pollinators busy doing their job, buzzing from flower to flower, trying to dodge the large humans blocking their flight path.   

ohana means welcome in the Hawaiian language, but it also honors community and our connections to each other. The new signs are filled with useful information.

Sketching a  Firebush. The smile says it all!
My mission there is to inspire these artists, but they inspire me in turn.  I feel competent to guide someone through a sticky color choice or a composition question, but only when needed, and it’s not needed often.  This is an invested and mindful group (regardless of skill level), so I get to do more admiring than assisting!  They inspire me with their unique viewpoints, willingness to take a risk and try new materials, and even their choice of subject.

Sharing after our outing.
We take time to share our work before and after our foray.  Sharing is important for any group of artists.  It takes courage to put our work and ourselves out there.  But it creates a place to learn from each other and to grow as artists.  It creates a space for support, and for caring for each other, if we will allow it.  We get to see our work with new eyes.

The Food Forest is free and open to the public.  It’s created by students, maintained by students, and promoted by students.  This is their website (by students, of course!) for more information:

Click on images to view larger.
Online about FGCU’s Food  Forest
My past post on the Food Forest