Sunday, May 31, 2020

International Nature Journal Week starts June 1st!

 Isn't this exciting?!  A whole week of nature journal inspiration as journalers celebrate International Nature Journal Week June 1 through 7!

Common violet, click to view larger.
Each day has a theme, with live workshops and how-tos.  Visit the International Nature Journal Week website to find out schedules, read blog posts, or learn how to participate yourself.  You do not have to be an artist or a naturalist to keep a nature journal!

The process of keeping a visual nature journal is a path.  It’s not about creating a finished product or a pretty picture.  My journals are a reflection of curiosity and discovery.  

 Every time I sketch something, I deepen my relationship with my subject by experiencing it differently.  I find myself asking questions and thinking more deeply.  I get to know my subject on a personal level.

My journals might be filled with quick sketches, detailed studies, photos, maps, poetry, or notes on observations.  We can record the progress of our garden, explorations of nearby habitats, or emotional responses to the beauty and diversity of the natural world.

Coral honeysuckle - loved by butterflies and hummingbirds!
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 is 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.

Keep in mind the process, and don’t 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!  This is your story to tell!

Here is some inspiration to get you and your family started!

Getting started PDF - quick ideas Fun ideas for kids - PDF

Friday, April 10, 2020

April 10th is Florida Gopher Tortoise Day!

A typical gopher tortoise burrow at The Naples Preserve.

In honor of Florida's Gopher Tortoise Day, I am re-posting an updated version of a post  created 9 years ago.

Way back in 2011, I visited the Naples Preserve and sketched a gopher tortoise burrow as part of my nature journal entry about the coastal plain honeycomb head wildflower.  It’s funny how a drawing can start trains of thought and exploration.  Although I didn’t see any tortoises that day, the burrow opening itself led me to wonder about the gopher tortoise: what they eat and how they live.  I've since seen several in various locations in Collier County, mainly in coastal and scrub locations (think SANDY soil!).

Gopher tortoises are a keystone species.  A keystone is the wedge-shaped piece at the top of an arch that supports the other parts. If a keystone is removed, the arch collapses.  A keystone species has a disproportionately large effect on its environment relative to its quantity.  These amazing creatures are very important to the survival of other species that share their habitat.
Click on image to see a larger size.

For example, it’s been estimated that gopher tortoise burrows (both active and abandoned) provide support for over 300 types of animals, birds, and insects – which use them for shelter, hiding places, or protection from the elements.  These are commensal relationships, relationships in which one organism benefits while the other is neither harmed nor helped.

Gopher tortoise burrows average 15 ft. in length and may be as deep as 6 feet. The longest estimate is up to 48 ft. in length! The burrows have one entrance (that is also the exit), and eventually open up into a larger “bedroom.”  Species using these burrows range from burrowing owls and scrub jays, to Florida mice, gopher frogs, opossums, scorpions, and indigo snakes.

Gopher tortoises are found all over Florida, but only in certain types of habitats.  They range into Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and the southernmost tip of South Carolina.  Although once common, numbers have dwindled because of habitat destruction In Florida.  On the state's Endangered and Threatened Species List they are listed as Threatened. 

Some other interesting things I learned about gopher tortoises:

• They first appeared during the Pleistocene Epoch, and are one of our oldest living species.

• Gopher tortoises are land reptiles – they do not live in or near the water!  In fact, they rarely drink water, getting fluids from the plants they eat.  If you find one, please do NOT place them in water, and help educate others to their needs!  Well-meaning people often try to "help" these tortoises by placing them  in a nearby lake or canal.  They are better off left alone!

• They live in areas with easy to dig sand, such as pine flatwoods and scrub habitats.

• The size of the burrow opening corresponds to the size of the tortoise using it.

• They are herbivore scavengers, eating grasses, legumes, mushrooms, fruits, berries, and even flowers.

• Biologists believe that they have a 40 to 60 year life span in the wild; they live much longer in captivity.

Some websites on gopher tortoises for further exploration:

All about Florida Gopher Tortoise Day with educational resources, including a coloring book to download (scroll down).

Ginny Stibolt's account of finding a gopher tortoise in her Florida backyard, with in-depth facts.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission page

Free coloring page!  you can click HERE to download a free gopher tortoise coloring page in PDF format (right).

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