The Art of Observation – Nature Journaling Workshop with John Muir Laws

Sharp Tailed Snake (Contia tenuis)

Sharp Tailed Snake (Contia tenuis)

In an early cool spring evening after a refreshing rain recently, I left off making dinner to take our big garbage cans out to the street for the early morning pick-up. Pollen and tree-tassel debris from the spring trees littered the drive and the tops of the bins as I pulled them out to position them for being pulled to the street. As I pulled the darker one out, I noticed what looked like a long fat worm curled underneath and stopped and bent down to look more closely.

The dusky pink color and the metallic sheen of the tiny coil told me right away, it was a little sharp tailed snake – I am guessing curled up in such a spot so as to enjoy both a feast of slugs and snails that it would find in such a spot and to enjoy the heat radiating off of the large black plastic mass. I have to show the girls this, I thought, and went to get them, happy I had not inadvertently hurt the little snake in moving the bins.

My girls love these little snakes, which is miraculous to me because I have worked hard to overcome my fear of even small snakes in my adulthood. My eldest gently picked the snake up and it twisted and turned in her fingers – trying to burrow out of sight and into warmth. The alternate blue/black and white stripes of its underside showed and the girls oohed and aahed over the snake’s coloring and feel and grace.

Photo: Child holding a small wetland frog.

I wish that I could’ve drawn a picture of the little snake – and of the two girls, their complete absorption in observing this other creature, its ways and wonders. They eventually found some soft, warm duff under a big tree and they watched as the snake twisted and burrowed down to find shelter, safety and more snails and slugs to snack on.

My youngest said: He’s so pretty, so silky. And I thought: this funny little suburban naturalist moment is exactly what John Muir Laws is encouraging us to get to in his Nature Journaling classes and the school curriculum he’s helped to develop for the California Native Plant Society. He – and the CNPS – wants to give people, classrooms, families, and summer camps a tool for slowing down, looking closely, and appreciating deeply the form, the function and the infinite detail of the living world around us. He does this by teaching us how to more easily sketch and write about our everyday naturalist moments.


Photo: Small details worth slowing down to observe – a lichen and moss covered log.

Perhaps by more actively seeking out such moments, and keeping an account of this world and of our place in it, we will be more accountable for it?

Laws is a naturalist, educator, and artist. He has degrees in conservation and resource studies from the University of California, Berkeley, and in wildlife biology from the University of Montana, Missoula, as well as certification in scientific illustration from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is an Audubon TogetherGreen fellow and a research associate with the California Academy of Sciences. He is the author of “The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds.” “The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada” and “Sierra Birds: A Hiker’s Guide.”

John Muir Laws – known as Jack – is COMING TO THE NORTH STATE on April 27th thanks to the Friends of the Chico State Herbarium and the Mt. Lassen Chapter of the CNPS. In a day-long workshop, he will share his passion (and easy sketching techniques and writing exercises) for encouraging us to cultivate a practice of slowing down, looking closely, appreciating and imprinting what we see by keeping a journal of our urban, suburban and open field observations.

We could all stand to learn more about this particular cultivation practice.

WHAT WHERE AND WHEN:


Photo: John Muir Laws. Photo by Liz Hafalia, Courtesy of “The San Francisco Chronicle”

April 27, 2013 10 am – 5 pm Selvester’s Cafe at CSU, Chico

In this hands-on, workshop John Muir Laws will teach the skills and techniques to integrate drawing and journaling into the classroom and daily life. – California Native Plant Society has just released the 2nd Edition of its acclaimed Opening the World Through Nature Journaling curriculum – includes expanded materials on the techniques to draw plants and animals – new kid-tested, teacher-approved, standards-based activities – new materials to write poetry in the field.

Come and learn how to make nature sketching and writing a part of your classroom or family experience. Bring your own drawing supplies and sketchbook. $100 registration ($90 for members). Minimum 11 participants, 30 max.

ALSO: A free Lecture on the Subtle but Essential Relationships Between Species in the SIERRA NEVADA
April 27, 2013 7 pm Holt Hall room 170 at CSU, Chico

An exciting evening with the author of “The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada”, John Muir Laws will illustrate some amazing relationships between plants and animals in the Sierra Nevada and some conservation challenges. Don’t miss this great opportunity to enrich your next exploration in the Range of Light! Suggested donation $3.00-$5.00

For registration go to: www.csuchico.edu/biol/Herb/Events.html or http://mountlassen.cnps.org/

More on John Muir Laws:

According to a 2012 “San Francisco Chronicle” article in the “SF Gate” magazine written by Sam Whiting, “Jack Laws is a naturalist who describes himself as ‘an attention deficit disorder illustrator.’ How he gets from scatterbrain to trance is the subject of “The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds,” which Heyday books published in late 2012.” Photo: John Muir Laws’ instructions on sketching an oystercatcher in the “The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds”. Photo by Liz Hafalia, Courtesy of “The San Francisco Chronicle”

Says Laws: “There is a widely held belief that drawing is a gift that some people are born with and everybody else is out of luck. But if I can get people drawing on a regular basis, they’ll discover that this is just a skill that anybody can master.” Photo above: Mother and child intent in observation.


Photo: Small details worth slowing down to observe – the geometry of bubbles in a spring creek eddy.

John Muir Laws is not in fact related to the famed Scottish/California naturalist John Muir. Jack Laws’ mother, Beatrice Laws, was a Sierra Club lawyer, and she wanted his middle name to be Muir whether he was a girl or a boy. Laws’ was taught to to draw at an early age by his grandmother. Again according to Whiting’s 2012 S.F. Chronicle article “Laws’ first book was ‘The Laws Guide to the Sierra Nevada’ with 2,700 watercolor illustrations. For that he hiked and drew for six years, often alone.’ Laws says: ‘Bird sketching is like distance running. You have to make it a habit….If through the process of doing a sketch I learned something and it helped focus my brain in a way that made me notice details that I wouldn’t have seen,’ he says, ‘then it’s successful. That’s why I draw.'”


Photo: Things you can observe when you slow down.

California Native Plant Society and Opening the World Through Nature Journaling Curriculum

The second edition of the acclaimed curriculum, Opening the World Through Nature Journaling, is now available as a free download. According to the Laws’ website: The curriculum now includes more great kid tested sketching activities, poetry writing, and more detailed tips on drawing in nature (you will love the material on drawing plants). This is a great resource for teachers, outdoor leaders, and home school parents.

The curriculum was created with the support of the California Native Plant Society by John Muir Laws, Emilie Lygren, Emily Brueunig, and Celeste Lopez. This new edition can be used in school yards, camps, nature centers and family outings. It is geared primarily towards children age 8 and up, and meets California state standards for grades 3 through 7 but works just as well for teenagers and adults.


Photo: Small details worth slowing down to observe – blue pollen revealed inside purple cased anthers.

These activities teach children to become keen observers of the natural world by drawing and writing about plants and animals in the field. In a set of nested games and activities, students gain confidence in drawing and writing to as a way to gather information.

Keeping a field journal develops and reinforces the most important science process skills; observation and documentation. All other parts of the process of science depend on these skills. We assume that we are naturally good observers, but learning to really see is a skill that must be learned and developed. Journal activities tie directly to the State of California science framework content standards and the visual and performing arts framework content standards.

Additionally,
Photo: Small details worth slowing down to observe – a Pipevine Swallow-tail chrysalis secured to the underside of a sturdy branch.

The Open World Field Guides Project through the CNPS website is a perfect outlet and forum in perhaps turning some of your nature journaling efforts into an actual field guide of your garden, your street, your neighborhood, your local park, your schoolyard.

Info from the CNPS website on the project: “The Open World Field Guides Project is an online network of student and citizen created field guides that detail the plants and creatures of many different regions. You can contribute to this collection of nature knowledge by creating and sharing your own field guide! Get out there and use your observation skills to learn about the unique parts of your natural landscape. Use the resources on this website to jumpstart your journey into the study of nature. You’ll be amazed at how much you will discover.”


Photo: Small details worth slowing down to observe – the small bell-shaped flowers of an asparagus.

“Once you have completed your guide, share it online so others can learn from your work. Browse other field guides to learn about the nature in other neighborhoods!”

“Creating your own field guide is a great way to discover and develop a deeper understanding of local species of plants and animals.”

“Field guides make great class projects and can be done collaboratively or all on your own. Field guides can be organized many ways and allow you to use both your creativity and your scientific understanding.
As you develop your guide, remember that the purpose is to help a user identify and develop a deeper understanding of some aspect of their world.”


Photo: Small details worth slowing down to observe – the bright green color of a fresh oak gall.

Want to comment – send thoughts and suggestions on this post? Follow Jewellgarden.com/In a North State Garden on Facebook – comment and like us today!

To submit plant/gardening related events/classes to the Jewellgarden.com on-line Calendar of Regional Gardening Events, send the pertinent information to me at: Jennifer@jewellgarden.com

Did you know I send out a weekly email with information about upcoming topics and gardening related events in the North State region? If you would like to be added to the mailing list, send an email to Jennifer@jewellgarden.com.

In a North State Garden is a weekly Northstate Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California. It is made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum – Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell – all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In a North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday mornings at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time. Podcasts of past shows are available here.

Jennifer Jewell
In a North State Garden is a bi-weekly North State Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California and made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum - Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell - all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In a North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday morning at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time, two times a month.
Comment Policy: We welcome your comments, with some caveats: Please keep your comments positive and civilized. If your comment is critical, please make it constructive. If your comment is rude, we will delete it. If you are constantly negative or a general pest, troll, or hater, we will ban you from the site forever. The definition of terms is left solely up to us. Comments are disabled on articles older than 90 days. Thank you. Carry on.

2 Responses

  1. Avatar Pat Frost says:

    Thanks for the wonderful article that highlights the blend of observation, art and science that is Natural History. I teach natural history at Shasta College and will share this piece with my class today. They are keeping nature journals and another fine exampel of a journal will add to my patsnaturenotes.tumblr.com blog.

  2. Avatar Pamela says:

    Once again, Jennifer, such lovely photos. And, what a suberb way to reconnect with the natural world: a Nature Journaling Workshop!