I wrote an enthusiastic blog post in early July, chronicling a five-day nature journaling conference that I had just attended. (Review “So Very Much More” here.)
What I didn’t write about then is my insecurity about how the few sketches and drawings I have ever made look. Child-like. Unskilled. Awkward. Not very representative of whatever it is (cedar tree, rose, coyote, leaf) that I’m attempting to capture in visual form. I’m just not “a natural,” and I let that stop me from believing I could create the beautiful types of nature journals that I have been admiring for thirty-plus years. I thought that if I didn’t have innate talent, I couldn’t engage that form. Until this summer.
Since that July post, I have done it. I turned down the volume on my expectations, perfectionist tendencies, desires for beautiful or perfectly accurate outcome. And I have JUST completed my first visual nature journal. It’s rough and overstuffed in some places, spare and wanting in others. But it is totally mine, replete with my very own drawings and sketches and paintings and words.
Apparently, I am still teachable. I can practice drawing a junco or baby robin, over and over, until her little sketched form begins to resemble the actual birds in my yard. Natural talent would be convenient. But the lack does not have to stop me from practicing.
Here are the details:
Intention & Mission Accomplished
· The don’t-know-if-I-can-make-it goal of completing one page per day, met. (Exceeded, actually. Those one hundred ten pages were completed in only seventy days!)
· One hundred ten full-size pages of a sketchbook, filled.
Colored pencils, watercolor paint, markers, colored scribing pens, gouache, charcoal pencils (black, to grays, to white), and a lone gelly roll white pen. Watercolor paper, tissue paper, tracing paper, brown grocery bags, gray toned paper, photographic paper.
Contents: All About the Ever-Unfolding Natural World Right Outside my Door
· Try after try and practice after clumsy practice of those pansies on my deck … a memory of my mother’s early post-parenting painting days flooding in, as she was instructed to paint one pansy after another.
· Local flora and fauna.
· Pencil sketches, gesture drawings, blind (and 90/10 blind) contour drawings, and ink sketches fill parts of some pages.
· Diagrams, maps, abstract and realistic pieces, color tests, and color charts appear.
· Collages and photographs.
· Bird body parts, sketched in sixty-second intervals.
· Drawn replicas of faunal burial sites I have created over and over this summer whenever I encounter an animal who has died.
· Handwritten word entries, praise and invocations, inquiries, declarations, observations, speculations, facts and measurements, songs, reveries, and memories.
· And one lone origami crane I folded from a photograph I’d printed out. Though he’s glued to a page at the end of the journal, his spirit soars.
Like mine. My spirit is buoyant with this effort.
At the same time I am writing this, I want to doubt the importance of this “luxury” accomplishment.
Who cares when there are refugees without basic needs? Who cares when a beloved just received terrible medical news? Who cares about drawing skills, when whole continents of people are still dying of covid with no relief in sight and no prophylactic measures available? Who cares when the world is suffering in so many ways?
Why? Because we build transformation one task, one service, one type of support at a time, as we can, to serve whom we can. We work toward wholeness bit by bit. We don’t have to forego efforts on behalf of the world even as we move deeper into relationship with those who impassion us nearby (the inhabitants of my nonhuman natural community, for example).
We can paint and draw, one practice piece at a time, even as we reach out to those we love, care about, suffer with, feel for …
No matter one’s work in the world, beauty matters. Beauty of the heart. Beauty rendered on a page. A try at beauty. Beautiful service. Relationships with and details about “other” built one line at a time: one curved wing, one webbed foot, one insect-filled beak.
It matters to build relationship with all beings. So, I reach out a hand to refugees in my area, support causes, labor for justice, serve the needs of clients, offer support and assistance to family…
And as I do those, I do this: one journal page at a time building deeper interconnection with, intimate knowledge of, and creating images to capture the beauty of – my floral and faunal neighbors.
We don’t need to be experts to serve the needs of humanity. We don’t need to be “naturals” (with innate artistic skills) to convey the beauty of the nonhuman world. All we have to do is show up with passion and heart (“compassion”), and to do what we know how to do in a moment, striving all the while to enhance our service and capacities over the long term.