A good artist is simply one who has developed the skill of seeing the details of something. For example, when a non-artist attempts to draw a red ball, he begins by drawing a circle and then colors it red. An artist, on the other hand, notices that it is not a circle, but a sphere. He draws the sphere by paying attention to how the light makes a light blotch on one side of it and different shades of red around that blotch that gradually get darker. He also notices that there is a dark shadow at the base and draws that as well. He sees what the unskilled eye does not see.
We can teach our children to do the same through nature journaling. In order to illustrate my point, let’s suppose my daughter and I have returned from a nature walk and she has picked a Black-eyed Susan to draw and paint. She sits down, places it in front of her and draws a long line, six oblong petals with a circle in the middle and a leaf on the side. She is finished in three minutes flat and ready to paint it. Here is the conversation I would have with her in order to help her better observe what she is drawing.
That’s a pretty flower you drew, but I think you left something out. Use your magnifying glass and look very carefully at the stem. What do you see?Hair!Yes. Let’s draw those hairs. Now look at the center of your flower. You drew a circle, but look at the Black-eyed Susan. What do you see in the center?Fuzzy stuff.Great! Let’s draw all those little fuzzy hairs. Do you see anything between the petals?Little green leaves.Those are called sepals. Let’s draw those too. Is there anything on those sepals?No.Why don’t you use your magnifying glass?Okay. Wait a minute! There is a little line in the middle.Well then, let’s draw it. How about that leaf you drew? Use your magnifying glass and look at it carefully.Wow! There are lots of little lines all over it.Those are actually tiny little tubes that carry food to the plant so it will grow. Let’s pencil those in very lightly.
Then we would begin painting our flowers and I would help her to see the different shades of yellow and green by asking questions again while she painted.
After a few lessons like this, my daughter begins to observe nature closely every time she draws. She enjoys this much more than quickly drawing a few shapes and painting them with basic colors because this challenges her thinking and children naturally love to be stimulated intellectually.
Next time, we'll discuss stage two of nature journaling for older children.