To join me on a virtual sketching trip, download a travel sketch-journal here.
I add tutorials to them so you can learn the techniques and details you see in the sketchbooks.

My former workshop students asked me to upload my workshop workbooks to make them available to everyone. So you can also download a workbook and give yourself a workshop! Enjoy!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Costa Rica Nature Journal/Sketching Workshop ~ 8

The Last Day of the Workshop (but not the last day of this blog). I got up pretty early, because on class days it's hard to find time to journal-- by 5:45am I was lying in the hammock on my patio writing busily away, and sketching in some things I had collected the day before. (Remember, you can click on the graphics to get a bigger image.)

I was hoping this last day would be really fun ~ the only fly in the ointment was that Kathy would miss it, needing to catch the lodge van to Puerto Jimenez to make her flight to San José.

We all went to see her off and got Adriana to take a group photo of us (here it is again, the one I opened this blog set with). We hugged Kathy warmly and saw her off up the lane. As the Ticos say, "Que lastima!" How sad! Interestingly enough, during her previous morning on the beach (I think it was then -- right, Kathy?) she had painted a charming little beach scene that turned out to look amazingly like the scene we opted for during this day's final pleine air assignment. She later glued on a fragment of sea shell, as a memento.

In the classroom, after the morning's critique of the previous day's work, we packed up our journals, binoculars, watercolor pencils, sunscreen, waterbottles, etc., and headed down the trail to the beach.

Since we were all keenly interested in all things natural, it was hard to make headway in the face of the fascinating things we kept encountering...the camouflaged frog on the trail; crabs that became instantly invisible when they stopped on the sand; a tiny cicada that landed on Jocelyn's white shirt and made itself at home; feisty scuttling hermit crabs; and lastly, a gorgeous blue morpho butterfly with brown underwings.

When a morpho's wings flap up, the brown undersides blend into the scenery and it disappears. When the wings go down, the iridescent blue catches the sun like a turquoise neon sign, and it reappears as a blue flash ~ only to disappear when the wings flap back up. Morphos also fly an erratic course. Instead of flying in a straight line so a predator can easily catch them, they dodge from side to side while flashing brown and blue. Hey! Hah! Catch me if you can! We were fascinated. Marilyn is a butterfly aficionado, and tried in vain to catch a morpho on video. I've linked to a short video here, which I found online, so you can see the effect.

But finally, we settled on a scene near the north lagoon (see yesterday's map) and sat down to create our assignment, which was "a beach scene in color, with foliage, a close-up of some item found on the beach, with some journaled comment/s." We spent a contented couple of hours on our pen sketches, then recorded the scene with our digital cameras so that we could add color later on. We could have added color at that point, but hey, it was pretty warm out there, and we needed to catch the tidepools before the tide rose back up too high.

So, hot under the midmorning sun, we trekked half an hour or so to the other end of El Remanso's long, footprintless stretch of beach to the tidepools, where we commenced to strip down to our swimsuits (and that colorful underwear again) to burble up to our chins in the jacuzzi style pools. Every few moments the returning tide would wash white foam into the pool, refreshing and cooling the warm water -- it was heavenly. Marilyn managed a timed photo so she could set the camera and fling herself into the pool to be with us in the picture.

When we'd gotten enough sun and surf, we all dried on my huge (but folds up tiny) travel towel ~ what an excellent purchase THAT was ~ which I then hung on a branch of the beach almond tree to dry (it did, within an hour).

Marilyn and Jocelyn headed back around noon as they had planned, but I had brought a granola snack, as I had planned (when I travel, I carry a whole bunch of these for emergencies and, well, hedonistic pleasure. The lodge would have provided a bag lunch, but I DO love my granola bars!). I plunked down in the shade of the big rock to sketch and journal. Later I went down the beach, turned in at the waterfall creek lagoon, and went up to the waterfall.

After walking up the creek for a few minutes, admiring the heliconias along the bank and hearing scarlet macaws overhead, you start to hear the rush of the waterfall. It plunges (I'd guess 40', but I could be wayyyyy off) into a small, dim grotto, very private, and you can stand under the deluge in water up to your calves, and let the water pound your shoulders in a totally satisfying aqua-massage. Heavenly. (okay, okay, I confess to airbrushing on that charming bikini!).

Later, after I'd returned and taken a short swim in the pool, we all gathered at Jocelyn and Marilyn's cabina to work on our beach scenes and then critique them. They critiqued mine, as well, which is always helpful and properly humbling to an instructor. We teachers need critiques, too!

Although Marilyn's journal page wasn't finished that night, she has since sent me this photo for the blog. Before dinner that night, we shared our journals with the other lodge guests, laying them out on an empty table. They were a real hit, with a constant stream of admiring viewers until Elyer and Michael began bringing the food. I guess there's no competing with fresh-caught-tuna steaks and mashed juca (tastier than potatoes!), with green beans, the plate decorated with an artful arrangement of julienned peppers and fresh jicama formed into a delicate flower; and finally, a tasty flan dessert with caramel topping. Oh, the food at El Remanso is always delicious! We would eat until we could eat no more.

The workshop was over now, but the journaling definitely was not. The next day we would have the entire day to explore the forest and beach and have more adventures, which we would then journal with abandon. See you then!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Costa Rica Nature Journal/Sketching Workshop ~ 7

Day 3 of our workshop. COLOR ~ the workshop day we've been building up to!

Before it even began, starting at 5:45am, Jocelyn, Marilyn and I went with Gerardo on a birding trip while Kathy caught up on her beachcombing. (Kathy would have to leave early the next morning, missing the last day of class, and she hadn't spent enough time with the waves.)

The birds were very forthcoming, and Gerardo, tirelessly searching the forest fringe with both naked eye and heavy scope, showed us many special birds (see my list above ~ how about a bare-throated tiger heron? or a green-breasted mango, a hummingbird, with young at the nest!)!

Back at the lodge, after our usual gorgeous breakfast, we prepared to work. Usually my classes contain students who haven't yet worked up the nerve to color their sketches. Not this class! Kathy had arrived in class the first day with scenic watercolors in her journal. Jocelyn and Marilyn had already been watercoloring their journal sketches with great verve. But none of them had much experience working with watercolor pencils, so, after a gentle critique of the previous afternoon's homework (two or more journal pages with attached ephemera plus an improved poem) we launched into the watercolor pencil workbook, Color Your Sketches, with vigor.

Each day of my workshop has its own workbook. I have designed the workbooks to fulfil several purposes: 1) to augment and give background for the instruction I give in class, 2) to provide a place to make notes, experiment with techniques, and in some cases to actually do an assignment, and 3) to give the student a concrete resource to take home from the workshop. Often there is additional material in the workbook for the student to continue working on later. My students appreciate these workbooks a great deal. This workshop has three workbooks: Sketch in Your Journal; Journal in Your Sketchbook; and Color Your Sketches.

We began with a brief journey around the color wheel, trying out swatches and blending colors to get familiar with the use of the pencils. Then we added color to see how that changes the hue, intensity, and appearance of the colors. I showed the students some different ways to get color effects, then I handed out worksheepts and we did a step-by-step exercise adding color to a gorgeous spotted orchid.

Since the students already had experience in watercolor, this class went more quickly than usual so I handed out a sheet of foliage patterns to be pasted into their journals for quick reference. They practiced foliage patterns for awhile. Tomorrow's assignment would be a beach landscape, which would use these patterns (or take-offs on them), so the practice was useful preparation for rendering palm trees and other types of foliage.

By now, we were all well acquainted, and having a great time chatting and working together. All three of my students had joined other resort guests the night before in a raucous card game, joined by a fearless praying mantis which stole the show. I was a bit sorry I'd missed the fun, but mostly I was pleased that my students were enjoying themselves at all levels: the beautiful surroundings, the sketching and journaling opportunities, the classes themselves, and the other guests

The homework assignment for tomorrow would be to produce two or more well-designed journal pages including some foliage, with color added to at least one of the pages. I was doing the homework as well as the students ~ I'm of the opinion that an instructor's efforts can serve as good demonstrations of techniques, styles and ideas, as long as the production of it doesn't get in the way of the student's instruction. In other words, if the students need my input, I don't work on anything during class. If they are progressing nicely at their own pace and don't need help, I use that time to color my own sketches or to make examples of what is needed for the assignment

After class, I took up my journal, water bottle, and camera and headed up the Carablanca Trail (see the map) to see what I could see. There were still a couple of hours of light, and I wanted to get misted by a waterfall and see if I could spot some wildlife. Check out my journal page to see what I encountered!

Guests are given a map of the El Remanso forest trails and beach when we arrive, and I glued it onto a page in my journal so that I would always have it handy. So far on this stay at El Remanso, I'd only been down to the beach, so a forest walk was high on my list of adventures.

The forest here is beautiful, with giant buttressed trees ~ buttresses are fin-like ridges at the bases of trees . Buttresses spread out like fingers, helping to support the tree over a wider area of ground. There are lots of palms and vines. Up in the trees you are likely to see monkeys if you are out for even a little while. Agoutis, like long-legged, long-toed rabbits (see my sketch), browse in the underbrush, and peccaries (wild pigs) roam the forest in groups of up to forty or fifty. There's no need to be afraid of them if you don't threaten them.

Flashes of red in the forest are likely to be passiflora flowers. They are about 4" across and look like brilliant scarlet stars hanging on vines. Insects and frogs fill the air with chirps and buzzes and high buzzing whines ~ with ventriloquistic qualities that make them next to impossible to track down.

By now, it was almost dark, so I got out my little flashlight (it fits on the bill of a cap, and makes lots of light) I got back to the lodge in time for a mango smoothie and lots of good conversation with my estudientes and the other guests before dinner.

NOTE: Kathy, Marilyn and Jocelyn, Adriana, Gerardo and others: I'm telling this the way I recall it and from notes in my journal. I may not always get it right, or you might want to add something to the tale, so please feel free to comment on ANYthing, with observations, your own tidbits, or corrections if I'm wrong about something. I value your input.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Costa Rica Nature Journal/Sketching Workshop ~ 6

We were all getting dangerously accustomed to being pampered. Meals at El Remanso are always gorgeous and delicious; we were waited on hand and foot by friendly, competent staff; our rooms were tidied as soon as we left them in the mornings; lovely drinks were brought to us by the pool in the late afternoons as we watched the sunset or swam; beautiful, fascinating, and intriguing things to sketch and journal about were all around. What more could we possibly wish?

This morning at 6:30, Marilyn and I went out to see Jocelyn and Kathy off as they zipped out on the zipline to Gerardo in the huge old canopy tree for breakfast. There, for more than an hour, they absorbed the wonder of their eyrie, sketched, and ate their breakfast seventy feet above the ground amid singing birds and passing monkeys, coming back later with slightly glazed eyes and faraway expressions. Here are a few photos of their experience:

And here are a couple more.

Since this morning's class was expressive writing -- paragraphs, haiku, poetry, they had a perfect subject for their musings. We focussed on making an attractive page with evocative writing (as opposed to terse mutterings), then moved into haiku, which pleased everyone. Here's a haiku from each, seventeen syllables, nature subjects, two ideas, one short and one long, and both related:




They were all very pleased with those, as well they should be. While they were quietly meditating, scribbling lines, erasing, and chewing off hangnails, I got a chance to do a few of my own ~ actually, I'd gotten up with the howlers early in the morning and had dashed off a whole string of them around sunrise. But I did some more in class.

I think those haikus are quite adequate (see on the journal page), but I know that a Japanese poet might spend days on a single haiku, so I realize that mine/ours could probably use some polish. Still, they dress up a page amazingly, much the same way a little sketch does. For instance, my little haiku:

Scarlet macaws,
swiftly passing, long tails trailing.
Two-by-two you fly.

lends itself to my little drawing of flying macaws. Two of them had passed overhead as I was haikuing earlier that morning, and I wanted to commemorate it.

After we had experimented awhile with the haiku, we tried some short poetry. This was fun, as well, with the whole class getting a bit bawdy as we put some of our experiences into 4-liners. After introducing the concept and helping the students with meter and cadence, I worked on a little poem to fill the empty spaces on my journal's Magnificent Frigatebird skull page (another good use for a poem ~ to fill an empty space).

After lunch, we got to the calligraphy part of the workshop. Jocelyn, who has produced calligraphy greeting cards, hangings, logos, and other professional projects, had offered ahead of time to lend her expertise to this section of the class, and I was delighted to have her input. My calligraphy is somewhat plodding ~ I know the basic principles, and I can make recognizable calligraphy letters, but my main thrust in calligraphy has been to use individual letters as initial caps on pages.

Watching Jocelyn produce her beautiful script was humbling ~ I realized that I should leave the teaching of this ancient craft to professionals in the future. Marilyn is quite capable in calligraphy, as well (see her haiku, above) , and even she far outshone my feeble efforts (you'll see an example of mine in tomorrow's blog ~ try not to be cruel).

THEREFORE. I have decided that in future classes, I will be teaching my new Organic Vacation Font, which I freely admit is a take-off on the hand-lettered font created by Danny Gregory, my hero and fellow journalist who wrote The Creative License, Giving Yourself Permission to Be The Artist You Truly Are. The great thing about this font is that 1) you can make it look any way you want it to, 2) you can't get it wrong, and 3) every time you make a letter it can look different (look at each "a" in the example ~ and that's just a sample.) I hope Danny doesn't mind, but I had just discovered its unique character and was using it in my journal for this trip. I highly recommend his book, by the way. It is chock full of ideas and concepts to help you become a versatile and accomplished journaler. He has written and illustrated numerous others, as well

The Organic Vacation Font is the perfect font to dress up a journal, and it really lends itself to a carefree, fun vacation narrative. I'll teach that, but I'll also have some nice calligraphy examples for those who like a slightly more formal look. That's still in the development stages. As I mentioned yesterday, I learn from my students, and I think I learned quite a bit during this class day.

We finished for the afternoon and went our separate ways to hike or swim or to sketch and journal. I spent some time quietly meditating, sketching and writing on the yoga platform, then watching Gaia turn the lights down. A tropical sunset is a very calming experience.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Costa Rica Nature Journal/Sketching Workshop ~ 5

There is great joy to be found in sharing a technique, solving a problem, and guiding a willing student's pen or pencil to the desired point on the paper. But it ain't easy. Class days are a combination of exhiliarating, exhausting, fun, and hard work. I love the challenge of meeting the needs of all levels of students, although it also means I probably won't have much energy left over to work in my own journal that day.

On my first workshop day, February 7, I prepared my "classroom" ~ a quiet end of the restaurant, looking out over the open bannister into the forest canopy with birds and butterflies flitting by and the fascinating insect, bird and monkey calls punctuating the morning air (sometimes that makes it a little hard to stay in one's seat! Sometimes we give in, snatch the binoculars and check things out.)

Jocelyn and Marilyn arrived with their journals, in high spirits and ready to go. They had already done a number of sketches and some writing in their journals, working busily at every opportunity. I was impressed with their perseverance.

I knew I was going to be kept on my toes ~ I had emailed my students before the workshop, suggesting that they bring 6x9 spiral-bound art pads. But Marilyn and Jocelyn had brought and were working on 9x12 sheets, different weights and surfaces from smooth to watercolor-rough. Jocelyn had sewn hers together into quartos on the plane; Marilyn's were stacked on a tough backing and held down with elastic bands. Oh-kay.y.y.y...

Since some of my techniques were aimed at utilizing a 6x9 sketchpad maximally, I had to switch to a friskier horse in midstream and get on with the class. Actually, it turned out to not be a problem, since both Marilyn and Jocelyn are experienced journalers and are used to journaling this way (whereas I commonly have to lead newby journalers gently by the hand), so I shared what was useful in my "6x9 plan" and learned what I could from their styles. Later we had a good chuckle over my initial apprehension.

I always start out my classes with a short overview of right-brain processes. Since I don't know where each student is on the long learning curve, it helps me get acquainted with each person's style, artistic bent, and level. It also warms up the students and reminds them (or shows them if they aren't already aware) of how to best access their creative right-brains. Jocelyn and Marilyn sailed into this with vigor, and turned out the countour drawings and negative shapes shown here.

Kathy, my third student, hadn't arrived at El Remanso Wildlife Lodge yet due to scheduling difficulties. However, I had sent her the opening pages of our workbook ahead of time so that she would already have done the exercises and could join the class and immediatly feel right at home.

When Kathy appeared midmorning, journal in hand, our class was complete. But what a journal HERS was! I have never seen a more creative, way-out journal, and it fit Kathy's outgoing, cheery, off-beat style perfectly. So much for 6x9 journals!

I put them all to work on a drawing assignment, to sketch a forest leaf using the right-brain techniques. These techniques are designed to teach the right brain how to see accurately and transfer true-to-life images from the brain to the hand and then to the paper. It sometimes takes awhile to kick in, but even minimal instruction can usually produce results.

Long-time artists, particularly those who have been doing mostly painting, interpreting their subjects with freely-applied color (as opposed to rendering with pencil or pen lines) can benefit greatly from this redirection of the brain into these more accurate modes. The leaf drawing was the first foray into accurate drawing and would set the tone for the next three days. We were off and running.

With the students working busily on their leaves, I had a few moments to journal and to demonstrate some ballpoint pen techniques, since I had noticed that my students were using micro felt-tip pens which give a harsh black line. I like to use a black ballpoint in my journal for two reasons: 1) if you lose your pen, you can always get another easily (excuse me, may I borrow your pen for a few minutes?) and 2) you can create wonderful half-tone (gray) effects because ballpoints allow you to vary the pressure and get a lighter line. I show some examples on the journal page here.

When we came back from lunch, a huge pink grasshopper had wandered into the classroom. We photographed it, and later I drew it onto this journal page.

During the afternoon session, the students found subjects to draw from my tray of sketching goodies collected on the beach the day before, and bent to the task of sketching them in their journals. Here's the page Jocelyn created in her journal, adding color later.

By the time class was over for the afternoon, we were all full of new ideas ~ myself included (I nearly always learn from my students) and ready to explore and find more fodder for our journals. An opportunity presented itself quite soon.

On the terraza of their cabina Marilyn discovered a big ivory-colored frog. She and Jocelyn called us down to see and photograph it, and when the frog jumped onto their door frame it began to turn from ivory to tan. A chameleon! Later, on a white table, it turned back to white again, then leaped off into the shrubbery to go about its business.

We finally found its name, Hyla rosenbergi, or the Gladiator Tree Frog, in one of the lodge's reference books. But I prefer to call it Madelin's Frog (see my journal page).

Tomorrow's class is about expressive journal writing, poetry, haiku, and (ahem) calligraphy. See you then.

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