One of our favorite destinations is Mt. Charleston. Only an hour away by car, the weather at Mt. Charleston is a delightful twenty-plus degrees cooler than Las Vegas. As I write this, for instance, the high in Vegas is 101 degrees while it is a lovely 76 in Mt. Charleston.
We decided to spend a day there this past July.
My husband is an avid photographer and I like to practice nature journaling, which means that we are ideally suited to hike with one another, neither of us at all minding frequent stops to change a camera lens or whip out a sketch book.
As the hiker drew near, we greeted one another and she commented, ‘Oh, are you drawing the mountain?’ I replied in the affirmative, although everything in me protested at the term ‘drawing’ as too artistic to be applied to what I was attempting. As she passed by, she glanced over my shoulder, craning her neck to get a look at my sketchbook.
This was the not the first time I’ve been out with sketchbook in hand and had curious passers-by want to see what I was doing Let me assure you, it is not because of any ability on my part. Rather, I think there’s something else going on here.
Ask a young child if they are an artist, and they are very likely to enthusiastically say ‘Yes!’ Is it because they are good? Not necessarily; they apply this designation to themselves because they are doing that which an artist does. Ask an adult and unless they are very skilled, they will hesitate. Why is that? Perhaps it is just me, but I have to actively overcome feelings that I am an imposter, that I must apologize for my bold presumption to wield an artist’s tools.
At some point, as we grow up, we accept that the only things worth doing are the things that we do well. Restated another way, we only do those things we feel capable of doing well. But, where is the growth in that? Where is the adventure? Where is the opportunity not only to live adventurously but to, well…live.
Artistic ability is not the goal of nature study. But it may be that the ability to capture what you see in nature, accurately and in a pleasing manner, enhances your study of nature and adds to your overall enjoyment. If we are hesitant to put ourselves out there because of artistic shortcomings, we limit our options. We could just skip it and assign our children to nature journal on their own. Or, we could embrace that we are artists because we are doing that which an artist does --- practicing their art. The first step has already been accomplished; you and I are now aware of this false premise and we can choose to act accordingly. We can reassure ourselves that every half hour of sketching advances us a half hour closer to becoming a better artist. We can develop a thick skin, looking objectively at our sketching in order to assess it for what went well and what could have been done differently. And, perhaps, best of all we can model to our children that it is never too late to learn new things.
Of course, you may already sketch well. But maybe there is something else that has had an interest for you but that you have ruled out because you've assumed that it is not in your skill set.
Teach from a flowing stream, not a stagnant pool.
Here John Muir Laws is interviewed about his book on nature journaling.
His blog is full of lessons in the form of blog articles and YouTube videos.
Also, this YouTube video by Yasmina Creates is worth watching: Make Ugly Art! Art Talk and Advice on How to Improve as an Artist.