Perspective for Nature Journaling (video workshop)

sfzoo_2015jan21dNature Journal Club guest lecture by Mark Simmons.

Perspective allows us to create the illusion of three-dimensional space on the flat page. Though it may seem intimidating, a basic understanding of perspective gives us a bag of tricks that we can use to add a sense of depth and distance to our scenes, and convincing volume to our animal drawings. This workshop covers a few simple principles that you can apply to give your pictures a three-dimensional feel, including: parallel lines and how the eye sees them, drawing simple forms in perspective, foreshortening, overlapping foreground and background, atmospheric perspective, and understanding and using the horizon line.

San Francisco-based artist Mark Simmons specializes in comics, cartoons, and storyboards. You can see some of his work at, or visit for his latest life sketches of cute animals, construction machines, and whatnot.



Yosemite Landscapeito: making quick watercolor sketches in the field

Landscapeitos are little landscape drawings or thumbnails that are easy to finish in the field and fun to paint. The secret is to keep them small. This drawing was only about an inch and a half wide by two inches tall. If you double the size of the drawing, you quadruple the area that you must cover.

The Secret to Controlling Watercolor

The secret to making watercolor easy to manage is water control: managing the proportions of water to pigment and the amount of the mixture in your brush. Do not let puddles form on the surface of your page these take forever to dry and are hard to control. If your want a lighter wash, add more water to your mixture and stroke it on in a thin wash, not a bigger puddle of water on the page. Similarly if you want a darker value, do not paint a big puddle of dense paint and wait for it to dry. Instead, mix more pigment into your mixture and apply this in a thin layer. The watercolor application here is simple glazed layers, each one drying before the application of the next.

Click on the first picture to start a step-by-step slideshow.


Monochrome Study: Blackburnian Warbler Step-by-Step

Value is more important than color. As you learn to master watercolor, try painting with just one color to create a monochrome value study. Test the color before you start and choose a one that will allow you to push to a rich dark value. Print out this worksheet and use it to build up layers of value from light to dark. Let each layer dry completely between steps. This drawing is based on a photograph by Vivek Khanzode from

Click on the first image to start a step-by-step slideshow.


Monochrome Study: White-breasted Nuthatch step-by-step

One of the big secrets of watercolor painting is water control, learning to get the right value (dark or light) without creating puddles. Puddles are not your friends. Many people think “I want a light blue, therefore I will add more water on my page”. This creates a puddle that takes a long time to dry and is difficult to manage. Alternatively people think “I want a really dark value, therefore I will add more paint”. Again a puddle. Instead of adding more water or paint on the page, change the concentration of paint in the mixture, not the amount of paint on the page.

A good way to practice water control is to create a monochrome painting. Just use one pigment (pick a dark color, dark brown is nice) and vary the concentration of paint to water. As you do, pay attention to the range of values, starting with the lightest, and building toward the darker values, and avoid making puddles on the page. Start with lighter values and make your way progressively to the darks.

Print out the Nuthatch sketch to follow along with this demonstration. Click on the first image to start a step-by-step side-show.

This drawing is based on a photograph by Vivek Khanzode on

Pike 17

Foreshortened Pike- step-by-step

Drawing foreshortened fish is challenging. Your brain knows the real proportions when viewed from the side. It is tough to force your brain to shorten one dimension and not the other. Trust what you see. Use your pencil to make proportional measurements rather than relying on your intuitive sense of how the fish “should” look.

Click on the first  image to start a step-by-step slide show.


Buckeye seeds

Field Sketching Basics (video)

So you want to keep a nature journal and try your hand at field sketching but have not picked up a pencil since elementary school? This workshop is geared for the raw beginner who is terrified of sketching and is convinced that they can not draw. You can learn to draw. This workshop will show you how to begin. In this workshop you will learn:

  • How to look at a subject as an artist so you can draw what you see
  • Where to start and how to make your first lines and the drawing “order of operations”.
  • How to simplify shapes, values, and colors.
  • Key drawing tricks that many any subject easier to manage.
  • How to use a small set of colored pencils to get infinite hues.


Introduction to Nature Journaling (video workshop)

Have you always wanted to keep a nature journal or are you looking for ways to make your nature journaling a richer experience? In this workshop we will explore fundamental principles to jumpstart and extend your journaling practice. You will learn:

  • Why to keep a nature journal and see examples of many ways to practice.
  • How to set up a lightweight journaling kit for easy access in the field and see some useful tools for fieldwork.
  • What to put into your journal to get more out of every observation and allow you to use your journal as a scientific resource.
  • How to motivate and inspire yourself to make journaling a regular habit.
  • Strategies to get you started for a day in the field.
  • Ideas about what to put in your journal.
  • Ways to think outside of the box to enhance your creativity and joy in journaling.

Rockfish B 8_1

How to draw a foreshortened fish (sea bass)

Fish ForeshorteningDrawing a foreshortened object is not easy. Your brain must overcome it’s ability to understand that the shape of an object does not really change as you observe it from different angles. This object permanence allows you to understand that a frisbee flying toward you does not really change shape as the observed angle changes. When we draw a foreshortened object you must undo this essential observation with your mind and draw the object as you really see it, not as you know it is shaped. Take the long body of a fish. As the fish rotates toward you, it goes from a long profile to a shortened three quarter view, to the compressed front view. Features on the body such as fin locations or the edge of the gill plate get closer together as the body shortens.

Click on the first image to start a step-by-step annotated slide show.


How to Draw Fish (part 2)

Learn how to draw and sketch fish and sharks in dynamic poses, breaking the mold of the static scientific illustration. Learn how a living fish looks under water and how this is different than what is drawn in classic fish illustration. This class will prepare you for sketching from live specimens in your fish tank or at an aquarium. This workshop emphasizes two key points: use of parallel guides and observing the planes of your subject.


How to Draw Songbirds (video workshop)

posture wrenHow can you sketch the songbirds you discover along the trail or on your feeder at home? Those little birds seem to be always on the move but with a few tricks up your sleeve and knowledge of fundamental bird anatomy you can do it. In this workshop, learn: basic anatomy for the artist, simplifying what you see, sketching multiple positions of moving birds, visual memory tricks, how to focus on the most important details, ways to add a hint of habitat, and juggling your sketchbook, pencils, and binoculars.