Reviews- The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling

Only three days ago, almost three feet of snow covered everything outside. When nature shows its strength, I’m also reminded of its beauty. One way I’ve been passing the time is with a new nature drawing book called The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling, by author and illustrator John Muir Laws. As someone who has previously studied art, but never became an artist, I have a great fondness for learning realistic drawing. Creating a representation of the natural world requires a mathematical understanding of the world, a knowledge of proportion, and skilled drawing techniques. While reading this book, I found that it was very successful in teaching a non-artist how to draw nature realistically.As I worked my way through the book, I was pleased with how much content it had. The book contains about 300 pages, all filled with helpful, interesting information. Months ago, when I gathered items for my Christmas gift guide, I learned that coloring books for adults are a common trend. Instead of coloring mindlessly, take up a craft that requires building a skill, like drawing. Learning to draw is rewarding, and with the help of a good book, it is not difficult to practice.Some of the best parts to read in the book for me were the tips on how to build the thinking skills necessary of a drawer. For example, I enjoyed reading the section called The Joy of Curiousity, which focused on how to become someone who searches for mysteries, in order to allow yourself to make new discoveries. This section was particularly poetic and beautiful. The author, Laws, pointed out how typical it can be for adults to hush children’s questions. To become someone who draws, you should train yourself to ask the right type of questions, rather than only thinking about the answers. Asking yourself a variety of questions will help you create a more detailed drawing.While the book helped me learn to build a childlike interest in nature and in drawing, I was excited to work on drawing with my daughter Samantha. She is very creative and could spend all day drawing. In the book, we discovered numerous tutorials all outlined in simple steps. Following the steps was simple to do. I found that I could teach Samantha some basic drawing skills with the help of the book. The writing provided ample narration to help explain why we made certain gestures or shapes on our paper.With the snow keeping us in our house for days, this book provided us with much entertainment. In the moments when I wanted Samantha to be entertained without screen time, I could give her this book and instantly capture her attention. She adored just looking at the pictures. All of the illustrations were made with an incredible amount of detail. The illustrator’s skills are very impressive. It is a rare combination to find someone skilled in creating art and in teaching it. In this book, Laws is successful in showing his expertise and in demonstrating how readers can develop drawing skills.Some of the book was too advanced for me to get to right away. Using graphite and watercolor will require more dedication on my part, as I will need to purchase supplies for an art kit. In the meantime, I enjoyed the simplicity of the quick tutorials on creating realistic shapes. One of my favorites was how to simplify the shape of a flying bird. When I was little, I made M shapes in the sky to show that birds were flying. This book provides clear explanations on how to create realistic flying birds.Although I have not yet utilized the book to its fullest potential, the different levels of difficulty that the book contained were one of the major advantages. As I build different skills, the book will continue to challenge me and show me new information to learn. Although I will start out just learning to make simple shapes that are the right size, I hope to build towards the more complex watercolor skills over time. 

Clare Walker Leslie January 5, 2015

Jack’s newest book The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling is a mammoth accomplishment. It is a carefully laid out and colorfully illustrated guide to most everything you might want to learn better about when drawing the natural world. Jack writes as he teaches and works himself- with enthusiasm, clarity, and breadth of interests. My book, Nature Drawing: A Tool for Learning, came out in l980 and was limited to black and white. Jack’s is an excellent advance way beyond what I was able to do. I recommend it as a solid (if weighty!) companion to The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds.

Cathy Johnson, January 6. 2016

The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling by John Muir Laws is a don’t-miss-it book for your studio. I am so delighted to have had the chance to preview this book–thick as a city phone book (312 pages!), covering every nature-drawing subject you can imagine in John Muir Laws’ inimitable clear, encouraging, and inspiring fashion, this one will stay in my collection of essential art books forever.

John covers using pencil, colored pencil, watercolor, gouache and more, and the variety of subject matter is a nature-artist’s delight.

But it’s not simply a book on technique. It includes chapters on Observation and Intentional Curiosity, Projects that Focus Awareness, Methods of Deepening Inquiry, Visual Thinking and Displaying Information, as well as materials and supplies, notes, and exhaustive references. If you’ve been fortunate enough to have seen John’s previous book, The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds, you KNOW how good this one is. It covers birds and much, much more.

Los Angles Audubon, By Linda Oberholtzer February 24, 2016

It was a sweltering spring day in the 1990s in Anza Borrego National Park. A group I was birding with saw John Muir Laws sketching some wildflowers and asked him to join our group for lunch.

I don’t do well in the heat. I was turning deep purple in color. Only John noticed. He upended a cooler of slushy ice over my head and saved me from a heat stroke. I have tracked his career ever since, arranging to have him speak at the Whittier Area Audubon Society, being his chauffeur for his first Sea and Sage Audubon Society presentation, participating in a drawing workshop at the Friends of the San Jacinto Mountains in Idyllwild, participating in a drawing workshop at the Western Field Ornithologist Conference in Santa Maria, seeing his presentation at the California Audubon Retreat in Asilomar, watching his presentation at Tuolumne Meadows for the Yosemite Institute and seeing his presentation as the Annual Dinner speaker for the Sea and Sage Audubon Society.

Once I was in charge of driving him around to his first talk at the Sea and Sage Audubon Society. He commented that he would much rather stay with people at their homes than stay in a hotel room. After the presentation, a group of us invited him to watch the movie “Night of the Living Dead” at a nearby home. He thoroughly enjoyed it!

One time he came to Sylvia Gallagher’s Bird Observation class in Huntington Beach and jumped onto a table flapping his arms like a bird.

His field guide to the Sierras made sense. He put all orange flowers together, all orange birds together. You didn’t have to know what “family” the species was from to look it up.

John is dyslexic and sometimes struggles with written words. But the paintbrush has always been his friend and he can sketch anything. Growing up in a family of nature lovers paved his path of curiosity.

John Muir Laws’ latest book, “The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling” published by Heyday books in Berkeley, CA., is a wonderful tool for the budding naturalist. It has lovely color and black and white illustrations as well as inspiring text.

The book was made in collaboration with Emile Lygren, whom he met at San Francisco State’s Sierra Nevada Field campus in 2009. They discovered that they both used journals to deepen their relationship with nature, John through drawing and Emile through writing.

Every time John goes out into the field he ponders these questions:

I wonder
I notice
It reminds me of
Reflecting on the Process

He has a marsh by his house, Coyote Point Marina, where he frequently watches wildlife. One day he noticed the directions shorebirds face while resting. After a lengthy observation he concluded that the birds were pointing their breasts into the wind.

Another day he journaled watching the growth of a poppy plant during the course of one day and charted its growth. Sometimes he will draw a plant, showing where the leaves are eaten away and write a comment like “I wonder what ate this?” next to the drawing.

The book details important practical information such as what type of journal to buy and how to illustrate it, down to the type of colored pencils to buy. He suggests that one fill a small knapsack with the things needed for a field outing so it is hanging on a hook by the door ready for an adventure. He says to throw in a glue stick in case you want to make a collage or put a leaf or other item in your journal.

With this step by step guide, you will be fully equipped to observe and record your experiences to share with others.

John is a naturalist, educator and artist with degrees in conservation and resource studies from the University of California at Berkeley; in wildlife biology from the University of Montana, Missoula; and in scientific illustration from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is a 2010 Audubon TogetherGreen Conservation Leadership Fellow and has received the Terwilliger Environmental Award for outstanding service in environmental education. He is married and the father of two children.