Back to the Drawing Board

What a simple, extraordinary drawing tool a pencil is. Unpretentious. Inexpensive. Humble. Yet, the pencil still manages to be demanding. With no color to hide behind and no tricks up it’s sleeve, the pencil requires focus on line and value to bring subjects to life. Artists refer to “pencil miles” or “the thousand-hour pencil” for good reason. There’s no substitute for drawing practice. The pencil demands that you to put in your time.

Tips and Techniques– I went back to drawing this week because I was trying to gain efficiency in my lines when drawing birds. I wanted to try committing to memory bird shapes, features, and feather groups to make me more adept at sketching when in the field. I found working on blue jays particularly challenging because of the head crest, patterning, and shape of the beak. The most fun part of this page was painting the pencil itself, which seemed especially fitting given the jay-colored Staedtler pencils used (F and 2B).

Cool Beans! I’m thrilled to share the news that The Nature Explorer’s Sketchbook has won a 2020 American Graphic Design Award from Graphic Design USA. From more than 10,000 entries, only a small handful of projects were selected as winners. Congratulations and many thanks to Kris Fitzgerald at 2K Design for her award-winning performance and creative excellence in helping bring the book to life!

36 Comments on “Back to the Drawing Board

  1. Congrats Jean on both this drawing and the award, both are fabulous! As much as I enjoy my watercolor painting adventures, the basic pencil is my first love-however I doubt I will win any awards for either!

    • How great! Thank you! I’m going to set up a kids gallery soon so that kids can share some of their artwork inspired by the book. I can’t wait to see what they discover.

  2. The drawings are exquisite, so masterfully done. I wonder about using a blank sheet in between these 2 pages. It would be awful to have the pencil lines smudge and damage the perfection of these detailed birds.
    Can’t remember when I last worked solely in pencil….perhaps only when I took drawing classes years ago. I believe I still have my 2B pencil. Might just try it out again.
    Congratulations on your Graphic Design Award!
    Thanks for sharing this lovely post.

  3. That’s fantastic news! After I recommended it on my FB thread, a couple of friends bought it for their grandchildren and it was a big success. Perfect for kids in this time of isolation.

    • Thank you Candice! I appreciate you making the recommendation and hope your friends grandchildren enjoy exploring and sketching– especially as a counterpoint to screen time.

  4. I love that you still go back to using pencils occasionally. Drawing with pencil was my first love. Many times I like my drawings better than when I use ink or watercolors. Tho I enjoy them both. Love these jays.

  5. Beautiful drawings of the jays. The pencil had me fooled- I thought it was a real pencil resting on your sketchbook! Congratulations on the award.

  6. HI Jean,
    Congratulations on your award! I am curious about your practice not “in the field” Do you usually use photos, other people’s sketches, or You Tube videos for learning a bird. Looking forward to your class on the 15th!
    Happy New Year,

    • Hi Dory– I used photo references for these, but I use a combination of birds at my feeder, study skins, and sometimes video for learning birds. All of those things reinforce time in the field. I got Barry VanDusen’s new book “Finding Sanctuary” for Christmas. It is wonderful. His efficiency with drawing and color inspired me to work on drawing birds this week. I’m not sure I succeeded in becoming more efficient, but every mark moves the needle closer.

  7. Oh jean that is so wonderful. My two copies i gave as gifts have been so well received . Both went to grandmas excited to have grands visit and go forth with the book.

    • Thank you Kate…that means a lot. You wouldn’t think there would be much variety in pencils, but I keep coming back to Staedtler. Wishing you peace and satisfying art in 2021!

  8. Your book award is well deserved. It’s a great book for kids and adults who love to learn. I’ve been a devoted sketchbook drawer since taking your course in Westport, MA this past summer. You are very inspiring 🤔

    • Hi Kay- So nice to hear from you. I’m glad to hear that you have been devoted to your sketchbook –wish I could take a peek inside it! Stay well…and hopefully we’ll see each other again in Westport in 2021.

  9. Congratulations on your award! It is a beautiful book.The way you so truly see the world is an inspiration.

    • We are both fortunate to have had a unique opportunity to explore and see things all across the country while on the Expedition. Those travels informed so much of my life and art. We are still seekers of clarity.

  10. Congratulations!!! A well deserved award for such accomplished art. I love the beauty of nature you portray.
    Thank you for sharing your work.

  11. Congratulations on the graphic design award – that’s wonderful. And it’s well deserved because you have a great graphic sense. The Blue jays look totally true-to-life. One of the things I used to love about them was the two very different (to my mind) shades of blue in their feathers – that cooler, lavenderish blue on the back and the more turquoise hues on the wings and tail. That always appealed to me. You had a clever idea to add a pencil in blue!

  12. congrats Jean!!! the drawings are absolutely amazing! i love them, thanks for sharing💓

    Follow @everythingtips for tips and recommendations if interested! It would mean a lot to me🥺❤️

  13. This is a really beautiful piece. I am interested in creating botanical illustrations- mainly with pen or pencil. I see that you offer some workshops and am curious if you have any that are more pencil based rather than colored pencils? Would love to hear back, thank you!

    • Hi Shane– I don’t know of workshops that are mainly pencil. You might check the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators. They may have workshops or people near you who could steer you toward what you are looking for. Good luck!

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