Thoughts on Drawing from Nature

Flower (2)When I first began drawing, I had flowers on my mind. In looking back over the years, it seems many of my favorite artworks and illustrations have been vases of flowers. I love trees, river scenes, seascapes, and views of mountains, but nothing catches my eye quite so quickly as a painting of flowers. From the beginning of my art journey, I knew this was what I wanted to do. I imagined the walls of my home covered with gorgeous images of colorful blooms.

My first sketches were mostly leaves and simple flowers, all done in graphite. Drawing was a very new experience for me, and I was quite pleased with my early attempts.

But then, I went outdoors one day and tried to draw the hostas in bloom. What a disaster! With my head down, I slipped back inside, ripped the page from my sketchbook, and tossed it — no, actually, I buried it — in the trash. I felt like a total failure.

Trying to draw those hostas — even a single bloom — had been overwhelming. And it wasn’t going to get any easier. Mother Nature is not only very beautiful, but very complex.

Fortunately, I soon came across a few encouraging words from self-taught artist, Kate Berry, whose how-to-draw book was the first I bought.

“When you sketch from nature,” she said, “you aren’t really going to illustrate all of these fussy little bits.”

Oh, what a sigh of relief I breathed! It was all right to keep my drawings relatively simple. If I couldn’t accurately illustrate every vein in a leaf, I didn’t have to worry about it. If I made my stem a bit too wide or a petal a little too long, it was all right. I supposed I could call it artistic license or see it as an indication of my own artistic style. With renewed enthusiasm, I picked up my pencil and continued drawing my simple flowers.

Then, on my quest to learn all I could, I browsed around and found a YouTube video about drawing flowers. Exactly what I needed! I could not just read about how to draw, I could actually watch an artist at work.

I don’t recall the artist’s name nor do I have the link to the video, but after watching it, I was utterly crushed. Whenever you’re drawing from nature, this artist explained, you must be as accurate as possible. If there’s a slight little tear in a leaf, you must be certain you have faithfully copied that slight little tear in your reproduction of that leaf.

That was my first introduction to botanical drawing. Yes, botanical artists do need precision. Their intent is to show fruits and flowers, leaves, and other natural wonders with exact details. Although I admire their work, I know I’ll never have the skills – or the patience – to join their ranks.

I much prefer the simple approach to nature, and I’m not alone. More and more, I’ve learned that we don’t have to be exact. When we’re creating a landscape scene, we’re not attempting to draw every leaf on every tree. We don’t have to include every little crevice in the rocks or depict every single blade of grass. It would be impossible! No, we don’t have to draw nature exactly. We have only to create an illusion of nature.

As artists – if I dare include myself among this group – we seek beauty wherever we find it, and part of our task is to make it our own by showing it not as it is, but as we see it.

It’s all right to simplify a scene if it makes a stronger composition. We don’t have to include all that’s there before us. We can take natural wonders – trees, rivers, rocks – and put them in new arrangements. We can even take images from different places and combine them into a single new creation.

It’s rather profound to think that through our art, we become co-creators with nature, expressing our own unique experience of the beauty that surrounds us.


    1. I just got my copy of Drawing the Natural Way. I’m so glad you mentioned this book, and I can’t wait to start reading it. Drawing definitely does change the way we see things.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, it’s SUCH a process-oriented book, so please, don’t think at all about product while you’re practicing the activities! It’s more like maybe yoga or tai chi… not producing work you’ll show, probably, but engaging in an experience that will change you!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m sure I’ll be sharing lots of thoughts about the book I’m glad you’ve been through it and I look forward to talking to you about it.

        Liked by 1 person

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