Drawing Skills by Nature Journaling

KHertzler_NJ013Each Autumn at the large homeschool co-operative where my children attended, I request to teach the Advanced Drawing class for fifth grade. Students at this age are ready for the challenge of accurately drawing what they see. Parents might be disappointed with the lack of refrigerator-worthy pieces from this class as the focus is on skill work that kids will carry with them long after the class. I’ve tinkered a bit with the curriculum over the last ten or twelve years,  always including elements of natural study. This year, I went full-scale Nature Journal. And the results were fantastic!

KHertzler_NJ011I purchased an inexpensive journal for each of my eleven students. It has 8.5″ x 5.5″ pages of toothy drawing paper with a heavy craft paper cover. The students glued paper rulers to the edge of of inside covers and decorated the outside to personalize them with stamps or drawings and their name. (A photo at the bottom of this post shows the inside cover with paper ruler.)

The class jumped into making intentional observations of the natural world and a record of those observations.  Pretty pictures were not the goal. Each study needed to include a drawing based on what could be seen, some description with words , a number or measurement and basic metadata (date and also weather if weKHertzler_NJ010 were outside). Most weeks, I would introduce a new item to observe, a new medium and/or a new art technique. We explored graded pencils, pen, watercolor pencils, and charcoal. We learned about proportions, overlapping, shading techniques, texture. But we focused on getting to know the plant or animal in front of us.

KHertzler_NJ004IKHertzler_NJ014t is important to note that I never provide photos. These kids are working with the three-dimensional objects – the real deal. Their brains have do the hard work of translating that into a drawing on a two-dimensional plane while taking in the smells, changing highlights, shadows and colors as they move the items, prickly or smooth textures, insects or spiders crawling on their samples and bits falling off onto their work surface. It’s very tactile and the students quickly become immersed in their work.

The usual “I can’t draw” comments were not spoken. Each class typically has a few art-reluctant kids who need to be convinced that drawing is a communication skill that everyone needs – like writing or math. But we avoided that obstacle altogether this time. We were too busy exploring, investigating, discovering. And as a byproduct, making some very fine drawings.



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