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 as the focus is on skill work that will remain long after the class ends. 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 Journaling. 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 edges of inside covers and personalized the outside with stamps or drawings. (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 (i.e., date and also weather if we 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 and texture. But we focused on getting to know the plant or animal in front of us.


It is important to note that I never provide photos. These kids are working with three-dimensional objects. Their brains have to 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, 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 can learn – 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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