Mapping: block diagrams

Learn how to make a block diagram to explore and visualize patterns in nature.

Creating a block diagram combines information from an overhead map (plan view) and a cross-section (side or elevation view). Try creating one of these views for your sit spot or one of your favorite areas to explore. Making the block diagram will help you think ecologically and spatially about the relationships between, slope (steepness), aspect or horizontal orientation (north vs. south-facing slopes), vegetation, and wildlife patterns. This is a more advanced exercise that is good to try once you are comfortable making simple overhead maps and cross sections.

Click on the first image to enlarge the image and see a step by step slide show of how to construct a block diagram.

Be playful and have fun with it. I sometimes add a little icon of myself wandering in the space or looking over the edge. It is not an exact map but a tool to help you think three dimensionally and perhaps see patterns in the landscape that you might not otherwise have noticed.

Mapping: top views and cross sections

Learn how to make a map in your nature journal to help you observe and remember patterns in nature.

Making a map will help you notice and remember patterns in vegetation and the landscape that you otherwise might not see. These simple diagrams can show the arrangement of vegetation and other elements more clearly than a landscape drawing and help get you out of the pressure to make pretty pictures and into deep observation. You can add them to any journal page as a thumbnail or make them more elaborate as an information rich project on your page.

 

Create simple maps and cross sections to help you focus on patterns of vegetation. Make up your own key to identify the different kinds plants you find. Note the scale and north arrow to orient the map.

Create simple maps and cross sections to help you focus on patterns of vegetation. Make up your own key to identify the different kinds plants you find. Note the scale and north arrow to orient the map.

 

A cross-section view can be created along with a map or independently. Note how I have indicated my discoveries such as a bird in the tree or old stream channels. It also helps to show the scale. Draw yourself into the pictures to give a sense of scale.

A cross-section view can be created along with a map or independently. Note how I have indicated my discoveries such as a bird in the tree or old stream channels. It also helps to show the scale. You can draw yourself into the pictures to show relative size.

Constructive Critique

I find it very hard to critically look at one of my drawings the moment it is done. In spite of my work to not focus on the pretty picture, my ego still wants the drawing to be good. When I ask myself what needs to change, I get nothing. Still, an impartial eye would find many things that could improve.

Here is an example of what I thought was a finished drawing and a corrected version I touched up a week later. Click on the first drawing to enlarge it and toggle back and forth between it and the revised drawing.

Here are some tricks to help you constructively evaluate and improve your drawings.

  1. Start with what is working. Any drawing will have parts that are more successful than others. Find those passages in your drawing that are the strongest and that give you positive feedback. Celebrating these strengths will help you do it again and encourages you on.
  2. Make lots of drawings. The more you have under your belt, the less ego is wrapped up in each one. The volume of work creates a buffer, making it safer to make mistakes.
  3. Take a break. Get away from the drawing for a while. Once you think you are done, give it a rest for a few days and come back and look at the drawing again. Something you had overlooked may now pop out at you.
  4. Draw some more. I find it is difficult to evaluate my most recent drawing. If I draw another one, that new one can become the “perfect” one, shielding my ego so I can look at the old drawing more rigorously.
  5. Back up. Walk across the room and look at the drawing from a distance. Does the composition hold up?
  6. Squint. You can better see the value range (light to dark) if you squint your eyes. Are you using a full range of values or is the drawing mostly pale? You may also want to look at your drawing through a red filter to convert colors to values (note that this technique will also slightly darken the blues).
  7. Look in the mirror. Observing the mirror image of your drawing will make it look very different. You will see you composition in a new way.

In all your work the most important thing to do to improve is to make a lot of drawings. If you find that rigorously critiquing you own work deflates and intimidates you, lighten up on it and go back to cranking out drawings. If however, you find your can bring an impartial critical eye to your work and can identify what you need to do to improve, you will advance much more quickly. The ideal is a steady work flow in the face of honest and supportive feedback.

How to Draw an Orange-crowned Warbler step-by-step

Orange-crowned Warblers are subtle birds to draw. The have no bold contrasts and are a fun challenge. By incorporating some of the colors of the background into your bird sketch, you can achieve a harmony of color where it appears that the bird and the background might be illuminated by the same light. In this demonstration, we will walk through the process of drawing an Orange-crowned Warbler and its environment, pointing out some of the important details and shortcuts as we go.

Click on the first drawing to enlarge the images and start a step-by-step slide show.

This drawing is based on a photograph by Vivek Khanzode. Used with permission. Studying from photographs is a great way to start to learn how to draw a bird and is a great addition to field work.

How to draw a Song Sparrow step-by-step

Lets look at how to draw a bird with a complex pattern and a more dynamic angle. Song Sparrows have finely streaked heads and breasts. The three-quarter view allows you to see the breast pattern and central dark spot. The first steps will look familiar as you block in the posture, proportions, and angles. Things get interesting when you start to add the guide lines that show the center of the chest and body angle.

Click on the first picture to enlarge the drawing and start a step-by-step slide show.

This drawing is based on a photograph by Ashok Khosla. Used with permission.

How to draw a Lazuli Bunting step-by-step

Whenever I draw birds, I start with a light framework that blocks in the basic shape with an erasable non-photo- blue pencil. I add detail and color directly on top of these basic shapes. Double check your basic shape before continuing with the rest of the drawing. Click on the first drawing to enlarge it and start a step-by-step slide show.

The most helpful thing you can do to improve your drawings is to start drawing more. Just give it a try for one month. That is not much time. You can do it. You will see dramatic improvements in your work.

This drawing is based on a photograph by Ashok Khosla. Used with permission.

How to Draw a Mountain Lion: fur texture.

Mountain lions have short fur covering most of their bodies revealing strong muscles below the skin. They have slightly longer fur on the belly, chest, and back of the legs that may form clumps with distinct cracks between them. Use a combination of the techniques you have seen for drawing animals with long and short fur.

Techniques to draw fur

  1. Vole showing out to in flicks or "Bill Berry marks", suggesting breaks in the fur.

    Vole showing out to in flicks or “Bill Berry marks”, suggesting breaks in the fur. Note that these marks are also used on internal contours such as around the head or the back of the folded forearm.

    Do not draw individual hairs, draw the pelt by showing the cracks between clumps of fur.

  2. Suggest breaks in the fur or cracks along the contour or edge of the animal by strategically placing out-to-in flicks or “Bill Berry lines” where the contour abruptly changes angle or where the fur stretches over a prominent bulge.
  3. Suggest the shapes of muscles below the fur with shadows and highlights.
  4. If the fur is glossy like that of a horse, add sharply contrasting highlights.

Click on the first image to follow a step by step sideshow, detailing my process in painting the fur of a mountain lion

How to Draw a Mountain Lion: anatomy

Cats and dogs have a digitigrade stance. That is that they perpetually walk on their toes, as opposed to their toe nails like a deer or flat-footed like a bear. This puts their heel off the ground. People often mistake the heel for a backwards facing knee but a close examination of the anatomy shows that they have a knee that points much the same way as ours. The knee is easy to miss when looking at the animal because the knee is about at the same level as the belly. The knees of some digitigrade animals such as dogs or cheetahs are easier to see because they are distinctly below the level of the belly. On the front limb, the wrist is low on the leg and slightly angled forward. Most of the limb that you see below the belly is a long forearm (radius and ulna).

In addition to the six muscles you have seen in the bear and the deer, there are two more ones that make prominent bulges on the bodies of cats. Cats use their forearms dynamically and have more developed back and shoulder (latissimus dorsi and deltoid) muscles than you see in other quadrupeds.

Mountain-Lion-skeleton

Print out the mammal anatomy worksheet and follow the In the step by step guide below, adding one muscle at a time. Then envision how these muscles show through skin and fur. This will help you memorize the shapes and locations of the muscles better than just reading this post. Click on the first image to start a sideshow with step by step details.

How to Draw a Deer: fur texture

In the summer, deer fur is smooth, glossy, and warm brown. It gets thicker and dull gray as winter approaches. You will not see the hairs on animals with short fur. The cracks that are so useful in describing the pelt of  long-haired animals also are less prominent.

Tricks for Short Hair

  1. Vole showing out to in flicks or "Bill Berry marks", suggesting breaks in the fur.

    Vole showing out to in flicks or “Bill Berry marks”, suggesting breaks in the fur. Note that these marks are also used on internal contours such as around the head or the back of the folded forearm.

    Do not draw the hairs, draw the pelt.

  2. Concentrate on the shadows and contours of the muscles. Much of the anatomy will show through.
  3. Add a subtle suggestion of fur texture into the contour (the line around the edge). In places where skin passes over a bump, add a few small out to in flicks to suggest small cracks in the fur. Do not overdo this technique and do not make these marks similar in size or spacing. Think “consistently inconsistent”. Study the work of William D. Berry to see this approach masterfully done.

Click on the first image to follow a step by step sideshow, detailing my process in painting the fur of the blacktail deer.

How to Draw a Deer: anatomy

Seeing and understanding the skeleton and muscles is one of the keys to learning how to draw a deer. I recommend learning six muscles that make prominent bulges beneath the skin and fur. Muscles tend to originate from larger stable bones, cross at least one joint and insert into another bone that usually is smaller and further from the body core (distal). Muscles also tend to have most of their mass closer to the body, getting thinner as you go out on the legs.

The deer has an ungulagrade stance, standing on its toenails or hooves. The bones of the instep (metatarsals) and the bones of the palm  (metacarpals) are fused together to make one strong bone. This puts the heel and wrist joints high off the ground. Unlike dogs and cats, the metacarpal bone is about as long as the forearm. Note how most of the bulk of the muscles is carried close to the core of the body. The legs get thinner at each successive joint and the muscles of the hind leg are larger than those of the front leg.

Mule-Deer-Skeleton

Print out the mammal anatomy worksheet and follow the In the step by step guide below, adding one muscle at a time. Then envision how these muscles show through skin and fur. This will help you memorize the shapes and locations of the muscles better than just reading this post. Click on the first image to start a sideshow with step by step details.