How to Draw Songbirds (video workshop)

posture wrenHow can you sketch the songbirds you discover along the trail or on your feeder at home? Those little birds seem to be always on the move but with a few tricks up your sleeve and knowledge of fundamental bird anatomy you can do it. In this workshop, learn: basic anatomy for the artist, simplifying what you see, sketching multiple positions of moving birds, visual memory tricks, how to focus on the most important details, ways to add a hint of habitat, and juggling your sketchbook, pencils, and binoculars.

How to draw ducks and waterfowl (video workshop)

bufflehead sbs 30Ducks and other waterfowl are extremely cooperative subjects. Yes they move, but they love napping if plain sight and will stick around for you to draw. Learn the details of duck anatomy that are relevant for field sketchers and bird artists. Discover tricks to get down the shape quickly and easily, even on a bird that is moving. Learn the basic feather groups and how to imply feather detail. Discover how to draw duck heads that look like duck heads. Learn how to suggest feathers without drawing every one. Learn new secrets of duck posture. Plus a reflection review as it applies to waterfowl.

How to Draw a Trout: step-by-step

Trout are beautiful and hearty fish. I grew up sharing Sierra lakes with these amazing creatures. In this step-by-step demonstration, we walk through the process of illustrating one of these fish. With watercolor, it works best to start with the lightest values and build up into the darkest layer by layer. Here I use the glazing technique in which subsequent layers of paint are applied on top of existing layers once the paper is dry. In the course of this demonstration I make a few mistakes. Watch how I correct them as the painting develops.

Click on the first image to start a step-by-step annotated slide-show of how to draw a trout.


Sketching Shorebirds (video workshop)

stilt postureDrawing shorebirds will train your eye to capture the subtlety and nuance of shape and the contrast of size. At high tide, shorebirds will flock together making comparison and sketching much easier. Learn the details of wader anatomy that are relevant for field sketchers and bird artists. Discover tricks to get down the shape quickly and easily, even on a bird that is moving. Learn the basic feather groups and how to imply feather detail. Discover the variation in bill shapes and how to draw them. Master tricks for drawing the long kinked necks of herons and egrets and learn to draw legs and balance your birds.

Black-back Butterfly Fish step-by-step

Blocking in the posture, proportions, and negative space body angles are the first steps in drawing a fish. You may see a parallel here to drawing birds, mammals, and everything else- it is the same system, just a different subject. Before you add any detail, block in these elements. If you add color with watercolor as in this demonstration, start with lighter values and work your way into the darks.

Click on the first image to start a step-by-step slide show.

How to get started Nature Journaling (video workshop)

Nature Journal Club outing & Elkhorn Slough - Moss Landing, CA,So you want to keep a nature journal or bump your current practice to a higher orbit. This workshop will help you see the possibilities of what a journal can be and how to move from new years resolutions to a life changing habit.

  • Learn the practices that makes journaling a lifelong habit (and what does not work).
  • Discover how to set up your journaling kit.
  • Journal kit show and tell
  • explore field tested logistics of sketching in the field.
  • Learn the foundational framework to help you draw any subject.

Fish Anatomy for Artists

Uunderstanding fish structure and the functions of fish anatomy will help you see details of the animals you are trying to draw and train your eye to look for critical features. Study these drawings and then look for these features on live fish, specimens, or photos. You can view an amazing searchable database of fish photographs including scientific specimens and photos taken in nature at Fishpix. The more you understand what you see, the easier it will be for you to get what you observe down on paper.

Click on the first image to start a step-by-step slideshow.

How to Draw Mushrooms (video workshop)

Rain is falling? It’s mushroom time! Fungi are a delight to sketch and paint. Learn a simple approach to sketching mushrooms and some of the most common errors that can creep into your fungus sketching. In this workshop, we explore techniques with graphite pencil, watercolor and colored pencils.

The Best Mushroom Tricks Ever…

There are two tricks that will make you mushroom gills look great. The first is to pay attention to the orientation of the gills. All the gills should point to the center of the mushroom. This is not as easy as it sounds. As you start to draw in the gills there is a strong tendency to point the gills to the outer corners of the stalk. Avoid this temptation. Click on the first image below to start an annotated slide show.

Russula emeticaThe second trick is to darken the shadows between the gills in the middle (the part where the gills face toward or away from you), and only suggest the gills on the sides (where the gills run perpendicular to your line of sight). This is because you can look down between the gills in the middle and only along the tops of the gills (no shadows) on the sides.

Note: in the early part of this video, the view of the screen is washed out- but don’t give up, it gets better…


Here is a second presentation of the same lecture- some details explained in a different way. The workshop is in three parts.



How to draw fish I (video workshop)

Learn how to draw fish including critical morphology for the artist, arranging scales, important proportions or measurements,  and capturing the iridescent shimmer of light. In this workshop we will focus on the lateral (side) view to create a classic scientific illustration.

Understanding anatomy will dramatically improve your fish illustrations. In this workshop I distill the essential anatomy of fish highlighting variations you will see between species. I also demonstrate two step-by-step illustrations to show how I block in the proportions and apply watercolor.


In the video I say that ventral fin is another name for the anal fin. This is in error. Ventral fin is another name for the pelvic fins.

Sketchnote by Mark Simmons

Sketchnote by Mark Simmons

The Dyslexic Naturalist (video)

Note: This post was not spelchecked so you can see what my raw writeing is like.

If you are a dyslexic kid out ther reading this, know you are not alone. There are a lot of us out here, of all ages and we share your experince and understand what it is like. You are not dumb or lazy. It is just that certain things are machanically more dificult for us to do. When you get older they let you use spell checkers, calculators and all sorts of other ways to get around thoes problem areas. You are now working trew some of the most difficult years where, for some reason we make you work evrything out by hand and great value is put on spelling.  I know you did not ask for this, it is really hard, and it is not fair. Do not eqwait your intelagince with your ability to spell or memorize your multipicashon tables. It will get better, and not only that, the strugl itself is training your mind to do something amazing.

You can not give up. You need to try your best – not so that you can do everything like a non-dyslexic, but to identify both where the dyslexia is messing with you, and your capasity for creativity and brilliance. The more you can figure out specificly where you strugle, the easier it is to figure out what kind of acomadashions you will need to overcome it. This road is harder for us than for non-disleecsic people. The extra strugle we face everyday trains us look for and find alternite ways to solve problems. These back door aproaches are often not valued in school but, they will be a gift the rest of your life. You will see the options and possibilities that are invisible to most people. Your goal is to survive this time, to stay curieous, and learn to respect and value your way of thinking,

As a naturalist, this lateral thinking helps me to explor and wonder. I delight in discovering new things or asking new questions. My dyslexic brain is a gift with which I will never be bored. Hang in there. If I can be of support to you, I invite you to contact me.

A presintashon before the 2013 Confernce on Dyslexia and Talent.