Pictures: Drawing and Visual Thinking

Drawing is one aspect of nature journaling, that is used along with writing (ABC) and measuring (123). Visual thinking and communication strategies, such as observational drawing, drawing from memory or imagination, making structural diagrams that emphasize parts or construction of an object, creating mental models, making maps and cross-sections, and creating quick sketches, are skills that improve with training and practice. 


Drawing improves observational skills. Any observation not specifically described in writing is lost, but in a sketch, many observations are unintentionally recorded in the course of drawing. 

Although both writing and drawing improve memory, drawing is a more effective memory hook. It does not matter whether the picture looks good or not. The attention required to draw locks a moment into a memory. 


Anyone can learn to draw. Drawing is a skill, not a gift. It is learned and the more you practice, the better you get. Using fundamental techniques of drawing accelerates one’s learning. Drawing fundamentals are tools, not rules.

Lessons 1 - Observational Drawing

This lesson provides a 10-step approach that will help students draw confidently and efficiently in the field and avoid becoming overwhelmed or intimidated. Having a system for approaching a drawing helps students jump in fearlessly and will preempt many struggles they might come up against. This is particularly important in the field, where drawing time is limited. Study and experiment with this workflow. Teach it to your students, then help them modify it to fit their individual styles.

Basic Drawing Exercises

All seven exercises are presented together. Each exercise is subsequently presented individually. Each one builds on the previous one, so we recommend they are presented in the order in which they are listed and that all lessons are presented. The exercises are:
1: Building Eye-Hand Coordination
2: Drawing Geometrical Patterns
3: Finger Tracing and Air Drawing
4: Learning to Draw Lightly
5: Contour Drawing
6: Learning to Use Negative Shapes
7: Gesture Drawing

Drawing Exercise 1: Building Eye-Hand Coordination

In Drawing Exercise 1, students make straight lines, drawing from the shoulder, and parallel sets of elbow, wrist, and finger arcs. With this training students will be able to draw straight lines, smooth curves and sets of parallel lines, which are great for plant stems.

Drawing Exercise 2: Drawing Geometrical Patterns

In Drawing Exercise 2, students experiment with lines, geometrical shapes, tone, value, and texture.

Exercise 3: Finger Tracing and Air Drawing

In Drawing Exercise 3, students use their fingers to trace the contour of an object and practice noticing angles and changes in contours. The goal is to draw the shape that is in front of you, not the one in your imagination.

Exercise 4: Learning to Draw Lightly

In Drawing Exercise 4 we encourage students to loosen up and draw as lightly as possible. Learning to draw lightly is a skill that can develop with practice. Drawing lightly is essential to observational drawing.

Exercise 5: Contour Drawing

In Drawing Exercise 5 we focus on using contour drawing as a way to train yourself to look at drawing subjects accurately. We practice both blind and modified contour drawing in this lesson.

Exercise 6: Learning to Use Negative Shapes

In Exercise 6 we focus on using negative shapes to help develop a drawing with accurate proportions. If your negative space does not fit, it's an indication that something is off with your proportions. Using negative space is one of the most powerful but underused tricks in the artist's tool kit.

Exercise 7: Gesture Drawing

Drawing Exercise 7: In this exercise, our focus is on gesture drawing. We draw an initial shape. Without erasing, we draw over the initial outline, correcting some of the imperfections with continued light lines, overlapping five or more times.