Nature is a dynamic subject for artists. Landscapes are ever-changing: light shifts throughout the day, and wind can reposition a leaf or blow a bloom to produce a new perspective. Monet captured scenes in his garden at Giverny with a series of portraits, some of them featuring the same subject — a Japanese bridge and water lilies, for instance. Never were two images the same.
Susan Morse, a drawing instructor at the Cleveland Botanical Garden and president of the Guild of Nature Artists at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, shares pointers for aspiring and advanced artists who want to capture nature on paper.
WARM UP WITH GRAPHITE SKETCHES. Pick a spot in the garden to admire, to observe. Zero in on detail: colors, shapes, structure, the general arrangement of foliage and flowers. Using a sketch pad and pencil, etch a few rough drawings of single items in the garden that interest you. “When you are outside trying to take it all in, it’s nice to focus on small areas to see what will work out best for a larger composition,” Morse says.
››Advanced: Plan how to compile a new setting from existing elements. In other words, take the preliminary sketches and find a way to reinvent the scene.
CHOOSE A SUBJECT WITH AN INTERESTING SHAPE OR STRONG COLOR. Focus on the flower or leaf you find most interesting, then enhance the subject without suffocating it. To do this, use artistic license and edit out foliage as you focus on a single statement. “Instead of drawing all 18 stalks of a plant, you may choose five or six,” Morse offers.
››Advanced: Gardens contain layers of interest, so view the area from an upstairs window to get an aerial view. Sit on the ground and look up at foliage to gain a different perspective. “You may draw something you’ve done before in a completely different way,” Morse says.
CONCENTRATE ON COLOR. “Realize that a leaf isn’t just green — there are many tones, from reddish green to yellow-green,” Morse says. “Really notice the variations in each petal and leaf.” Using colored pencils, layer colors on top of one another: yellow on green, orange on green, etc. Practice this with each new leaf or flower.
››Advanced: Layer colors as if you are mixing paints on a palette. Add water, and blend colors together for an impressionistic Monet feel.
VISIT NEW LANDSCAPES AND GARDENS. The Cleveland Botanical Garden’s glass house has a tropical climate year-round. Exposure to different plant species and light will introduce new challenges as you hone your craft.
››Advanced: Monet planted and grew favorite subject matter in his famous Giverny gardens. Morse has worked some of her favorite flowers to paint —foxglove and peony — into her landscape. As you discover favorite species, plant several varieties of it and explore the difference in each strain. You can create an inspirational environment at home.