Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Nature Study Outing :: The Art of Nature

The Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History has an annual Art of Nature exhibit that we have visited in the past.  This year's showing fell during our vacation dates, so I was happy to return and see some new work by local scientific illustrators.

Vincent with his favorite bird, the golden eagle

There were two additions this year that particularly drew our interest...

For my own journaling, I focus on dry-brushing, but I love looking at watercolor of all sorts.  This comprehensive tide-scape done in watercolor was a special treat to examine.  It's called "The Great Tide Pool" by Emily Underwood.

The kids spent a few minutes pointing out all the marine life they could identify.  All the usual sights were included, a sort of compendium of our local coastline.

I especially liked how she captured the cormorants that cover the white-washed rocks just off shore in that last shot.  It's so similar to what we see on our drive down to Asilomar but I have never been able to express it in ink or paint.

We all were also drawn to this exhibit by Megan Gnekow.  They look as if they are pinned butterflies, and certainly the museum has more than its share of preserved creatures to observe.  But these were actually of paper!  The artist-naturalist described her process of creation, and I took careful photos so that we could attempt to duplicate the activity at home.

It involves careful observation and brushwork of both under- and over-wings, then mounting for view.  The artist used tabs so that the wings could be moved up and down to make both sides visible. 

I'm looking forward to trying this out alongside my butterfly-and-and-craft-loving children.

And I can't leave out this rendition of one of my favorite birds, the kingfisher, along with his stuffed brother nearby:

It reminded me of this lovely mention from Elizabeth Goudge's Pilgrim's Inn:
"One sees the oddest things in the woods," agreed David.
"What were you seeing?" asked Sally.
"Nothing out of the ordinary.  Just a kingfisher.  Though actually a kingfisher is a bit out of the ordinary, isn't he?  A heavenly bird."
Each year they have out a table of treasures, along with microscopes and magnifying glasses and lots of drawing paper and pencils.  It's great for keeping the littles occupied while my big kids and I make our rounds of the place!

They have signs posted near the table describing what nature journaling is, as well as docents nearby to guide children in how to go about it--but my kids all just hunker down and get to work!  Love those Charlotte Mason habits. :)


  1. So gorgeous...I just watched some watercolor videos on YouTube this weekend, and did my second ever watercolor (of our backyard visitors, the hooded Orioles). Anyway, I tried a wet on wet application for fun, wow...much harder than dry brush. But I got some good tips for mixing colors and how much/how little to load the brush for different effects. Very educational, and I enjoyed my painting much more. I would love to see this tide-pool painting. It looks so beautiful!

    And Jasper's favorite bird is also the golden eagle. He loves to watch videos of people using them to hunt.

    1. I will tell Vincent that he and Jasper share a favorite!

      Yes, dry brush is so much easier than regular watercolor applications, I think! The paint is easier to control. Whenever I try wet applications it never comes out quite how I was envisioning. :)

  2. What beautiful finds, Celeste! It looks like a lovely museum! :) I especially love the tide pool watercolor and also the table with things for the littles to look at! :)

    1. It is a tiny museum but packs a lot within! I wish it were closer, or we could get there more than just annually. :)

  3. Looks like a lovely outing! That is so neat that they feature local artists like that. The paintings look beautiful, and the paper butterfly display looks so interesting. Lydia sometimes watercolors birds she's cut out of paper, and she once made me a set of paper Monarchs.
    I skipped the Goudge quote as I've just started Pilgrim's Inn. I read The Bird in the Tree a short time ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm looking forward to the rest of the trilogy. :-)

    1. There is another natural history museum just a bit farther down the coast that has a scientific illustration and nature journaling exhibit annually in the summer as well, pulling from a different drawing association/university program, and that one is larger. I would have loved to make it down there to see that one as well, but we just didn't get the chance. Next year. I always find showcases like this to be inspiring, and I hope my kids feel the same. I do know that they're inspired seeing *me* inspired, so there's that! :)

      And since you brought Lydia up: I think she'll particularly appreciate the quote you skipped from Pilgrim's Inn. ;) I finished the book a couple nights ago, and I thought it was really wonderful. My favorite Goudge so far.

  4. What a wonderful idea, to create models of butterfly wings like that! How beautiful and amazing.

    I have Pilgrim's Inn on my shelf next to me - I am currently reading Daisy Chain but I think I might just read that next.

    1. Daisy Chain was one of those books that really hit me unexpectedly--very inspiring and emotional. Pilgrim's Inn was more one of those books that I expect to like, and I did! Goudge's writing is lovely and she draws characters so carefully. I'd love to hear what you think of either of them!