Celebrating Plants and Art at Lake Merritt

By Chelsea Tu

Did you love drawing plants as a child? I remember sitting on the floor illustrating my version of nature, which invariably included a profile of a giant tree, blades of green grass, pink flowers dotting the landscape, and rounded mountains in the distance.

Last Saturday afternoon, Marley Peifer taught us how to draw nature as we visually see it. We first spent about an hour in the Rotary Nature Center learning the basics of 3-dimensional drawing, starting with drawing ellipses from different angles since many of the things we see in the 3D world are actually made of lots and lots of ellipses. Marley’s tip: make sure to round out the ends of even very thin ellipses, because ellipses have no “eyes” (pointy ends).

We also practiced using our very own leaf models using the “foreshortening” technique. Foreshortening is when an object appears to be compressed depending on the perspective that one is viewing it from. Drawing a leaf from different angles was hard work, and my foreshortened leaves looked more mangled than not most of the time. Fortunately, as Marley assured us, being good at drawing takes time and practice. If we want to become good at something, do it at least 100 times!

Visually cropping an area with your fingers.

Visually cropping an area with your fingers.

Having learned the basics, we ventured out to the Lakeside Gardens near Lake Merritt. The sun shone brightly as a breeze welcomed us. It was the perfect weather for adventurous artists! As we picked out what we wanted to draw, Marley talked about how we can keep from being overwhelmed when first choosing something to draw by “cropping” what we’re looking at by creating a rectangular space between our index fingers and our thumbs. This limits what we see, and can be very helpful in limiting the universe we want to draw.

Everyone agreed that the hardest to implement but absolute best tip of the afternoon was to draw only what you see by keeping your eyes on the object while moving your hand. Although I followed this advice skeptically, it worked like a charm. As I kept my eyes focused on the plant, what I drew seemed to come alive as I captured the quirky twist and turn of each leaf.

It was a treat to spend the afternoon basking in the sun, and to use art to turn inward and appreciate the beauty of our plant friends.      

1. Marley teaching the class! Photo: Constance Taylor

2.  Sketching some plants. Photo: Chelsea Tu

3. Drawing by Claire Shields. Photo: Chelsea Tu

4. Drawing by Kate Lewis. Photo: Chelsea Tu