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Nature Drawing and Journaling Review by Kathy Gelzer

Barry Stebbing
How Great Thou Art Publications
Box 48
NcFarlan, NC 28102

Once in a while, a product comes my way that is difficult to do proper justice to in a review such as this. I could write volumes about Nature Drawing and Journaling but with these space and time limitations, that is impossible. I hope the reader will catch a glimpse of this wonderful book through what I have written here. This is a very special book on keeping a nature journal, for children ages 8 and up. Written by Barry Stebbing of How Great Thou Art fame, this book lives up to its claim and subtitle, "Step-by-Step Lessons in Journaling and Drawing through Nature's Path." Not only is this book a lovely how-to with plenty of examples and exercises, it also contains a large segment of blank pages in the back; a Journal Primer, where students can practice their journaling skills and "build confidence" before investing in a real sketchbook journal. Enough pages are provided in the Journal Primer for most of the forty-seven exercises included in the book.

A one-page introduction enumerates the benefits of keeping a nature journal while encouraging this activity with a "you can do it" tone. Mr. Stebbing explains what a journal is by contrasting it with a diary and a scrapbook. The author recommends using a hardbound unlined sketchbook, pens (one for writing and one for drawing)--extra or very fine point; a six inch ruler, quality colored pencils, a large rubber band, a legal pad, a glue stick, acid-free tape, a set of washable markers, a #6 round brush, and semi-gloss paper. For sketching outdoors, you will also need a camp chair, hat, sunglasses, proper clothing, and back pack, water, insect repellent, and a small drawing board. I wish specific brands or descriptions were included in the list of supplies, as that would be helpful in obtaining the right tools to produce a quality end product.

Getting started is easy with the included lessons, the first of which is to do a simple self-portrait, with which to personalize your journal: "Most likely, you will not have much success with this first attempt; however, it will still have your personality and make for a delightful invitation into your world."   Mr. Stebbing gives specific instructions on how to do the self-portrait.

Another special element of Nature Drawing and Journaling is the use of quotes throughout this book, and the author's encouragement for you to do the same in your own nature journal. A rich quote appears at the top of each page. These are broad in scope, but always applicable. Some are Bible quotes, some are from great poets, some are instructional, but all are inspirational. "Try to find a quote that is appropriate for each day," is the author's challenge.

In "Formatting your Journal," the author describes how you can decorate and personalize the cover of your journal with acrylics and suggests what to put inside both the front and back covers. Arranging material on the actual pages of your journal is described through the use of figure boxes and borders. Mr. Stebbing also recommends that one draw first and then add writing to the pages. Rather than waste the left page (or back side) of each right page, which often shows bleed-through, Mr. Stebbing suggests journaling on or adding clippings from printed material (a newspaper or travel brochure, for example) onto a cut-to-fit page of lined paper from a legal pad and then taping it into place on these otherwise unusable pages. Thankfully, the issue of correcting mistakes is tackled. Mr. Stebbing has several suggestions that will be of help when this inevitably happens.

I appreciate the integration of writing alongside the nature sketching. The author-artist expects students to write on each page as well as draw, and this will add to the journal's value for the student. Mr. Stebbing also encourages vocabulary building by instructing journalists to learn the proper names of plants and animals, and to look up unknown words found in art or in quotations. His obvious respect for the Creator and his appreciation for creation are evident on every page of Nature Drawing and Journaling.

Basic techniques are taught in the chapter called "God the Poet," such as lines, shading, pattern, and color. This chapter opens with a lovely essay by the author about how nature study can lead us closer to our Creator in a unique way. Reading this one page would make a nature journalist out of anyone! Flower study is also covered in this section. The next chapter, "The Simplicity of Nature," focuses on leaves, fruit and vegetables, and trees. "Sand, Sea, and Sky" has general suggestions for landscapes. "Animals, Birds, and Insects" (which you can draw from photos) contains some particularly helpful tips for sketching birds, and deals with the hurdles of a moving subject. The last chapter, "Barns and Shanties," discusses perspective in drawing. There is a fair amount of art appreciation and study included in the book, as great works of art are included in the text to exemplify certain techniques. Lots of instruction is provided.

How exactly Nature Study Drawing and Journaling is to be incorporated into your homeschool schedule is not specifically stated, but a student who is internally motivated or outwardly encouraged should do well in completing these forty-seven exercises in the course of a year, even if only making entries once or twice weekly. I believe the author intends the beginning nature journalist to eventually "catch the bug" and make entries every other day, if not daily. As with most disciplines, this should improve with practice and soon become a joyful habit.

Correcting the few spelling errors and typos would add to the professionalism of this fine product. For example, in the intro and on page 12, "dieing" should be "dying."

The author has done a remarkable job of incorporating his own journal entries into an instructional book, with full color sketches and examples of written entries. Nature Drawing and Journaling would make a beautiful gift for a budding artist. Even though it is billed as a book for ages 8 and above, it is written in an accessible yet mature and caring way--you can hear the author speaking to you--and I think older students and even adults would love this book.

Product Review by Kathy Gelzer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, January 2012