Teaching From Nature


Perfect Workshop Weather at the Quartz Mountain Fall Arts Institute

When you are asked to do an outdoor drawing workshop in Oklahoma, generally you can expect downpours, tornadoes, hailstorms and plagues of locusts. That all happened (except the locusts), but happily, not until the workshop was over. We were blessed with the finest fall weather Oklahoma has to offer: clear blue skies, temperatures in the upper 70’s, and the mildest of light breezes to keep us comfortable as we sketched. Perfection.


Rock ‘N Cactus Drawing Demo

Stunningly rugged scenery and great weather added up to four fabulous days at the Oklahoma Art Institute’s fall session. The workshop was held in a beautiful stone-and-timber lodge, a jewel in the rough stone setting of Quartz Mountain State Park. Just north of Altus, Quartz Mountain is a pile of pink granite boulders, prickly pear cactus, post oak, juniper and hackberry trees beside a fine blue lake patrolled by white pelicans and osprey. I was teaching a course in field sketching and nature journaling, and my sixteen intrepid students were public school teachers from small towns and inner cities around Oklahoma. They were a dedicated bunch, ready for anything including clambering around rocks and drawing pictures. We had a blast.


Comfy All-Granite Seating, Open Air Classroom

I recently heard a term that seems to describe what’s happening to a lot of us who spend time in air-conditioned and artificial spaces, who live in houses with windows that don’t open, in cities without parks or green spaces. The term is nature deficit disorder. It explains why we humans can let our environment suffer, why we can wipe away huge chunks of it, develop our world beyond recognition, and allow other species to decline and fall. We’ve lost touch with what E.O.Wilson calls “biophilia”, our human need for nature and wildness, the “refuge of the spirit, remote, static, richer even than human imagination”.


A Rock ‘N Tree Drawing Demo

I think drawing is a point of entry into the natural world. Filter the reality (a stone, a cactus, a tree) through your eyes, mind, memory and muscles onto your paper, and create a bond with what you’re drawing. The bond persists a surprisingly long time.


Post Oak Demo

At Quartz Mountain, I was grateful to have a few days with these wonderful, motivated people. We sat in companionable silence and listened to the lapping of waves on the lakeshore and the cries of the osprey. We sketched buttonbush and greenbriar and piles of rocks with asters blooming in crevices. We wrote personal observations alongside our notes on leaf color and berry size. We enjoyed those few days of reflection and connection to nature via sketchbook and journal. And the best part is this: those sixteen teachers will go back to their classrooms and show their own students another way to look at nature: with their eyes, hands and hearts.


3 thoughts on “Teaching From Nature

  1. Janet says:

    This is just fabulous! It makes me ready to pack up my own sketchbook and camera and head up north (I love the coast of Maine). Especially as the next few days will be warm and beautiful.

    So, you’re in New Hampshire this weekend? You never know, we may cross paths!


  2. Shanley in Ponca City, Okla. says:

    I was one of those lucky students in Debby’s “Field Sketching and Nature Journaling” class at Quartz Mountain.

    If you’ll note the words “drawing demo” below a couple of her black & white drawings posted here — that “demo” was truly an amazing process to watch.

    We would walk to a location. Debby would discuss a particular drawing technique she wanted us to try, and then would offer a demonstration first. She would select a bush, or rock, or cactus, and squat down as we huddled around her, trying to peer over her shoulder.

    Within just a few minutes, she would scratch out the most beautiful image. It seemed the easiest, most natural, simplest thing to do! (Of course, my pencil didn’t seem to work exactly the way Debby’s did.)

    The last day as we hiked to a drawing spot, Debby spotted a green-throated warbler (if I remember right) in the brush. She stopped us mid-trail so she could quickly sketch the twitchy little bird whose after-movements were all most of us could see. I was lucky enough to be standing right behind her and had a bird’s-eye view of her paper as she recreated the little feathered fellow.

    It was a remarkable few days in the Oklahoma outdoors. Thank you, Debby! I’m still working on that circle and egg thing – it’s coming along, slowly but surely.

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