Good Beginner Exercises for Nature Drawing

One of the best ways to preserve your experiences out in nature is to keep a journal with drawings and accompanying writings that record your adventures. Such a practice can do much to hone your overall drawing ability, as well. Some of the most vibrant scenes that may be captured exist out in the wild, but we need to develop quick eyes and hands lest they escape us. Such skills, however, can be developed with some simple exercises that each only require a few minutes per sitting. These exercises will teach you to reduce the forms in nature to their essential shapes for easier rendering, give you a better sense of perspective and proportion, and help your hand and eyes to develop a good working relationship.

The best exercise to begin with is the one that is taught in most art classes from Junior High on up: the contour drawing. The pure (or blind) contour drawing is done without looking at your pencil hand or your paper at all. Simply focus your gaze on an object – say, a wax apple – and use your pencil to trace its shape in a single unbroken line without stopping. Don’t be too concerned if your resulting shape doesn’t much resemble your model. This exercise will strengthen the connection between what you see and what your hand records, and will also train your eyes to pay more attention to detail.

With a modified contour drawing, you’re allowed to look down at the paper you’re drawing on occasionally so long as you still produce a continuous outline of the object that you’re looking at without lifting your pencil. This exercise should be done right after the pure contour drawing, and using the same object as a model. Once you get used to both methods of contour drawing, they can serve as ideal warm-up exercises to do before you attempt to draw live scenes out in nature. In time, your lines will likely become more confident and your shapes will more closely resemble the objects that you’re focusing on.

When you’re out in the woods and fields, a lot of the scenes that you want to capture may change rapidly. It’s good to practice sketching outdoor objects and wildlife quickly. See how much of a form you can capture in five seconds of rapid scribbling. Then take ten seconds to try and produce a fuller image and move on to fifteen seconds to complete the exercise. This practice will get you in the habit of recording the very essence of what you see out in nature – the basic elements of a scene, and any movement that is happening. A valuable tactic to help you get more down on paper is to quickly scan your object to see what geometric shapes you can find within its form. Sketch these first – perhaps drawing an axis line through them to help you get a sense of proportion and relation – and then fill in the lines around your basic shapes to get the overall form.

Once you’ve gotten more proficient at capturing basic shapes in nature through practicing these exercises, you’ll be ready to focus on adding surface details and shading. It will probably be easier to try tackling this first with stationary objects before attempting it with outdoor flora – or, especially, wildlife in motion. In time, you may even be able to commit scenes to memory and then recall them later in your drawings. As with anything else, your skills in the various aspects of drawing – line, proportion, perspective, detail, shading, and memory – will develop the more that you practice.