Drawing the natural world

Tablet and insect

A few weeks ago I attended a NESCBWI workshop on drawing animals, which took place at the Edna Lawrence Nature Lab at the Rhode Island School of Design. The lab is an amazing place, a huge room filled with preserved animals, insects, fish, fossils, seeds, stones — a virtual survey of the natural world. For this particular event there were also several live animals brought in, including a huge tortoise, a ferret, and a parrot.

Most of the afternoon was spent drawing, and people wandered freely about, drawing whichever animals interested them. The entire room, with its ceiling-high glass cabinets and boxes of specimens, had the feeling of a 19th Century naturalist’s study, and one could imagine Darwin walking through the door at any moment.

Animal at the nature labAs an artist who loves animals, I found the preserved animals unnerving and fascinating at the same time. You feel a mixture of awe, curiosity, sympathy, and connection with the once-living creatures, you wonder where they came from, what kind of life they led. There is a long history of artists drawing deceased animals, from Leonardo to Audubon. You can observe an amazing amount of detail from such close observation, though the drawback is that the drawing often ends up as lifeless as its subject.

The whole day was very inspiring, and seeing so much of the natural world crammed into one room really makes you think about how much is alive all around us, and how everything is connected. Hopefully these kind of creatures will remain alive and healthy in the wild, so that nature centers like this don’t become the only places to find them.

Here are some of my photos and sketches from the day. Thanks to Christina Rodriguez for organizing such a great workshop!

insect drawings by John Lechner

stick insect drawing by John Lechner

insect drawings by John Lechner

tortoise drawing by John Lechner

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Nature Lab at RISD

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Parrot in the Nature Lab

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Ocean creatures

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Ocean creatures

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Butterfly collection

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Butterfly

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Longhorn Beetle

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Stick Insect

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Giant Tortoise

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Finally, here’s a short video taken at the end of the day – exercise time!

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6 Responses to “Drawing the natural world”

  1. Andi says:

    What a lovely way to spend a day, John! Love natural history! Lots of inspiration for you, a super fantastic post : ) Looking forward to seeing what cute little characters you create from this workshop!

    a : )

  2. jamiepeeps says:

    John, I spent my formative years in this amazing place as a student. Went back for my 30th reunion and drew again, this time for reference for my latest book, A Warmer World. Love seeing all your photos and sketches. A day well spent, and thanks for sharing such thoughtful writing about it.

    Jamie

  3. Wow, John! Your sketches are amazing! Is that a cicada above your tortoise sketch? Fantastic! Thanks for including the video, I loved that you caught that little fella’s GIANT leap off-screen! :)

  4. I’m glad you had a great time, John! It was a pleasure to meet you at last.

    Whenever I see cicadas I always flash back to VA in the summer of 2003 when Brood IX came out. There were EVERYWHERE and would dive-bomb your car as you drove.

  5. Wow! The nature lab looks amazing! What a cool experience! And your sketches are great! What a wonderful post!

  6. Abigail says:

    What an awesome resource and I really like the sketches. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for future events like that at RISD!