I keep the following list in mind for my Blog Posts.
1. Images: My drawings are “hooks” to get me interested and look closer. If I go for a walk, I don’t see anything, I just walk. Drawing or photographing something forces me to stop and look. My rule: I can’t write about it until I have created an image. Left below: British Soldiers Cladonia cristatella Right: Sweet Fern Comptonia peregrina
2. Identification: Struggling to find a name provides new information that encourages me go back and confirm details. Or see new ones. Latin name changes are frustrating and important but materials with older names might still have good indentification tips and helpful illustrations.
3. Descriptions: After drawing and identifying something, I want to learn more. I’m interested in morphology, or structure (what I can see). Family, genera and species descriptions might include entire growth cycles such as roots, shoots, flowers, and fruits instead of a few features needed for identification. These help me “resee” what’s familiar. I really like delving into old books that have long, precise descriptions using obscure words. The botanists back then had huge glossaries to help them describe something without illustrations. I try to put some of these terms in my Species Pages.
4. Relationships: After identifying and describing numerous things I might want to group or organize them in various ways such as plant families, radial patterns, pond scum, etc. I call these Special Topics. Winter Buds: Maleberry, Spicebush, Eastern Cottonwood.
5. Ecological Interactions: If I keep going back to the same area, I try to identify everything, weeds included. I am more aware of habitats and see much more than if I go one time to one special place (I like that too). I want to see what happens over time and what changes throughout the seasons. The following year I look for what I know, what I missed, the interaction of pollinators, predators, symbiotic associations, fungi, lichens, and much more. If I identify something in winter, I wonder what develops from it in spring. Summer offers a lot of green, a lot of insects, and some areas are hard to reach. There is still plenty to discover. If I see a flower, I want to find its fruit. If I identify a leaf, I am curious about fall color changes. I have 3 nearby areas that I visit regularly. Below: Ashland State Part, MA in winter and late spring.
6. Sense of Place. When I draw or paint something, I always remember where I was, even if I draw a plant.
7. Colors, patterns and shapes are ways for me to see and appreciate even if I don’t know (or remember) the name. Radiating, branching, meandering, spiraling, clustering are just a few basic patterns. Patterns based on the Fibonacci series and sometimes just abstract colors and shapes are fun to find.
8. History: A quote from Theophrastus, 370-286 B.C., wrote: “We must consider the distinctive characters and the general nature of plants from the point of view of their morphology, their behavior under external conditions, their mode of generation, and the whole course of their life.” Many others interested in the natural world just wrote about what the “authorities” had to say and didn’t make their own observations. Some illustrators just copied illustrations of others. The better artists drew from real specimens. Linnaeus, 1770-1778, devised an easy way to identify and classify all plants by the number of stamens and the number of pistils (almost like a dichotomus identification key with a series of 2 choices). The scientific illustrators added those details after he became influential. When I read what several experts have to say about something I’ve seen and maybe look up an image that includes the reproductive parts I go back and take another look. I try to get the latest name right but know that will continue to change.
9. Courses: the best way for me to learn is to take courses. If I can draw what I am learning, I see and remember more. These are sketches from several wonderful courses, mostly about fungi and lichens, I took at the Eagle Hill Institute in Maine.
10. Focus I like sketching, drawing and painting with various media in both loose and tight styles. I also get interested in different things in different places (and obviously have a hard time focusing).
11. Questions: the more I learn the more questions I have. This keeps me interested. I don’t mind relearning something that’s incorrect or that I’ve forgotten.