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Look to See - A Countryside Diary

In this article one of our members Pamela Taylor, describes how she uses a "visual diary" to record what she observes in the field. This can be thought of as an annotated record of her experience on the day.

A visual diary can be made up of sketches, notes, diagrams, photographs or even parts of plants pressed on a page. In other words a story and a valuable placeholder for you ideas and reference material.

Over the course of a year it is really useful to be able to take photographs or quick sketches as ‘snap shots’ of changes to your outdoor environment. It’s incredible to observe over our changing seasons the amazing adaptations the organisms have to make to survive and thrive.

Although, as a botanical artist, this is undoubtedly a handy reference it also forces us to have a closer look at the plants and associated animals. These are things that the images recorded on your camera can’t always give you, the sound of a bird unseen the caterpillar moult hanging in the darkest crevice, how it felt to be in the field, information about the weather at the time.

These are personal and a diary unique to you. A valuable resource that can be referred to over many years.

Pamela Taylor - A Countryside Diary

About 10 years ago I joined a group of volunteers planting up flower beds at our local railway station and I had the idea to create a visual diary that could be displayed at the station for interested people to study. How many times have you seen a flower bed and not recognized some of the plants and wished there was some sort of a list with a description? The aim of the visual diary was to stimulate the interest of the visitors in natural history, particularly the way flora and fauna are so interdependent even in a highly urbanized setting .  

When work on Crossrail began we were no longer able to access the flower beds so unfortunately the visual diary came to a grinding halt. Crossrail is a massive construction project involving a new railway line that runs from West to East directly under London. The loss of access to the station flowerbed coincided with a time when I was starting to exhibit my drawings and so I did not have time to do such detailed diaries.

It was keeping an illustrated nature diary in the early 2000's that led on to me taking a short botanical drawing masterclass and then to exhibiting my work. So for me, the diary has been the stimulus to enter the world of botanical art.

The type of diary I keep varies - this year it has been a diary of the wildlife that I have seen on my daily walks during lockdown. Spending more time in our gardens and watching spring unfurl in our local areas during the lockdown has made many of us aware how much nature there is on our doorsteps, so why not start keeping a nature diary/sketchbook?

There is no right or wrong way, just record and/or draw the plants and animals that appeal to you with a note of the date and location as shown in my sketchbook page from September 2006. I have jotted down the seasonal change, a quick sketch of a few plants, named them (including the latin name) and made some notes about what stage of development. This can be very useful in planning a future piece of botanical art.

This is a very personal record and we will all have our own way of recording what we see. It is interesting to look back on such records and compare different years and seasons, and the more you look closely at nature the more you discover. Botanical art is all about detail so "look to see".

As the flowers faded this spring I have been struck by the variety and beauty of the fresh foliage which is reflected in my notes for 2020. Apparently 2020 has been an amazing year for spring flowers in the U.K. and this is reflected in my diary. Something I will look back with fondness in future years.

The more you look, the more you will see and so try sketching some of the plants, flowers, insects and birds. You may not have much experience of drawing but give it a go, because botanical art is all about observation and the closer you look at wildlife the more you will see and discover. The more you sketch the better your finished artwork so a sketchbook is a really relaxing way to practice your craft.

I hope you enjoyed this small sample of my sketchbook pages, I certainly enjoyed producing them.

If you would like to see some more pages in detail and the type of material I recorded, then pop over to my gallery and look through my eyes at the nature that surrounds us.

Pamela Taylor

June 28, 2020

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