Sketching Tips and Resources

Nature in Your Neighborhood Logo Banner Image

Sketching Tips and Resources

Getting Started

The complexity of what we’re seeing can be overwhelming because of all the details, not to mention the challenge of translating 3D objects into 2D drawings. In addition, we have preconceived ideas of what things look like, symbols in our heads for leaves, beaks, etc. Those symbols can get in the way of us actually seeing what we’re looking at.

One way to get past these obstacles is to focus first on the outline, or contour, of the subject and to break that shape down into parts, or elements.

Mona Brooks, author of Drawing with Children: A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too (1996), devised an alphabet of sorts for drawing. Her system has five basic elements of shape.

Here’s a link to a Youtube video entitled “The 5 Basic Elements of Shape” that explains this concept.

When drawing something, instead of thinking, “I’m drawing a leaf,” or “I’m drawing a bird’s beak,” choose a place on the outer edge of the subject and identify the shape element that best describes it. For example, you might see a line, so draw the line, and then, keeping your pencil/pen on the paper, draw the next shape element, continuing in that manner around the contour of the object. After that, you can work on what is inside the outline and add shading, etc.

If you’d like more guidance in the technique above and more drawing strategies, check out a course at called “How to Draw Without Talent.” It’s $29 for 26 short video lessons and well worth the cost. Here is a link.

Other Resources for Nature Journaling:


  • The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling by John Muir Laws (2016) (available at the Jefferson County Library and the Port Townsend Public Library)
  • Keeping a Nature Journal by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth (2000)

John Muir Laws Nature Stewardship through Science, Education, and Art Website:

This website has a great deal of information about nature journaling, including free online lessons, events, workshops, educational resources, and more. Check out these pages for some sketching tips:


*Thank you to Darby Smith, 2019 Tidelands to Timberline participant, for providing much of this information.