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Posted by on Jul 6, 2016 | 2 comments

Learning to Draw Ferns and Moss at Huntley Meadows Park

Learning to Draw Ferns and Moss at Huntley Meadows Park

Naturalist Margaret Wohler’s nature sketching classes are always excellent. Margaret’s exuberance, love for the natural world – Huntley Meadows Park in particular – and love of art is contagious.


I started with a class on creating a nature journal and then took one on drawing dragonflies. And this time, I showed up to learn about ancient plants, the bryophytes, or mosses and ferns – to add to my nature journaling repertoire.


Margaret begins every class with a brief biology lesson on the subject at hand using her own hand-drawn illustrations. In this case, we learned about where ferns and moss fit into the history of the planet; they emerged just before reptiles and flying insects, and predate seed plants, flowering plants, and even dinosaurs. We also learned about the reproductive cycles of the ferns and moss and why they’re unique and have managed to survive some 470 million years.


She transitions to a discussion of the tradition of nature drawing, sharing several examples from the Victorian era to the present, as well as nature writing resources, many of which pair observation, prose, and sketching.


Then, we venture outside to start working in our journals. (Margaret gives each student a gift of a journal, a charcoal pencil, sharpener, mini microscope, eraser, watercolor set, and brush, courtesy of a grant she received from the Running Brooke Foundation.)


Margaret knows Huntley Meadows Park so intimately, having worked as a resident naturalist and artist there for more than 20 years, that she can point out various kinds of ferns and moss as we walk along. She likes to ask everyone to first note all of the sounds one hears, as a way to center oneself and prepare for quiet observation. (How cool it is when Margaret identifies bird song like the Scarlet Tanager up in the treetops too.)


One of my favorite moments in her classes is when everyone begins to draw in earnest and some of the more experienced artists share their favorite drawing supplies or clever tips, like carrying a small amount of water in an old film canister to use with watercolors.


It’s fun being with like-minded art and nature nerds, young and old.

How lucky we are to have Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria and so many other parks and nature centers to enjoy within easy reach. For more information about Huntley Meadows, including events and classes with Margaret, see our post and the park website. She even does workshops on nature journaling for kids – my daughter Ana and Katie’s son Jack took part in one a few years ago together. And for more about Margaret, take a look at this post about her beautiful artwork and sketchbooks.


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