Nature Trail 2014, A Natural Sketchbook Exchange- the beginning!

Nature Trailer 2014 - a natural sketchbook exchange

One of the most exciting, fun and challenging projects I am involved in this year is a sketchbook exchange called Nature Trail 2014- A Natural Sketchbook Exchange. There are 15 botanical artists in the exchange, hailing from many different places- the United Kingdom, USA, Ireland, Italy and the Netherlands. As the exchange’s blog explains-

“Each artists’ book will have a double page spread completed and then be posted on every month to the next artist. Subjects to sketch and paint will encompass anything to do with the natural world; for example, feathers, shells, berries, habitat landscapes and absolutely anything botanical. Also colour notes, poems, any writing that you would include within normal sketchbooks can go in, in whatever design.”

We all bought a Stillman & Birn Zeta series sketchbook for the project (5.5 x 8.5 inch/14 21.6 cm.)  The smaller size is very practical for mailing and the quality of paper and sturdiness of the hardcover make it a great choice.

How I got involved!

All this came about because of my participation in a couple of botanical artists groups on Facebook- Botanical Artists and Irish Botanical Artists. If you would like to learn more about my experience with these groups you can read about it in my last blog. Last fall I was invited by one of the members to join the exchange- her idea. All the decisions on how it would work, what sketchbook we would use, and what we would create in them, has been a very collaborative process- drawing much on the advice of several of the more experienced members of the group. Here is my January entry- which has arrived safely on the other side of the Atlantic already and into the capable hands of another Nature Trailer.

January- my first entry in the sketchbook exchange.

January was almost over before my journal was ready to go on its maiden voyage. Somehow I became a little too involved in the extra details – title page, envelopes, labels etc., This is my first time to participate in a sketchbook exchange or to keep a regular nature sketchbook so I was very excited and, in spite of the anxiety, having loads of fun.


Title Page

The first thing I did on receiving my sketchbook was to create a title page. I hadn’t played around with hand-lettering in years so designing the page was a walk down memory lane with some new influences cropping up- reminding me that I am always changing. I used graphite pencil to create the form and texture, adding polychromos pencils last for subtle color. I started using Faber Castell polychromos pencils recently and I really like the feel of them. I’m also enjoying the Stillman & Birn sketchbook paper, both for pencil and watercolor. I don’t have that much experience with watercolor papers but I certainly do like the paper’s smoothness for graphite and color pencils.

I love textures!

The textures in the lettering were inspired by nature- leaves, lichens, tree bark, wood grain, succulents and seeds. My January page- devoted to lichens- is also a study in textures. When I picked up this lichen-covered bigleaf maple branch in our front yard I knew instantly what I wanted to do in my journal for January. I haven’t managed to identify all the lichens on this branch but I’ve made a good start, with the help of several people including some fellow Nature Trailers. Here are some of the main ones:-

Oakmoss, Evernia prunastri, Pincushion sunburst lichen, Xanthoria polycarpa, Waxpaper lichen, Parmelia sulcata, Fork-boned lichen, Hypogymnia inactiva, and Brown shield lichen, Melanelixia spp.  

January lichens.

“More things are learnt in the woods than from books; trees and rocks will teach you things not to be heard elsewhere.”     Bernard of Clairvaux

All the lichens, save the one on the very right (pincushion sunburst lichen,) are painted in watercolor. I used polychromos pencils for the pincushion sunburst lichen and the “JAN” lettering. 

“The Rules”

Because I find them so helpful (and inspiring) I decided to include a copy of St. Corita Kent’s “Rules” at the back of the journal. Numbers 6 and 7 are my favorites. One of her “helpful hints” is “Save everything- it might come in handy later.” Taking her advice to heart, I’ve copied her rules onto a piece of rice paper I’ve had for over 30 years!!

In an effort to keep the journal flat I have put the rules in an envelope that is attached to the inside back cover with a ribbon “hinge”. This is to allow it to be laid flat, out of the journal, while being used. Making the envelope and figuring out how to attach it to the journal was an adventure in itself and I could never have done it without the help of local craft shop owner and new friend Christy Wood. Learning to make the envelope was so interesting and creatively stimulating that I will write about it in a separate blog.

But in the meantime I am just delighted to have finished my first month of the Nature Trail 2014- Natural Sketchbook Exchange and I’m getting ready to start on February’s sketchbook , wonderful!

Aislinn Adams



4 Responses to “Nature Trail 2014, A Natural Sketchbook Exchange- the beginning!”

  • Shevaun:

    So excited to have you as part of this adventure, Aislinn! Your lichen drawings are just fabulous! I really love what you have done to the sketchbook too. I can’t wait to see this for real!! 😉

  • Aislinn Adams:

    Thanks Shevaun, It’s actually changed the way I work and see! Everything, all around me could (potentially) end up in the sketchbook.

  • What an exciting and fun project–thanks for sharing the process of your first entry. The colors and textures of the lichen look very sumptuous on the page.

  • Aislinn Adams:

    Thanks Janene. I love being part of it- challenging but fun.

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