Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Nature Drawing with John Muir Laws

When you're drawing plants or animals, there are two major issues you have deal with: the mechanics of how to draw, and the understanding of what you're drawing.

It's rare for an instructional book to offer a thoughtful approach to both of these areas, but The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling does it.

Artist and naturalist John Muir Laws breaks down the subject with a different sub-topic on each page, taking a fresh, comprehensive look at sketching and journaling from nature.

He discusses how to focus your attention, how to think visually, and techniques you can use with pens, graphite, watercolor and gouache.

Whether you're an artist who wants to understand nature better or a naturalist who wants to draw, you can benefit from the structural insights into flowers, birds, and mammals that Laws offers.

For example, he analyzes the symmetry of flowers and identifies the parts of mushrooms. It's all well illustrated with diagrams and step-by-step stages.  

After you read the book, you'll have a much deeper appreciation of the skeleton, the muscle groups, and the fur / feather patterns on a variety of species. 

Laws has a special awareness of body posture and attitude, and how to sequence your drawing to capture it accurately. For the field observer, he is practical about what you can reasonably observe with your eyes and record from memory. 

The emphasis of the book is on drawing from direct observation. If there's a shortcoming of the book, it's that he doesn't really adequately cover the pros, cons, and practical benefits that photography can provide.  

The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling is 300 pages, softcover, with illustrations on every page. It lists for $35, but you can get a copy for $24.00 on Amazon. If you're specifically interested in birds, I'd also recommend The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds, which is a shorter volume that stays with just that subject. 


Unknown said...

Just picked up the guide to drawing birds, I'll put it next to Color and Light on the shelf ;0) I have been mostly involved with landscape painting but have wanted to break into painting hawks and eagles so this book is going to be of great value for me.

RotM_81 said...

Laws' books are some of my favorite art books ever – thanks for giving him some well-deserved attention. I recommend his blog as well, there's a good recent podcast interview.

Timothy Bollenbaugh said...


John's books are great. And you bring up a great point—consider benefits of photography. A significant period of my self-training was by using much older National Geographic B/W collections. Animal, vegetable, mineral. We have every issue here. Many were staged, yet that's an advantage, because character and composition is important. You learn to interpret also. A definite advantage is to learn what a lens does and how to compensate on your drawing & for that your recommendation of Scott Robertson's "How to Draw" is excellent for an in-depth experience with perspective and lens distortion.