By Linda Oberholtzer

Cover: The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling

It was a sweltering spring day in the 1990s in Anza Borrego National Park. A group I was birding with saw John Muir Laws sketching some wildflowers and asked him to join our group for lunch.

I don’t do well in the heat. I was turning deep purple in color. Only John noticed. He upended a cooler of slushy ice over my head and saved me from a heat stroke. I have tracked his career ever since, arranging to have him speak at the Whittier Area Audubon Society, being his chauffeur for his first Sea and Sage Audubon Society presentation, participating in a drawing workshop at the Friends of the San Jacinto Mountains in Idyllwild, participating in a drawing workshop at the Western Field Ornithologist Conference in Santa Maria, seeing his presentation at the California Audubon Retreat in Asilomar, watching his presentation at Tuolumne Meadows for the Yosemite Institute and seeing his presentation as the Annual Dinner speaker for the Sea and Sage Audubon Society.

Once I was in charge of driving him around to his first talk at the Sea and Sage Audubon Society. He commented that he would much rather stay with people at their homes than stay in a hotel room. After the presentation, a group of us invited him to watch the movie “Night of the Living Dead” at a nearby home. He thoroughly enjoyed it!

One time he came to Sylvia Gallagher’s Bird Observation class in Huntington Beach and jumped onto a table flapping his arms like a bird.

His field guide to the Sierras made sense. He put all orange flowers together, all orange birds together. You didn’t have to know what “family” the species was from to look it up.

John is dyslexic and sometimes struggles with written words. But the paintbrush has always been his friend and he can sketch anything. Growing up in a family of nature lovers paved his path of curiosity.

John Muir Laws’ latest book, “The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling” published by Heyday books in Berkeley, CA., is a wonderful tool for the budding naturalist. It has lovely color and black and white illustrations as well as inspiring text.

The book was made in collaboration with Emile Lygren, whom he met at San Francisco State’s Sierra Nevada Field campus in 2009. They discovered that they both used journals to deepen their relationship with nature, John through drawing and Emile through writing.

Every time John goes out into the field he ponders these questions:

I wonder
I notice
It reminds me of
Reflecting on the Process

He has a marsh by his house, Coyote Point Marina, where he frequently watches wildlife. One day he noticed the directions shorebirds face while resting. After a lengthy observation he concluded that the birds were pointing their breasts into the wind.

Another day he journaled watching the growth of a poppy plant during the course of one day and charted its growth. Sometimes he will draw a plant, showing where the leaves are eaten away and write a comment like “I wonder what ate this?” next to the drawing.

The book details important practical information such as what type of journal to buy and how to illustrate it, down to the type of colored pencils to buy. He suggests that one fill a small knapsack with the things needed for a field outing so it is hanging on a hook by the door ready for an adventure. He says to throw in a glue stick in case you want to make a collage or put a leaf or other item in your journal.

With this step by step guide, you will be fully equipped to observe and record your experiences to share with others.

John is a naturalist, educator and artist with degrees in conservation and resource studies from the University of California at Berkeley; in wildlife biology from the University of Montana, Missoula; and in scientific illustration from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is a 2010 Audubon TogetherGreen Conservation Leadership Fellow and has received the Terwilliger Environmental Award for outstanding service in environmental education. He is married and the father of two children.

Read the article and illustrations by Dessi Sieburth in this issue to see how one young naturalist makes a journal.

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