I didn’t know that sitting on a hillside in Nepal would be the beginning for me. I was enjoying a quiet moment to myself sitting in the sunshine with my journal, pen, and a few colored pencils. Looking across tawny terraced hills over range upon range making up the foothills of the Himalayan range, I saw dots of people working the fields of millet and mustard. I wanted to soak up the view and the smells and sounds forever; my journal was my best medium, although I didn’t know its power then.
I was on a trek in the Annapurna region of Nepal, my first group trip with porter and Sherpa support. As a long-time outdoor educator, it was strange to be sitting in the sun and relaxing, while our cooks worked to create a hot lunch for our group; I usually did those types of tasks for others.
Several boys from the local area near Lamdi in the Annapurna region of Nepal gathered around me quietly, yet politely looking at my colored pencils. Since I had no other paper than my journal, I motioned for one of the boys, who was probably 10 or 11 years old, to look out at the view and make some marks on the blank page.
I drew some of the terraces and he and his friends took turns penciling in some color. We laughed and they drew, and I made a few notes. The whole encounter was perhaps 15-20 minutes; yet, now twenty years later, I realize that experience was the first time I took a few moments to really look, observe and draw the view in front of me. That is when I started nature journaling and sketching.
Seeing that journal page now, I am transported back to that wonderful experience in a way that my photos or words don’t accomplish. Then, I wasn’t a sketcher or artist — I had brought the colored pencils because I had enjoyed making colored borders and symbols on my journal pages. Now, I saw that I didn’t have to create a masterpiece to connect with nature — as well as place, and local people — in a much deeper way.
Our trekking group was made up of four families. I started drawing with the 10 and 11 year olds when we stopped for breaks, so my journal features our collaborative drawings:
Since then I have started carrying a small art kit pretty much wherever I go — a small, unlined journal, (usually 3”x5”) a watercolor set that I made in an “Altoids” mint-size tin, a water brush, which holds a small amount of water in the barrel, and a fine line pen. It all fits in a sandwich bag. I have created many such kits for other new sketchers on my Hike & Sketch Adventures.
I have about 30 sketch journals, each page taking me back to an after-dinner walk on Kilimanjaro’s Marangu route; watching an arctic fox on Hornstrandir, in the northernmost part of Iceland; learning about natural dyes from Quechua women in Peru; Rhumba dancing in Havana, Cuba, and so many other adventures around the world and home.
My sketch journals have traveled the world with me. Through time and practice, and a few art classes along the way, my drawing and painting has improved.
But really, that’s not the point. To me, the point is to take time to stop and really observe my environment, even if that’s a five-minute sketch.