To Draw Nature, Pick Up a Pencil and Really Look

If you enjoy watching birds floating by or chipmunks scampering across your lawn, why not have a go at drawing them to remember what gave you some cheer? With a few basic tips, you can begin making simple drawings. Don’t worry about how good they are. Enjoy that you are learning to see nature. As the writer and naturalist Rachel Carson said, “Those who notice nature will never be bored.”

All you need is a pencil and paper. (You can start in the space at below right.) If your desired subject is not right in front of you, or moves too quickly for you to capture, a field guide or a clear photo from a magazine or online search will do. Choose an image that is in profile, which makes it easier to see your subject’s shape. Keep your drawing small, no more than four inches to begin.

How to begin: Find five or 10 minutes in your day to slow down and be with nature. What would you like to draw, to learn more about? It could be anything — a butterfly, a chickadee, an oak tree, even a green pepper or an apple.

Look very carefully at your subject, figuring out its basic shape. How did it grow and where? How does it live? Remember, this is a stress reliever, not a stress creator. Getting to know your animal is the important thing. Try doing sketches of what you see directly, mostly looking at the animal and not at your paper.

Don’t take more than 15 minutes. If you think folks won’t know what you drew, label it and jot down the date so you remember when you drew it. And if you want to get better, keep drawing.

To help you get started, here are some tips:

Credit…Clare Walker Leslie

1. All mammals can be drawn beginning with three basic circles for hip, belly and shoulder.

Credit…Clare Walker Leslie

2. Once you have those, you can sketch in the other parts — the neck, head, tail, legs and the beginning details.

Credit…Clare Walker Leslie

3. When you have your proportions worked out, add the details of the fur, eye, nose, etc. to create your finished drawing.

Credit…Clare Walker Leslie

1. All birds are drawn beginning with two basic circles for the body and head, their relative size determined by the bird’s anatomy.

Credit…Clare Walker Leslie

2. Add the tail, wing, bit of neck, legs.

Credit…Clare Walker Leslie

3. When you have your proportions worked out, add details of feathers, beak, toes, eye to create your finished drawing.

Credit…Clare Walker Leslie

Whatever kind of animal you are drawing, it’s important to position the eye correctly and to put in a highlight so that it doesn’t look dead. In birds, make sure to draw the upper and lower bill so that the bill can open.

Credit…Clare Walker Leslie

1. Find the basic geometric shape of your flower. Here, the daffodil has a six- pointed star shape as there are six petals.

Credit…Clare Walker Leslie

2. Draw the petals around your star, the center trumpet, the stamen and pistil inside, and then the veins of the petals plus stem (and maybe) leaf beside.

Credit…Clare Walker Leslie

3. In profile, the flower shape is no longer round but oval as it is foreshortened.


Clare Walker Leslie is an internationally known wildlife artist, author, and educator. She has written 13 books on drawing and connecting with nature.


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