Nature Sketching: Arboretum offers the perfect studio, canvas and subjects for art students

Published 12:56 am Sunday, July 27, 2008

The light dances across the pond, the reeds move ever so slightly in the almost non-existent wind, the insects create a cacophony of rhythmic accompaniment and the art students at the Crosby Arboretum sit quietly and sketch. They work swiftly and diligently to capture the beauty of their surroundings in their field journals. For a budding two-dimensional artist, could it get any better?

Artist and Arboretum staff member Robin Veerkamp leads this month long workshop, where students learn to sketch nature while being submersed in it. This is Veerkamp’s third year of offering the workshop and, at the three week mark of the current session, she is very proud of how things are shaping up with her current students.

“Everyone in this class has a really good eye,” she said.

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Veerkamp was surprised at the number of phone calls she has received regarding the hands-on workshop. Wanting to keep the class at a manageable number — she had eight students the third week — she actually started a waiting list for a future session. She hopes to have that workshop sometime in September or October. This is also the first time that she took on younger students and mixed them in with adult students. She marveled at the talent levels she was seeing exhibited in her younger students.

The class met at the Arboretum for four consecutive Saturdays starting July 5. On the first day of class, the students paid the workshop fee and received their supplies — a sketch pad and a published nature sketching book. Class started that first day on the Pinecote Pavilion where students learned helpful drawing exercises. “These guys really liked it,” said Veerkamp.

She went over contour sketching and practiced quick draw — students were given 10 seconds to draw something and move on to the next thing. They used sticks, rocks, pine cones and leaves.

From there, the group walked over to the Woodland Trails section of the Arboretum where Veerkamp went over value and contrast. She showed them perspective — making things smaller in the back and bigger in the front and using lights and darks to create size comparisons on paper. “The first class is pretty much a learning basics class,” said Veerkamp.

The second class is where the individual work began for the students. They were allowed to pick their own spot on the Woodland Trail and start drawing at their own pace. Everyone regrouped after two hours to share their work with each other. Veerkamp realized that a lot of the artists had run into the same issues such as trying to draw reflections on the water or trying to discover a technique to draw stagnant water. This led to keeping the class together for the third week so they could ask Veerkamp questions or assist each other.

Veerkamp likes to break down the classroom walls. “It’s not an art class, it’s more about studying nature — everything around you.”

To learn more about other classes and workshops offered at the Arboretum, call 601-799-2311, or visit