Lois Reynolds Mead

Art and a pink monkeyflower in a native plant garden…

Stand still and pay attention…



I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me of…

A weekend of wonder at the Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival. Thursday night ushered in the festivities with a pretty fine display of pyrotechnics as the sun set on the Bay.

A spectacular way to start and it just kept getting better from there. Friday morning’s workshop was with John Muir Laws. We spent his workshop down by the shore trying to capture shorebirds on paper…

John Muir Laws is a skilled teacher who breaks down what he wishes to teach into accessible chunks and always stresses his philosophy of standing still and paying attention to where you are, and in fact enjoying, respecting and being in awe of the environment where you find yourself. This is much different from the type of birding that tends to emphasize life lists and how many varieties you have seen.  (In England the person preoccupied with a life list is called a “twitcher”). Increasing my ability to see suits me better, and anything I produced in my sketchbook, although not great, was acceptable to the philosophy of the day. If I was still a public school teacher, I would be here next summer at the Sierra Nevada Teacher Institute and I would put a sketchbook in every student’s hands.

The anatomy of a bird wing, drawn in the sand to be washed away when the tide rises.

Saturday morning down to the Cloisters Park looking for ducks and geese. Most prominently, we found a red-winged black bird and a coot. Not exotic to most birders, but Laws led us through minute observations and we noted and appreciated.

Then to Laguna Lake Park in San Luis Obispo where we saw coots walking on dry land (oh my goodness, what toes!) and we got diagrams of bird anatomy. (Birds walk on their toes, what we might think of as a reverse knee is really their heel, and the knee is up under all their feathers.) These are his diagrams:

and anatomy of beaks…

and a demonstration of how a goose shifts its weight to stand on one leg…

Laws’ movements mimicking bird movement were a highlight of the workshops.

I screw up my courage, silencing my inner critic and show you some pages from my sketchbook:

shorebirds and a discussion of watercolor names for a palette. (I never in my whole life will get the word phthalo correct without a spellchecker.)

I really had to see if I could manage all the equipment for water coloring in the field, so I tried the tree and lake with the dark blobs being coots! As John Muir Laws says, take delight and joy in the subtlety of details. Drawing is not a gift, it is a skill and the way to develop is to practice and get rid of the art critic inside. The way to see better is to make sketching a habit. And do the chant, “I notice, I wonder, It reminds me of…”

He will be offering workshops at the Point Reyes Bird Festival at the end of April. One of the other participants in the workshop also mentioned the Eagles and Agriculture event in Carson Valley, Nevada in February, if you are in the mood to observe bald eagles and other raptors.

Author: loisreynoldsmead


4 thoughts on “Stand still and pay attention…

  1. Lois! Those sunsets over Morro Bay are the greatest!
    Our local plein air artist (no, state and national) is Gary Ozias; He paints landscapes and birds and buffalo and more. And he shows in various galleries and exhibits over the nation. In March he is doing a one-man exhibit at Birger Sandzen gallery in Lindsborg. Look him up.

  2. Dear Lois,
    It was a delight to sketch with you in the field. What an opportunity to see more deeply into the world of the coot!
    Keep sketching- it in not the drawing, but the experience of seeing more deeply as you draw that is the greatest reward.
    Yours, John

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