Animals/Observational Drawing Strategies
Tuesday came on grey and humid, the sticky morning air already heavy with heat. After starting the day with a crash course in observational drawing, Jen and the campers joined me on a stroll around the pastures, all of us sleepy-eyed and swatting at mosquitoes. As we walked (and swatted), we discussed the many-layered relationships and functions that comprise an ecosystem, and how farms (like all human activity) operate within these bounds. Pasture-raised livestock operations, as a direct imitation of grassland/grazer ecosystems, are a perfect illustration of agroecology, and the group was quick to draw connections between mixed-species grazing and the benefits of biodiversity.
Next, we trooped back to the livestock area, suited up in style in our biosecurity gear of shoe covers and gloves. The campers collected eggs from our movable chicken coop, and took a behind-the-scenes peek at our livestock tool shed as we discussed animal husbandry.
But, of course, the pinnacle of pasture visits is always getting acquainted with the animals, and this time around was no different. Gilligan, an Anglo-Nubian goat and our resident greeter, stepped up to collect his quota of ear-scratches, vying in fierce competition with Rita, the darling of our sheep flock. Before long, our Highland calf divas Sofia and Elena stepped in for their due share, prodding us with their big, wet, inquisitive noses, and the morning’s doldrums were swiftly forgotten.
After a healthy dose of meet-and-greet, the campers fetched their chairs and sketchbooks and settled in to practice observational drawing of our sheep, who, engrossed in their morning graze, proved to be less than cooperative models. Nonetheless, our young artists rose to the challenge—if anything, the sheeps’ unwillingness to stand still intensified their efforts—with impressive results.
After lunch, and a few rounds of telephone and tag to blow off a little steam after a morning of intense concentration, came the day’s real apex, with the arrival of Francie Krawcke of Michigan Avian Experience and her fine feathered friends: the Bald Eagle, the Great Horned Owl and the Broad-winged Hawk. The MAE specializes in educational programming that alternates seamlessly between a focused look at these magnificent birds, and big-picture lessons on ecology, predator/prey relationships, natural selection, and more, keeping the audience on their toes in an experience of simultaneous learning and astonishment.
Francie effortlessly bridged the day’s themes of observation, natural communities and the animal kingdom, as the campers alternately asked questions and sketched and painted her fierce and beautiful companions in an awestruck hush. As any educator knows, there are two types of silence: that of inattention, and that of rapt attention, and that afternoon the latter case was unmistakable. Pencils arced across paper, feathers and beaks and talons took shape, and Francie and friends held us all under their spell until the first car rolled up for pickup time.