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Encourage Natural Expression

By Anna Stewart

Five-year-old Jasper doesn't look up at the people watching him as he studies the mandrill's colorful face and picks the right colored pencil. He takes his time sketching the long red nose of the unusual monkey. He shuffles through his fanny pack to find the blue pencil he wants and finishes the face with yellow. Then he's ready to move on to the orangutans, whom he has sketched before. With only inches of glass separating them, he shows the finished portrait to the great ape, who grins at him, much to the audience’s delight.

My three kids and I rarely see much of the Denver Zoo on our visits, but what we do see we really look at closely. We draw at the aquarium, too, and at the natural history museum. My 3-year-old daughter's sketchbook is mostly scribbles. My 7-year-old draws fewer, more detailed pictures, and Jasper fills the pages with monkeys, fish, hippos and deer prints. I even have my own sketchbook that I draw and write poems in with my kids. It's a regular family affair.

Capturing the natural world
Drawing, painting, writing or making things from the natural world is … well, natural. Carving animal shapes on cave walls or wearing feather amulets are ancient forms. The desire is the same: to express our connection to nature. And when we enter into a conscious relationship with nature, we tend to want to protect and preserve it, becoming stewards as well as artists.

There are many ways to encourage this natural expression. Sketching at the zoo, aquarium or on a trip requires only a sketchpad and drawing tools. I've found colored pencils work the best; markers are messy and crayons break. Since kids’ drawings aren't always recognizable, I often write the name of the animal or thing on the drawing.

On some hikes, we collect a few things such as dried grass, fallen twigs or spent pine cones to make collages, glue around a simple frame or make into a mobile. I never take living things or take many things – it’s part of being a good steward.

Creating things from nature can also take a different form, such as doing a butterfly dance after watching butterflies in a meadow or doing a puppet show about the night animals of the forest. Learning about the animals around us can deepen the experience. When we understand that an elk has great strength and stamina or an opossum is master of pretending, you can take on these qualities as you need them. Sometimes we all need to hibernate like the bear!

Whether you draw the office buildings downtown, the T. rex skeleton at the museum or the giraffes at the zoo, discover the artists within your family. You might be amazed by your own natural expression. Here are some supplies to get started:

• pocket-sized spiral-bound sketchpad

• 12-color set of quality colored pencils

• pencil sharpener

• plastic bags for collecting

• watercolor pencils, for more advanced drawing

• small paintbrush for blending watercolor pencils

• pen or pencil for writing and identifying kids' drawings

© Anna Stewart

Anna Stewart, B.A., C.M.T., C.H.T., mothers three young children, one with special needs. In her classes, workshops and services, she weaves her expertise as a professional writer, creative artist and student of rhythm dance. Anna offers a number of classes in the Boulder, Colorado, area. She can be reached at (303) 499-7681 or via e-mail at [email protected] Her web site is

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