Multi-Basking: Layering Interests Increases Drawing Pleasure

Last week, I went to a local natural area so I could draw the prairie dogs that live there. I’ve wanted to do this for years, but haven’t felt able to tackle the task until now. The online drawing class I took in May (Roz Stendahl’s Drawing Practice: Drawing Live Subjects in Public ) prepared me well. I knew what to take, I was comfortable drawing in public, and I didn’t let my moving subjects frustrate me. While the class is responsible for the success of my trip, it was multi-basking that made it such a wonderful experience.

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Black-tailed Prairie Dog (photo by Kurt Fristrup)

When I arrived at Coyote Ridge Natural Area, it was almost ten in the morning. Afraid that I was too late to see any prairie dogs, I was relieved to find that they were busy feeding and watching for danger. To my delight, there was also a pair of burrowing owls. (I love their grumpy expressions.) Burrowing owls use abandoned prairie dog burrows as nests and I’ve seen them before in really large prairie dog towns. I hadn’t realized that the local colony was big enough to support them.

I set up my folding seat on the gravel path that runs along one edge of the prairie dog town and sat down to sketch. I watched both the prairie dogs and the owls. The owls sat fairly still, making them excellent subjects to draw, but the prairie dogs were often closer and easier to see. As I sketched, meadowlarks and horned larks sang nearby. Occasionally, hikers would pass behind me. A few even stopped to ask what I was looking at and I took a moment to talk with them.

The owls spent their time between two different mounds, which I assumed were the front and back doors of their burrow. At one point, a prairie dog came quite close to one mound. The owl standing watch dove at him, wings spread and beak open. The owl kept up the attack until the prairie dog had scurried away. The interaction left me wondering why the owl was so defensive. Do prairie dogs eat owl eggs? Or was the owl aggressive due to the higher hormones that go with breeding season?

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A few of the quick sketches I drew at Coyote Ridge. (Drawings by Kit Dunsmore)

When I left an hour later, I was feeling elated. Part of my joy came from the excitement of finally getting to draw prairie dogs at Coyote Ridge. Part of it was due to the pleasant surprise of getting to draw burrowing owls as well. But I soon realized there was much more to it than that.

The reason I felt so happy and fulfilled by a simple hour of drawing was because I’d managed to smoosh so many interests* into one activity. My main goal was to draw, but I made it richer by drawing live animals outdoors in a natural setting. I combined my love of the outdoors, my love of animals, my love of learning, and my love of teaching with my love of drawing. I learned some things I didn’t know and came away with questions I’d like to answer. I talked to strangers and helped educate them a little about the animals of the prairie. And of course, I got to draw and spend time watching the animals do their thing.

It seemed like a type of multi-tasking, only more effective and more fun. I was really multi-basking — letting myself enjoy many different things all at the same time. I recommend it highly.

Do you ever multi-bask? What activities or interests do you find go together well?

*”Smooshing interests” is a strategy discussed in How To Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still) Don’t Know What They Want To Be When They Grow Up by Emilie Wapnick.

What I Learned By Losing My Art Journal

In an effort to draw more, I carry a sketchbook with me whenever I can. Since I am especially interested in drawing animals, I took it to the Estes Park Wool Market & Fiber Festival in early June. I knew there would be lots of animals to sketch there, but losing my sketchbook was not part of my plan.

I sketched the goats and sheep in the barns. My first mistake was not putting my sketchbook back in my backpack when we returned to the vendors hall. It was still in my hand when I was looking at the luscious yarns and fibers at the Fiber Optic Yarns booth, which is how I wound up leaving it behind. I set it down for a moment to pick something else up and, dazzled by the rich colors, forgot all about it.

Fortunately, I had my name and number in the front of my journal. Even more fortunately, the person who found it wanted to get it back to me.

My phone rang as we were driving out of Estes Park. I didn’t recognize the out-of-state number, so I didn’t pick it up. If I had, we could have gone back and gotten my journal right then, saving everyone a lot of time and trouble, worry and waiting. But I didn’t. I didn’t listen to the message until we were already home, and by then it was too late.

When I called her back that evening, Kimber Baldwin (owner of Fiber Optic Yarns) told me that my journal was already packed up with their booth. She would mail it to me after they got back to Ohio and unpacked. It would be a while before that happened, however, because they were heading to the Black Hills of South Dakota next.

Once I got past my dismay, I was amused. My journal was going traveling without me.

We were away on vacation in California when my journal finally made it home. I took other sketchbooks with me for the trip, but I was constantly missing the book I’d lost. I kept thinking of information I needed that I had recorded in that particular journal.

Thinking about it so much gave me an idea. When my journal and I were together again, I would draw a map in it to show where we both had been while we were separated. I was surprised at just how far we had both gone.

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I feel incredibly lucky that I got my journal back and I learned some strong lessons in the process:

1) Answer the phone. The person calling could be trying to help you.
2) If you aren’t drawing in it, put your journal back in your bag.
3) Make sure at least your first name and cell phone number are written in the front of your journal. Forgetful moments happen.
4) Despite the media’s current representation of America and Americans, there are kind people out there. People like Kimber, who will make the effort to get your art journal back to you.