Happily evaporating in the mangroves

posted in: Nature journaling 8

The mangrove kingfisher looked thin – its feathers were flattened against its body. It sort of drooped on the branch. Tail down, beak open, wings held away from the body. And see the wobbly end of its beak? That’s not really what the bird looked like, that’s me. Hands unsteady, trying to do my first bit of drawing after a 40 minute ride in the summer heat to reach the mangroves at Nudgee Beach.

The workshops I ran at the Woodford Folk Festival between Christmas and New Year went really well, with lots of lovely feedback. You meet the nicest people at nature journaling workshops! I was also reminded that there seems to be demand for a more extensive nature journaling book, set in Australia. So I’ve started working on a follow-up book to Make a Date with Nature, which will include many more inspirations for nature journaling, arranged by habitat type. Yesterday I went to the Nudgee Beach mangrove boardwalk for ideas and observations.

I’ve found it a bit hard to get into my work this year – partly recovering from the Woodford Folk Festival I think, partly recovering from helping a friend move back interstate, and maybe just that start-of-year weirdness when lots of other people are still on holidays and maybe you’re wishing you were too. Anyway, yesterday I shook off the inertia and found myself walking along the mangrove boardwalk, surrounded by wonderful plants and critters. I’m going to show you my progress through the day, from the wobbly start to the more detailed end.

It was very hot and sunny, but I was determined to work through it. What to draw first? The tide was retreating, the mud was bare, and different kinds of crabs were appealing, as they went about their business. Some had attractive burgundy pincers… But I felt like I needed to get familiar with the plants first, as they are such a major part of the ecosystem. I was just about to start when a kingfisher landed on a branch in front of me, and I quickly did the above sketch.

But then, back to the mangrove plants, starting with a contour drawing of Ceriops australis, the yellow mangrove (thanks Keith M. for correcting my ID!) which was flowering. (A contour drawing isn’t supposed to look like the subject of the drawing, it’s supposed to get you looking at the subject. See Make a Date with Nature if you’d like a more detailed explanation).

Then I did a couple of other quick pencil sketches, this time looking at the page. Still pretty wobbly!

Next was a quick colour impression of the same plant, with paint:

I started to feel I was getting into the swing of things now. Perhaps drinking two cups of tea, eating my lunch early, and drinking half my water bottle also helped! It can be hard to keep hydrated on these very hot summer days. It was time for a more detailed drawing and I found some Ceriops with both flowers and developing fruits…

These fruits are actually little baby plants. After dropping off the parent plant they can keep growing into trees if they manage to lodge in the mud in a suitable place. Another characteristic of the yellow mangrove is its buttress roots:

I also did an ink sketch of another mangrove species that was flowering – Rhizophora stylosa – the spotted or red mangrove. This species is characterised (in Brisbane at least) by its stilt roots. It’s also called the spider mangrove for this reason.

I wasn’t very pleased with the composition of this picture – the pointed end of the branch (which is actually new leaves enclosed in stipules) is awkwardly coinciding with the end of a leaf. Maybe it was time for more food?

The last drawing I attempted was this view of the mangrove forest, with paints and carbon & sepia pencils. The large trees are the grey mangrove, Avicennia marina ssp. australasica with the yellow mangrove appearing as small trees in the understory:

I finished it back home with coloured pencils.

I never did get a chance to sketch the crabs. Or the other species of mangroves. Plenty more to explore next time – which is the joy of nature journaling! But I was glad I pushed through the initial unsteadiness in the drawings and ended up with some interesting impressions of mangroves. I spent the evening recovering after a very enjoyable day, but a little bit too much sun.

Here’s another sketch I did of the mangroves at Osprey House some time ago, this time with pastels and pastel paper:

Happy nature journaling! This weekend’s nature journaling workshop at Indigiscapes is already sold out, but stay tuned for more workshops this year.

And I hope you are also getting back into the swing of things, whatever your thing might be.


8 Responses

  1. Nicole Matthews

    I admire your attempts to capture the mangrove forests, Paula. I have found it really hard to capture their strangeness and fertility with my camera, although I’ve seen some lovely mangrove pics from a really wonderful photography blogger The Goat that Wrote ( eg https://thegoatthatwrote.net/2015/04/24/a-very-mangrovey-retreat/ ). Perhaps drawing is a better way to capture the magic. Thanks for your tips on the species. I’m hoping to write a post myself very soon about a mangrove and saltmarsh area on the Hawkesbury I have visited a few times recently, Gentleman’s Halt in Marramarra National Park, and I need all the help I can get with improving my identification skills!! I hope the new year continues well for you!

  2. Paula Peeters

    Thanks Nicole! I am really just scratching the surface… But that just leaves more fun for later 🙂 . I think drawing is fundamentally different from photography. Both have their strengths, but trying to draw well forces you to look closely at the subject, and this helps you to get more familiar with it, while you are there. You can find all sorts of interesting features in a photo after you’ve taken it, of course. But there’s still a machine between you and the subject… somehow this matters, I think. But please keep trying to capture the essence of the mangroves in your photos, and also try some drawing too. And in your stories, which are always entertaining. Check out mangrove watch for some ID tips: http://www.mangrovewatch.org.au/ Cheers, Paula

  3. Gail Rehbein

    Happy New Year Paula! I enjoyed seeing how your sketches changed during the walk. It reminded me how important it is to simply start. It’s very easy to put the pen down – whether drawing or writing – because the first attempt is ‘not up to scratch’. I’m really happy to read your workshops are going well. Wishing you a fruitful 2017!

    • Paula Peeters

      Hey Gail, Happy New Year to you too! And thanks. You’re so right, the most important thing is to start, and then just keep going. We all have to start somewhere. I like comparing it to the young wizards at Hogwarts… They all need to practice and practice, and then one day, they get better. Have a great 2017. Cheers, Paula

  4. Thea Gavin

    Another lovely adventure! I do enjoy “tagging along” with you via your vivid blog posts–both words and images are so compelling . . . I appreciate the chance to learn about other plants/creatures (and the chance to dream of seeing them in person some day 🙂 ).

    This Nature Conservancy writing opportunity just came to my attention, and of course you were the first person I thought of:


    Happy New Year/Happy Trails,


    • Paula Peeters

      Hi Thea, Thanks for coming along! I’d like to get back to the US again some day too. I spent a few months at summer camp in northern California some years ago, and loved getting to know the redwoods and chaparral, but didn’t spend much time in the south. Maybe one day… And thanks so much for the reminder about the Nature Conservancy comp. I was aware of it but had forgotten this year’s deadline. Now you’ve inspired me to polish up an essay I started a few months ago. Very timely! Have a great 2017. Cheers, Paula

  5. Sue Southwood

    Hey Paula
    It’s stinking hot down here too…several days in a row of 35 to 45 degrees and then a cool one. Should have lost several kilos but no such luck. I loved your sketches and writing about the mangroves…were the sandflies horrendous? I understand a lot more now about how to concentrate on just one plant species, instead of being put off by the multitude of images…no chance of getting more than one at a time…yeah, you are right. l
    Loved your rendering of the trees in the water…so elegantly simple.

    • Paula Peeters

      Hey Sue, good to hear from you! We’ve got a cooler one today – only about 30 degrees with a lovely sea breeze. Feels like heaven. Strangely, I didn’t get bothered by either mossies or sandflies that day in the mangroves. I think it was too hot for them! Perhaps those little insect bodies would just dry out in a snap if they emerged in that heat? Thanks for your kind comments. Yes with the great diversity of plants here (and where you are too) one really does just have to start off with one, and build it up from there. (And have readers who can correct ID mistakes!). I hope you’re getting out and about and doing lots of arty things. Cheers, Paula