A year sketching the prairie…

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Early Spring on the Prairie
© 2020 Karen A Johnson

It’s been a while since I’ve posted and while I’m behind in posting my prairie sketches, the prairie has continued to grow, bloom and cycle through its seasons whether I’m able to keep up… or not.  Today happens to be the one year anniversary of when I started my Etchrlab prairie sketchbook-July 23, 2019.  For some fun stats-over the past year-

I have visited 11 prairies and 2 yards with prairie plants, a total of 77 times.  61 of those times I pleinair sketched-almost 80%!  I managed to pleinair sketch at least twice every month of the year, which in the Chicago area can get pretty cold (and hot!).

When many of the preserves were shut down due to the Corona virus, my neighbor was gracious enough to share her prairie yard with me so I could capture spring after a long winter.

April 15 to May 1 Spring
© 2020 Karen A Johnson

43% of my visits were to the Schulenberg Prairie at the Morton Arboretum and when they were closed for all of April and May, I was encouraged to see what other prairies were like in our area.  Each one seemed to have its own personality, land forms, plants and diverse fauna.  I nearly always found something new to see and it truly has been a year of adventure and discovery.  Nearly every weekend my husband would join me for our “prairie adventure” as he loves to be outside and visit new places.  I’m so grateful for his support and patience as I’d sketch.

Belmont sky
© 2020 Karen A Johnson

Since my sketchbook is a combination of pleinair and studio work, many of my spreads haven’t been finished yet as I keep wanting to add new flowers or insects that I’ve seen on that particular visit.  I’ve enjoyed these more complicated compositions as they seem to reflect the density as well as the diversity of the prairie.

May Spring flowers
© 2020 Karen A Johnson

When I started this I was hoping to draw as many plants as I could find at the Schulenberg Prairie.  As I started learning more and more, I realized that project would probably be never-ending as the diversity of even a planted prairie like the Schulenberg is high.  Expanding out to other prairies has increased the scope even more as there are dry, wet, mesic, sand, gravel and even more types of prairies that have their own specific plants and insects that go with them.

Artistically, I highly recommend trying to focus your sketchbook or artwork on one topic for an extended period.  Creativity seems to flourish under constrained circumstances.  As I looked at the brown prairie for months on end, ideas kept coming on how to portray what I saw.  Even as I went back and forth between the big picture (landscape) and the individual plant portrait, each spread ended up having its own personality, much like the prairie it was representing.

June prairie flowers
© 2020 Karen A Johnson

From the beginning I was hopeful that if I was consistent in how I sketched the plants then perhaps I could incorporate them into designs that others could enjoy.  As the year has progressed, designs have been uploaded onto my shop in Society6 (home decor and prints) and Spoonflower (a fabric print shop) and it has been fun to see prairie mugs and masks popping up on my social media feeds.

Thanks to everyone who has encouraged me along the way-you have been so appreciated and helped me to keep going even under these past stressful months.  I have a few more empty spreads left in my sketchbook so that should get me through the rest of the summer…

Hope you take a moment to reflect out in nature wherever you happen to be-God’s beautiful creation is everywhere!