Drawing Nature With Jill Bliss

Monday, April 25, 2011

When Chronicle Books asked if I would host a stop on Jill Bliss’s virtual book tour for Drawing Nature: A Journal, her new interactive drawing journal, I immediately said yes. I became acquainted with Jill Bliss’s work when I worked at Budget Living magazine. Jill was profiled in the “Why We Love” section of the February/March issue for her online crafts collective Blissen. Today, Jill is still deeply involved in the world of craft and the handmade. In recent years she has moved to Portland, taken up teaching and scaled her Blissen operation back to just herself.

Drawing Nature
is the latest of Jill Bliss's collaborations with Chronicle Books. If you used to draw but haven’t in years, it’s overwhelming to get back to drawing on a daily basis; this journal is a nudge to get back into the habit. I caught up with Jill last week to talk about Drawing Nature and the pleasures of drawing.

The journal had a long journey to production. Jill says that she went through five iterations of the journal trying to figure out the best way to structure it. In an effort to translate her drawing classes into a book, she admits that she put her graphic design students at Portland State through a “drawing day” using exercises from the draft of book. “They didn’t know they were my guinea pigs,” says Jill. She also notes that her copy editor and other non-artists at her publisher were a huge help because they didn’t know anything about drawing. “I had to back down and use everyday words,” says Jill, who realized terms like “blind contour drawing” might be intimidating to novice artists.

The book itself was designed to be portable and to open flat for easy drawing – Jill even tested dozens of paper before settling on the final pick. To encourage would-be drawers none of the pages are completely blank, with Jill Bliss’s signature drawings at the perimeter of every page. The beginning of the journal features individual drawing lessons, while the latter half is mostly comprised of (nearly) blank pages with inspirational notes at the bottom of each page.

Here Jill Bliss shared her thoughts on drawing:

Anyone can draw.
Jill had been teaching classes on drawing nature in Portland for some time when she set out to teach her mother and a bunch of her friends to draw one summer. “They were adamant that they couldn’t draw,” says Jill. “But I was equally as adamant that they could. I ran them through a couple of exercises, and we all realized it was possible.”

There’s no right way to draw. Jill says she doesn’t force one way of drawing or another onto her students, but rather prefers to observe how people approach drawing and help them fine-tune their own way of looking and drawing. “It’s sort of therapy,” she laughs.

Seeing is the hard part. “I feel strongly that everyone can draw,” says Jill. “It’s the seeing part that is hard.” Learning to see something for what it really is can be challenging. For example, if you say, “Draw a leaf,” someone will sketch the cartoon-ish ideal of a leaf, but if you actually put a leaf in front of them, it is much more complicated to render. Then you draw another leaf and you begin to see how very different each natural object is from another. Jill says this is when you start to really look and realize what you’re seeing.

Nature is a forgiving subject. Jill’s choice of nature for the journal is no accident. She notes that we all know what a chair looks like, so if a sketch of a chair is not quite right we immediately notice its flaws. “With a leaf, we don’t have that same perception,” says Jill. “It’s okay if it’s not the way it looked in real life -- we’re never going to notice.” Plus, Jill hopes drawing nature will help people embrace and appreciate their natural surroundings.

Putting pen to paper is meditative. “It’s definitely a practice that makes you slow down and consider your surroundings and think about what you are doing,” says Jill, who compares drawing to journaling or meditation.

Drawing will open your eyes. If you take up a daily habit of drawing, Jill says it will change your day-to-day experience. “I think you’ll be a notice a lot of little details that you wouldn’t have noticed. You’ll start looking for things that would be interesting to draw. You’ll be a lot be a lot more cognoscente,” she says.

Just do it. “You’ll surprise yourself,” promises Jill. As with anything, she notes that a lot of what determines success is your attitude: You need to have a positive outlook that you can do something, whether it’s drawing or fly-fishing.

Jill Bliss’s Drawing Nature: A Journal is available for $16.95 from Chronicle Books and is available in bookstores nationwide.

Drawing Nature Blog Tour
April 18 AOL ShelterPop
April 19 Creature Comforts
April 20 Mint Design Blog
April 22 Pikaland
April 25 The Little House in the City
April 27 Wit and Delight


jill bliss said...

thanks laura! it was great chatting with you!


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