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Step by Step: Sketching a Nature Series

American artist Georgia O’Keeffe is known for painting natural forms, such as flowers, bones, shells, stones, leaves, trees, and mountains. Gathering seashells along the shoreline was one of her favorite activities. She often drew shells from the collection of natural objects that she displayed in her home in New Mexico. Surrounding herself with these objects allowed O’Keeffe to carefully observe their shapes, patterns, colors, and other essential details. She believed that “to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” Getting to know something well requires careful looking.

A close-up view of a deep plum-purple jack-in-the-pulpit flower surrounded by emerald-green leaves fills this vertical painting. The flower is narrow at its base, where it is striped with white and pale lilac purple, and it flares open like a trumpet in the top half of this composition. The unfurled petal is streaked with wavy white and magenta-pink veins around a deep purple tube-like stalk emerging from inside the base. Leaves in spring and kelly green billow up around the base of the flower along the bottom of the canvas, and more leaves surround the top of the flower. The area behind the pointed, curling tip of the flower glows with a lemon-lime yellow. The space around the flower and bewteen the green leaves is mauve pink.

Georgia O'Keeffe, Jack-in-Pulpit - No. 2, 1930, oil on canvas, Alfred Stieglitz Collection, Bequest of Georgia O'Keeffe, 1987.58.1

An abstracted painting of a roughly oval-shaped jack-in-the-pulpit flower fills this vertical composition with cool, saturated blues, grays, and greens. A royal-blue elongated, rounded core at the bottom center is surrounded by a pale gray flame-like shape. Petals flare outward and up around the core to reach toward the sides and top of the canvas. A thin white line extends upward from the top center of the core to meet the pointed tip of the unfurling, innermost midnight-blue petal. Layers of green, reminiscent of leaves, curl outward around the top half of the flower. Pale blue in each of the four corners creates the impression of a background behind the flower, and fades to white at the top corners.

Georgia O'Keeffe, Jack-in-the-Pulpit No. IV, 1930, oil on canvas, Alfred Stieglitz Collection, Bequest of Georgia O'Keeffe, 1987.58.3

A white line curves up into a hook within a smoky dark gray and dusky rose-pink field in this abstract, vertical painting. The white hook stretches up from the bottom center of the canvas up and to our right, to span three-quarters the height of the painting. A rounded, oblong shape fills the open space between the apex of the hook and its sharp, pointed tip. The oblong shape lightens from inky black at the top, through gradations of gray, to become ash white at the bottom. The hook is surrounded by a field in the shape of a narrow, upside-down U, which deepens from fog gray near the hook to black along the sides and where it extends off the top edge. The column created by the inverted U field is flanked by vertical bands of burgundy red, which lightens to rose pink along the left and right edges of the canvas.

Georgia O'Keeffe, Jack-in-the-Pulpit No. VI, 1930, oil on canvas, Alfred Stieglitz Collection, Bequest of Georgia O'Keeffe, 1987.58.5

In her series of paintings, Georgia O’Keeffe often invites us to look more and more closely at a familiar object,
as we will do in this drawing exercise. This progression of canvases features a jack-in-the-pulpit flower.

How to Sketch Your Own Nature Drawings

Find your own inspiration in a garden or a local park and follow the steps below to do a close study of one piece of nature through drawing.

You will need:

  • A pad of paper
  • A pencil, colored pencils, crayons, colored chalk, pastels, markers, and/or watercolors
1. Select an object from nature to study, such as a flower, leaf, shell, or stone. (We chose a red rose.) Place it on a table near your paper and drawing materials.

2. Examine the object carefully. Study its colors, shapes, patterns, and designs. What makes it unique?

3. Experiment with medium and color. 

Create a series of drawings on separate sheets of paper. Try to fill the entire page each time.

First, use only a pencil to draw the object.

Then draw it again, but this time use colors that are as close to those of the actual object as possible.

Next, draw it using only two colors—not the actual colors this time.

Now, draw it with as many colors as you like. Use your imagination!

4. Explore design.

Take a close look at the object’s design. What are its parts? What are its shape and texture? What purpose do you think its parts, shape, and texture might serve? Create another series of drawings on separate sheets of paper.

Using any medium you choose, draw the entire object. Focus on how the different parts come together.

Turn the object around to show another side. Now draw it from a different view.

Pretend you are looking at the object through a magnifying glass. Select just one detail and draw it large—all the way to the edges of the paper.

Imagine how the object would look to an insect. Make a “bug’s-eye” view drawing of your object.

Draw the object in an imaginary landscape. Include sky, water, land, animals, and/or buildings.

In O’Keeffe’s jack-in-the-pulpit series, each painting zooms in closer, becoming more abstract as it highlights one specific part of the flower. As you looked closer, what did you notice or learn about your object that you did not see at first? What are you left wondering about it? Build on what you learned through observation by doing some research on your object. You’ll soon be an expert!

Now take another look outside to find inspiration for your next series of drawings based on nature.