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Getting Closer to Nature through Art: Q&A with Christine Kane

We love nature – that’s why we enjoy camping. So, it’s always exciting to find new ways to explore the natural world. Christine Kane bridges a closer relationship with the natural world through her artwork. In her art classes, Christine helps students experience nature through sketching. She shows her classes that art skills do not matter – more important is how their senses are opened to nature!

Tell me a bit about yourself.
Hi! My name is Christine Kane and I’m an artist and naturalist living near Chicago, IL. You wouldn’t think such a large city would have a lot of opportunity to experience nature; however there are 68,000 acres of preserved land in Cook County. The largest forest preserve district in the United States. I hike the trails every week and experience nature through the seasons. Every week there is something new. I love to paint and draw what I see so that others can experience it too.

Do you consider yourself to be, first and foremost, an artist or a naturalist and why?
That’s an easy one for me! I definitely consider myself first an artist, then a naturalist. In all of my years and all of my schooling, there is still so much in the natural world that I do not know about. I feel that my knowledge doesn’t even scratch the surface…and that’s a good thing! It keeps me going. It keeps me searching and hiking and looking things up.

How did you come to combine these two passions?
I have to admit that I have a terrible memory. Reading from a book and memorizing a name doesn’t work that well for me. I have discovered that when I sketched a plant or a bird I was unfamiliar with, the name became imbedded in my brain. I am much more successful when I learn visually. This resulted in many sketchbooks which I cherish.

What do you gain through painting and drawing nature?
I think it’s free therapy! Ha, ha, no joke…there is a certain calm that comes over me when I’m deep in thought drawing and painting nature. I can connect with my Creator. I also notice that I open all of my senses when en plein air (in the open air), the seasons smell different, you will hear different sounds, and I believe that all translates on the paper or the canvas. It is a very tranquil and spiritual event.

What inspired you to share these interests through classes and your blog, Let’s Paint Nature!?
I was inspired to create Let’s Paint Nature, because the number one comment I hear from people is, “It’s too hard. I would love to draw but I could never do that.”

It really, really isn’t that hard at all, someone just has to show you how to do it. As a child we all drew and colored in school. The teacher told you what to do. Sometime between adolescence and adulthood most of us stopped drawing. I’ll show you how to get back to it. Many of the students in my sketch class are surprised at the end of class when they produce beautiful artwork. They just need a little guidance on how to get started.

What are your favorite natural scenes to draw and why?
My favorite scene to paint is anything that has trees in it. I’m obsessed with trees. They each possess their own character. Just like people, they have their own personalities. I love to bring their qualities out through art.

What supplies do you take with you when you go into nature?
I’ve narrowed it down to as little as possible. It’s not fun to hike with a lot of weight, as you may already know. I usually bring a backpack with: 1 watercolor sketchbook, 1 compact watercolor pan set, 1 pencil, 3 watercolor brushes (1 rigger, 1 large round, 1 small round), a half a bottle of water (water is heavy), 1 plastic well, 3 black Micron Pens ( sizes 01, 03 ,05), and a paper towel. Oh yes, and always a camera!

What advise do you have for someone wanting to start sketching on his or her hikes or camping trips?
I would have to advise people not to buy too many supplies and don’t bring them all with you! It doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t have to be intimidating. Start small with just a pencil and a sketchbook and don’t worry about color until later. Also it is very important not to judge your own artwork. In the beginning it might not look like how you would want it to look. The goal is to document what is going on around you. The therapy is in the process. How the artwork looks is not as important as how you experience nature. Just go out there and have some fun!