View Full Version : Three Forks Natural Area - JTMB Nature Journal

09-27-2010, 06:38 PM
Hi everyone,

Well, I currently have three journal threads going, all on the theme of birds (Local Birds - any media; Water Media birds - medium specific; Birds from Life - drawn from life, or sometimes video, moving subjects). Soon the October 2010 challenge sketchbook will be number four. But today I started another journal project (number 5) that I decided to start a new thread for - no more new ones after this until I finish one of those already started.

This journal is location-specific, though under the general theme of nature. The location is Three Forks Natural Area, a county-owned property whose name comes from the fact that it is near the confluence of the three forks of the Snoqualmie River (North, Middle and South - not very original, but descriptive - :) ). The area includes three large meadow fields which are kept mowed, one of which is mostly fenced in and used as an off-leash dog park. A 'rail-trail' (converted railway bed) bisects 3 Forks, and the area also includes a large oxbow slough, forest (mostly cottonwoods and alder, not many conifers) the river itself, some beaver dams, and (unfortunately, as with everywhere out here) a lot of invasive Himalayan blackberry thickets along with the native plants. On a clear day, Mount Si and the Cascade Mountain foothills tower over the area, giving spectacular views.

I do a lot of birding in 3 Forks, including leading field trips about once per quarter, and really like the area (and it's close to home!). So after going through a couple of nature journaling books, I decided to make this journal specific to Three Forks. Although it will include some birds (none of the birds drawn here will be posted in my other threads in this forum), it will also include landscapes, botanicals, non-bird critters (there is a large elk herd that uses this area and nearby fields) and maybe some of the dogs in the dog run area.

The journal is a 14 x 11" Aquabee Super Deluxe journal with 93 lb. paper and (theoretically) 60 sheets. I apparently used and removed some of the pages in this one because I numbered them and it has only 47 as I start this.

This morning's visit to 3 Forks resulted in the following. The top mini landscape is in Pigma Micron sepia pen, with watercolor added later. It is a brush pile in an area where I usually see a lot of sparrows. The bottom half of the page is a Great Blue Heron sketched in HB pencil - the bird was fishing in the slough near the parking lot and I set up my chair and scope on him and - as hunting herons usually do - he was dead still long enough to get a decent from-life sketch.

C&C always welcome.


09-27-2010, 06:42 PM
This is so cool. The landscape looks lovely. And your heron is delightful.

09-27-2010, 08:02 PM
Off to a great start John, I really like the mini landscape it has some good variations of tones in the greens, and the heron is lloking good too. I look forward to seeing what you tackle other than the birds (as that is what I associate you with it will seem weird seeing other things creep in!).


09-27-2010, 08:38 PM
Thanks Debby and Jackie! Up until a few months ago, birds were only a small part of what I did, believe it or not...! :)

09-27-2010, 09:43 PM
John - you ARE ONE AMBIOUS MAN, taking on FIVE sketchbooks at once!!!!! (Are you competeing with Robert on the most running at one time????? LOL)

The mini landscape is GORGEOUS, simple, elegant and just such beautiful variations in tone and colour.

The Blue Heron is WOW, your FROM LIFE sketches are improving so much - this is incredible!!!!!! Soon you will be adding colour to your life sketches, you are getting THAT good!!!!!!

09-28-2010, 01:04 AM
The blue heron is fantastic. I love blue herons, and you caught his hunting attitude perfectly. So balanced and beautiful. Great brushy landscape too, I like the different greens you used and the sepia pen work is softer within it than black would be. Gorgeous start to a fascinating sketchbook!

I think it's cool you chose a location to theme this one on, rather than a subject or a medium. Looking forward to more!

09-28-2010, 05:57 PM
Thank you Stacey and Robert! Yes Stacey, learning art is my self-imposed (and highly enjoyable) job right now, and so I'm putting in a lot of time at it right now.

Here are two more pages from the Three Forks journal from this morning. It was foggy and raining off and on this morning so I drove to an access spot to the 'rail-trail' that runs through the middle of the natural area and sketched from inside the car.

The first page shows the rail trail, which is straight as an arrow because it was an old rail line, looking into the natural area from an adjoining golf course. At the bottom of that page is a clump of maple leaves with two maple tree trunks, done from life - the trees were maybe twenty feet away from the car. The bottom right on the first page is a Pied-billed Grebe, a diving bird that is fairly common on freshwater in our state, but always nice to see. That is the first time I attempted a Pied-billed grebe and I'll definitely do more down the road.

The second page is a biological study of the Common Snowberry, which is found fairly frequently in the natural area. My understanding is that the Snowberry is so named because of several things - the berry is white and the berries stay on throughout much or all of the winter. Supposedly birds eat them, but I've only seed that once or twice, and the plant guide for the Pacific NW I have indicates that the NW Indians considered the berries poisonous.

C&C always welcome.



09-28-2010, 06:53 PM
John, these are great. I love the Snowberry botanical, that's so classic and it looks as if I could identify it in nature from your drawing. Great grebe! Love the maple leaves and trunks, showing the color changes is beautiful. Gorgeous scene down the old rail track.

I did the Redhead Duck from the photo you let me use, it's in the Pentalic sketchbook if you're curious.

09-28-2010, 07:19 PM
Lovely paintings/sketches. The snowberries are spot on.

10-01-2010, 05:56 AM
those snowberry leaves are amongst your very best :)

10-01-2010, 08:26 AM
WOW, amazing sketches/paintings, LOVE the botanical, very detailed and yet not over done!!!!!!!
THe landscape is beautiful, what an amazing area you live in!!!!!!

10-01-2010, 02:16 PM
Yay! Love the scene down the road. Lovely colours :)

10-01-2010, 04:11 PM
Well done! I love the vibrant colours of your landscapes!

10-01-2010, 09:21 PM
Thanks Robert, Debby, Vivien, Stacey, EP and Cairo! I'll probably slow down on this one a bit with the October challenge going on, but hopefully not too much. I love this area.

11-04-2010, 09:19 PM
Hi everyone,

Well, finally got back to Three Forks to do some sketching on an amazingly nice day for November - sunny and 70 degrees, a new all-time high for the day (as was yesterday). When I got there, I realized I didn't bring my watercolor kit, so I sketched these old logs in the slough near the entry to the area. I used Graphitints for the color, and think that I overdid the amount of color - I've had better luck with them in other sketches when used more lightly. Also, probably used a bit too much water since I lost the texture on the two main old upright logs. I figured I'd post it anyway, and do better next time.

The background blue/green is regular watercolor added after I got home.


11-04-2010, 10:53 PM
Interesting use of graphitints. There's still a lot of texture on those logs. Don't be too hard on yourself. These are well done and you learned something.

11-05-2010, 08:39 PM
Hey John, I lost track of this one! I like the style this sketchbook is taking on - the notes and images make a pleasing balance. Your botanical sketch is very nicely done, and the little landscapes are lovely.

I agree with Debby you are learning with each sketch, the graphitints are testing me out too - there is a fine line to getting the colour just so, but when you do they are great!

11-07-2010, 10:26 PM
Thanks Debby and Jackie!

This page is a bunch of quick sketches of Ring-necked Ducks (yes, I know they have rings on their bills, and so should be named Ring-billed, but I don't make the rules - :) ) from a slough/old millpond near Three Forks. I will probably be doing some more from that same video to get some more practice on the shape of the head and the bill of this species.


11-08-2010, 02:55 AM
Great sketches and observations - a nature jurnal.
Terrific snow berry leaves - very realistic.

Do you find when you're drawing something you know well, like you know birds, part of the sketching is what you know of them? the rest capturing a specific pose or angle?

11-08-2010, 09:35 PM
Silly people naming a duck that way. Great sketches.

11-08-2010, 10:01 PM
Thanks Elain and Debby!

Elain - you've asked a great question here. First of all, I'm pretty new at sketching, and sketching birds, so bear that in mind. I'm far, far from being where I want to be at this.

When I started to do bird art, especially trying to sketch from life, I realized that even though I am expert at identification (at least with almost all western US species), from an artist's viewpoint I really didn't know that much about species. To identify them, you get good at recognizing an overall pattern, vocalizations, etc. - probably not too different from how people learn to recognize familiar people. You get the whole face imprinted, not little details. But to sketch something well, you need to get sufficient details so that the resulting 'pattern' to an observer looks correct. Kind of a dichotomy, I guess.

So, at this point - as in these sketches - I have been using videos with stop frames so I have a stable reference. But then I sketch as quickly as I can so that I can eventually get as good at life sketches. By doing pages like this, I am really starting to get to know bird species much better, and that has to help down the road.

However, the bird art experts I know who sketch from life also caution about going too much from your mental reference images because you may do the same bird over and over again rather than really looking at the one in front of you and drawing what you are actually seeing. Individual birds within the same species are different, lighting is different, etc. and so you have to concentrate on what's in front of you. But in my experience so far, it certainly is a big help to at least have done that species or similar species before. Here, for example, the duck's bill was (still is) a big challenge when I first started. It took me a bunch of sketches to begin to really be able to represent any duck's bill somewhat accurately. Now that I have that experience, it's getting easier, even though I'm still trying to look at the specific bird.

Hope that's not too much info...!


11-09-2010, 01:28 AM
Hi John
Certainly not too much info for me and thanks for taking the time to explain.

It makes sense. Even through you can recognise something, you still have to learn to draw it. I think each animal has it's own particulars apart from proportions - e.g. muscles on horses, - and I can see how the bill would be tricky. The angle it fits onto the skull/head, the persepctive, the shape.

Thanks again for taking the time and I look forward to seeing more of your drawing progresses.

11-10-2010, 10:07 PM
I toolikethe Snowberry. I like that you have many poses of the ducks. I love doing that

06-15-2011, 01:04 PM
Well, it's time to revive this journal thread again. I spent a good part of yesterday morning at Three Forks doing some sketching, and had managed to find the dedicated sketchbook I started for that area. I did four pages of sketching with fountain pen in the 14 x 11 inch Aquabee sketchbook. This post is for the first two -the others haven't had watercolor added yet. I did this sketch at Three Forks in pen, then added watercolor washes when I got home. The pen isn't real visible because it's J. Herbin Gris Nuage ink, which is a low saturation gray (and watersoluble, as all fountain pen inks are) and it almost disappears with added water washes.

The view here is looking toward Mount Si, a famous local landmark and very popular for a long, stiff, elevation gain dayhike with people in the area. This view looks over what I call the 'second field' of three in the natural area - all three of which are used by the herd of 400 to 500 elk that is prospering in our area. I'm going to put this view on the list for a studio painting down the road a bit. This sketch, including the water washes, is about an hour's work in total.


06-15-2011, 08:56 PM
lovely mountain scene, and rather cool how the gris nuauge just disappears so it looks like a pure watercolor :)

06-15-2011, 11:17 PM
I must have missed this sketchbook - I don't recall seeing it before. You have some nice sketches in there. I like those ducks, turned around in every direction.

06-15-2011, 11:42 PM
Thanks, Michelle! This is an old thread, started last fall. I'm intending on getting over to Three Forks Natural Area regularly to sketch critters, landscapes and botanicals over the next couple months so I decided to revive the thread.

06-16-2011, 12:36 AM
Wonderful two-page spread :)

06-16-2011, 07:46 PM
Splendid landscape. The area looks lovely.

06-17-2011, 01:33 AM
Thanks EP and Debby!

Here is another set of pages from the same 14 x 11 inch Aquabee Deluxe sketchbook. The left hand page is a quick sketch of two tree leaf varieties. I knew the Black Cottonwood (the lower one) but not the upper one. After consulting a guide book I think it's a Bitter Cherry. (My head is so full of bird information that I'm skeptical how much tree and shrub info can fit...!)

The next page contains two sketches of the same turtle. When I first sketched it, it was facing to the right, and I figured that it was a perfect critter model because it wouldn't move. Just as soon as I thought that, it slowly executed a 180 degree shift and was facing to the left. I sketched with brown ink (Caran d'Ache Grand Canyon) and then put watercolor washes on back at home. And yes, the green of the turtle is a little too olive green.


06-17-2011, 06:04 AM
this is developing into a really nice book on this wildlife reserve :)

Joan T
06-17-2011, 11:39 AM
Great job on the landscapes, but my favorite is the turtles on the log!!!! I'm enjoying seeing nature through your eyes, John.

06-19-2011, 12:22 PM
Love the turtles John!! Great work!

07-12-2011, 09:26 PM
Thanks Vivien, Joan and Rachel!

Here is one I did today that isn't directly in Three Forks. But, it was done upstream on the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River, so I thought it fit ok here - and I didn't want to start another journal...! So, this was done with a plein air weekly paintout group today, in about two hours. It is 10 x 13 watercolor in an Arches wirebound sketchbook, with the original drawing done with J. Herbin Gris Nuage. Interestingly, when I showed early up at the state park where this scene was, instead of the sleepy park location I expected, there was a tandem semi, an RV and a number of cars parked - all part of a movie crew who had a permit to shoot there. I was able to talk my way into a corner of the area and sat down to sketch a composition and start the painting. Then I decided that it was going to be too hectic and not enjoyable to stay there so moved, along with several of the other group who had also showed up, to another state park at the other end of the trail that started near where our first site was. I finished the painting from memory.


07-12-2011, 11:51 PM
Marvelous rocks. Fits right in with the mineral challenge this month. :)

07-13-2011, 12:08 AM
Thanks, Debby! I hadn't thought of that connection - the rocks are just minerals in a larger package. :)

07-13-2011, 02:13 AM
another nice one :)

10-18-2011, 05:23 PM
A belated thank-you, Vivien!

My, oh my - this thread dropped all the way to the third page in the forum. Must have something to do with the fact that I haven't posted anything to this in forever. I decided to rectify that situation today. Three Forks is just too interesting and nice an area not to continue trying to do some things periodically.

Yesterday I drove down there to look for any winter birds that might be arriving. I wound up watching from the car because a radio show I wanted to hear was on. Since there weren't many/any cooperative bird subjects visible from the car, I went out and picked a particularly heavily-fruited Snowberry plant to sketch. Here is the result, done in about ten or fifteen minutes. It is in a Handbook Journal (the 5 x 8 inch size) with the sketch itself being about 5 x 5 inches. I first drew in Pigma Micron pen, then added color and shading with Pitt brush pens.


10-18-2011, 05:56 PM
very nice. . . I thought it was watercolor at first til I looked closer. neat pen work

10-18-2011, 10:03 PM
Very nice pen work. Have to remember to do that when I'm out. Just pick a small item and sketch it.

Joan T
10-19-2011, 01:00 PM
You should have stayed put. Maybe you would be in the movie!!! Nice rock sketch and I just love the one of the berries!

10-19-2011, 03:34 PM
Thanks Rainy, Debby and Joan!

10-19-2011, 04:02 PM
John, I'm so glad you revived this thread! I missed so many beauties including those turtles, they are fantastic. It was cool reading through from the beginning to get zapped by how much your sketches have improved since you started it. This is phenomenal!

Beautiful snowberries botanical sketch, that's lovely. Well balanced and well rendered. You rock.

10-19-2011, 04:10 PM
Thanks ever so much, Robert! It means a lot, coming from you - the master sketch artist in so many media!! :wave:

10-19-2011, 04:18 PM
I had the same results looking at last year's versus my current sketches, it's something that does a lot for any artist!

12-22-2011, 01:12 PM
I agree, Robert!

Yesterday I decided to drive around looking for winter birds (and found a Northern Shrike, a fairly rare visitor to our part of the world) and stopped at the parking area for the offleash dog park at Three Forks. It was cold and foggy, so after briefly considering sketching outside, I opted to stay inside and sketch from the car. I decided on a nearly-dead Red Alder tree bordering the parking lot, which has a lot of character and looked like good drawing practice. So, here it is, done with mechanical pencil from life, then watercolor washes added after I got home. About 20 minutes total, in a 12 x 12 inch Aquabee Super Deluxe sketchbook.


12-22-2011, 05:41 PM
wow, I love that one John. beautiful color and form on that tree, love the moss on the tree, that really makes it! And the underbrush also came out so well. Really nice work. You remind me that I like the Aquabee books too, I had one but its all filled, it was 5 x 7 and if I get another, I'd go for a bigger one. Interesting size you have. . .a square! Do you like that format to work in?

12-22-2011, 06:00 PM
Delightful tree.

12-22-2011, 06:19 PM
Thanks Rainy and Debby!

Rainy - I realize now that I was confused...I was thinking of my last two oil paintings being 12 x 12. This sketchbook is square format, but only 9 x 9 inches - don't know if they make a 12 x 12. I like the Aquabee sketchbooks, and I have a couple of square format ones for a change of pace. This one was a nice size to fit in a particular backpack that I was carrying around at the time I bought it. The one thing I don't like about the Aquabee sketchbooks for watercolor is the significant difference between the sides of the paper. The 'front' (right hand side as you open the books) has a nice texture for the weight of the paper, but the back side (to me, anyway) doesn't seem to take watercolor as well as the front. Still, they're fine as a sketchbook and they work well with pencil and pen also. My overall favorites are the Stillman & Birn for their quality and variety of paper types, but I also use and like Pentalic Nature Sketch and Robert Bateman sketchbooks. (And Moleskine, and a couple others - face it, I'm a sketchbook/journal junkie!)

12-23-2011, 10:01 AM
great bark :)

and I'm a fellow member of sketchbookaholics anonymous :)

My favourites are a Canson - with the red fabric cover, quite like the watercolour moleskine and for drawing the creamy waxy moleskine. Also I really like the 110lb Derwent hardback that I've been given to test - so far it's working well with everything I've tried. I do want a sketchbook to cope with everything!

12-23-2011, 10:49 AM
John I love this whole book. Wonderful. The last sketch really speaks to me in it's own starkly beautiful way. I have a sketchbook like this and am inspired to turn it into my own nature sketchbook

12-24-2011, 07:50 AM
John, I love that mossy tree. The roundness of the trunk, the shapes of twigs and bark texture, the patches of moss are all so natural. The washes and painted accents are elegant, overlapping transparencies. The details are well placed and the whole picture has a gorgeous balance.

I love seeing the results of your long nature studies. You rock!

12-24-2011, 12:07 PM
Thanks so much Vivien, Margo and Robert!

Vivien - yes, I truly understand the love and accumulation of various sketchbooks. I hope to live long enough to finish all the ones I have already! :lol: :lol: (And the others I need to get along the way as well.)

Margo - go for it with a nature journal. As primarily a landscape painter, and someone who used to do a lot of long backpack trips and hikes when my knees were much better, I love nothing better than sitting outside and sketching or painting a natural subject. (Often birds, of course!)

Robert - wow, thanks! I really appreciate that, coming as it does from one of my favorite WetCanvas artists! You are always so articulate with your comments and critiques, something I find hard to do with art yet even though I've done a lot of writing over the years. I didn't mention it in your thread, but I'm definitely one of the folks out here rooting for you to get that first floor apartment.

Have a very Merry Christmas, everyone!

12-24-2011, 06:02 PM
John, that water scene is a really tough one! Don't you love sketching with the gris nuage? I find it's as close as I can come to pencil when using ink, and it's so unobtrusive that lines that are off or need to be redone don't stand out like a sore thumb. Plus, in the end, it takes nothing away from the watercolor like darker inks do.

The snowberries are charming. You have a nice feel with those Pitt brush pens. Which set do you have, or did you buy some individually?

Very nice observations on the tree sketch. I think that one's my favorite.


12-24-2011, 06:49 PM
Thanks, Jamie! Yes, I really like working with Gris Nuage - for just the reasons you mention. My inspiration for working with the Pitt brush pens was seeing Don Colley do a sketching demo with them (and looking through the sketchbooks he brought to the demo) at Daniel Smith. He gets amazing results with them - I actually went to another demo by him this year again. I bought the 48 color set, but then added open stock ones for key colors and values. Don, for example, does a lot of sketching with blue Pitt pens, using a large enough selection to get a good range of values.

12-24-2011, 07:45 PM
Thanks for that info, John. I have a few of them --- like the gray set. They're very interesting to work with. I wonder if they're lightfast, pigmented ink. I'll have to do some research on that .....


12-24-2011, 08:24 PM
They are totally lightfast, based on Faber Castell's info, and Don Colley's firsthand experience. I am a big fan of Faber Castell's products.

12-24-2011, 09:34 PM
Great to know! :D


12-25-2011, 03:20 PM
I have my 9" square super deluxe bee journal sitting on the table ready to go out the door. Thanks for the inspiration.

You got to got to another Colley demo? You lucky duck. That guy is just awesome and I'd like to see him again now that I actually know how to use all the stuff I bought after his demo. Large bag full of Pitt pens, and both sets of the colored pencils. The Durers top any other watercolor pencil I've tried from open stock. Have you tried their pastel pencils? Love them, I've only used them for life drawing so far, but think they may get a work out in my nature journal.

Holy crap, I just went out front and saw a couple of ravens soaring around, not unusual for the area but then as I watched them I got to observe a golden eagle soaring up high on the thermals, I've seen him or another in front of the yard a couple of times lately. Woohoo, this is part of why I moved here.

12-25-2011, 03:37 PM
Thanks, Margo. Yes, Don is outstanding. The demos were a couple years apart, at Daniel Smith's Seattle store - I enjoyed the first one so much that when I saw he was back again this year, I had to go. I particularly enjoy his sketches in the old accounting ledger books - especially since he does a lot of urban subjects, the faded numbers in the background really created a nice presentation, in my opinion.

And I agree with you about Faber Castell products - in my use, they have consistently been superior in each category to other brands I've tried. The Pitt brush pens are amazing in that they're water based, so have no smell, and you can do at least a tiny bit of smudging if you wipe them right away with a finger, but then after they set up they're permanent. And yet even on thin paper they don't bleed through - having a chemical engineering background, I'm pretty impressed with how they formulated that product. I agree with you on the Albrecht Durer watercolor pencils - I sometimes use Derwent products but as has been noted on the supply thread here, a number of the Derwent products are not lightfast, whereas Faber Castell's products are. I also much prefer their Polychromos colored pencils over Prismacolors as well for two reasons. First, they are oil based, so you don't get the wax 'bloom' that happens so easily with Prismas when layering. Second, and being a klutz this is a big one for me, is the tendency of Prismas to break up in the barrel when dropped, causing a significant percentage of the 'lead' to fall out or be unstable when drawing. Prismacolor only 'spot welds' the leads to the wood barrel, so that if you break one of the spots, an entire section of the lead loses its anchoring. I've had Prismas that when trying to sharpen them after breaking a lead, I chew up a third or a half of the pencil until reaching a point where the spot welds are intact again. With Polychromos, Faber Castell welds them the entire length of the lead, so all you can break when you drop them is the point. I just think they're a much better product.

I do gravitate more toward Pigma Micron pens rather than Faber Castell pens when looking for permanent ink, but I think that's more habit since I started out with Microns and they work well enough that I haven't really been tempted to change to Pitt on a regular basis. For waterproof pens, I also use several other roller pens, also have a selection of watersoluble rollers just for variety.

12-30-2011, 08:45 PM
The snowberries look really good, John. First time I heard about it. And great looking turtles too.

You are very prolific!