Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Nature Journaling Workshop in Shenandoah National Park

Friday June 2 and Saturday June 3, 2017                                             Most Recent Posts:
Big Meadows                                                                                        Weekend in Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia                                                     Long Time No Post



Betty2This post is a continuation of my previous one about my weekend in Shenandoah National Park.  It will make more sense if you have read that one linked above in blue.

At 3:00 we meet in at the Big Meadows Visitor Center which is mid way along the Skyline Drive at Mile Post 51.  We are greeted by our instructors Rhonda Roebuck and Betty Gatewood after which we receive a royal ranger welcome to the park.

I haven’t attempted any art work since we’ve been on the road as it is somewhat frustrating for me as I explained previously and ,  I don’t have room for the supplies. This workshop promised to be a way I could take minimal supplies and attempt to add some art to my written journals or, as I later found out, create a separate journal on paper heavy enough for watercolor .



Our group moved around to the picnic tables behind the visitor center and overlooking the lovely Big Meadows.  There we received our supplies and did a few small practice exercises with them.  We have water color pencils, a water color brush pen which is very cool,  a small hardbacked journal with medium grade paper and a portable palate as well as a couple of pens among other things.   These tools really are portable.   After the exercises, we set to work creating a title page for our Journals.






Our instructors gave one example of a possible title page, the wreath, and we rather than be individually creative, we all followed suit and created a wreath.



I did get a little carried away with the detail but I enjoyed doing it.



Toward the end of our activities we learn how to marble the covers of our books.  This turns out to be a riot!  We take one can of Barbasol and spray it out into a rectangle shape  on a protected surface.



Betty demonstrates how to spray the cream thickly.  At this point I stopped taking pictures to do the work but not before taking this video. It gives a great idea of just how much fun this workshop was.


My hands got so dirty I could not use the camera again until the end so you’ll have to visualize taking whatever colors of food coloring you want to have on your cover and dropping dots on the barbasol then using a plastic ruler to swirl them together.  Obviously you have to use single colors or know about creating colors lest you end up with some rather ugg shade of brown.

Once the colors are swirled, take your book and push the cover down into the mixture and “swish” it back and forth as was demonstrated so perfectly in the video. 

Lift the book out, scrape the foam off with the ruler and do the other side the same way.



Once we had all completed our covers and wiped off all the excess cream on the books, our clothes (in my case) and our hands, we set the books up to dry but not before taking this picture of our colored fingers and someone’s marbled book cover.   They really did look great and this was lots of fun.  All the more reason to find a watercolor journal that is white rather than black or already decorated.




Here’s a shot of my journal.




After some discussion about the schedule for the following day, we left for dinner. Quite a few of them went to the Lodge for dinner.    I walked back to the campground along the lovely trail.





When I saw this sweet face looking out at me I stopped still and stayed quite a while as she tentatively came toward me for closer inspection.






Except for the picture above and the last two as she left, these are not zoomed and those only a little bit.  This is how close she was to me.  I stopped dead the moment I saw her, slowly moved my camera up and never moved again.








Finally the deer felt safe enough to turn around and head back into the woods looking over her shoulder one last time.



Just then another deer came toward her from the left and preceeded her away from me.
Just after they left and I could move again, I took this video actually for the audio of the melodic veery singing all during my dear deer experience.  I misspoke in the video calling it a wood thrush but this beautiful flute is actually the Veery, also a forest thrush who looks like this.  I’ve never seen him.  Thanks Audubon for the picture.

Veery Photo

  Click here to take a listen, it’s beautiful.

What a wonderful way to end my afternoon.







On Saturday the Sun rose beautifully behind the mountains and through the trees of the campground.





IMG_3355If you saw the previous post with the picture of my lovely lonely campsite, you will be as surprised as I was when I came out of the tent in the foreground and found three squatters on “my site”.  I’m assuming they were 3 AT Thru hikers as the trail to the campground from the AT is at the end of the road behind my site. They probably thought that I was also an AT hiker becasue of my backpacking tent and perhaps they didn’t see the car in the dark.   I was surprised that they had come in after dark to set up since that would make a very very long day.  Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.  In any case, since I was packing up to leave for the second day of the workshop I didn’t get to talk to them.   That’s a first for me though to have someone stop by uninvited to share my campsite.



IMG_3362Our class is meeting this morning in the Massanutten Room at Big Meadows Lodge so a few of us met there for breakfast.

Eveyrone at our table felt the breakfast at the lodge was mediocre.  The coffee drinkers said the coffee was terrible.  Those of us who had sausage with our eggs thought it was about as dry as it comes and actually more like a fake sausage.  The breakfast plate also came with homefries and eggs but no toast.  That was also a first for me too.   Can’t say I’d recommend breakfast there although they had a $14 buffet that might have been better.  I should have looked it over carefully.

This appears to be the only picture I have (that’s decent) of Rhonda on the right in yellow sitting by Betty with her ‘thumbs up’ given before we’d actually tried the food.  She had a fruit plate so her experience, other than the coffee, was much better.




In the Massanutten Room, Betty and Rhonda had set up tables for us to work on.  At the head table were wonderful reference books on illustrated journaling and some of their own journals open for us to see.







I have a few of these books already, like the first one below on the left,  but here are some shots of the others I want to remember.




Not sure whose journal this is, but it’s a great example.









The room has one wall of windows with this spectacular view.  Class began with a few yoga stretches out on the walk you can see through the window.   After some discussion of techniques inside, we went back out and chose a tree to draw.




Back inside Betty, who is a wonderful botanical illustrator,  talked about the details of an amazing number of leaves she had brought from her yard.  No picking in the park.   We each then chose a leaf to draw.



We were also instructed to use the little lenses to draw a “magnified” view of an acorn which I am attempting to do here. Thanks to Betty for this picture and the first one on this postl.




Here’s my partially finished product.  Not sure if you can see the oak tree sketch at the top which hasn’t had the watercolor added.  The leaf on the left is the real leaf.  The one on the right is freehand but the shading isn’t finished.  The little acorn with the missing crown is as good as it will get.


Thanks to Betty and Rhonda for the examples below of how fantastic a nature journal can be.  I’ll never attain this level but you can clearly see why I’d love to be able to.







After a break for lunch we went back to the Visitor’s Center and our picnic table area where we learned how to use a plexiglass “frame” for getting the main points of a landscape and their relationship.   Another lightweight small tool.




Time to work on our landscapes of the meadow.  Some of us stayed at the table with Rhonda and did a landscape of the meadow from that distance  and others walked out into it to get close up and personal.




I’m in the close up crew.





Betty led us around the meadow paths and to this outcropping of rocks where we settled in to do our landscapes.  A portable stool is a handy thing to have although some preferred sitting on the rocks themselves.








This stool leg had a hitchhiker as we packed up to go back.  Isn’t he something.  If we’d seen him earlier and had more time, many would have wanted to draw him I’m sure.



Can you see the curious deer on the left as we return to the Visitor’s Center??



She actually moved much closer to the trail staying in high alert but not running from us.



I thought she looked fabulous among the varied greens and browns of the meadow.




As we left the visitor center to return to the lodge I stopped by the booths outside celebrating Trail Days.  This husband and wife team was experiencing what it is like to use a cross cut saw to fell a tree in a wilderness area where no power tools are permitted.  They were working very hard.




That is one big saw.



The workshop concluded with an evaluation for the association and a  discussion of what might make it even better in subsequent years.  Unanimously everyone said more time even if it cost more as a result.   Betty and Rhonda had done an exceptional job of putting an almost mind boggling (at least for this newbie) amount of information into this less than day and a half workshop.  I cannot recommend highly enough that you take this workshop and look for others at National Parks you may visit.  I must beg the instructors’ and my fellow participants’ pardons, if they are reading this, and I’ve left things out or they are out of order.  Blame the “mind boggling” part.


This workshop will provide you with views like this out the classroom window and at least the possibility of creating something amazing like the journal page ending this post.  Thanks again to Betty for that and to Rhonda and Betty for such a great time and fantastic learning experience!!  So much inspiration!



From one of Betty’s Journals……How to fabulously record your experiences!!. 

Betty1 - Flower Camp Grid - 2010


  1. Your artistic skills are a lot better than mine! Beautiful shots too, especially that deer.

  2. What a special weekend!! You are very talented.

  3. Beautiful...what a fun weekend with what sound like fun people! I'm not much for drawing, but journaling, I am a definite fan. Loved the videos :)

  4. That was some amazing use of shaving cream! Wonder if that technique was discovered by accident? Great result for a journal cover. Nice that you've discovered a new angle for your journaling hobby. :c)

  5. You two are certainly staying busy! Look forward to each of your blog posts and now your journal and scrapbook.

  6. Oh, this was fabulous. The journals are beautiful! I would never thought of doing this. Thanks for the inspiration.

  7. Sherry, you sure wrote an acurate and entertaining synopsis of our weekend. This was the second time I've done this workshop. It gets better each time. You underestimate your artistic talent and I'm sure it will be a fun addition to your journals. Let us know when you are in or near Shenandoah again. I'd enjoy meeting up to do some nature journaling together.

  8. I would never have the patience to add all the artwork to my writing, but it sure is beautiful. I've been keeping a journal, which I now refer to as a blog, for years and years. The pictures are mostly in my head!

    Thanks for the amazing account of what the SNP can offer.

  9. This class looks like it was fun for everyone. Some of the ladies really are artistic and your did pretty well too. Your pictures are fantastic as always.

  10. Oh my goodness, all this art stuff is right up my alley, although I've given up all my paints, and only have a few of my brushes onboard with me.

    All my art these days is done with my camera, and in an adult coloring book. I find I greatly enjoy it as an outlet. Looked like a really fun class.

  11. I'm even more inspired now - what lovely pages to record memories. Very weird to wake up and find you're suddenly sharing your space. Not surprised to see your deer checking on you, and getting close enough for a good look. I'm going to look for workshops in this area right now!!

  12. Deer are very curious animals and like the cat, often get them in trouble. The journals look good, but way more work than the electronic version:)

  13. I think you need to practice and get ready to share this skill with Celia. How cool to have a Grandma that encourages you to play in Shaving Cream;o)) All kidding aside, what a beautiful way to capture your experiences!!!

  14. How cool is that!? What a great way to use artistic talents to enhance your words.

  15. Oh, how I would have LOVED to be in this workshop with you! I've taken several nature journaling workshops in the past and intended to create journals while we're traveling, but I always seem to let other things take precedence. But I have my watercolors and all of my stuff in a box under the bed....you're inspiring me to get them out. You created such a lovely beginning to your journal, Sherry. I hope you'll continue to share pages you create in your blog. I'd love to see them. :-))

  16. Great story of the workshop! I always think your artwork is beautiful - it is so "you", and that is how it should be, not simply a literal transcription like a photograph, although that would be fine too if one can do that, which most cannot of course. Your instructors sure gave some fine inspiration!

  17. What a great couple days! Love the clever journal cover idea.

  18. Don't cut yourself short Sherry, you did a great job with the oak tree, acorn and leaf. You are so observant when in nature I think with practice makes better. I've never heard of the journal cover idea but it sure turned out beautiful, as did everyone's hands. A great couple of days of learning.

  19. So glad you went to that workshop. Definitely right up your alley: art, nature, being outside, learning new things. The shaving cream technique looks like fun- messy: right up my alley! Love the beautiful deer that you saw on your way to your tent. The photos of the flowers are pretty. You can try painting them! I've never been to Big Meadows, I should go. It looks lovely. I need to lend you the book that Kate got me about painting on location. xxxooo Miss you!

  20. Now I know another use for Barbasol...it helped create and awesome cover for your book. It is so neat to walk up on wildlife and just stop to watch them and for them to get comfortable with you being there. Their behavior can tach us a lot.

  21. What a great re-cap of this workshop! What fun too. I might have to try that shaving cream technique!

  22. Is there anything you can't do?😊

  23. I love such nature art too! You made very beautiful book, I like it

  24. Thank you, Sherry, for a great write up of the workshop. Betty and I love doing it and hope it will continue. Hope to bump into you again in the future. Keep drawing and journaling!


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