Drawing in Your Own Backyard

Not making this drawing would have been easy. For a couple of days I walked right past my friend’s basket of ordinary garden tools and nearby potted plants, not even giving them a moment’s notice. But little by little, this random backyard arrangement began to capture my fascination. And then it found its way onto the pages in my sketchbooks.

My eye began to wander to contour studies in the nearby planter.

During pandemic restrictions, you don’t have to travel any farther than your own backyard to start an exciting sketchbook adventure.

After lightly blocking basic shapes to position the basket and pots, my pen meandered up the page to find the anchor points for positioning the plants.

“How does the impulse to draw something begin?” asks the writer and drawing artist John Berger. It’s a question that fascinates me too, even after decades of sketching outdoors.

Does the impulse to draw something in your own backyard start with the smell of newly turned soil or the touch of unexpected textures lurking in the shadows? Or is it a highlight gleaming on the surface of a ceramic pot that prompts the movement of pen on paper?

Streams of water on the ground, streams of watercolor on the page. Colors trigger emotions and fascination with my surroundings.

Realizing I would be staying with this drawing for a while, I tightened the details of the overall composition and began adding color. The passage of time slowed to the movement of a growing tree. I became oblivious to the sprinklers dampening my feet and the yard around me.

Watercolor artist and author Cathy Johnson knows the pleasure found in using all of your senses when sketching. She writes, “There is something so immediate, so personal, so beguiling about working on the spot. Unlike working from a photo or from one’s imagination, everything around us informs our sketch. It becomes a part of it, lending it a depth and a freshness that studio work seldom seems to achieve.”

Finished backyard sketch.

Familiarity with the surroundings of your yard engenders the confidence needed to sketch challenging subjects. This can be comforting if you feel particularly nervous about drawing in public places.

Found in these secluded surroundings, hidden in plain sight, are the many things that can trigger the impulse to draw. This is when all of your hard work in taking care of your garden pays off. The subject for a gratifying sketch can be found right outside your back door.

Of course, I couldn’t just do one drawing. I had to keep going…

Basket of garden tools—pushing 9B and HB pencils to capture textures and contours. Upon closer inspection, the basket proved to be a treasure trove of objects to draw.

When I go deep with sketching at a location, devoting extended time to subjects around me, I often switch to pencils to slow down and study various surface textures and tonal values in grayscale. Graphite lines flow and blend in a different way than pen and ink lines. It’s just fun to play with both media.

Contours and textures of plants fascinate me. It is pure bliss when I shut out distraction and focus on studying how plants grow toward the sun while battling the forces of gravity.

If you’ve got a backyard sketch you’d like to share, I’d love to see it.


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Rob Court

Founder and drawing coach at the Scribbles Institute, Rob helps adults and kids learn basic drawing skills for work, school, and enjoyment. He is the author of a number of how-to-draw books.