The Art of Observation

October 29, 2023 NEBRASKAland Magazine

Blend observation and art to appreciate the natural world.

By Grace Gaard, Aquatic Ecology Education Specialist

The month of October is notoriously busy no matter what you’re involved in: Hunting seasons begin, sports are in full swing, camping weather is wonderful, and everyone is soaking up the last of fall’s warmer weather. During this time of so much transition and activity, do you ever take a deep breath and slow down?

As an artist and an outdoor enthusiast, I find that spending time in nature and closely observing the life around me is an antidote to the sense of urgency I feel during this month. With such a fleeting season of beauty here in Nebraska, it’s always worthwhile to appreciate the natural world with gratitude and attention.

What better way to amplify your time in October than through art and nature? In my mind, art and nature can be seamlessly interwoven. Even if you don’t consider yourself an artist, you can use the skill of observation to create an image. Whether you call that art is up to you. Don’t believe me? Let’s try it out!

Inktober colorful prompt.

Draw Your Observations

Grab a leaf from outside — any leaf will do! Begin by spending time in observation of your leaf. If you’re not sure what this could look like, consider these questions when looking at your leaf:

  • What color(s) is it?
  • What shape is it?
  • Does it have a smell?
  • What does it feel like?
  • What else do you notice about it?

Now, take your thoughts and use a pen or pencil to draw your observations on paper. How the drawing looks as “art” doesn’t have to measure up to anyone’s expectations, including your own. Simply create something based on close observation of your chosen leaf, tracing its edges with your eyes. A short five minutes is all you need to complete this activity, but you may find as I did, that the longer you look, the more you will see. The more you see, the more the drawing unfolds with details!

Photo by Grace Gaard.

Photo by Grace Gaard.

Photo by Grace Gaard.

Mindfulness Through Art

This easy act of mindfulness is an amazing strategy for battling the rush of the fall season. Practicing the art of observation doesn’t have to stop there either! Pick a new natural item each day and spend time closely observing it. Or go outside and find yourself a spot to sit and be still, observing the wild world — even in the city — going on around you. You can draw, write or embrace the use of your senses. All of these forms of observation are excellent ways to reconnect with ourselves and the planet we live on.


Quiet your mind and blend art, nature and observation through the Inktober Challenge, a month-long event that was created by Jake Parker in 2009, who wanted to improve his drawing skills and develop positive creative thoughts. Every day for the month of October, anyone participating in this challenge creates an ink drawing and posts it online based on prompts that are given.

After spending time personally participating in Inktober, I began to think about how we could bring something like this to Nebraskans. In 2021, I reached out and gained approval from Jake and his team to play off their event with a Nebraska nature-inspired Inktober using our Nebraska Wildlife Education Instagram page.

We’re now in our third year of Nebraska’s Inktober Challenge, and the experience has provided a fun way for Nebraskans to engage with nature – we’ve even had whole classrooms of students participating. The prompts gave participants an excuse to routinely pause each day, once a week or even just a few times throughout October to think creatively and ecologically, using their observational skills to create something ink or otherwise.

While I know October is essentially over, there’s nothing to say you couldn’t join in now or continue drawing into November as part of your personal journey. Nature in Nebraska is endlessly inspiring, and the more we pay attention to it, the better we can grow to understand it. I hope you give the art of observation a try.

Check out our list of prompts and choose those that inspire you! Learn more @nebraskawildlifeeducation on Instagram.

The post The Art of Observation appeared first on Nebraskaland Magazine.

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