2019 Resolution: Make Art & New Friends with Sketchbook Circle

A sketchbook circle is a year-long collaborative venture that encourages artists to make time for their art and share it with their friends. Reach out to friends this year and start one yourself! Next December you will be so pleased with the results.

My garden was recently visited by artist Dick Rauh. Dick will be 94 years old later this month. I was honored to have him tour my homestead. With sketchbook in hand, he was looking for a muse in my yard.

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Dick Rauh sketching a purple Datura.

A few months back he started participating in a sketchbook project. A dozen or so friends get together and all purchase, individually, the same sketchbook. Every month the artists draw a botanical or nature related picture. Then the artists rotate the sketchbooks to the next person, until everyone has drawn in every book. In the end you receive your sketchbook back to keep. Each person has a sketchbook filled with unique drawings.

“The idea is that you can draw a double page, you aren’t supposed to draw on the back of someone else’s painting,” Rauh explains. “Most of them are colored pencil, I lot of them do graphite, but you can do whatever you want.”

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Artist: Tammy McEntee

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Artist: Meryl Sheetz

The parent organization who advertises this beautiful collaborative art idea is the American Society of Botanical Artists. There are chapters but Rauh is in an unofficial group, so they are called a circle.

And if Rauh is in your circle, you would be incredibly lucky.

Rauh attended a high school that was music and art focused.

“It was amazing,” he recalls. “I lived in Brooklyn and the high school was up 135th Street and Convent Ave in Manhattan. It was great – you took regular academic programs and you had three extra periods a day of art or music. When I got to college, I was teaching the art teacher a thing or two!”

On the GI Bill he went to The Art Students League of New York. He was looking for a summer job, which turned into a career of directing and assisting with the making of animated movies.

“I started going to the NY Botanical Gardens in the early 80’s. I have never drawn botanicals until then,” Rauh says. Not knowing botany caused him to pursue a graduate program in plant sciences, and he earned a doctorate in 2001 from the City University of New York.

And now he teaches at the New York Botanical gardens.

“They have a great course in botanical art and illustrations. I went through the program and got my certificate in ‘86. I retired in ’90 and then I started taking day classes. In about ‘94 I started teaching there and have been teaching there ever since.”

Rauh teaches plant morphology, sketching classes and a fern class.

“Lately I have been teaching at senior centers how to draw flowers, colorful leaves and I paint,” he adds. “It keeps me sane – thank God.”

“I get a range of students. The whole botanical illustration field is dominated by women. I usually get talented women, who are talented, who’ve raised families and want to learn something.”

If you don’t quite have Rauh’s skillset he offers some tips:

“Look closely. Draw what you see. The biggest problem most people have are their preconceived ideas. I ran a workshop one time for kids and we were drawing outdoors. They would draw lollipop trees and the sky way up there,” Rauh pointing.

“That’s why the business of drawing things upside down is such a great idea.” It forces you to draw what you see.

“What’s interesting is that the whole level of botanical painting in this country over the past 10-15 years has constantly risen.”

For years Rauh has tried to enter his illustrations to the Carnegie Mellon collection.

“It’s like the ultimate collection of botanical art and I kept getting rejected and rejected every time I thought I was getting better, everyone else was too. I finally got a few pieces in the collection.”

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To see more beautiful examples of botanical sketchbook circle projects and get instructions on how to start your own sketchbook circle visit this article.

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