Book Friday: The Green Sketching Handbook by Dr Ali Foxon

I don’t know how time works: I just know that some weeks the time is everlasting and sometimes it flies. We’ve been watching The Lazarus Project on Sky recently, and the idea that there’s a reset point (on July 1st every year) that only some people remember if the machine resets is intriguing. Messing with time is dangerous, especially when we try to fit too much in. Too many activities, too many fillers, too much negative thinking, blank space watching, dwelling in our body rather than living fully in it.

I’m back on (another) health course, this time funded by the NHS. My bloods finally played traitor on me and had me marked out as pre-diabetic. Oops. Bad lifestyle, you see. Too many evenings and days of inactivity, too much unconsidered eating, too little getting up, out, moving, being. It’s partly the pay back for Covid lockdowns and partly laziness. I am, by nature, inclined to activities that stay still, not moving. But I love my toes, so I don’t want to lose them. Healthy eating: more veg, fewer carbs, sensible portions. Movement: regular stretching in the office, daily walks, and a good dance every chance I get. One stone down, I can feel the benefits. The course says that it teaches you to eat healthily forever. That’s good. If I can find a level of eating and weight-maintaining that means I’m not stick thin and hungry, nor over-full and obese, then I’ll be happy. It’s the physical activity that makes a massive difference, I think.

Today’s book should help me. I picked it up last week in preparation for a weekend away at the end of July. I’m visiting Cwm Penmachno, with no internet, no TV and no phone signal so there’ll be very little to do except read, paint and walk.

The Green Sketching Handbook is a beginner’s (and more experienced) guide to using sketching as another tool in your self-care arsenal. It’s like taking forest bathing and adding an extra twist. You know, we all know, that spending time in green and blue spaces is good for us. Time in the fields, woods, parks, riverbanks, stream and seasides pays us back with improved health (if we’ve walked there) and mental boosts from the extra oxygen in the air and the total colour mood boost that is Nature.

Dr Ali Foxon, a climate change scientist, started drawing when she had her son and was alone and feeling isolated in Switzerland. She needed something to do, something to restore her links to nature and stop her doomscrolling. Taking a small sketchbook and drawing what she saw led her to realise that the act of drawing, of observing, of noticing the spots of joy in her life, raised her spirits.

She found that doing her sketching made her look closer, see more and ultimately experience Nature more and more intimately. The act of having to look closer, to observe with eyes and mind and record that in a small doodle or sketch meant that the artist (and every one is an artist) through the act of sketching finds themselves better connected with their environment, aware of small details that usually pass them by and vigilant for small changes and actions that they could do to improve the environment. When one has a real link and relationship with the natural world, one starts to care for it properly.

The Green Sketching Handbook is all about Ali’s journey to sketching, about why she sketches, how she sketches and what equipment you need to sketch (spoiler: it’s a pencil/pen and a piece of paper) Although it’s got no colour illustrations, that isn’t a great loss, because her black and white sketches and drawings are sprinkled throughout and range from the simplest line skeleton sketches to more complex full landscapes through boxes of what Ali calls ‘doodles’. a name she chose because it is deliberately non-threatening.

It’s split into three parts, with four chapters in each one. Part One, Motivation, is about why to sketch. It’s about the relationship with Nature, why we should sketch, how to overcome the fears that stop us and what exactly she means by ‘Green Sketching’.

I found the Green Sketching Manifesto at this point an interesting read:

The book is all about releasing the quest for a perfect product, or even comparing the finished piece of work to anyone else’s, and enjoying the process: the mindfulness of stopping, looking, seeing and recording details that, in the instant click of a photograph, we often overlook.

Part 2, Guidance, is all about that process. It’s about learning to slow down, about taking a small point and recording it, about breaking down what you see in front of you into a recordable form. Certainly, I remember doing exercises like the blind sketching she suggests as a student and with my own class. And I like how basically linear she encourages you to be. Look for the structure, look for the pattern, look for the detail.

She likes the use of doodle boxes in a sketchbook as well, whether that’s small square ones or a longer rectangle to catch sky, background and foreground or a boundary picture. It’s a sensible technique: we might baulk at filling an entire a4 page, but everyone can draw something in a 3 by 3 inch box.

Chapter 8, Develop an Eye for Colour is possibly the only chapter that loses out because of the book being solely black and white. It is difficult to talk about colour mixing, the powers of tints, hues and shades and the magic of colour itself using only words. It’s a brave attempt, but more and better inspiration is available on Ali Foxon’s Instagram, where the results of watercolours, pastels and pens can be seen.

Part 3, Encouragement, was a really interesting section. I love the idea of self care through sketching, the idea that drawing your locale nurtures your sense of place (and we all need a sense of place: it ground us, and gives us a basis on which to build our own narratives) and that sketching, as a portable and cheap activity, can benefit so many of us young and old. Chapter 10: Create a Green Sketching Habit You Love advises on finding your why, when and who with. It has simple advice on equipment, timing and making sure you incorporate this into your own routine. This section also has great advice on green sketching where you are, whether that’s a place with an abundance of nature, or an urban sprawl and finally on encouraging children to start young. Our children are so disconnected from nature, through indoor schooling, lack of unsupervised free play and that dreaded permanently online life we all live now, that getting them out even for a few minutes and encouraging them to forge a relationship with the natural world must be a priority. I’d like to get this book into a good many schools and preach the fundamentals to a good many parents. We need children who understand the natural world, appreciate it and want to use it well. They need to find hope in nature, not fear it as a destructive God.

You can find Ali Foxon online on Instagram, on her own website, Ali Foxon and on Journaling With Nature podcast Episode 9 and Episode 96. I’m listening to these at the moment, and it’s good to hear how nature and art combine to benefit people’s mental health.

I won’t leave you with a flipthrough this week: the book is entirely in black and white, and very dense text, so a flipthrough would be altogether a useless exercise. Instead, here’s Ali’s talk at a TEDx event, on how and why she started green sketching, and how it has helped her so much.

Art is playing a massive part in my life at the moment. I’ve rediscovered the joy of drawing, and it’s good to grab my old sketchbooks and start again. I’ve invested in a few portable pieces of kit: a large size pencil case that holds an a5 sketchbook as well as a selection of pens and paint, and a set of thinner sketchbooks and some double ended permanent markers that travel in my every day bag. I am now never more than 5 feet away from a sketchbook and implement. Will I share my sketches with you? Possibly. I like the idea of the #greensketching hashtag. It’s good to see how other people try to catch their own observations.

And now, a word from our sponsors.

How to Hygge the British Way is my gift to the world. I don’t get paid for writing it, I’m not in it for the kudos, financial rewards, to become an influencer, work with brands or otherwise make any money from the blog. That’s why there are no ads, and any products I mention and recommend have either been gifted to me or bought by me with my everyday wages or donations from supporters. Every book I review has been bought and read by me, unless stated otherwise.

I do get a couple of pennies each time someone buys from the Amazon links on my page, as an Amazon Affiliate, but otherwise if you’d like to support me, I like to give something back in return. That’s why I write books. It always feels good if you get a book back in return for some money. You can find a full list of my books at my Author’s Page on Amazon, but especially recommended for this time of year are:

Cosy Happy Hygge: Setting up a rhythm to life and rituals to enjoy it to make for a more balanced life that handles waves and storms better. Lent is a season of rituals and resets. The book has small and easy ways to make your life flow with grace and happiness, which lead to more hygge.

Happier: Probably my most personal book, it’s the story of how I used hygge and the little things in life to help boost my happiness. I still go back and reread to remind myself what I need to do to be a happy human. And it’s always the little things.

Planning ahead, early, is How to Hygge Your Summer. It has ideas for taking your hygge with you out of winter and to any place you go in the summer… the beach, the park, your holidays. Hygge is an all-year feeling, so start preparing and let’s hygge the heck out of summer this year!

If you’d like to support me, but don’t want to buy a book, I have a Paypal.Me account as Hygge Jem. Every little helps, so even a few pence goes towards the books, goods and courses I use and recommend on the site. I’m grateful for every little bit that brings me closer to my dream of full-time writing, and I know I couldn’t still be writing if it weren’t for the support of many readers and friends out there. Thank you all for every little bit of support, emotional, physical and financial, you give me.

If you’ve enjoyed this article, don’t forget to share it or save it so others can enjoy reading, thinking about and living hygge as well.

The regular photo I’m currently using between text and my book promotions is a photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash. It’s waterlilies, chosen for the reflection and because the flowers resemble lotus flowers so much. And my header is a photo of the tree that I used as a backing for the Green Sketching Manifesto by Brandon Green on Unsplash. I love old trees, and this one is a fantastic specimen. well worth seeing without the writing on, I hope you agree?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s