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Peggy Macnamara: Drawing from Nature

Peggy Macnamara is an associate professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the author/illustrator of five art and science books and two children's books. She is also the Artist-in-Residence at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History. She will be teaching a class here at the library on April 3 (join the wait list). Participants will learn simple techniques for sketching, strengthening lines, and modeling.

Art and Nature

As an artist-in-residence at the Field Museum, Peggy has a long relationship with art and nature. “When I first started coming to the Field Museum they had free parking,” Peggy says. She was teaching at a nearby college at the time and this was a good perk. They also gave her free admission. “Those two things: free entrance and free parking—I started coming every day.” Add to that the many drawing subjects on display at the museum and this met three of Peggy’s needs. “I thought, well, I'll do this for five years or something.” That 'or something' has been going on for three decades. Peggy started out sketching the museum's sculpture pieces, then as she says, “I just drifted into the birds. I did Chinese artifacts, you know, I did the whole museum. I got hooked on it.”

Finding the Artist Within

Peggy believes we're all creative, but many of us never develop that creativity, or even recognize it exists. She feels this artistic ability should be treated as an important part of our daily lives. “Everybody goes to yoga and everybody plays golf,” says Peggy, speaking generally of some favorite relaxing pastimes. “They get into a zone and they feel peaceful. That has a value.” Peggy believes creative expression has value as well. This doesn't mean everyone needs to draw every day. You can play music, write in a journal—anything that's creative. The important thing is to find that creativity and develop it. “Most of the time we never find out what we’ve got because we don’t try,” Peggy says.

Encouraging Mistakes

For those who attend her class on April 3, Peggy has some advice. “Bring an eraser.” Peggy cautions that this does not mean attendees won’t be able to get it right, it just means they should be prepared to make mistakes and learn from them. “I tell my students, the guy who erases the most gets the best drawing.” 

Peggy also believes that talent is a myth. This may come as a surprise to anyone who has seen her gorgeous watercolor paintings of birds, flowers, and insects, but according to her, “If you take the method and give it an hour a day, in a year you'll be really good.” Not everyone has the patience, however. “People want it to happen quick, or think they were supposed to be born with something.” Peggy has proof that you get better over time. “I have lots of old bad drawings,” Peggy says. “I couldn't do it the first time, but you get a sense of peace from doing it, like when I do a yoga class, I feel really calm afterwards."

If you're looking for some inner calm and some good drawing practice, join the wait list for Drawing from Nature Made Simple! Tuesday, April 3, 2-4 pm. In this class you will learn simple tips for rough sketching, strengthening lines, and modeling basics.

Check out Peggy's books from our collection:
Illinois Insects and Spiders
Architecture of Birds and Insects