creative journaling and nature drawing with Irene Brady,
author of
Illustrating Nature ~
Right-brain Art in a Left-brain World
at the lovely,
deluxe wildlife lodge
El Remanso
in the Costa Rican rainforest

A 4-day
Creative Journal Writing and
Nature Sketching Workshop
for all levels
of art experience
minimum age, 12

For details about what each day will hold, please read the information at right.

If you have further questions
after you read about the class,
please feel free to
email Irene

And if you're traveling with others who just want to explore (via waterfall rappelling, tree climbing, canopy ziplines, horseback riding, kayaking, etc.), or just lounge around, this is a perfect spot for them, too!

Prices and travel details here.

so much to draw! so little time!

You will take home a lavishly illustrated workbook containing the materials we cover in class, filled with your notes and sketches for later reference, in addition to your own well-begun journal decorated with your own Costa Rica sketches.

Below are some quick sketches
and photos from
El Remanso Rainforest Lodge

Coatis (pizotes) romp in the trees over the cabin, eating the tubular cecropia fruits.

Cecropia leaves (also the favorite food of the sloths) are huge -- more than a foot across.

The oldest cecropia in this trio is eroding away, the closeups are a trunk section and fruit. Macaws also eat these fruits!

I put this mantis in my clear-sided cosmetics bag for awhile to sketch -- works great!

I also photographed the mantis.  Notice how it almost disappears on the banana leaf.

This wasp nest, peopled by small friendly black wasps, is a masterpiece of architecture!

I think this is from a howler monkey. Look at the HEAVY jaws.

Moneyladder vines with chain-link-like indentations, drape from the jungle trees.

a colorful land crab from the swimming pool

Creative Journal Writing and Sketching Workshop
February 7-10, 2008
what to expect

download a print-friendly PDF here

Stay informed about additions or changes to upcoming workshops!
Irene's workshop newsletter contains
workshop news and sketching tips.

(the following information is subject to minor revision without notice)


  • VOILA! You've gotten yourself from your point of origin to San Jose International airport (SJO) in time to make connections to Puerto Jimenez. A short flight will take you to Puerto Jimenez, where you will be met by a shuttle and taken directly to El Remanso Wildlife Lodge. If you would prefer to explore the sights of southern Costa Rica you may choose to rent a car for the 7-8 hour trip (plan to arrive by 4pm on February 6th). El Remanso Wildlife Lodge will be happy to make local transportation arrangements for you when you make your reservations.

    Spend the rest of the day enjoying and getting acquainted with the lodge, the wildlife, the other workshop particpants and your instructor, Irene Brady.


  • The Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica is nearly at the Equator, which means that the sun rises at 5am and sets at 5:30pm. So set your alarm for breakfast, which begins serving at 6am (although the howler monkeys may awaken you at sunrise). Sketching from the veranda

    To give us plenty of time for journaling, sketching, hiking, birdwatching and the many other interesting activities available, our classes will begin at 8am each day.

    All supplies except your personal journal and a ball-point pen (or whatever you use to write with) will be provided, including a lavishly illustrated workbook filled with journaling tips which you'll use during classes and take home at the end.

    So just show up in our airy classroom with your journal and pen, a ready supply of enthusiasm, and we'll jump right into our first session, "Creative Sketching in Your Journal." The project will be to create an illustrated, fun-to-read nature/vacation journal, which will take shape over the course of the workshop.

    As a first step, you will tell us how you envision your ideal journal, then we'll discuss ways we can reach those goals. Our efforts in this workshop will be aimed at getting a handle on creative writing and sketching, which are within the reach of every journaler. bamboo orchid

    Our workbook will have examples of things that can be put in journals, both ideas and actual items, to make your journal a book you return to again and again for inspiration, reflection, memories and enjoyment.

    We'll also examine sample pages of interesting journals, and discuss what makes them work. A wide array of successful (and less so) journal pages will be available for comparison

    Then, after a couple of warmup exercises,you'll begin to draw exotic items provided by the jungle. By 10:30 even beginners should have enough instruction and experience to forge ahead on their own, and you can take off with your journal to practice what you've just learned out in the jungle, in your room, or wherever you like. Your assignment will be to draw one or more items, and journal your observations on the page around them.

    Each participant will begin and proceed forward from his/her initial personal skill level. While you may learn from other journalers' experiences in the workshop, this is not a competition.

    cecropia leaf, flower and trunk section

    The jungle experience can be incredibly inspiring. There will be plenty of time for solo sketching and journaling of whatever intriques you in the jungle or down on the beach. Sketching opportunities may be just outside your room: watch for coatis, monkeys and agoutis foraging on the forest floor or in the trees overhead, and take advantage of encounters with various exotic insects, birds, iguanas, crabs and critters on the forest trails and down on the beach -- to say nothing of the opportunities for botanical sketching!

    Lunch is served daily from noon to 1:30pm, and we can regroup over lunch, if you wish, to check on progress.

    The afternoon class resumes at 2 and goes until 3:30, fine-tuning what you have already learned and experimented with during the morning and on your solo outing.

    there are strange and wonderful things to draw By the end of this first day even inexperienced artists should be able to draw interesting items and scenes sufficiently well to add a great deal of interest to their journal pages. A gentle critique will give you ideas for improving your techniques and skills.

    You may choose to sketch further in the remaining time before dark, or you may prefer to explore, relax or take a nap.

    A delicious dinner will be served from 6 to 8pm, preceded by drinks and happy hour. People usually go to bed fairly early (before ten) because the short daylight hours mandate an early rise.


  • After breakfast, at 8am, we'll begin our "Creative Writing in your Journal" session. Your first excercise will be to observe and sketch a natural item (a star fruit, for instance, or a kapok tree pod) in your journal, then turn a short, terse sentence about it into an interesting narrative of observation and description (interwoven, if you wish, with your vacation experience).

    Then, after a short review of the rules of haiku (short, punchy Japanese nature-tone-poems) you'll try your hand at writing a haiku about the subjects you've just been sketching and journaling about. This is a favorite activity for many workshop attendees, because haiku goes so perfectly with the sketches in your journal, and adds class to a journal page. the trail to the beach After sharing our haikus, we'll take a look at creating quickie four-liner poems which can also pep up a journal page, as well as freeform poems that don't rhyme -- many people prefer these. The surrounding jungle canopy, rollicking monkeys and macaws make perfect subjects for these efforts.

    At 10:30, as on Day 1, you'll break for the morning, using the time until 2pm to work on your poems or sketching, whichever you prefer, and to seek out a flattish item that would logically fit into your journal (a pressed leaf, a feather, a flower, a postcard or photo, etc., all would serve well).

    At 2 we'll meet again in the classroom for our afternoon session. You'll examine various items that can be glued or taped onto a journal page to add interest. critiques are gentle but highly useful Then you'll look over ways to add elegance to your journal with penmanship (to keep it readable) and calligraphy -- you'll have a chance to try your hand with a felt-tip calligraphy pen on your choice of three alphabets, then you'll render the morning's best poem/s into your journal, and experiment with outlining colored calligraphy capitals to illuminate the page. No angst here -- we're just having fun!

    If we have any bloggers (or future bloggers) in the group, we'll discuss how to convert your blog into a classy journal you can share with others (and yourself in case your blog server "turns turtle"). We'll also discuss how to avoid copyright problems and talk about how to preserve your journal for the future.

    An encouraging critique will give you ideas for improving your techniques and skills.

Day 3

  • You've been working hard up to now to get a good foundation in sketching and journaling. Now it's time to relax a bit and take it easy. Perhaps you will choose to eat your breakfast in the top of a tree, 125 feet above the ground, as you put your journaling technques to work on an aerial view. looking up into the sun-drenched canopy

    We'll meet at 8am as usual, in our classroom to absorb "Watercolor Pencil Techniques" -- how to apply watercolor pencil color effectively to your journal sketches, choosing from a coati up a cecropia next to the lodge large rainbow assortment of watercolor pencils. You'll learn how to dry-blend the pencil colors, then you'll dabble briefly with applying water for a watercolor effect. For those who are interested in drawing the human figure, we'll form sidewise circles and draw each other drawing each other before finishing for the day at 10:30.

    The rest of the Day 3 is yours to use as you wish, but you do have an assignment: try one or more new approaches to produce an attractive journal page before tomorrow's class. With the afternoon free, you have a great opportunity to get deeply involved in whatever aspect of the course you are most interested in, and to experiment with adding color to your sketches.
    a hike down to the beach is highly rewarding

    You may also want to experience some of the other marvelous activities at El Remanso: hiking, walking on the beach, tree-climbing into the jungle canopy, ziplining from tree to tree, rappelling down waterfalls, horseback riding, surfing, kayaking, or visiting Corcovado National Park just up the road. All of these things will provide fodder for exciting journaling.

    Imagine how you will "tell the story" as you are experiencing your adventures. The hiking and beach walking are free; the other activities are offered at reasonable rates, and you will find them well worth the price.

Day 4

  • The final class will begin at 8 with a critique to admire each others' previous day's efforts. Then we'll pick up our bag lunch, tuck our journal, sketching tools, swimming suit, towel, solo sketching down on the beach and sunscreen into our fanny pack (or whatever you use to carry your goodies) and hit the trail to the beach for some pleine aire sketching. The trail down to the beach is steep, so pack as lightly as possible and carry a walking stick. We'll take our time and make stops for any who need to go slowly -- there's always something to sketch on the way!

    Arriving at the beach, the choice of what to sketch or journal will be yours. There are beach scenes, coconut trees, a wonderful waterfall to visit and tidepools to bask in -- and a shady forest edge for the intrepid journaler to ply his or her new skills. a watercolor pencil rendering of the ocean from El Remanso

    Pelicans, macaws, squirrels and monkeys, frigate birds, coatis, hermit crabs and myriad other wonders may be observed and sketched there, as well.

    We'll return by 2 for a final critique of your results from this outing. We'll take photos of the group and your handiwork which can be emailed to each of you when we return home. If you are willing, your results and comments about the class may appear on this workshop website later on.


  • Unless you have arranged to continue your stay, say goodbye to this wonderful jungle and sketching experience at El Remanso Wildlife Lodge. The shuttle will deliver you to the airport at Puerto Jimenez where you will catch your flight for San Jose (SJO).
Prices and travel details here.

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