Art and Poetry Tips


Drawing and painting the natural world is a great way to remember a beautiful scene—and to create a new one.

Nature, especially the parts that are untamed, provides great inspiration for writers.

Art tips

Here are some tips to help students grow as artists:

  • Always carry a sketchbook and pencil or camera. The sketchbook can be small enough to fit in a pocket. You want to be prepared when you see something you want to remember.
  • Be patient. Making art doesn’t “just happen.” Even experienced artists have false starts and scary moments.
  • Draw what you see. “Copying” can be a good thing—it teaches us to closely observe a leaf, a shell, a stream and then translate its nature onto the page.
  • When you use a pencil, draw lightly. You can always go back and darken your lines. 
  • Cut out a rectangle from a piece of cardboard or paper in the proportions of your paper. Hold up the paper and look through the “window” at the tree or rock or mountain you’re drawing with one eye. Keep it steady as you draw what’s in the “window” with your other hand. 
  • Blur your vision. If you wear glasses, take them off. If you don’t, cross your eyes slightly until your vision blurs. Now draw what you see—the general impression instead of the details.
  • Use your pencil to estimate. Hold it up to the item you’re drawing and use your fingers to mark off the size of what you see. That flower may seem huge, but once you “measure” it you may be surprised to learn it’s only half the size of the leaf next to it.
  • Try using light-colored chalk on dark paper. You’ll be forced to focus on the highlights of what you’re drawing.
  • Remember that shadows are never gray. They’re usually the opposite, or complementary, color of whatever is making the shadow. For example, a green-leafed bush will cast a shadow that contains a lot of red.
  • Think in terms of foreground and background. Elements that are close to you will need more detail. They’ll also appear darker. Backgrounds tend to be lighter and less detailed.
  • Think in terms of warm and cool colors. Reds and yellows tend to come forward; cooler blues and greens recede. But not all blues, greens, and violets are cool. For example, yellow-green is warmer than mint green, even if they are equally light or dark.


Poetry tips

 Here are some tips for young poets (and older ones, too!) from Robert Hass, River of Words co-founder and United States poet laureate from 1995 to 1997:

  • Get something down on paper. Waiting for inspiration is like waiting to be asked to dance. Inspiration will come more often if you show you are interested.
  • Pay attention to what’s around you. Teach yourself the names of some of the birds and trees in your neighborhood. Learn the names of the stars overhead. Look at the way light falls on your street at different times of day.
  • Pay attention to what you’re feeling. A lot of poetry has to do with discovering what you feel. Sometimes, if you notice what you’re feeling, a phrase or an image for it will come to you out of nowhere. It will be a place to start and the result may surprise you.
  • Pay attention to your own mind. No thought is too weird for poetry. And everyone has weird thoughts all the time. 
  • Say your poems out loud to yourself until you’re pleased with how they sound. A poem isn’t finished until it’s pleasing to your ear. 
  • Read lots of poetry. It will give you ideas about what poetry can do, techniques you can try. And real feeling will put you in touch with real feeling. Someone else’s originality will make you feel yours.

And here are some tips from our own Watershed Explorer curriculum:

  • If you get stuck on one thing, go to another. Don’t erase—you may want that word or idea later.
  • Sound out difficult words and don’t worry about spelling. You can look up the spelling later.
  • If you want your poem to have a title, wait until you’ve written the poem.The title may be a word or phrase from the poem, or something completely unrelated. Wait and see!
  • Try a collaborative poem. This works best in a group of five or more. One person creates the poem’s first line, the second person builds on that line to create the next line, and so on.