Discovering urban nature through art

Exploring Vancouver Naturehoods: An Artist’s Sketchbook Journal
by Vicky Earle

Vancouver: Midtown Press, 2023
$24.95  /  9781988242484

Reviewed by Briony Penn


In 1991, as British Columbia stepped forward as the first signatory for the Rio international convention on biodiversity, a group of teachers, artists, and writers wrote a school resource guide to help BC children to connect to their vibrant natural history. The teachers recommended: “Start with a charismatic local species like a great horned owl, connect with their hearts through art, and build from there.”

Three decades later, the advice still stands, and Vicky Earle has produced a model curriculum for welcoming a whole new generation of Vancouverites—young and old—to the “tiny treasures,” “birding hotspots,” and “exquisite textures” of the “naturehoods” of Raincity. Her great horned owl sketch graces the cover of this engaging journal that chronicles the places and species most likely to catch your attention from the smelly scales of a shaggy scalycap mushroom she found in Pacific Spirit Park to the unique preening toenail of a great blue heron that she watched at Jericho. Through field sketches and anecdotes, Earle brings alive the birds’ nest fungi on the Sasamat Trail, the cheerful winter presence of a Bewick’s wren in Volunteer Park, and the spectacular spring breeding display of a wood duck in Stanley Park for anyone with a pair of eyes and a moment to linger. Laid out in observations for Vancouverites’ favourite parks, it is an excellent introductory guide to those that seek connection and companions in the natural world but have no one to help them get started. It is not an exhaustive guide, just a little smorgasbord of what can be seen with a smattering of interesting anecdotes, like the angle of a butterflies’ wings to maximize heat and the definition of lichens as a community of fungi and algae.

Vancouver-based Vicky Earle

Earle’s drawings are lively and fluid. For the artists, her watercolour and gouache on coloured paper with graphite and ink make a winning and distinctive style to dive into and enjoy for art alone. They are reminiscent of the great British field artists; grand masters like Eric Ennion and John Busby who used blunt pencils and rapid but confident lines to catch the GISS (or General Impression of Shape and Size). The GISS technique tends towards slight overemphasis of key features of the subjects which makes it an essential tool when learning to recognize new members of the other-than-human community: the eyebrow of the cormorants; the crazy feet of the American coot; the red feather cap of the ruby-crowned kinglet. Earle clearly enjoys the exuberance of these animals and communicates their energy in her drawings. Her loose field sketch style is surprising given her forty-year career in the precise art of medical illustration, so all the more helpful for beginners to have both the accuracy and energy of the subjects. Earle includes Helpful Steps on Finding Nature in your Neighbourhood, Getting Started on a Journal, and further readings to help the reader get started themselves.

Earle has been working in her Vancouver Draw in Nature Studio “to tell the stories of nature through art, providing a gateway to increase understanding of the world we live in.” A Signature Member for Artists for Conservation, she works on natural science and botanical subjects. She can be contacted at, and followed on Twitter @DrawInNature and Instagram @drawinnature.

“Earle’s drawings are lively and fluid,” writes Briony Penn.


Briony Penn

Briony Penn is the author of A Year on the Wild Side: A West Coast Naturalist’s Almanac, which was a finalist for a BC Yukon Book Prize in 2020. The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan won the 2023 North American Wildlife Society Award. In 2021, Following the Good River: The Life and Times of Wa’xaid won the Butler Award.


The British Columbia Review

Interim Editors, 2023-25: Trevor Marc Hughes (non-fiction), Brett Josef Grubisic (fiction)
Publisher: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board now consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. The British Columbia Review was founded in 2016 by Richard Mackie and Alan Twigg.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

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