Berkeley has been sheltering in place for more than two weeks now and the anxiety and ennui are churning. Artist Rigel Stuhmiller, known for her lovely nature drawings, is offering a calming outlet that you can incorporate into your routine while still maintaining social distancing: a nature sketching series hosted on her Instagram account

“Drawing nature passes the time and shows people something positive about the world when there is so much negative right now,” said Stuhmiller. 

As an artist, Stuhmiller has always found nature captivating, which is why she has built a business over the last 15 years selling scarves, dish towels, tote bags, cards and calendars featuring beautifully rendered, colorful flora and fauna. Her work is carried in many shops, botanic gardens, and museums in the East Bay, including the UC Botanic Garden, Mrs. Dalloway’s, and the Gardener in Berkeley, as well as across the country.

When the Bay Area shelter-in-place order went into effect on March 17, and most retail businesses closed, Stuhmiller found herself with a lot more time on her hands. In order to combat the anxiety that comes with constantly watching the news, she found a way to cope, by combining the reach of social media and her personal interests.

“I needed to get my own mind off worrying and onto doing something positive,” she said. “One of the main reasons I started this Instagram sketching series is to make myself go back to a normal life doing something I want to do.” 

Image: Courtesy Rigel Stuhmiller

You don’t need to have an art background to begin the sketching series, Stuhmiller said. In fact, she hopes to get newcomers interested in drawing with her simple lessons. To find subjects to draw, she recommends finding nature that’s close by: trees in your front yard or background, a house plant, or even a photograph of a flower. She says picking the perfect subject isn’t important; the key is to focus your mind on nature. 

“There’s something soothing about looking at nature and thinking about natural growth. It doesn’t really matter what you choose.” — Rigel Stuhmiller

“There’s something soothing about looking at nature and thinking about natural growth. It doesn’t really matter what you choose,” she says.

Her instagram lessons have different threads, including sketching trees, basic drawing tips, and drawing a cactus in color. In her cactus series, she uses a photograph of an Opuntia at the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley as a starting point, and builds upon successive drawings to create a colorful outcome. She starts by teaching how to draw the basic shapes of the cactus by looking at angles and distance. Then, she moves on to finding growth patterns to help simplify complex plant geometries. Finally, she gives pointers on shading and adding color. Mostly working digitally, she uses software like Procreate on her iPad to illustrate her ideas. 

She spends about an hour or two a day coming up with the lessons — which she posts once a day — and plans to continue doing the project even beyond shelter in place.

Rigel Stuhmiller’s Instagram art classes are proving popular. Image: Instagram

“If the economy starts back up and I’m busy again, then I might have to scale back,” she said. “But I don’t see that happening anytime soon, and as long as people are interested in getting something from the lessons, I’ll continue.”

Stuhmiller has posted ten lessons for her art series so far and has received many likes and comments regarding her topic and her technique. One follower complimented the series, saying, “Observing nature around us is calming to our overwhelmed nervous systems.” Another comment reads, “Great guidance! The quick gestural drawings are invigorating! Can’t wait to sketch trees tomorrow. Thank you.”

While her project has been well-received by her Instagram followers, she said that, more importantly, it’s helping her achieve some peace of mind.

“One of my goals was to get myself to not constantly read the news and to focus on something positive, and this has immediately helped me,” she said.

In a moment when community can only be found virtually, Stuhmiller is finding a connection to Berkeley and to other parts of the world through her Instagram sketching series. 

“The point of these drawings is to have something for people to look forward to in a small way to know that things are still okay in a lot of ways and will continue to get better,” she said. “I’m building a small community by giving people something normalizing, soothing, and positive, which are things we all need right now.”