Why do I keep a sketchbook? There are many reasons, one of which is that drawing and sketching help me to learn about the world around me.
Two summers ago I took a workshop on Lichen Identification at the Wrangell Mountains Center (where I was working as the program development coordinator and currently as the executive director). I knew pretty much nothing about lichens. Maybe I knew that they are symbiotic organisms comprised of fungus and algae and could recognize a few in the forest, but I had no idea what an apothecia was (if you were wondering an apothecia is the sexual reproductive structure for fungus). I have many pages of notes like the spread below with little diagrams and lots of words. At the end of a 2 and a half day class my mind was blown, about the diversity and abundance of lichens, but I also felt ready to explode with too much new information.
An important way to slow down and digest information is through drawing. Even now I remember the notes that I illustrated, and the things that I sketched from life, much better than anything else. Looking at the page below which I drew as I keyed out a few different pelt lichens instantly jogs my memory, and I remembered Peltigera venosa way better than other lichens we learned. Part of the reason for this is the time spend observing a subject, but another part is the process a person goes through when putting together a drawing: What details do I want to show? What details aren't as important and can be simplified? How does this structure fit together? Finding the answers to these questions is one of the great pleasures of drawing from life.