ST. PAUL, Minn. – As we emerge from a winter that squatted on our psyches, we all need places to draw resolve.
Greg Lecker found his getaway -- sketchpad in hand -- at Como Park's Marjorie McNeely Conservatory.
"It's a cheap vacation to a warm place," he smiles, perched on a stone wall.
Lecker's attention is focused intermittently on his colored drawing and the vivid sunken garden in front of him.
A river of people circulates through the garden's pathways, yet, somehow, Lecher seems almost alone.
"You start off concentrating on what you're doing and then after a while it's very Zen-like and you just go to another world," he explains.
In the world of sketchers, flowers draw artists.
"Really works the brain," says Jeff Ingebrigtson, as he sketches the dome's framework in his notepad.
Ingebrigtson and Lecher and two dozen other artists scattered throughout the conservatory are members of Metro Sketchers.
"We started with about six people and now we are at about 250," explains Tim Jennen, as he finishes a pencil drawing of the thick vegetation in the conservatory's Tropical Encounters room.
Jennen's wife, Liz Carlson, founded Metro Sketchers three years ago, with her husband as her first recruit.
"I said, 'Who can I get to come draw with me?'" says Liz.
It was the last time she needed to concern herself with recruiting.
The sketcher movement has flourished in recent years thanks to the internet and social media. Urban Sketchers is another such group, with participants around the world, including the Twin Cities.
"We celebrate the city and the places we go to," says Ken Avidor, who is active in both Urban Sketchers and Metro Sketchers.
Once a month, members of Metro Sketchers gather at a different place in the Twin Cities -- then draw it.
"We want everyone to take the time to slow down and enjoy," says Carlson.
The Como Park conservatory was the group's first stop three years ago and remains a favorite. Other locations have included Bell Museum of Natural History, Lakewood Cemetery, the Minnesota State Fair and the Stone Arch Bridge.
"I retired five years ago and this is one of the things I wanted to try," says Ingebrigtson, who spent his career in the two-dimensional world of engineering. "What I'm trying to do here is draw in three dimension."
Sketchers range from beginners to professional artists like Ken Avidor, who is rarely without a sketchbook to capture whatever moment he is in. In the past week, he has drawn everything from a headphone-wearing fellow bus passenger to the president of the United States, during Barack Obama's visit to St. Paul's Union Depot.
"It's more than just a diary," Avidor says. "You're analyzing the world around you, the forms and shapes."
So much life can be missed in the click of a camera shutter or a stroll down a path, but sketchers study their surroundings in a much more focused way.
"I love the bright yellow," says Amy Kirkpatrick, as she studies and draws the contrasts on an otherwise green leaf.
Kirkpatrick works as a graphic designer.
"I'm on the computer all week," she says, "so this is a chance to get back to drawing."
Balance in life is defined by those who stop and smell the roses. Metro sketchers do one better, when they linger to draw them.