How to Draw Rocks in Your Nature Journal

If you know how to draw rocks then you will always have a subject. The bird flew away, the deer were hiding, and you missed the wildflower bloom. However, the rocks are still there and they probably won’t go anywhere for a million years. Whether you are in a park or at home you probably have access to rocks. Kids love rocks too! So let’s dive right in.

How to Draw Rocks in 5 Steps:

  1. First, set a goal for your session. Are you trying to teach your kids about geology? Are you trying to relax with watercolor? Or maybe you want to get better at realistic rendering of 3D objects with pen and ink. Once you have a goal in mind it is easier to stay on track.
  2. Next, start SMALL! Regardless of your patience and your art skills biting off too big of a rock is going to hurt. Start practicing on little rocks. You can even bring a few home and have them on your desk to practice.
  3. Third, simplify your rock into basic shapes. Can you draw a 3D cube? If so, you can draw a rock. Start looking for the basic planes that make up the rock. If you are at home use a single strong light source on the rock. This lighting will help you see the simplified planes. Planes are the flat sides. Once you understand planes and how they relate to shadows you are ready to move on.
  4. Next, try drawing a diagram. Your last drawing was meant to be a realistic illusion of volume, however your diagram is meant to highlight information. Have you ever seen geology cross sections before? If so, you know that they look like a slice of cake. What information or story are you interested in? How can you diagram your rock using arrows and labels?
  5. Lastly, try using color swatches and texture panels to experiment. Instead of trying to show 3D, diagram info, texture, and color all in one drawing try separating these. By doing little watercolor or gouache swatches you will have better luck. If you combine everything in a single drawing it is really hard.
Next Steps

Are you tired of drawing rocks and want to do a landscape? Check out this post.

If you want to get better at rendering check out this video by Alphonso Dunn

Nature Journaling at the Beach

Let’s go nature journaling at the beach! It’s Labor Day weekend in the U.S. and thousands of families are going to the coast. Why not bring your nature journals and make it a learning adventure?

Whether you have a family or not taking your nature journal to the beach is a great activity. In this video I give you tips and techniques that will help you make the most of it. You should definitely watch the video. However, I am going to outline some of the tips for you right here.

Tips for Nature Journaling at the Beach

  1. First, set an intention before you go. What is your main goal? Is nature journaling your main purpose or are you adding nature journaling to a fun day with the family? Being clear about this will help you avoid frustration or disappointment later on.
  2. Next, don’t bring too much stuff! What is actually essential for your intention? If you know your priorities then this step is easier. A good chair is worth it, especially if you are prioritizing birding or painting landscapes.
  3. Third, protect yourself from the sun. One in every five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime according to Skin Cancer Foundation Statistics! The rate is even higher in Australia and New Zealand. Sun exposure will also strain your eyes and tire you out. You might be telling yourself you suck at drawing seagulls or you have no energy to nature journal but you might just be exhausted from the sun.
  4. Next, look for interesting subjects in the tide pools or where people are fishing. These are especially good tactics if you nature journal better with exciting and dynamic subjects. Otherwise, you might just want to chill in your chair and paint a landscape.
  5. Don’t forget that the water is not the only thing to look at. What is happening in the sand? What kind of plant communities are in the transition areas?

nature journaling at the beach tidepools nature journaling at the beach sunset nature journaling at the beach

 

Nature Journal Homeschool: Interview with Amaya

Nature Journal + Homeschool = motivated and engaged teen learning.

It’s a simple equation but don’t take my word for it. Amaya is a homeschooled teen who shares her passionate perspective in this talk. Nature journaling has become a central part of her homeschooling. She explains how this approach can launch any teen’s interest into a self-directed learning adventure!

Coming up with a homeschool curriculum can be stressful, especially if you want to include some nature study. This year millions of parents are homeschooling for the first time. This is an especially challenging time for homeschool teens. What can families do?

What if teens could be self-motivated to learn about a variety of subjects and direct their own learning all while developing self awareness, transferable skills, and getting nature time?
Then they get so inspired that they volunteer to teach their younger siblings? Next, they start going to conferences, publishing articles, and getting interviewed about their ideas!

Does this sound to good to be true? Amaya’s story proves this is real. Why aren’t more families using nature journaling in their homeschool program? Why haven’t I heard of this before? Nature journaling is still kind of new. However, nature journaling homeschool options are exploding in 2020. It’s actually very easy. Parents don’t need to have ANY experience to teach nature journaling, unlike other subjects (Try that with calculus!) There are even FREE resources that give you step by step instructions on how to lead activities and teach nature journaling. These resources even tell you how each activity can be connected to curriculum standards for different schooling systems! Check out John Muir Law’s book “How to Teach Nature Journaling.” You can buy the book or download a free PDF. There is also a facebook group and regular free zoom sessions on how to teach nature jouranling!

Now that you have watched the inspiring interview with Amaya you are wondering what’s next. Check this out for some ideas on how a nature journal session might look.

Or maybe you think that Amaya is a fluke. There can’t be other teens like that! In that case, I recommend you watch this interview with 17 year old Fiona. 

Look how Amaya has excelled with nature journaling! Fiona is on a similar path and has developed many skills. Nature journaling has obviously worked for these kids. Nature journal homeschool can work for you!

Did I mention Amaya’s article? She wrote an article that was featured during International Nature Journaling Week. You can read the article here.

nature journal homeschool examples and images of kids nature journaling in homeschooling situations having fun, learning, exploring, sharing in nature study outdoors.
Kids nature journaling in homeschool settings

How to Choose a Sketchbook for Nature Journaling

How do I choose a sketchbook for nature journaling? Which paper is best? What size should I choose?

Don’t worry, don’t waste money, and don’t blindly get the same journal as someone else. In this video I show you how to pick the sketchbook that is best for you!

It’s easy to spend more time shopping for a sketchbook than actually nature journaling. And it’s also easy to end up with a sketchbook that is not right for you. In fact, it’s even possible to think you are not good at drawing or not motivated to nature journal when in fact you have a sketchbook that doesn’t fit your needs. Instead of dogmatically telling you which is the universally best sketchbook I’m going to give you the criteria that you need to understand. With an understanding of these criteria you will be able to make your own decision.

Sketchbook for Nature Journaling Criteria:

  1. Size Matters. The size of your paper has a big impact on your nature journaling. If you have too small of a journal it can cramp your style. Making small drawings is often more difficult especially for beginners. A small sketchbook can also be hard to hold while you draw. Too big might be awkward to carry, inconvenient in the field, and too heavy.
  2. Binding. The next criteria to consider is binding. Spiral bound is good for folding back your pages and giving a flat surface to draw. It is also good for durability. However, a sewn binding is preferred by many people. Sewn binding gives you the appearance of a regular book and the spine looks good. You can also write or draw on the spine. The other advantage of sewn binding is you can draw across a 2 page spread which can be really cool. Sewn binding is usually harder to lay flat and they can be hard to hold if you are drawing standing up. Sometimes they are not durable.
  3. Orientation. The two main orientations for journals are “landscape” and “portrait”. Either one comes in a variety of ratios of height to length. I really like a portrait paper with 9″X 12″. And remember even if you like landscape format drawings you can divide a portrait style page up into smaller frames of any shape you want. How to Choose a Sketchbook For Nature Journaling Image 1 showing how orientation of page does not mean you cannot do a landscape on a page with a portrait layout.
Criteria for choosing a sketchbook continued:
  1. Paper type. You could spend your whole life trying to understand different paper types. However, let’s keep it simple. Paper can be understood by it’s ingredients, it’s weight, and it’s surface. Instead of worrying about these too much I recommend just choosing a “mixed media paper” for nature journaling. A mixed media paper will allow you to do some watercolor while still being able to write notes and draw with pen or pencil. I really like the Stillman and Birn Alpha Series Paper.
  2. Cover material. Although it is not the most important criteria the type of cover does have an impact. A stiff cover is easier to hold in the field and protects you paper better. An attractive cover that does not attract dirt and is not easily stained will also help you. This cover has a big impact on the appearance of your journal. If it is too pretty you might be afraid to use it. If it is too ugly or has big logos or stickers on it you might not feel drawn to it.
  3. Paper color. Lately, some people have been using toned paper to great advantage for nature journaling. Toned paper comes in black, gray, and tans. It is good for gouache, colored pencils, and pale subjects. White paper also comes in different “shades.” For more on how to use toned paper see this post by John Muir Laws.

If you are just getting started nature journaling now you know how to choose a sketchbook. But what if you still need some pointers on how to nature journal? This video can help you get started.

Nature Journal Interview: Fiona Gillogly

In this nature journal interview you will get a peak into the story of another nature journaler. You might not be as young as Fiona… And you might not have filled 1,900 pages of nature journals…Nevertheless, I’m sure you will be moved by this conversation.

Tips from this Nature Journal Interview

  1. The best place to nature journal is somewhere with lots of mysteries! You don’t have to travel.
  2. Luckily, you can find lots of mysteries near your home or even inside.
  3. Nature journaling is not an “art project.” Your pages don’t have to look a certain way. They also don’t have to look perfect.
  4. The main point of nature journaling is to be amazed by nature, to look more closely to nature and to learn.
  5. Don’t be afraid to start nature journaling just because you are intimidated by all the visually polished pages you see online.
  6. If you are a more experienced nature journaler consider sharing some of your less perfect pages to encourage beginners. In this interview Fiona said “The pages you don’t want to share are the pages that you need to share.”
  7. Nature journaling can help your birding. The nature journaling approach can help birders appreciate and find nuance even in the most common “trash birds.” For more about how to combine birding and nature journaling check this video out. Also be sure to check out Fiona’s recent article in Birding Magazine for more about this topic.

More about Fiona Gillogly

Here is a short bio from Fiona to learn more about her that was not in the nature journal interview.

Fiona Gillogly, age 17, has loved art and nature since she was a little girl. In 2016, on her 13th birthday, she discovered nature journaling through a chance meeting with John Muir Laws, and she was thrilled to find something that combined these two things she adored. Since then, she has
become a passionate nature journaler, naturalist, and advocate for nature. Fiona spends time daily in the wild lands near her home. She loves to look for mysteries in nature and explore them in the pages of her nature journal. Fiona also loves to bird, draw, paint, craft, act, sing, harmonize, play
cello, compose music, write stories, and speak German.

Fiona has attended Waldorf schools since the age of 3, where art and nature are an integral part of the curriculum, but none of her nature journaling has been a part of school instruction. All of it has been self-motivated. In the 4 years that she has been nature journaling, Fiona has completed 23
journals with more than 1,900 pages of nature journaling explorations.

Fiona is one of several naturalists included in John Muir Laws’ latest book, How to Teach Nature Journaling (https://johnmuirlaws.com/product/how-to-teach-nature-journaling/).  Fiona recently published her first print article in the June issue of Birding, the national monthly magazine of the American Birding Association. The 7-page article is called: “A Birder’s Brain on Paper: How keeping a nature journal improves our birding experiences.”

Fiona plans a career in ornithology that also includes field sketching/illustration/art and writing. You can read more about Fiona, watch some of her talks, and see examples of her writing and her nature journaling pages here: https://www.fionasongbird.com/naturalist.html

Birding and Nature Journaling: Special Technique

Let’s combine birding and Nature Journaling  to see more birds, learn faster, improve our memory of field marks, and go deeper with each bird. In this video I show you how to use a secret technique to have more close encounters with birds. This approach can help you whether you are a birder or a nature journaler . You might be surprised because it is not what you think.

“The watched pot never boils”

Everyone has heard the above expression. However, not everyone knows that it applies to birding. In fact, the expression could be “the watched bird never does what you want.” Many times the watched area may not produce birds at all. Most birders and animal lovers have had this experience in nature. This experience can be especially difficult for bird photographers and artists. As soon as you see the bird it will turn away or leave. How can we solve this problem?

Secret Technique for Birding and Nature Journaling

  1. First, we are going to pretend like we are not looking for birds.
  2. Next choose a location that is comfortable and of varied habitat.
  3. Bring a comfy chair, binoculars and nature journaling supplies.
  4. Start drawing a tree or painting a landscapito.
  5. After about 20 minutes I find that the birds start to come to you. Be sure that you have your binoculars ready.
  6. Create a sidebar or reserve a blank area next to your tree drawing or landscape painting for recording your bird observations.
What if I’m new to nature journaling?
  • Nature Journaling is not focused on drawing pretty pictures. If you focus too much on pretty pictures or you have unconscious expectations about prettiness you will struggle more.
  • Focus on what you notice.
  • Turn your drawing into a diagram. This takes pressure off the art.
  • Trace shadows. If you are afraid to draw a tree, try sitting under one and tracing cast shadows on your page.
  • Trace leaves. This is another low risk method you can try.
  • Remember that nature journaling uses 3 languages: words, images, and numbers. Try to use them all.
  • Experiment with your own ways to combine birding and nature journaling.
What if I’m new to birding?
  • It is ok if you cannot identify birds at first. Sometimes you can notice more about things when you do not know their names. Just write down or sketch the features you notice about them.
  • Try looking up birds when you get home.
  • Try going with friends who are more experienced birders. Maybe introduce them to nature journaling.
  • Experiment with other ways to combine nature journaling and birding.

birding and nature journaling combined can help you learn more about common birds and enjoy drawing them. This is an example of a nature journal page where I focused on a common "trash bird" in Costa Rica that most birders would have not paid much attention to.

For more fun how to nature journaling videos.
For an in-depth guide to drawing birds check out this video from John Muir Laws.
See how nature journaling can make you a better birder.

How To Draw With Binoculars

Do you know how to draw with binoculars? Are you a birder, nature journaler, or urban sketcher? If so, you can see more, draw better, and learn faster with this technique.

For a long time I would carry binoculars on my neck but didn’t really know how to use them effectively. My binos were more ornamental then functional. They made me feel like a naturalist and they showed others that I was serious. Finally, I got a different pair of binoculars and I started using them more while nature journaling. Little by little I developed a system that helped me use them while drawing. Now, they have become an essential drawing tool for me just like a pencil or eraser.

How to Draw With Binoculars: Two Ways

Method One-The Shifting Eyes Method

  • This method is good for nature journal beginners
  • Use a chair
  • Don’t use very heavy binoculars
  • Support your drawing surface on your lap
  • Because your surface is supported you should be able to draw with one hand

how to draw using binoculars in a eye shifting method

  1. Hold your binoculars against your brow bone (above your eye).
  2. Get your subject in view and brace your bino-holding arm.
  3. Angle your head so you can also peer out the bottom of your binoculars at your drawing and get your hand ready to draw.
  4. Alternate between looking at your subject and looking at your drawing.
  5. Keep your binoculars in position.

Method Two-The Visual Memory Method

  • This method is more difficult but is good practice for developing your visual memory as an artist.
  • You can use a chair or stand up. (See “How to Draw Standing Up“)
  • Don’t use heavy binoculars
  • Support your drawing surface in your arm or however you want.
  • This method works for a scope as well
  1.  Look at your subject through binoculars.
  2. While you are looking at subject try to remember details (watch the video for one good trick)
  3. Look at your drawing and add to it using your visual memory.

How to draw with binoculars using the visual memory technique

Drawing with binoculars method 2

If you need basic ideas for how to do a nature journaling session check out this video: How to Nature Journal in 10 Steps

Click here for more fun how-to nature journaling videos

How To Draw Standing Up

Learning how to draw standing up can make you a better artist in addition to multiplying your drawing opportunities! Here, I describe several mistakes you are probably making right now and how to avoid them. I also provide several keys to this essential drawing skill.

Everyone knows how to draw sitting down at a desk! Unfortunately, the most interesting things to draw are out in the world! If you want to draw these things you have to go out, stand up, and draw them in the field. Sometimes, it is possible to find a bench in just the right place or bring a chair with you. Otherwise you are out of luck. Unless, that is, you know how to draw standing up. If you are interested in field sketching, urban sketching, or nature journaling then drawing standing up is especially important.

Draw Standing Up: Three Mistakes to Avoid

  1. Get rid of your backpack! For the best results you need to get a shoulder bag aka messenger bag. This will make drawing standing up easier, faster, and more comfortable. You can see some examples and reviews of such bags in these videos.
  2. Don’t use a soft cover sketchbook! One essential aspect of drawing standing up is having a god way to brace your sketching surface. If you use a hardback sketchbook of the right size it is easy to hold your journal in the corner of your arm. Check out this review of my favorite sketchbook.
  3. Don’t use regular watercolor brushes! If you use regular watercolor brushes you will need to have an open container of water. This is really hard and inconvenient when standing up. Instead you should use Pentel Aquash Waterbrushes or other similar brushes. These brushes hold water in a small reservoir built into the brush. Check them out here.

 

Check out more fun how-to nature journal videos here.

Nature Observation: How to See More With Your Nature Journal

Nature observation used to be essential for your survival. You would not be here today if your ancestors were not observant. This was the case for most of human history. If you didn’t pay attention to plants you could get poisoned. And if you didn’t notice patterns in the tall grass you might get eaten. So how does this apply today?

Your survival is no longer as dependent on your observation skills in nature. However, your quality of life and the richness of your experience can still be improved by developing this skill. In fact, many modern humans walk through the world like zombies. We don’t notice the world around us.

“You see, but you do not observe. (…)The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”

Sherlock Holmes

Holmes would have made a great nature journaler and I wish he were still here to teach us. But since he isn’t here are 12 observation tips I came up with on a recent nature journaling outing.

12 Nature Observation Tips

1. Have a focus. Start with a focus in mind and you will be able to observe more deeply and not get distracted. A taxon target or other is a good way to do this. Choose a taxa such as plants (kingdom), or birds (class), or bees (family.) You can also focus on a location, a type of interaction etc.

2. Use binoculars. Sherlock always had a magnifying glass because it allowed him to zoom in. If you use close-focus binoculars like I do you can look at close details and further away objects.

3. Sit still for a bit. While sitting still is a lost art in the modern world it is essential for better nature observations. By staying in one spot for a while you will see more animals as they get used to your presence.

4. Draw a diagram. I’m surprised Sherlock didn’t use this tool more. Today we know that drawing is one of the most powerful learning tools. You will notice way more just by trying.

5.Zoom in and Zoom Out. Most people see the world from the same magnification all the time. Practice zooming in and out intentionally to notice more.

6. Don’t Let What You Think You Know Get in the Way of Learning New Things. We have a lot of baggage when we go into nature and we are the most over-informed generation of humans. This information can be wrong and it can prevent us from noticing real things.

7. Don’t Be Too Focused. Don’t focus so much that you are not aware of new and perhaps extraordinary things that happen around you.

8. Quantify Your Observations. Use specific numbers and measurements instead of vague words such as: many, a few, or a lot.

9. Go Deeper With One Subject. Take the time to drop in deeper with one subject. In this way you are bound to find something of interest even if the subject isn’t your favorite at first.

10. Verbalize What You See. Do not worry about what other people think. It is ok to talk to yourself. In fact, by verbalizing what you see you will improve your recall and enhance your visual memory.

11. Compare Observations of Similar Things. The human brain notices more when it compares two things than when it looks at things in isolation. This is called a joint comparison.

12: Look Closer. A lot of the most interesting and important things in the world are small. By looking closer you will learn a lot more.

Nature Observation Skills Will Help You See More in Nature

If you follow all of these nature observation tips you will be a Nature Sherlock in no time!

Check out more fun how-to nature journal videos here.

How to Nature Journal in 10 Steps

Do you want to learn how to nature journal?  Do you want to avoid the most common  beginner mistakes? In this video I show you 10 steps to getting started with nature journaling.

How to Nature Journal

  1. First, choose your location wisely. Choose a location that is close, convenient, and comfortable. This is a common mistake that beginners and experienced nature journalers both make. You don’t need the most exciting wilderness location to nature journal.
  2. Next, get your supplies ready. One mistake that many of us make is to get more art supplies than we really need. All you really need is a good bag, a sketchbook, a pencil, and whatever you need to be comfortable in nature. For a review of what I use see Journaling Kit Review
  3. Capture the context quickly. Whip your nature journal out and start using it as soon as possible. A common mistake is to wander around for too long waiting for inspiration. There is no perfect subject and the muse will not come to you if you don’t  get some pencil miles first. Start by putting metadata, sketching a map, or getting other contextual information on the page.
  4. Warm up your brain with “I notice, I wonder, it reminds me of.” Before you get caught up in trying to paint a portrait of a bird or flower start with this simple observation exercise. In this way you will warm up your observation skills and you will breach the barrier of the blank page.
  5. Now, draw a landscapito or paint a scene. Drawing a small landscape or scene will convey the feeling and ecology of a place. These will help you remember your trip and they look great on the page combined with your other notes and drawings. However, there are also side benefits of sitting still this long. Birds and animals often come close! For more on drawing landscapitos see these videos

“The real voyage of discovery consists not of seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes”
–Marcel Proust

Next 5  Steps

  1. Draw a Diagram. The next step is to draw a diagram of something that you are curious about. By making it a diagram you take the pressure off of it being a pretty picture. Use arrows, words, and numbers to add information that you can not convey with the image itself.
  2. Ask more questions. This is one of the most powerful tools of nature journaling. By practicing asking questions we sharpen our ability to learn new things.
  3. Stop before you are done. While you might be tempted to push yourself at first it is actually best to stop while you are still having fun. Start by giving yourself short outings that leave you wanting more. Like the small servings at a fancy restaurant.
  4. Get yourself an Ice Cream. Now that you have completed a session of nature journaling get yourself a reward. You deserve it and by rewarding yourself you will help ingrain this new habit.
  5. Review your work and share it: When you get home you can accelerate your learning by reviewing it, researching further, and getting feedback from others. What do you notice about your pages? What could be better? Can you think of more questions? Are there parts you would like to add color to now that you are home? Are there things you want to research further? Now is also a time that you could draw more detailed drawings based on photos you took on the outing, especially of fast moving birds or insects that you could not capture in the field. Sharing online and getting feedback from other nature journalers will also help you a lot.

how to nature journal