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

 

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.

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.