Have you ever had a big birding day or a big year? Christina Baal’s plan is to see and draw all 10,000 birds on the planet! In this talk she describes how she got into birding, her mission, and how combining art and birding improves both!
Are you a birder? If so, then you are familiar with the desire to add more birds to your life list. Obviously, there is something very fun about “collecting” new birds. There is a powerful pleasure response when we see a new species for the first time. Many of us birders have goals, we have aspirations, we plan birding trips onto our family vacations. However, few of us set our sights as high as Christina Baal.
Birding Abroad or Birding at Home?
Christina has been bird-watching in some exotic places. And to complete her list there are still many more places to go. Despite this fact one of her favorite places to bird-watch is around her home. Indeed, the Northeastern United States can be a birding wonderland during the spring migration. Christina eloquently describes it:
One of the most magical things for me is to step out the door in the first week of May when all the wood warblers are just coming in. Everything is singing, all the flowers are out, and it smells amazing. And you just walk out and the world is pulsing around you. And there are just wonderful blobs of color everywhere.
Botanical art and nature journaling are essential to how Dion Dior makes meaning of the world. She shares some of her pages, favorite supplies, and technical tips in this talk. In addition she describes the huge privilege and responsibility that nature journalers have. Don’t miss the lightning round!
Dion lives in Noosa, Queensland Australia. She nature journals for herself as well as teaching and leading a local nature journal club. The Noosa Nature Journal Club holds free monthly classes in the Sunshine Coast area.
The Noosa Nature Journal Club is based in the Noosaville Area and is open to anyone with a passion for exploring nature with a field journal.We are a community of nature lovers and artists of all levels who meet to connect, record and appreciate the beautiful natural environments of the Sunshine Coast and beyond
Start With a Leaf
As a result of her teaching experience Dion has noticed that people are often overwhelmed in nature. “Where should I start?” Starting with a leaf is an antidote to this. Therefore Dion just tells people to pick up a leaf.
Botanical Art and Nature Journaling Begins with a Leaf
First of all, leaves are accessible and can be found almost anywhere there are people.
Secondly, leaves provide many avenues of investigation when we look at them carefully.
Thirdly,they provide many fun artistic challenges.
Last but significantly leaves are limited in their scope. A leaf once separated from the plant is a circumscribed subject. It is manageable.
Dion Uses Multiple Journals
Another thing that was interesting to learn was how Dion uses multiple sketchbooks and journals for different purposes.You probably know my thoughts about keeping multiple journals. If not, check out this post called “One Journal to Rule Them All.”
She has at least four different nature journals. One is made with nicer watercolor paper. This journal is mostly for botanical art. Dion mostly uses it at home when she is building her skills as an illustrator. She also has one that is dedicated to practice. She does not worry about what the pages looks like. This book is for fun and learning.
Birding and nature journaling should be an obvious match. That’s because you will be more observant, patient, and full of wonder if you do both. You could take my word for it. However, you could also hear it from the mouth of Timothy Joe. Tim has loved nature and art since a young age. In addition to birding he practices nature journaling, watercolor and gouache painting, oil painting, and pastels. In this live conversation we talk about his art, we talk about how racism has affected his experience, and we talk about how we can move forward as a nature journaling community.
I first found out about Timothy Joe from his Instagram where I saw one of his posts under the hashtag #naturejournaling. In addition to his artwork he also posts about his classes on Instagram. I saw that he was teaching a “Birds and Nature Art Journaling” class. Pretty soon, I was scrolling through a bunch of his other artwork.
Besides birds Tim also does a lot of rural landscapes, especially those that contain historic buildings. Similarly to nature journaling Tim finds joy and meaning in researching and sharing the background story of these buildings. For him, the story is as important as the visual which is demonstrated in the following quote from his artist statement.
Everyday things that usually would not get a second glance can become beautiful works of art. There is a message in every scene, whether it is a location, personal belonging, or building. There are so many beautiful subjects that should have its place on my canvas or any other painting surface. My mission is to capture these hidden treasures before time erases them completely.
Why Aren’t All Birders Nature Journaling?
With all these obvious benefits you might wonder why don’t all birders also nature journal?
First of all, many birders have never heard of nature journaling.
Second, many are in too big a hurry to stop and sketch. They just want to check off more life birds.
They are too focused on using all their energy to learn bird names and see more birds and be more hardcore birders.
Finally and significantly, birders are very emotionally attached to their subject and that makes them afraid to try to draw them. Compared to the precision of photography their early sketches of birds could feel awkward. Since they love their subject so much they want to do it justice.
Birding and Nature Journaling While Black
Timothy shared his experience and perspective as a black man in predominantly white hobbies and the outdoors. Later in the conversation we talked about positive ways to make these hobbies and the outdoors more welcoming. The first challenge for him when doing birding or going to an art event is looking around at the other participants. He is often the only black man. He has to reassure himself and the other participants that he is meant to be there. Sometimes they ask if he is lost. He often gets second glances. Just because of the color of his skin. This would be enough to make many of us give up. However, Tim has developed a protocol that he follows.
How to Nature Journal While Black
Show Off Your Supplies. Tim always makes sure he is wearing an artist’s apron, has his easel out and all his art or birding stuff very visible. This type of flagging shows off what his intentions are. Many black birders follow similar rules and try to make it extra obvious that they are birding. This is unfair and should not be necessary but many people in the USA are consciously or unconsciously prejudiced to be suspicious of black people walking around. This is no joke-innocent black people have been killed because of this. As a husband and a father Tim does worry about his safety.
Be Mindful of Your Surroundings. Birders and nature journalers and landscape painters are supposed to be observant. If you are black in the USA you have to be even more observant. Tim tries to pay attention to where he is and what is going on with the people around him.
Choose Your Locations Carefully. Unfortunately, there are locations that Tim would love to paint but feel too unsafe. Certain rural areas or locations that are too out of the way. He has to choose not to go to these places. Black birders have shared this as well.
Obviously, neither Dr Drew Lanham nor Timothy Joe should have to feel like they have to follow rules just to do what they love. Even if they do follow these rules it is possible they will be harassed or worse such as the incident with Chris Cooper in Central Park.
Birding and Nature Tours at the Joe Farm
Timothy shared about his family’s farm and all the accessible nature to be had there. They have birding events, wheelchair access, and art events. I want to go some day! Find out more at their website.
Mariia Ermilova Terada shows us how to nature journal biocultural diversity. Not only does she nature journal in three languages but she also incorporates the human-nature connection into her pages. In contrast, most nature journalers today omit this relationship. For example, I often choose nature subjects where I cannot see the human interaction. I frequently exclude hikers, benches, telephone poles from my landscape paintings. Another example is that I rarely nature journal my garden, my salad, or the other aspects of nature my life is directly dependent on.
In addition, we talk about Mariia’s studies, her love of frogs, fabric arts, and the role nature journaling can play in making the world a better place. Don’t miss the lightning round!
How to Nature Journal Your Breakfast
Did you nature journal the plants and animals that you ate for breakfast today? What about the plants or animals that made your clothes? Have you ever included the indigenous names for plants or animals on your page? If nature journaling is supposed to connect us more to nature why do we often avoid the subjects we are most closely connected to?
In the above example we can see how Mariia applies nature journaling to an everyday scene. Her neighbor caught a fish and is cooking it. This nature journal page captures that subsistence relationship. In addition she gives the name of the fish in three languages and points out how it is an invasive species. The combination of comic, recipe, and species profile give this page a biocultural significance. In contrast, Mariia could have just nature journaled a random butterfly. “What’s wrong with nature journaling a random butterfly?” In fact, there is nothing wrong with choosing a subject just because of an aesthetic interest. But let’s be self aware. Why don’t we nature journal what we eat?
How to Nature Journal Biocultural Diversity
First, be curious about local traditional knowledge about nature in the area where you are. What culture has been living there? What was their relationship to the plants and animals and landscapes you are drawing? Is there a way you can recognize and incorporate some of that into your journal? However, be aware of the issue of cultural appropriation.
Second, be curious about cultural context. Even the magnolia in your garden, the chicken in your soup, or your house cat have a cultural context. Even a quick search on google could find some cool background. What if you included a map, names in other languages, or historic references next to that sketch of your feline or flower?
Finally, what are some biocultural connections from your own life? You can also try to nature journal some of the aspects of your own life that are connected to nature. What plants, animals, fungi, minerals etc do you relate to on a daily basis?
Vitor Velez has a nature journal style that is instantly recognizable. When you see his Instagram you might be awed. In fact, you might even be intimidated. “How can I ever develop a style like that?” “He is talented.” “I could never do that.” “His style must have come to him like a lightning bolt of inspiration.” Watch this interview and you will see how he deconstructs his process.
I remember when I first saw Vitor’s artwork on his Instagram. The way he uses lettering and line immediately fascinated me. “This guy is doing unique work and I would love to introduce him to the Nature Journaling Community” I thought to myself. I told him about the nature journal club Facebook page and he shared some of his work there. Later, I decided I should interview him for the Nature Journal Show.
What is the Difference Between Writing and Drawing?
I was really excited to talk about this with Vitor. How can text be used as a visual element just like drawings? What is the actual difference between the two? How can artists and nature journalers combine the two in beautiful and functional ways?
Vitor believes that one of the main differences between words and images is how we interpret them. We interpret drawings and images automatically. In contrast we have to slow down and concentrate to interpret words. In addition, words or notes on the page allow the viewer to see into the mind of the artist. For example, we talked about the difference between Leonardo’s Mona Lisa and his sketchbooks. When I was a kid I couldn’t believe they were made by the same artist!
You have to watch the interview if you want to learn more about combining text and images!
Where Does Nature Journal Style Come From?
The most empowering or most depressing thing about this interview is how Vitor deconstructs his style. Depending on your perspective you will either be encouraged or you will realize you no longer have any excuses. The recipe is fairly simple.
Take equal parts enjoyment of the process and fascination with subject, mix in a diversity of visual references and inspirations, then add hundreds of hours of practice.
A unique nature journal style does not come from nowhere. Vitor was not born with his style. You will not be given one from heaven. Look at other artists. Get inspiration from many sources. Mix ideas around in your head. Try different techniques. Practice drawing a lot. Then practice drawing some more. Don’t get precious about your drawings.
Want some nature journal homeschool ideas? Want to learn about how a growth mindset can help your kids? Check out this interview with homeschool mom, podcaster, and art educator Dallas Nachtigall!
Bestowing the Brush is a podcast about passing on drawing skills to the next generation. Principles and practices of Charlotte Mason. Always exploring The Art of Seeing.
In this conversation I talk about how instilling a growth mindset can help kids and adults learn better, work harder, and build sustainable self confidence. In addition to growth mindset we share other key nature journal homeschool ideas that can help your family.
Obviously this all sounds great! If you are ready to dive in then you might be interested in the Nature Journal Family for February.
Earlier in the year I got to interview Dallas on the Nature Journal Show. It’s called Homeschool Nature Study with Dallas Nachtigall. She shares some of the benefits that nature study has brought to her family and shares some practical tips!
How I got Started with Nature Journaling
Have you ever wondered about my nature journaling origin story? Did I always love nature? Did I start nature journaling as a kid? Those of you who don’t know my back story will appreciate the questions that Dallas asked me at the beginning of the show. To summarize briefly:
First of all, I have only been nature journaling for 6 or 7 years! Are you surprised?
You won’t be surprised that I loved nature since I was a kid.
I was introduced to nature journaling for the first time in college. However, it did not really “click”! Can you believe it?
Full Time Nature Journal Educator
After sharing my nature journaling origin story Dallas asked me about my work. Since October of 2020 I have been a full time nature journal educator. I quit my other part time job and now am focused on what I know is my “life’s work.” Currently, work is focused on the following activities.
Creating educational videos on my YouTube channel. I make how to videos, nature journal adventure videos, and interviews of other artists and naturalists. These resources are all free but I am supported by fans through my Patreon.
Leading field trips and teaching groups of adults (on hold due to Covid).
Teaching nature journaling to kids and families (This is currently limited to my online class for families. I’m also doing a few Covid-safe outdoors sessions with individual kids.)
What Does a Nature Journal Session With Me Look Like?
Dallas was curious about my one-on-one sessions with kids. She asked me “When you go on these excursions (…) what does that look like and what do you typically do and how do you structure that time together?”
I answered with the following important reminder.
The thing that is super empowering for teachers and parents and mentors of any kind is to remember that nature is the best teacher and kids are the best learners. You basically just need to put those things together and know how to not get in the way.
After saying that, I explain how under every rock and around every turn in the trail there are lessons. There are physics lessons, biology lessons, or anything else you want to learn about.
The next key point is to balance structure with flexibility. When I teach in the field I usually keep the lesson plan as open as possible. I’m prepared to adapt to the needs of the kid and the materials that nature offers that day. Sometimes I do more focused skill-building activities or experiments. For example bringing an interesting fruit and dissecting it while drawing cross sections. Another example is a recent cratering experiment I did with kids and we nature journaled the whole thing. Check out the experiment directions from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab.
If you want more nature journal homeschool ideas you should listen to the podcast!
This nature journal homeschool family will inspire you! Crystal and Amaya share their perspective of nature journaling in a family with four kids. Because of their experience I ask them to give me some ideas for my upcoming nature journal family class.
Crystal told me a story that sums up why nature journaling is important. Their whole family went on a nature journaling field trip to watch bats with John Muir Laws. Amaya was the main one nature journaling during the trip but the enthusiasm was contagious. The rest of the kids wanted to learn everything about bats later when they got home. This motivation allowed the family to go on a sustained learning adventure together. They looked up books. They watched videos. And finally they went to a zoo that had fruit bats. This is where the benefits of nature journaling stood out. While they were watching the bats in amazement another kid walked by. He took one glance at the bats and said “Eww, gross!” Crystal’s son Gabe looked at the boy with disbelief. His facial expression said it all…
“How could someone not appreciate how fascinating these animals are?”
To summarize, the nature journaling mindset had preserved a sense of wonder and curiosity in her kids. The other kid, in contrast, had developed the jaded perspective that plagues most adults. Not only can the jaded perspective make it harder to learn it can also take the joy and gratitude out of life.
Nature Journal Homeschool Tips
First, start with small expectations. Be realistic to start with so that you don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
Get personal supplies for each kid. Personal nature journaling supplies make the kids feel proud and responsible. Similarly, letting the kids pick their own supplies contributes to their motivation. See my interview with homeschooler Dallas Nachtigall for more about this.
Make it into a family event. Planning family outings around nature journaling brings the family together in nature without explicit pressure. For example, one kid like Amaya, might be nature journaling the whole time, but the whole family is there to learn and support each other.
Don’t pressure younger kids into nature journaling. If the younger kids see their parent, sibling, or family friend nature journaling this will inspire them. In contrast, their mom forcing them might backfire.
Reassess yearly. How’d it go? What did you learn? What’s next?
Want the perspective of two more homeschool moms?
Check out this live interview with two moms who homeschool and are also educators.
Rosalie Haizlett is a conservation-focused illustrator. She has built a career around painting maps, botanical art, and detailed nature scenes in watercolor and ink. In addition to her art sales and commissions she teaches classes. Another key point we talk about in this interview is the therapeutic role nature can play. Rosalie is driven because she believes that nature-based art can have a deeper purpose.
How Nature Journaling Can Improve Quality of Life
Rosalie is a firm believer that drawing in nature can improve the quality of people’s lives. However, for many of us today this is not the default state.
“A lot of people are walking right past so many incredible wonders in nature and not taking time to notice them.”
She then goes on to point out that this is a learnable practice.
“Over time I began to notice more in the outdoors (…) My life was enriched by spending more quiet time in nature and using art to document what I was seeing.”
That’s wonderful if nature journaling and art can enrich our experience. But that is not all. She goes on to explain the healing effect these practices can have.
Rosalie shared her personal experience struggling with chronic migraines. Spending quiet time observing nature turned out to be a very effective therapy. This lead to her current practice around spending more time in nature.
How Her Art Can Help the Environment
I was interested in asking Rosalie about the role that she sees her art playing. A quote on her website said that she is creating “(…) visuals to help people see and appreciate the natural world in a deeper way.” I wanted to know more about how she is trying to implement this vision.
First, she creates art for conservation-minded companies and organizations. Some examples include: Patagonia, The Smithsonian, The National Parks, and the Audobon Society.
Second, she teaches regular people how to connect to nature through art and observation.
Lastly, she is sharing her experiences in nature helps invite others to explore more deeply.
I’m usually the one asking the questions but this time I’m in the hot seat. Recently, I was interviewed for the Journaling with Nature Podcast. Check it out and consider subscribing because it’s the only nature journaling podcast out there.
Here is the text from the Journaling With Nature Website:
Marley Peifer is a nature journal educator and mentor who is also the creator of The Nature Journal show, a weekly YouTube show specifically about nature journaling. In his videos Marley takes us along with him on his adventures, nature journaling outdoors, or in extreme places. He also shares information on his process, techniques, gear and favourite art tools, as well as interviews with other nature journalers. Marley has a lot of experience mentoring others on how to create a good mindset, how to start and keep going, stay motivated, bust barriers and journal more!
Listen to hear more about:
Marley’s childhood experiences in nature.
Fearless Friday and how Marley is working to combat the trap of creating ‘pretty pictures’.
Growth mindset vs fixed mindset and how this relates to nature journaling.
The importance of appropriate feedback around effort, for reinforcing a growth mindset.
Marley’s adventures creating The Nature Journal Show.
Nature journaling generalists vs specialists.
Marley’s vocabulary of ‘Bread and butter’, ‘Juice’ and ‘Growth Edge’ and what these terms mean.
Marley has a new distance learning program called The Nature Journal Family, which is a month-long nature journaling adventure aimed to deepen your connection with nature and community. You can find out all the details here.
Marley’s video on the Nature Journaling Mindset can be found here.
If you enjoy Marley’s work, you can support him on Patreon.
We learn how to nature journal bugs and why they matter in this exciting conversation with the Beetle Lady! Why are kids fascinated with bugs? What about bugs grosses some people out? If we only like plants and birds then why should we nature journal bugs? Be prepared for the answers to these questions as well as more fun questions in this episode of the Nature Journal Show.
Stephanie Dole is a PhD entomologist, educator, artist, and mother in the Silicon Valley area. She teaches super fun hands-on bug classes for kids of all ages through her company and alias “Beetle Lady.” I’ve had the fortune of seeing some of her collection, including many pet insects and other invertebrates such as tarantulas. I have also been able to nature journal insects at her house and take her How to Draw Insects class. Check out her awesome reviews and offerings at her website.
Why Nature Journal Bugs?
Incomparable beauty. First of all, they are mindbogglingly beautiful. Where else in nature can you see the bright colors, intricate patterns, and fascinating forms of insects?
Diversity and Adaptations. Bugs display more diversity than almost any other type of life in addition to their beauty. Not only that, bu they also have some of the most fascinating and extreme behaviors and adaptations! Bugs do weirder stuff than any aliens in science fiction.
They are accessible and ubiquitous. Insects and other invertebrates can be found almost anywhere! Mammals, reptiles, and even birds are not that easy to find or look at. This reason by itself would be enough to make them an important subject for nature journaling.
They are essential to ecosystems. Bugs provide so many services that humans could not survive without them. They are also a food source for many animals that people think are more cute. For example: no bugs=no birds.
3 Pro Tips: How to Nature Journal Bugs
Learn to find them. First of all, you should improve your ability to find cool bugs in the wild. Practice looking under things, noticing damaged leaves, noticing other signs of invertebrates.
Connect the dots. Pay attention to the relationships that your favorite plants and animals have to bugs. What more can you learn about the birds and plants this way? Even if you “dislike bugs” this could be eye opening.
Get a pet. Bugs actually make great pets. They are good for kids and adults. They can provide a source of endless nature journaling inspiration. To see more about nature journaling pet insect check out this fun episode with tips on how to nature journal your pet!