Nature Journaling in the Grand Canyon! Post-Trip Share (Part 1)

I’m back from nature journaling in the Grand Canyon for 21 days. In my live “Show and Tell” video I share experiences and pages from the adventure!

You already know I have been testing nature journal supplies, clothing, sun protection, waterproof supplies, and other gear in preparation for this trip. You have heard about my training and my preparation. Now I’m back! And I have lots to share. In fact, it was so much I have to do a Part Two. My goal is to give you some answers to the following questions.

  • First, how did I prepare?
  • Next, how did I stay focused during the trip?
  • Lastly, what am I gonna do now that the trip is over?

Preparing to Nature Journal in the Grand Canyon

It can be hard to prepare for something that you have never done before. Had I ever been to the Grand Canyon before? Nope. Whitewater rafting with some of the biggest navigable rapids on the continent? Nope. Any whitewater rafting experience at all? No, but I went down a creek in an inner tube once. Any other river expedition experience? Nope. Had I ever spent 23 days camping with my girlfriend before? No…What about other multi-day expedition experience? Sort of… What about nature journaling in extreme conditions and unusual places? Yep, I got that one covered!

Nature Journaling the Grand Canyon
Photo by Brock Dolman

 

So first, I had to make sure I had the material needs covered to survive and thrive enough to enjoy the trip and have enough energy to nature journal. I didn’t want to break the bank on gear or spend forever trying to figure out what was best. Luckily, our trip leader, Cooper, and his partner Leah had a lot of the necessary gear that we could borrow. In addition, I managed to piece together a lot of the clothing necessary from my old wool hunting clothes and bought some used Patagonia layers. I love that they have a website dedicated to selling used gear that is still very useful and often like new.

Then, I focused my remaining funds on buying some key new pieces of equipment…
  1. A waterproof bag just for my nature journal kit. Watershed Largo Tote Bag(full review coming soon). Keeping my nature journal supplies easily accessible yet safe was a priority!
  2. Waterproof Notebook from Rite in the Rain. I also got two waterproof pens which ended up sucking…(review coming soon)
  3. Sun Protection was a priority for me! A wind resistant, non-floppy sun hat. Sun gloves so that I didn’t have to worry about sunscreen on my hands messing up my paper. I also got two sun shirts for sun protection on hot days.
  4. I also tried out an unusual style of sunglasses with no arms! Instead
    Photo by Brock Dolman

    of arms they have a cord attachment that makes them less likely to break and they don’t fall off even in the big rapids or while swimming, or under a 60 foot waterfall. Yes I tested them in all those settings. More review of these coming in the future.

  5. Last but definitely not least, I got an amazing camping chair. This chair was recommended by our trip leader for river trips. Luckily, I got it several months before the trip and it is one of my most useful nature journaling tools now! With this chair I was even able to sit in waterfalls and paint them.
    nature journaling in the grand canyon
    Sitting in a creek below a waterfall in my joeychair Photo by Brock Dolman
    Other Preparations for the Canyon

I knew from previous experiences that it would take me a while to get used to nature journaling in the Grand Canyon. Therefore, I tried to simulate aspects of the expedition in advance. I tested all the gear mentioned above. I tried to simulate conditions that I expected on the trip: wet, hot and sunny, cold and windy, etc. In addition to this type of training I also did research about the grand canyon and practiced layouts and techniques that I would use on my pages.

Balance and Commitment While Nature Journaling in the Canyon

Nature journaling is not always easy. Drawing moving subjects is not child’s play. Despite what people think, watercolor painting en plein air is not relaxing (especially when you only have 15 minutes, you are balanced on the edge of a sheer cliff full of cacti, the light is changing by the minute, spray from a waterfall is buffeting you, and a lifetime’s worth of potential paintings beckon to you from every direction you look in).  Choosing to nature journal while in a group of people doing other things requires balance, self-awareness, and social intelligence. Just choosing to sit with one vista or one plant when there are thousands of sights and experiences vying for your attention is a mentally taxing endeavor.

  1. Nature Journaling in the Grand Canyon
    Counting spines…Photo By Brock Dolman
Nature Journaling = Commitment

In these moments in the canyon it is easy for my mind to play tricks on me. It is easy to talk myself out of the work that I came to do. “It’s cold outside. Warm sleeping bag or sunrise landscape drawing? How can I nature journal before coffee? I should just take pictures of everything instead of trying to draw. I can draw from photos when I get back home. Maybe there is a better view around the corner. I probably need more time to capture this scene…no point in starting now. My nature journal supplies are too hard to get to. I’m too tired to try to draw this scorpion right now, besides look at all those legs! That is going to be too hard. I might mess up the look of the page if I try to sketch that scorpion. What if other people look at my drawing and its not that good?”

At such times it is good to shake all doubts from the head and invoke Steven Pressfield:

The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.

Seeking Balance

While busting one’s ass nature journaling is commendable being a human requires balance. Despite my own fantasies, this trip was not focused specifically on nature journaling in the grand Canyon. This was not like my Nature Journal Safaris in East Africa with John Muir Laws. Even though I planned on “working” on the trip and making a publication of my pages for my Patreon , the trip was actually supposed to be a vacation (why do I still struggle with that word?).

This trip also meant different things to different people. And despite my personal commitment there were plenty of other considerations on this trip. I was part of a team on a potentially dangerous expedition in an extremely remote area-I had a responsibility to the group and cooking and other duties just like everyone else. I was also part of a relationship – I was on this trip with my partner and had to tend to the needs of our relationship and spend quality time together.

grand canyon nature journal share
Sharing Nature Journal Pages with My Grand Canyon Friends photo by Brock Dolman
Me and Kate 🙂 Photo By Kate Freeman

Now What?

After spending 21 days without even seeing a building or a computer it has been a little hard adjusting to being back. However, I’m motivated to share my experiences with the community and I’m compiling and improving on my nature journal pages from the voyage to create a publication for you! This publication will be similar to my Tanzania Travel journal and will be available for print on demand via my author page on Blurb. It will probably cost around $30 for the hard copy and maybe $2 for the e-book. In addition my Patreon patrons of $5 and above will all get a copy mailed to them.

nature journaling in the grand canyon

nature journaling in the grand canyon

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 Journaling at Home: In Your FRIDGE!

Come nature journaling at home with me as we explore my fridge! What is nature and where is it? And do you have to drive somewhere to find it?In spite of our tendency to look for it in national parks we can actually find nature at home. To start, I will show you how to nature journal using something we take for granted.

As it turns out, your fridge is brimming with subjects for nature journaling, science experiments, and creative art projects. First, you just need to get over the idea that nature is only to be found at the park. Next, you need to look with new eyes which can be hard. However, nature journaling provides the tools for seeing novelty in the everyday. Below I will give you a list of ideas to get you started.

Tips for Nature Journaling at Home:

  1. First, do a sketch collection. This is a good place to start because it will get you warmed up. It’s especially good if you set a time limit to sketch each item. Start with a theme such as vegetables, condiments, etc. Then sketch ten items that fit that category.
  2. Second, try a quantification exercise. Because nature journaling is about using images, words, and numbers it is important to not leave out the last one. Use a thermometer, a scale, a ruler, or any other measuring tool. I estimated and counted cabbage leaves!
  3. Third, create a color palette for your fridge. Practice color matching with your watercolor and try to create swatches to represent the colors in your fridge.
  4. Fourth, try to make a nature journal comic showing a process of cooking or a before and after.
  5. Fifth, try designing a science experiment, make a hypothesis and test it. I want to try freezing different liquids such as milk, water, vinegar, alcohol and see how they freeze at different paces.
  6. Lastly, if you or your home school kids are feeling adventurous, try letting something ferment or putrefy in your fridge. Nature journaling this process would be a learning adventure! For more ideas on how to do nature journal process page check out this video by John Muir Laws

 

If you want even more nature journaling at home ideas check out this post.

How to Paint Landscapitos!

Do you want a fun and creative way to connect with a place and create a memory? Painting small landscapes is the answer. In this video I have ten tips to help you paint better landscapitos.

  • Be intentional about framing your subject (what elements of the landscape do you actually want to include in your painting?)
  • Sketch the composition in a pale ink or pencil
  • Give yourself a short time limit!
Don’t forget to keep the painting small!
  • Simplify your landscapito so that there are only 3-4 different values (light and dark).
  • Use warm and saturated colors sparingly to draw attention to focal points.
  • Double check the values in your painting and make sure the sky is the lightest value in the landscape.
  • To give the illusion of depth the elements should become less dark, less saturated, and less detailed as they fade into the distance.
  • Don’t overdo “wet-on-wet” painting techniques.
Landscapito Paintings from the video
Two Ten Minute Paintings Made During the Video
If you use these tips and watch the video you will be on your way to making great landscapito paintings!

Nature De-Stress…

Have you ever had the feeling that time slowed down, your breathing became relaxed, and you felt a renewed connection to the world around you? I had this experience recently when I went nature journaling and painting at Helen Putnam Park with Amy Winzer recently. Even though I have been stressing about taxes and a million other things getting out into nature with a friend and paying deep attention to a tree while playing with watercolor had an instant effect. If you want a taste of relaxation during tax season come on my next nature journaling trip to the Grove of Old Trees on March 8th be sure to rsvp if you want to come, space is limited.

marley peiffer, marley pfiefer, marley pfeiffer,
photo by @amycycles

Check out more from this collaboration and more of the cool work that Amy is up to at her website.

Too Loud, Too Crowded, Too Busy? Ten Cures for That…

Is there a potential nature journaling location that seems to too loud, too busy, or too crowded for you to get your sketching groove on? In this video I give you ten tips for nature journaling in such a location. I believe that practicing in these situations can make us much stronger as nature journalers even if our goal is to practice our craft in more relaxed settings most of the time.

How To Do a Curiosity Wander

The curiosity wander is the most basic nature journaling technique in the field. It is open ended and easy to do in a short amount of time. In this video I give 13 tips on how to get the most out of your curiosity wander.

The Nature Journal Show!

Those of you that follow my youtube channel have seen that I started a weekly nature journaling show! I am really excited about it and have been putting a lot of creative energy into it because I want to help all of you get more our of your nature journaling experience. Let me know if there are any topics you are particularly interested in for future episodes.

What you have been waiting for…

It’s here! The behind the scenes story of my recent trip to Tanzania is finally finished after weeks of being back and days of video production work. Thanks for waiting patiently. This video is available to followers of my website for several days before it goes public on youtube.