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.

Bullet Journal Review and the 7 Benefits of Journaling

Have you heard of the Bullet Journal? Six months ago I bit the bullet and decided to try this journaling system. Since then I have journaled every day and analyzed the system. In the following video I review the product from bulletjournal.com. In addition, I compare the benefits of bullet journaling to my list of the 7 Benefits of Journaling.

You might like bullet journaling if:
  • making checklists makes you happy
  • you love analog planners
  • you like lining up moleskine notebooks on your bookshelf
  • stationary is second nature
  • you like gel pens
  • being more organized is a goal
  • nice calligraphy on your shopping list makes you feel good

Before trying bullet journaling I had been journaling for over ten years. In that time I had tried many methods of journaling. I tried stream of consciousness, I tried gratitude journals, and I tried the 5 minute journal system promoted by Tim Ferris. Most recently, I started nature journaling which has changed my entire life.

The first time I heard of a bullet journal was on instagram. As an avid journaler I had searched #journal several times and seen all of this bullet journaling and “bujo” stuff come up. At first it just seemed like an aesthetic trend then a legit method for life improvement. I’m not sure why six months ago I decided to try the system. I ordered a journal made specifically for bullet journaling from Ryder Carroll, the originator of the method. This is not necessary but I wanted to start with the real deal. See my initial unboxing and review here.

So, what are Peifer’s 7 benefits of Journaling and how does the Bullet Journal rate?

7 Benefits of Journaling and the Bullet Journal

  1. Commitment and Attention: The first benefit of journaling is it focuses your attention and makes your commitments more clear. Especially with an analog system there is only so much you can fit on a journal page. This makes you get clear about your priorities and work your attention muscle. The “Bujo” method definitely taps into this benefit.
  2. Visual-Verbal-Manual: You learn better when you combine the visual, verbal, and manual parts of your brain. Studies show that even doodling off topic during a lecture can improve your memory of the content! As an analog method that often incorporates drawings or graphics the bullet journal method achieves this second benefit.
  3. Externalizing your Thinking for Objectivity: The next benefit of journaling is critical yet overlooked. By getting your ideas and emotions on paper you can look at them more objectively and make better decisions. Depending on how you use bullet journaling you can check this benefit off the list.
  4. Externalizing your Thinking for Mental Space: However smart you are there are only so many things you can hold in your head. The fourth benefit is making more space by getting some of that crap onto paper. Once you have your ideas or shopping list on paper you can think on a higher level. Bullet journaling excels on this one especially in the way that it can help you see larger chunks of time. Specifically, the “Future Log”, “Collections”, and “Migration” features help achieve this benefit.
Before we go into the next 3 benefits a little side note about aesthetics. If you spend any time looking at bullet journals online you might get intimidated by how artistic and colorful and perfect they look. A shopping list becomes a work of art. If you start bullet journaling with this in mind you will set yourself up to get few if any of the 7 benefits. Therefore, don’t focus on the aesthetics.
bullet journal example
Don’t try to make your Bullet Journal as precious as this one from Grandezzasjournals

The Last 3 Benefits

  1. Venting: Do you have a friend who always complains to you? Or maybe your sister? Chances are good you do this to someone also. So why not use your journal instead? In fact a journal is a great place to vent. Depending on how you use your bujo you may or may not get this benefit. Don’t miss out. Incorporate it somehow.
  2. Chronology and Trajectory: The bullet journaling method shines in this department. Since the human brain is not great at understanding longer stretches of time or remembering specific details from a few weeks ago a journal can help you visual a chronology of your life and see the bigger patterns. This can help you envision where you are going. Many people use their Bujo to plan their life trajectory and personal goals.
  3. Record: The final benefit of journaling is to provide a record. However, this can be a controversial one. Sometimes, people even burn their old journals! A bullet journal does a great job of this because of its inherent organization system. If you use the indexing feature and collections you will have no trouble searching through old Bullet Journals and finding a record of what workout you did 5 months ago.

 

Best Watercolor Palette

A good watercolor palette is one of the best art investments you can make so I am going to show you my favorite palette and four reasons why it is the best!

When you are nature journaling or even urban sketching you can produce more compelling sketches faster if you have watercolor. As it turns out there are tons of watercolor and palette options out there. However, finding a good portable palette and choosing watercolors that work well is a daunting task. You could spend all your time looking for the right supplies and not have any time left over for making art! Therefore, I’m gonna help you avoid that problem by showing you the best watercolor palette I have found. Let’s get into it. Cue the drum roll!

The best watercolor palette for nature sketching and journaling is the customized palette by John Muir Laws!

You can buy one of these palettes on his website here. But be warned, these palettes are hand made and often run out of stuck so be sure to get yours first. Or you can even make your own from John Muir Laws’ instructions because he is such an amazing and generous guys (more details on how to make your own palette below).

Using the JML watercolor palette in the field
Me using the John Muir Laws watercolor palette for nature journaling.

4 Reasons it is the Best Watercolor Palette

  1. You are going to save so much money! Because this one art tool can eliminate the need for hundreds and hundreds of dollars of other art supplies. You can make so many combinations with the 32 watercolors included in this palette. Also, watercolors are so concentrated they will last a long time.
  2. Excellent Color Choices! Because a professional illustrator and naturalist has carefully chosen all 32 colors you can avoid the guesswork. Therefore you can focus on making the art and learning how to use the colors in your paintings. Most of the colors come from Daniel Smith Fine Watercolors, a small company based in the US that still cares about quality art supplies.
  3. So Organized and Compact! From the arrangement of the colors to the clear labeling on the outside this watercolor kit is dialed in! There are also mixing areas in all the right places. You don’t have to experiment over and over again to find a system because John Muir Laws has done it for you. The kit is also compact enough to fit in your purse or back pocket. That’s a lot of art power in your pocket!
  4.  Field-Tested and Child Approved! Finally, this watercolor palette has been tested by many artists in some of the most challenging field painting conditions! John Muir Laws and myself have both used this palette in places such as British Columbia, the Amazon Jungle, the Serengeti, Rwanda, the Sierra Nevada mountains, and the Ecuadorean Cloud Forest. This palette is tough and has stood the test of time.

Ok, One More Reason To get this Watercolor Kit

Last but certainly not least. This watercolor palette is the best because John Muir Laws shares the entire process of how to make it for FREE on his website! Just follow this link. That proves that he believes in this palette so much he would rather share how to make it than just try to make money. What a great guy!

Look at all the colors you can make with this kit! Here is a chart that I made showing all the combinations.

What about a watercolor palette for the studio?

If you want to get some more ideas about what would work good for the studio check out this video

But what paper should I use?

Now that you know the best palette for nature journaling you might want help choosing the best sketchbook. Check out this post where I share all the criteria you need to know to choose the best sketchbook for you!

Best Brush Pens: Follow Up Review

Have you experimented with brush pens? Do you have time to sort through all the different types as well as their confusing names? In this video I review several types of brush pen that I have been using for nature sketches and nature journaling.

When I first started nature journaling I had a limited number of drawing tools that I used. However, I went through a stage where I experimented with a lot of different art supplies. Have you ever gone through stages like that? It can be fun to experiment with different media and it can help us grow as artists. Experimenting with different art materials can also be an excuse to buy a lot of stuff and get the pleasure release from shopping instead of the pleasure of actually making art.

After several years of experimentation I have narrowed down my “quiver” of brush pens. Having a limited number of tools is empowering for me, it builds confidence, familiarity and skill. It also makes it easier for me in the field when I reach for an art tool and I don’t have to think twice.

Here are the ones that I have found most useful…(this is not an exhaustive list but if you are just starting out or just need a good pen it covers the bases)

Best Brush Pens For Nature Sketching

Pens With Actual Brush Bristles:

    1. Pentel Color Brush Pen Black: while the name is a little confusing this pen is just like a brush that you would use for calligraphy but it has a cartridge full of black ink. It comes in fine point and medium point and the ink is supposed to be waterproof. Even though it is more waterproof than the one mentioned below, I would not do watercolor on top of it and sometimes it smudges on your hand or the opposite page in a journal. Pentel Brush PenDespite being a fun art tool I rarely carry this in my field kit but use it in the studio for gestural drawings, titles, dramatic silhouettes and the like. It puts down a rich heavy black. “Pigment based ink” is keyword for it is more water proof.
    2. Pentel Fude Brush Pen: this one looks just like the one above but the ink Pentel Fude Brush Penis less water soluble. If you want to experiment with washes or wet on wet techniques in ink this could be fun. Otherwise, I see no benefit to this one and once I tried it I have never gotten it again. I do not recommend this one for nature journaling or watercolor.
    3. Pentel Color Brush Pen Gray: this is a newer version of one that I have used in the past. I like gray ink for a lot of purposes however it seems like the Pentel gray inks are usually less waterproof. Gray ink can be really useful for under-drawings.

      Brush Pens with Felt Tip Type Points:

      1. Tombow Dual Brush Pens: I have used these pens a lot in my journal Tombow Dual Brush Penfor creating frames, borders, titles, and under-drawings. They come in a wide variety of colors including some very pale ones which I really like. However, they are not waterproof and I have had whole pages ruined when I was exposed to a little mist in the field. For nature journaling this is unacceptable. I rarely use these tombow pens anymore.
      2. Zebra Brush Pens: These come in 3 tip widths and a gray ink version. zebra brushpens come in 3 size tipsThey are waterproof and John Muir Laws has been recommending them and selling them for several years on his website. I have tried them and they are pretty good. You can get a lot of line variation and once they dry they are pretty resistant to watercolor washes on top.
      3. Last but not least, the Pilot Futayaku Brush Pen: this pen is currently my favorite drawing tool, especially the one that has a gray tip and a black tip on the same pen! The ink is waterproof but the gray might fade a little bit. You can also get a lot of line variation. I love the gray ink. If you want to see how I use this pen in my landscape painting process check out this post here.Pilot Brush Pen with a Heart on it

I’m Trying Bullet Journaling!

Are you curious about fun analog ways to plan and organize your life? Join me in this experiment as I try out Bullet Journaling and see how I can incorporate it into my life and my other journaling systems.

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.

If I could only have one item of clothing…

I can’t wait to share with you some of the stories from my latest nature journaling adventure. But before I do, I wanted to show you a product that helped me keep smoke out of my face and sleep soundly at night while I was at the prescribed burn training program last weekend.

The Quest for the Ultimate Nature Journaling Bag Continues!

In August I asked Tom Bihn Bags to send me one of their products to test for nature journaling and to use on my Tanzania trip. I already did an unboxing and first impressions review of “The Maker’s Bag” and this is my follow up in the field.

Check out the product description here: The Maker’s bag

Tom Bihn Bags is a company based in Seattle, Washington. They focus on functional design, ethical production, and high standards.