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
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.
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
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.
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.
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”
Next 5 Steps
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Do you have nature hobbies or art hobbies beside nature journaling? Have you ever wanted to bring your nature journal along to your other hobby? In this video, I try to do just that! Then, I share 5 tips for nature journaling your outdoor hobby and my personal experience trying to nature journal on a fishing trip.
Do you like camping, gardening, hiking, birding, botanizing, sailing, kayaking, or horseback riding? Have you ever wanted to go deeper into your hobbies? You’re in luck because journaling can help.
If you are already nature journaling then you have a head start but if you are a total newbie that is fine. A nature journaling perspective can be combined with almost any hobby. Not only that but this perspective will help you maintain a useful record of your nature adventures.
Nature Hobbies and Journaling Tips to Remember:
First, you will need to address some of the mental obstacles listed below.
Number one, a limited definition of what journaling is used for will get in your way.
Once you overcome the mental obstacles you will need to simplify your kit. Since you are combining two hobbies you are likely to have a lot of gear.
Next you will need to focus on the essential aspects of your nature hobby. What is the most important part to capture in your journal? Since you have limited time you must focus.
After you find the essentials you will need to decide what nature journaling techniques will work best. Luckily there are a lot of great techniques to choose from. For example if you are mountain biking cross section map of the terrain would be great! If you are gardening, change over time would be good.
Lastly, if you are really struggling finding the balance try switching roles for a bit. Maybe on one of your trips you can focus on journaling the action while your friend does all the fishing or plants the flower bed.
Pets and nature journaling are a match made in heaven. If you have a pet and you have not nature journaled them yet then you are missing out! In this fun conversation you can learn: four benefits of nature journaling your pet and ten tips to do it better.
Recently, I interviewed Gargi Chugh and Akshay Mahajan about their nature journal pet named Mithuni. Akshay and Gargi shared their excitement, inspiration, and a lot of practical ideas. Even though they have an exotic pet their encouraging ideas apply to cats and dogs as well. First, lets look at some of the benefits.
3 Benefits of Nature Journaling Your Pets
The first benefit is availability. Because many people have busy schedules they might not have time to go to a park frequently. They might get home after dark. However, if you have a pet, you can connect with nature at home. Your pet is an ambassador of nature and a fascinating subject. In short, your pet is more available then the wild animals outside.This also allows you to try more nature journaling techniques.
Next benefit is a fast feedback loop. In the interview Gargi shared how a fast feedback look can accelerate learning. Because you can see your house cat every day it takes less time for you to recognize patterns and make connections. On the other hand you might only see a bobcat in the wild once a year(if you are lucky). Therefore it is much harder to make observations and learn about the bobcat in your nature journal.
Third, by nature journaling your pet you can deepen your connection with the animal. Due to the amount of attention you are directing towards your animal your bond with the animal can grow. Akshay and Gargi found that they have become quite connected with their pet mantis over the weeks that they have observed it so closely.
10 Tips for Nature Journaling Your Pet
Measurements are one of the best tools to use with your pet. Therefore it is useful to start nature journaling as soon as you get a new pet so you can track its growth. There are also other ways to use this tool.
Try creating a journal just for journaling and sketching your pets.
Don’t decide in advance what information is important to record. If you try to create categories in advance you will limit your ability to learn about your animal. You might not foresee what is most important.
Since you don’t know what categories of data about your pet will be most interesting or relevant try using dates as categories. In this way you can just record whatever observations from that day and categorize them later when patterns emerge.
Next, instead of focusing on pretty pet portraits try using diagrams. Diagrams are much easier and fun to do and more rewarding. You will also learn a lot more than if you tried to paint a Mona Lisa of your cat. For more about diagrams check out this awesome class.
Start nature journaling your pet as soon as you get it. Documenting the growth of a pet is very rewarding!
Try setting up experiments to answer your own questions. What fun experiments can you set up with your pet?
Try to answer your own questions before you look it up on google.
Have you ever sprouted an avocado seed? What if you journaled an avocado seed’s germination for 100 days? In this video, I interview Kate Rutter who did just that! She shares some amazing journal pages, sketching pro tips, and some wisdom that applies to all kinds of journaling and art.
We eat so much avocado that we take it for granted. However, there is a whole world of learning inside that little seed. That’s one of the things that Kate Rutter learned in her 100 day challenge. Following are some of the things she learned.
Lessons from an Avocado Seed Project
1. First, find a small focus. Most nature journalers and nature lovers want to go to wild, exotic places and study “fancy” things in nature. However, focusing on something small and committing to it proves very rewarding. Because when you pay that much attention to anything in nature you open up whole worlds of fascination.
2. Next, establish creative constraints. While “constraint” does not sound like the sexiest word in the art vocabulary it is actually essential to good art and science. Kate created clear limits on materials, subject matter, and format. This helped her make it a routine. It also helped make for a more clear comparison of the avocado pit progress.
3. But how do you keep from getting bored? Try looking deeper and more carefully. You can also do research about the bigger context. Kate did pages where she brought in outside research about avocado trees, the etymology of the word avocado, and science behind the germination of avocado seeds.
4. Last but not least try going public. During her project Kate has been posting on her twitter, a dedicated Tumblr page, and on the nature journal club facebook page in addition to her own website. Because of this she has received lots of feedback, questions, and suggestions. In addition the public nature of the project has helped her stay accountable to maintain her 100 day goal.
As a nature journaler I am always curious how others got started nature journaling. And what about you? Do you ever wonder about the story behind the nature journalers whose sketches and paintings you see online? In this episode of The Nature Journal Show we learn about Melinda Nakagawa, her experience with nature sketching, nature education, and how she started a new nature journal club in Monterey California!
The first thing that I was impressed by in our conversation was that Melinda started nature journaling in 1998 since the term nature journaling has not been around for that long. Her first nature journal pages were from a whale watching trip. Before this however she was already an avid note taker and had used journaling in a diary sort of way.
After nature journaling on her own for some time her husband bought her a book by Clare Walker Leslie. Soon after that she also got the nature journaling book by Hannah Hinchman. Now she could see that other people were nature journaling too. A little bit later she got the book by John Muir Laws. While all of these books inspired her it was the Wild Wonder nature journaling conference in 2019 that really lit her up. Because of the incredible feeling of the nature journaing community at that event she decided to start her own nature journal club where she lived in Monterey California.
Four Nature Journaler Tips
1. First of all combine nature journaling with your existing interests. Melinda grew her nature journal practice from her birding and marine biology practices.
2. Next, build your skills of existing skills. Are you a note taker or a poet? Do you draw diagrams for work? Are you a data scientist? How can you use your existing skills in your nature journal?
3. Third, connect with community. By connecting with community you will get more motivation and you will learn faster. In addition, it is much more fun! Melinda got a huge burst of inspiration after she went to the Wild Wonder Nature Journaling Conference. Community can be online too.
4. Last but not least, start teaching nature journaling. Even if you are a beginner nature journaler there are people who are more new to it than you. By sharing what you have learned so far you will accelerate your own learning and reinforce your skills. Start before you are ready.
Tree drawing is a cornerstone of nature art in general and nature journaling in particular. When you learn how to draw trees better your sketchbook or nature journal will improve greatly.
So if drawing trees is so important why do so many people do it wrong? People learn bad tree drawing habits at an early age and we also tend to focus on the wrong things when we look at them. Despite all these problems there are a few tips that can help you draw trees better.
Five Tree Drawing Tips
First, take a different perspective. Most tree drawings, even technically skilled ones, show the tree from the same boring perspective. Especially,since we are nature journaling and our goal is to learn it is important to look at things from new vantage points.
Next, look for cylinders. If you want to draw realistic tree shapes you need to understand cylinders. Tree trunks and branches are made of cylinders. You need to be able to accurately observe and sketch cylinders from different angles. (Be sure to watch the video for a special trick for learning this). Not only will this technique help your drawings of trees but it will also help your figure drawing and animal drawing.
Third, separate volume from texture. If you just spent thirty minutes or three hours accurately drawing a tree and its shape you don’t want to ruin it. One potential way to ruin it is by trying to add in all the complicated texture of the bark. Instead, try showing the bark in a separate drawing. And if you do decide to draw trees with bark texture, keep it limited and suggestive. Otherwise you risk messing up your whole drawing!
Next, look for major value blocks. Value is the difference between light and dark. Most people focus on the idea that a tree should be green, however capturing the values is most important.
Last but not least, keep it simple. If you can keep your tree sketch simple you are more likely to succeed and/or try again.
Do you want to practice landscape drawing while improving your nature sketches? If so, practicing drawing landscapes with charcoal can help you.
First, and most importantly, drawing with charcoal will help you see values better. But what are values, you might ask. Value is the art term for how dark something is. We think about color a lot but actually value is more important. Below is an example of a value strip showing levels of value.
While charcoal is not the most convenient material for the field it offers many benefits. Foremost being its ease at achieving precise values (especially compared to watercolor). It can also be challenging for perfectionist people like myself.
Landscape Drawing: How to Use Charcoal in 10 Steps
First, choose a landscape photo that has extreme values. For more about how to choose a good photo for a landscape see this video
Next, start by drawing in some of the darkest areas that you see.
Don’t think about edges. Instead focus on the mass of objects and use your charcoal to draw from the inside then towards the outside of shapes. This goes against how we usually draw.
Next, use a rag or paper towel to smudge the charcoal around the paper. By so doing you are knocking the values back down towards the middle.
After knocking the values back to the middle ground take some time. Look closely at your subject and adjust the values in your drawing accordingly. What in your landscape drawing needs to be darker.
Now you can knock the values back down with the rag.
Next, use an eraser to lighten some of the values in your drawing that are too dark.
Repeat steps four through seven a couple times.
Stop before you start fussing over details too much.
Start another drawing. You will get better by doing many landscape drawings. Don’t rest on your laurels if your first try looks good. And don’t give up if your first try looks bad.
For more inspiration around drawing landscapes in your nature journal check out this video by John Muir Laws.
Have you ever witnessed an exciting event in nature? An action even that you could not represent in your nature journal? If so, then nature comics might be the perfect strategy for you to practice.
This video did not turn out the way I was planning…However, nature is like that. And if we practice some of the techniques of comics and graphic novels we will be ready for the unexpected.
First, and most importantly, don’t give up if what you are observing in nature doesn’t turn out according to your plan. I thought that I was going to make a nature comic about my snake eating. However, my snake was shedding and was not interested in eating. Unfortunately, I had already laid out my page assuming it would be about the snake eating! At this point I almost gave up but instead I stuck with it. A comic can tell any story so don’t worry if it is not the story you were planning on.
Nature Comics Tips
First, Be aware of anthropomorphizing. It is easy to project human feelings and thoughts and communication onto non human beings. This can be useful in some ways and can make your subject relatable. However, it is important to be aware of this. It is therefore important to be aware of the fact that we can not truly know what other animals are feeling or thinking.
Next, be intentional about choosing your frames. Unlike a video, in nature comics you have an extreme limit on the perspectives you can show. As such, it is important to choose your frames with care. What is the most useful for telling the story you want to tell? For more about this check out the book Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
Last but not least, look for subject matters around you in your house. Maybe there is a pet or something that you have never paid attention to. Perhaps the way that your cat eats its food or plays with a toy could be the source of a nature comic that will help you hone your skills.
Do you like flowers? Do you like drawing? If so then this video about flower drawing in your nature journal is for you!
First, it is important to understand some basic botany to help you draw flowers accurately. In addition to making your drawing better this will also help you understand plant families. However, we will keep the technical terms to a minimum.
Drawing Flowers: These three Botany terms help.
Inflorescence. This is a grouping or cluster of flowers. Many “flowers” that we think of such as a sunflower are actually an inflorescence.
Corolla. This is not the car by Toyota. The corolla refers to all the petals combined, whether they are fused together or not.
Calyx. Similarly to the corolla this term refers to the next parts down. Underneath the petals on many flowers there are sepals. We can use the term calyx to refer to all the sepals whether they are fused or not.
Now that we know some basic terms let’s start drawing flowers! We are going to do three plant families today and draw flowers representing each one.
Drawing Flower Families
First, let’s look at the amazingly diverse Malvaceae. This is the cotton family and currently contains around 4,225 known species! When drawing these flowers pay attention to the 5 petals, and the 5 to numerous male parts often forming a tube. For more check out the wikipedia page about this plant family.
Next, is the Solanaceae. This notorious family contains many edible plants such as tomatoes and poisonous ones. When drawing this flower family look for 5 part symmetry such as five petals, five sepals, and five male parts. The female part is usually solitary. Sometimes, the petals (corolla) form into a tube. For more check out the wikipedia page about this plant family.
Lastly, is the Boraginaceae. This family contains around 2,000 known species including borage, Pride of Madera, and Forget-Me-Nots. When drawing these flowers look for a scorpioid inflorescence. Also look for 5 lobed calyx and corolla. For more about the Boraginaceae check out the wikipedia page on this plant family.
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:
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.
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!
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.
Fourth, try to make a nature journal comic showing a process of cooking or a before and after.
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.
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.