In this video we learn botany basics to help you understand flowers. In so doing we can draw them better in our nature journals.
Sometimes it is easier to draw something that you know nothing about. And sometimes it is easier to ask novel questions and make new observations if we know nothing about a subject. However, there are other time when a little bit of background knowledge can provide an important foundation for future learning.
Basic Botany for Nature Journalers
First and foremost, you must learn some taxonomy. Why? Because if you understand a plant’s evolutionary lineage you can unlock a lot more learning. But don’t worry, it’s not that hard.
In order to facilitate taxonomy you have to learn families. If you can learn plant families then you can go anywhere in the world and understand the botany better.
Finally, to understand families you need to understand flower morphology. And don’t worry, morphology is just a fancy way to say shapes. Many people look at plant leaves and hope to learn something from the leaves. However, the leaves are not a useful characteristic. Similarity in leaf shape does not mean that plants are closely related. On the other hand, flower features are the basis for determining how related plants are to each other.
Flower Morphology for Nature Journalers
Next time you look at a plant, look at the flowers first. As you approach the flower we will focus on a few key things. (we’ll keep the botanical terminology to a minimum for now).
First, how many petals and sepals are there?
Then we will look to see how many male parts and female parts are there.
Third, we will check to see if the flower has bilateral or radial symmetry.
Lastly, we want to figure out if the ovary is above the petals or under them
By figuring out the above information we can often identify a plant to it’s family if not to genus and species. Once we know the family we can make a lot of assumptions about the plant. We can make guesses about its ecology, it’s phytochemistry, and its potential ehtnobotanical status.
For some great educational and thoroughly irreverent botanical lessons check out this channel on youtube: Crime Pays But Botany Doesn’t This channel does use a lot of profanity so if you are sensitive about language you might want to skip it.
In this video you will learn ten drawing prompts that are fun, helpful, and engaging.
Have you ever experienced creative block? Have you ever felt a lack of ideas or motivation to draw, make art, or nature journal? You are not alone. It is for that reason that I have created this list of prompts.
Before we get into the list I want to say something about using the internet for inspiration. Basically, using the computer and the internet to inspire art is a double edged sword. On the one hand you have access to millions of images and ideas (Historical artists would have cut off their ears for that.) On the other hand you have the greatest source of distraction ever. Therefore I have separated my prompts into 5 without the computer and 5 with the computer.
Drawing Prompts (Analog Style)
Trace shadows. In order to get warmed up we will start with an easy one. First, we will find a spot with cast shadows. I like to find tree branches or other vegetation. Next, we will position our sketchbook to catch the shadows. Finally we will trace them and color them in if we want.
Paint a scene through your window. Now that we are warmed up we will find a window in our house that has a nice view. Because the window provides a frame we can skip some of the steps I talk about in my landscape painting video.
Draw from a book. This is a lost art. When was the last time you looked for a reference image in a book instead of online? Drawing from books has many benefits.
Draw your food. Do you want motivation? Don’t let yourself eat unless you draw the food first. Hunger will motivate you. Just kidding. But seriously, try drawing your food.
Nature Journal in your Fridge. Similarly to the last one this nature journal prompt is about looking for novelty in all the boring places. I’m gonna make a whole video about this one next week.
Drawing Prompts (Digital Style)
Draw from slow motion videos. Pick your favorite nature documentary on youtube and put it in slow motion. Try sketching. This is a great practice for improving your speed and confidence in the field. I used this technique before my trip to Tanzania.
Do a species profile from Wikipedia. If Youtube is too distracting for you then try this nature journaling prompt. It is the same as a regular species profile but you get all the info from wikipedia instead of from looking at the real organism. Don’t know what a species profile is? Check this video out.
Draw a landscape painting from a photo. Even though it might not be as fun there are many benefits to landscape painting from a photo. It is best to work from your own photos and you probably have a bunch on your computer. I did a whole post about this.
Nature journal conference call. You still can’t get motivated to draw? Try getting on a video conference call with a handful of friends. Instead of talking a bunch just keep each other company while you draw. It’s like study hall! You will feel more accountable and less distracted.
Draw from a webcam. Last but not least, this is a drawing prompt that I am really excited about. There are many examples of live cams or webcams at different zoos and aquariums around the world. You can watch many of these on youtube. Because it is live and the animals are moving it gives your drawing or nature journaling more urgency. Therefore this is good practice for the field.
John Muir Laws (aka Jack Laws) could inspire a hard boiled egg. In fact, after this interview you will never look an egg the same. But maybe you have never nature journaled before and you do not even have access to “nature.” regardless of whether you live in a national park or you live in an apartment this interview will show you how to connect to nature. We also talk about his amazing new book which could really help you if you are stuck at home with your kids right now. Actually, this curriculum could really help you even if you are and adult and stuck at home by yourself right now.
He’s our mentor. He’s our teacher. Jack Laws is our fearless leader. In this video he drops some huge bombs of wisdom. In particular let us look at 4 shining examples from the interview.
John Muir Laws Wisdom Bombs
First, “You can still help people during the social distancing of a pandemic.”
“You want reality? You can’t handle reality!” (be sure to watch the video to get this one…)
“It’s not where you look it’s how you look.” Jack emphasizes how the way we pay attention can reveal the wonder of a green bean or an egg. In other words, we don’t need to go to Yosemite or the Serengeti to appreciate the wonders of nature.
” The greatest organ of pleasure in the human body is the…” In spite of what you might think, John Muir Laws argues that the biggest organ of pleasure in the human body is the brain!
Do you need some inspiration and structure for your nature journaling? Or do you have kids at home that you are homeschooling? Regardless, be sure to check out Jack Law’s amazing new “How to Teach Nature Journaling” curriculum.
Trust me, this curriculum is kid tested and parent approved. Jack is giving it away as a free PDF. You can also order a hard copy of your own.
Have you looked at your very first nature journal recently? Or are you just starting out with nature journaling? In this video I share the good, the bad, and the ugly from my very first nature sketchbook. Hopefully, it will not be too embarrassing…
I first started nature journaling in February of 2014 after learning about the idea from John Muir Laws and looking at some of the content on his website. Because I had been inspired from John (aka Jack) I dove right into the practice. In addition to diving deeply into the subject I also practiced it frequently and used my journal for everything. In other words I did not get too “precious” about my first nature journal.
3 Tips for your First Nature Journal
First, JUST START! You have to find a balance between being prepared and actually starting. If you find yourself watching more videos and buying more supplies before you start filling pages then stop. It is better to err on the side of “starting before you are ready.
Second, JOURNAL MEANS DAILY. Try to get into a regular habit of working in your journal. Even if you are putting something on the pages that is unrelated you will build the habit of using the book and becoming comfortable with it. If you can try to create a time of day where you always use it. The word journal literally means daily (from Latin through French)
Last but not least, FIND OTHER PEOPLE to nature journal with. Hopefully, a mix of skill levels. Not only with they help you stay motivated but those who are above your skill level will push you to improve your skills.
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).
4 Reasons it is the Best Watercolor Palette
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.
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.
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!
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
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:
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. Despite 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.
Pentel Fude Brush Pen: this one looks just like the one above but the ink is 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.
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:
Tombow Dual Brush Pens: I have used these pens a lot in my journal for 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.
Zebra Brush Pens: These come in 3 tip widths and a gray ink version. They 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.
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.
Do you think you can’t draw? Is your perfectionism a problem? Do you procrastinate when you really want to be nature journaling? If so, this nature journal class can help you. Over several years I have been developing and testing psychological strategies to help you achieve your nature journaling goals, learn faster, and feel better about your awesome self. Are you ready to unlock your potential?
Because I have been teaching nature journaling classes for five years I have seen how people learn and grow. In addition, I have seen the obstacles that people face that prevent them from reaching their goals. I have dealt with these challenges myself. That is why I developed this nature journal workshop. Of all the things that I teach these are the most valuable lessons that I can share with you.
Outline for “Nature Journal Class: Unlock Your Potential!”
Your mindset has a disproportionate impact on your achievement, enjoyment, and improvement in the nature sketching, art, and nature journaling.
Unfortunately, there are many problems that can affect your mindset and we are not well-trained to notice or deal with these problems. Because these problems are internal it can be hard to recognize them in ourselves and we often develop stories that blame our problems on external factors.
Common Mindset Problems for Artists and Nature Journalers:
Dependence on Praise
Sensitivity to Feedback
Lack of Focus
Fear of Failure
Artistic Ruts or “Writer’s Block”
In addition to “Writer’s Block” is Fear of the Blank Canvas
Lack of Time
Other Responsibilities and Excuses
Comparison to “better artists”
Lack of Self-Discipline
And finally, Diva Syndrome
Actually, there are a lot more…
Because there are so many problems and because they are hard to see it is easier for us to externalize our challenges. By thinking things such as ” I will be able to nature journal better once I buy that new pencil” or “I need a more interesting subject to inspire me” we create limiting beliefs. As a result we have a limiting belief and our original problem which is now even harder to daylight.
So what can we do about this situation?!
In preparation for this nature journal class about mindset I spent months collecting a list of common mindset problems from artists and nature journalers. Then I tried to figure out solutions for all these problems. I have developed specific solutions for some of them such as my procrastination cocktail, but I think it is better to treat the root problems. Luckily, there are only a few root problems.
Root Problems for Artists and Nature Journalers
Lack Of Intentionality:
Lack of Self Awareness:
Don’t worry. You can overcome all of these root problems and by working on them you can unlock your true potential. However, it’s not gonna be easy. But, the benefits will spill over into other aspects of your life. After much thought, I have summarized the ways to strengthen your nature journaling mindset through 5 major keys that I teach in this nature journal class.
The Five Mindset Keys covered in this Nature Journal Class
Focus on Practice
If you want to learn some specific strategies to develop a stronger mindset be sure to watch the whole nature journal course on video. In the video I provide exercises to help you build self awareness and intentionality. In addition I give you a powerful tool to help fight negative self talk. Check out the full nature journal class here.
Are you stuck at home but you still want to make art and nature journal? Me too! That’s why I made this video on how to make a landscape painting from photos. Whether you are stuck at home because of the weather, because of a pandemic, or because it is dark outside this guide will help you. Learning how to use reference photos for watercolor painting is a good skill to build regardless.
The 11 Step Guide To Landscape Painting From Photos:
First, you make a pot of tea. Actually, this is a very important step.
Next, you create the station where you are going to be working. Since you are going to paint from photos of landscapes on your computer or iPad make sure you get the area organized. Get all your materials ready: watercolor, towel, brushes, pencils, nature journal,
Third, choose your photo wisely. No matter your skills, your final drawing or painting is only as good as the photo it is based on. Certain things like sunsets are also extra hard to paint accurately so let us avoid those. Unfortunately, many beginners are attracted to sunsets. Hence the many amateur painting of sunsets online. We will get to sunsets once we build some basic skills.
Fourth, crop and edit your photo for better painting. In the video I go into depth about how important cropping is. By cropping your photo intentionally you can make your painting more dramatic and you can incorporate important design elements such as the “rule of thirds.” Additionally, you can focus on the values better by turning your photos of landscapes into black and white.
Next, we jump into the landscape painting process by drawing the basic shapes. Being able to simplify a landscape into 3-8 major shapes is essential. It is the arrangement of these basic shapes that gives the landscape painting it’s feeling and impact.
After drawing the shapes it is time to lay in the lights and darks. You should aim for 3-8 gradations from light to dark. The sky is always the lightest. These gradations should match the simplified shapes from step 5.
Now, it is time to go back and add another level of darkness to your landscape drawing. Pay attention to the dark spots in your photo reference and try to match these in your drawing.
Watercolor Painting Time!
Now, it is time to really start painting from your photo. Turn the photo back into color then take out your watercolor and start laying in washes. First, do the paler washes such as the sky and the background. Focus on keeping the values correct.
Add local color accents. Now, look at your photo reference and try to match some of the specific colors. But remember, these are accents so they do not need to go everywhere. And the most important thing is that your 3-8 major blocks are still recognizable separate.
Now, add more contrast in the foreground elements and push your values a little more. Most of the time watercolor landscape paintings end up to pale.
Finally, take a look at the reference photo for your watercolor painting and compare it to your actual page. Where could you do better? Try turning the photo back to black and white. How close are your values? For bonus points do another version of this landscape but with charcoal or graphite.
Painting from photos gives you a lot of tools to improve your landscape painting skills!
For more landscape painting ideas, especially for mini-landscapes check out this post
Don’t forget to watch the video for all the pro tips!
Every hobby has special concepts and lingo and nature journaling is no exception. Have you ever encountered nature journal ideas or language that you were unfamiliar with? If so, this video can help. I explain 10 nature journaling ideas and special words that every nature journaler should know.
And why should you know these words?
You should know these words because we need them to explain the specific ideas that are unique to our practice. In addition, they can be a shortcut to communicate a whole concept. For example, I can just say “pencil miles” to someone and convey a large amount of info succinctly. Otherwise, I would have to use several sentences to communicate the same idea.
Let’s get on with the words! Have you used any of the words below?
Ten Nature Journal Ideas You Need to Know:
Pencil Miles: This is a cool phrase that summarizes the importance of repetition and practice for the improvement of drawing.
Meta-Data: This heading at the beginning of our page gives info about the location, the time, and the date. In addition, you can add whatever data is relevant to you such as: the tide, who you are with, the humidity as well as symbols for the type of clouds or other weather features.
Landscapitos: These are small landscape drawings. For more about them check out this post on Landscapitos.
Non-Photo Blue Pencil: Many nature journalers use these pencils for a faint under-drawing. They do not show up in photocopies or scans. Check out what John Muir Laws loves about them!
The Pretty Picture Trap: This nature journal idea is one you want to avoid! Even though we all like beautiful drawings the fact of focusing on making pretty pictures can be a problem.
Precious: Sometimes, when I have a drawing that is looking good, I start taking fewer risks because I start getting precious about it . This can hamper our learning. Similarly, this problem can emerge if you have really fancy materials or watercolor paper and you are hesitant to mess it up.
Stealing Ideas: We use the word “stealing” in a positive way because we want people to be able to share ideas and learn from each other. Therefore, next time you are in a journal share “steal” some good ideas from someone instead of just admiring their pretty page.
Post Hoc: Any nature journaling work that you do after the field trip is called post hoc which means “after” in Latin.
Sacrificial Pancakes: One of my favorite nature journal ideas is the sacrificial pancake! These are the first drawings we make in a session while we are warming up because you have to make these before you can make good ones!
For number 10 go watch the video! You will also find a bonus one there.
People who live in the North Bay are in luck! Because the San Francisco Bay Area is the epicenter of the Nature Journaling movement! If you live in Sonoma, Napa, Solano, or Marin you also know we have tons of beautiful parks and natural areas to explore. As a result, I consider the North Bay a Nature Journaling paradise!
Nature Journaling classes and clubs in our area:
As you probably know, I lead the Monthly Nature Journaling fieldtrips with the North Bay Nature Journal Club, usually in Sonoma and Marin. See the calendar here.
There is also the newly formed Napa Valley Nature Journal Club. Check out their Facebook page here. If you live and nature journal in the Napa Valley you can help this club grow.
Short Monthly Classes with John Muir Laws where he goes over specific techniques. See his calendar here. And he also leads a field trip near the end of every month sometimes in the north bay but also in the East and South Bay.
Here are my top three North Bay nature journaling spots for 2020!
Abbot’s Lagoon in the Point Reyes National Seashore. This incredible location has it all: sand dunes, biodiversity, seabirds, otters, and beautiful vistas. It is a little bit of a drive if you are coming from Santa Rosa or Vallejo or Napa but it is definitely worth it for a half day or more nature journaling adventure.
Sonoma Baylands Trail on San Pablo Bay. This central location is gonna be a relatively short drive from most towns. It is a wonderful place to marvel at the marshlands that used to surround the entire Bay Area. There are many seabirds and weird plants here too. Even though it is a short drive from the city you will feel peaceful here.
Helen Putnam Regional Park. I have led the North Bay Nature Journal Club to this location several times. It is easy to get to but has beautiful oak savanna landscapes and wonderful old trees. It can get very hot so plan accordingly.