Drawing old trees is one of my favorites! I’m gonna show you how to nature journal old trees; in this case a charismatic old oak tree. I’ll use ink, watercolor, and graphite pencil to draw a portrait of the tree, sketch the basic scene, illustrate lea, and depict some of the moss. I will also talk about other nature journaling techniques and watercolor tips.
It was a cold January day in the mountains of Northern California. The weather forecast predicted snow later that day. Despite the cold and my low energy I knew this was my only chance. Because if it snowed I would be stuck up here and unable to get home to edit this video for you.
It’s at times like these where you need a system.
How to Nature Journal Old Trees in 5 Steps
Firstly, start with metadata. Always start with metadata: location, date, time, weather, etc
Next, simplify the complex. Old trees fascinate us partly because of their complexity. You need to simplify or you will be overwhelmed. Starting with thumbnails and using a viewfinder will help enormously.
Next, zoom in on details. What are some details you can add? Try drawing the leaves, the flowers, the seeds.
Lastly, don’t settle with just a portrait. It is very fun to paint the portrait of a tree. However, that is not really nature journaling. Try to incorporate some notes, some measurements, some contextual information or diagrams. Did any birds visit? What does the bark look like closeup? Adding these perspectives will enrich your page and your experience.
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.
What was your connection to nature where you grew up? In this video, I show you how to nature journal where you grew up as I explore the natural area I first explored and fell in love with as a kid. Come on this adventure with me. See where I went as a kid. We’ll nature journal Southern California plants and nature mysteries. In addition we will learn some techniques for reconnecting to a place.
Nature journaling is a powerful tool for science and for art. However, many people forget that journaling is probably the most powerful tool for connecting with feelings. Despite the direction science has gone in we cannot truly separate emotions from our connection with and understanding of nature. In fact, we can improve our nature journal pages by including more of these feelings. Not only that but when you get the feelings out of your head you can observe more of the world around you and perform better as an artist.
How to Nature Journal Where You Grew Up
First, be prepared. You can expect some strong feelings to come up when you visit your childhood nature. Many people will experience grief because their favorite tree from childhood is cut down. You might have lots of anger come up because the whole natural area has been developed. Be prepared for some emotions to come up. Try to be well resourced before you go. Did you get enough sleep? Do you have other major emotional drains in your life right now? If you are stressed in other ways it may make you more sensitive and reactive to what comes up for you.
Second, journal what is. For most people things have changed since they were a kid. This might make you avoid going back there. “I can’t nature journal there because it has all been developed.” “I can’t nature journal there because it is private property now.” The solution is to nature journal what is. Don’t ignore the human impacts. That is part of the place now, that is essential to the story. At the very least you could write a title, draw a simple map, and write down a few of your feelings. You will feel better by doing this and you will show respect for a place that helped shape you.
Third, use nature journaling to experience the place more like a kid. Your nature journal can help you see the place as you did when you were growing up. The nature journal process can help you slow down and remove the jaded perspective of an adult. This will help you connect to the place more instead of just walking around with your normal adult mind-wandering and ruminating. The default mode network is the part of your brain that will prevent you from connecting to this place.
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!
Learning how to nature journal on a kayak can take your enjoyment of nature to the next level. You are guaranteed to see new things because a kayak is an easy way to access hidden areas. Even a small lake in a crowded park will have niches that you can reach while everyone else is walking on the trails. You can have a more immersive nature experience all to yourself.
However, there are also some challenges about nature journaling from a kayak. These challenges prevent many people from even trying. I made this video to help you overcome those challenges.
Ten Tips for How to Nature Journal on a Kayak
First of all choose a good location. You want a location that is close, convenient, calm, and comfortable. This will make it easier to nature journal.
Practice kayaking and nature journaling separately first. It is exponentially harder to learn two new skills at the same time than to learn one. The more you can practice these skills separately the better you will do when you combine them.
Keep your supplies simple. Don’t bring expensive stuff that you will get precious about. You don’t want to be fumbling with lots of stuff.
Be safe. Follow all safety recommendations for the body of water where you kayak.
Go with a friend. This is safer but also much more motivating.
Plan for the sun. Be sure to wear a hat and sun protection.
Deal with drift. It is hard to stay still while you are nature journaling from a kayak. Some options: use an anchor, do quick sketches only, wedge yourself in plants or mud, use a tandem kayak, or plan for the drift and set yourself up accordingly.
Take care of your basic needs. Warmth, food, hydration, comfort are essential. If you don’t take care of these don’t expect great nature journaling.
Use the kayak for access. In addition to nature journaling in the kayak you can use the kayak to access islands and other areas you normally couldn’t. Then just hop out and do some land-lubber nature journaling.
Lastly, find the right balance between accessibility and protection of your supplies. Inside a ziplock at the bottom of a cinched-down dry bag strapped into the back of your kayak you might be a safe place for your journal but you will never take it out. It will stay dry and safe but it will also be unused. If you leave your journal in your lap while you paddle it might get wet.
Want to learn about watercolor and watch another nature journal adventure? Check out this post.
Did you know that you can improve a drawing 75% before you even start drawing? Knowing how to use a viewfinder for drawing landscapes is the first step. Whether you are a nature journaler or a plein air painter this video and blog post will help you.
Why Your Eyes Betray You
Your visual system is not setup for making great art. Your visual system is setup for keeping your butt alive. What does that even mean? Our eyes and the visual centers of our brain are good at paying attention to our surroundings. We are good at scanning large areas and paying attention to the big picture. However, there is a lot more information coming through your eyes than what you can fit on your paper or your canvas. This is especially dangerous for drawing landscapes. A lot of times we are attracted to the expansiveness in a landscape. If we aren’t careful we bite off too much. We try too big of a drawing. We get frustrated, we get lost in the details, and we lose touch with the basic artistic priorities.
Your most important job as an artist is to make intentional decisions about what visual information to include and what to ignore.
If you don’t know how to make good decisions or even worse if you don’t realize you have to make decisions then your drawing will suffer. Using a viewfinder helps you be more intentional and disciplined. Your field of view with both eyes is between 200 and 220 degrees! That is far more than you can fit on paper.
How to make a viewfinder
Save the plastic container that salad mix comes in or get a sheet of cardstock or other heavy paper.
Decide what shape you are going to make your viewfinder. Put some thought into how this shape will fit on your pages. For more about composition and layout of journal pages see this video.
Trace your shape and carefully cut it with an X-acto knife or scissors.
You can add grid lines to help you with proportions.
Go out and use it right away!
Pro tip: Make multiple viewfinders of different shapes and sizes for your kit.
I really started using a viewfinder before my second trip to Tanzania and it really made my nature journal pages much better.
Once you know how to use a viewfinder for drawing landscapes you will thank me!
If you want a step-by-step guide to landscape drawing in your nature journal check out this post.
In this video I show you how to nature journal without fear, because I think it’s the most important thing for your nature journaling.
Why Nature Journaling Without Fear matters more than anything else
There are certain skills that automatically improve the more you nature journal. That is the good news. These aspects of nature journaling are easy to teach, easy to learn, and easy to pick up from repetition. However, there are other things that you will not automatically get better at. In fact, these things could actually get worse as you become a more experienced nature journaler or advanced artist. I know many veteran nature journalers who struggle with these challenges. What am I talking about? I’m talking about fear.
If you don’t have the best drawing skills it will affect your nature journaling somewhat. But if you are afraid of trying new things on your pages or are too intimidated to share your work it could hamper your nature journaling for life. Your drawing skills will probably get better just with more practice but your fears might not. It is easy to identify your drawing shortcomings, take a class, practice and get better. It is not easy to take a class to help you deal with your artistic fears and obstacles. You might not even be able to correctly diagnose the source of your mental obstacles or the fears that are holding you back.
Because of all these reasons I have decided that helping people be more fearless in their nature journaling approach is the most important thing I can share. If you want to learn how to nature journal without fear you might be interested in my one-on-one coaching.
Types of Fear in Nature Journaling
So, how does fear manifest itself in our practice of nature journaling? Following are some examples of fears related to perfectionism:
Fear of messing up, making mistakes, making bad drawings
Fear of nature journaling certain subjects: animals, movement, action, pets.
There are also major social fears. Such as:
Fear of feedback, judgement, or criticism.
Fear of nature journaling in public, sharing our work, or nature journaling with other people. Sometimes, this manifests itself as a fear to share our pages with certain people such as our family or spouse.
There are also the fears from being too precious:
The fear of wasting materials, art supplies, or expensive paper.
Fear of ruining a pretty journal page or a fancy journal.
Fear of trying new techniques or new materials.
There are also fears of commitment:
Indecision around which subject to commit to, which vista to draw, which park to go to. We are afraid that we might miss something better. There might be a more beautiful subject, a more interesting plant just around the corner. This can be a paralyzing fear that might lead you to only take photos with your phone and never pull out your sketchbook.
Fear of permanence, fear of ink, over attachment to erasers and graphite or overuse of non-photo blue pencil.
Unfortunately, we live in a society that has primed us for these problems. For example, I know many adults who are simply afraid to draw. Maybe this fear is the result of an unfortunate childhood experience. Most of us have also been ingrained with the fixed mindset. This mindset assumes that we are born with certain immutable talents and limitations and can not learn new skills.
We often build up layers of rationalizations and habits of avoidance around these fears making them even harder to identify. Do we really prefer such a tidy style or are we just afraid to make mistakes on the page? Are botanical subjects really all we want to do or are we just afraid of drawing moving animals?
What Fearless Nature Journaling Looks like
So what does nature journaling without fear actually look like?
I have gotten glimpses of fearless nature journaling in Nature Journal Show interviews with Amaya Shreeve and Heather Crellin. What do these two have in common? Both are relatively new to nature journaling. Both seem to take real joy in the process. In addition, they both focus on quantity and frequency of nature journaling even if it is just a short session.
How Can You Nature Journal Without Fear?
If you want help nature journaling without fear I can help. Sign up for persoanlized coaching with me. We will look at your pages, I will listen to your joys and challenges and we will come up with a plan.
I’m currently offering one hour sessions on Tuesday and Thursdays afternoons and Sunday Mornings. Click on one of the available dates (in white) then choose a time slot.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Criteria for choosing a sketchbook continued:
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.
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.
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.
Let’s combine birding and Nature Journaling to see more birds, learn faster, improve our memory of field marks, and go deeper with each bird. In this video I show you how to use a secret technique to have more close encounters with birds. This approach can help you whether you are a birder or a nature journaler . You might be surprised because it is not what you think.
“The watched pot never boils”
Everyone has heard the above expression. However, not everyone knows that it applies to birding. In fact, the expression could be “the watched bird never does what you want.” Many times the watched area may not produce birds at all. Most birders and animal lovers have had this experience in nature. This experience can be especially difficult for bird photographers and artists. As soon as you see the bird it will turn away or leave. How can we solve this problem?
Secret Technique for Birding and Nature Journaling
First, we are going to pretend like we are not looking for birds.
Next choose a location that is comfortable and of varied habitat.
Bring a comfy chair, binoculars and nature journaling supplies.
Do you know how to draw with binoculars? Are you a birder, nature journaler, or urban sketcher? If so, you can see more, draw better, and learn faster with this technique.
For a long time I would carry binoculars on my neck but didn’t really know how to use them effectively. My binos were more ornamental then functional. They made me feel like a naturalist and they showed others that I was serious. Finally, I got a different pair of binoculars and I started using them more while nature journaling. Little by little I developed a system that helped me use them while drawing. Now, they have become an essential drawing tool for me just like a pencil or eraser.
How to Draw With Binoculars: Two Ways
Method One-The Shifting Eyes Method
This method is good for nature journal beginners
Use a chair
Don’t use very heavy binoculars
Support your drawing surface on your lap
Because your surface is supported you should be able to draw with one hand
Hold your binoculars against your brow bone (above your eye).
Get your subject in view and brace your bino-holding arm.
Angle your head so you can also peer out the bottom of your binoculars at your drawing and get your hand ready to draw.
Alternate between looking at your subject and looking at your drawing.
Keep your binoculars in position.
Method Two-The Visual Memory Method
This method is more difficult but is good practice for developing your visual memory as an artist.