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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Last 3 Benefits
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.
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.
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.
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.
Do you want to know what journal to use for nature journaling, sketching, and mindset journaling? In this video I describe my choice and why I have used this same sketchbook for my last 34 journals! I also give you the important criteria in choosing a book so that you can make your own decision.
Sitting down with Kim Lavere and learning about her journaling practice and the role that it has played in her life trajectory was inspiring. I definitely have been stealing some of her techniques for my own journaling practices! I posted the interview through youtube but it is mostly audio content so feel free to listen to it as such.
Do you know anyone with an interesting journaling practice? Let me know so I can interview them next.
It has been a really rainy/snowy winter, but that should not keep us from nature journaling. I spent a rainy day making this video with Eleven nature journaling ideas you can practice when the weather outside is frightful.
If you like this video please thumbs up and subscribe to my channel. If you have any other good rainy day ideas let me know in the comments.
“One Journal to rule them all, One Journal to write them, One Journal to connect them all, and on these pages bind them,”
–Gandalf the Great
In this video I describe how I see the options available to journalers when deciding how many journals to have. There is a spectrum from having many specialized journals to having just one “omni-journal” with everything.