Nature Observation: How to See More With Your Nature Journal

Nature observation used to be essential for your survival. You would not be here today if your ancestors were not observant. This was the case for most of human history. If you didn’t pay attention to plants you could get poisoned. And if you didn’t notice patterns in the tall grass you might get eaten. So how does this apply today?

Your survival is no longer as dependent on your observation skills in nature. However, your quality of life and the richness of your experience can still be improved by developing this skill. In fact, many modern humans walk through the world like zombies. We don’t notice the world around us.

“You see, but you do not observe. (…)The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”

Sherlock Holmes

Holmes would have made a great nature journaler and I wish he were still here to teach us. But since he isn’t here are 12 observation tips I came up with on a recent nature journaling outing.

12 Nature Observation Tips

1. Have a focus. Start with a focus in mind and you will be able to observe more deeply and not get distracted. A taxon target or other is a good way to do this. Choose a taxa such as plants (kingdom), or birds (class), or bees (family.) You can also focus on a location, a type of interaction etc.

2. Use binoculars. Sherlock always had a magnifying glass because it allowed him to zoom in. If you use close-focus binoculars like I do you can look at close details and further away objects.

3. Sit still for a bit. While sitting still is a lost art in the modern world it is essential for better nature observations. By staying in one spot for a while you will see more animals as they get used to your presence.

4. Draw a diagram. I’m surprised Sherlock didn’t use this tool more. Today we know that drawing is one of the most powerful learning tools. You will notice way more just by trying.

5.Zoom in and Zoom Out. Most people see the world from the same magnification all the time. Practice zooming in and out intentionally to notice more.

6. Don’t Let What You Think You Know Get in the Way of Learning New Things. We have a lot of baggage when we go into nature and we are the most over-informed generation of humans. This information can be wrong and it can prevent us from noticing real things.

7. Don’t Be Too Focused. Don’t focus so much that you are not aware of new and perhaps extraordinary things that happen around you.

8. Quantify Your Observations. Use specific numbers and measurements instead of vague words such as: many, a few, or a lot.

9. Go Deeper With One Subject. Take the time to drop in deeper with one subject. In this way you are bound to find something of interest even if the subject isn’t your favorite at first.

10. Verbalize What You See. Do not worry about what other people think. It is ok to talk to yourself. In fact, by verbalizing what you see you will improve your recall and enhance your visual memory.

11. Compare Observations of Similar Things. The human brain notices more when it compares two things than when it looks at things in isolation. This is called a joint comparison.

12: Look Closer. A lot of the most interesting and important things in the world are small. By looking closer you will learn a lot more.

Nature Observation Skills Will Help You See More in Nature

If you follow all of these nature observation tips you will be a Nature Sherlock in no time!

John Muir Laws Interview on The Nature Journal Show

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
  1. First, “You can still help people during the social distancing of a pandemic.”
  2. “You want reality? You can’t handle reality!” (be sure to watch the video to get this one…)
  3. “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.
  4. ” 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.

How To Learn More From Your Old Journals

Do you need some nature journaling ideas, inspiration, and motivation? Did you know that you can learn a lot just by reviewing your old journals? In this episode of The Nature Journal Show I review one of my past journals and break down some tips for you to use.

Good Tips For Any Nature Journaler

You all asked for more interviews and shares with different nature journalers in our community so here you go! In 2020 I’m planning on doing lots more interviews like this.

10 Landscape Painting Tips on a Hot Day!

Did you see my last video and want to learn more? In this one I share the technical side…Let me know where you are at in your learning journey. What do you need help with?

 

Learn to Nature Journal at the Hallberg Butterfly Gardens!

 

I’m super excited to be collaborating with the biodiverse pollinator sanctuary Hallberg Butterfly Gardens! We will be offering an introduction to nature journaling course at their site in Sebastopol. Insects and pollinators are not only fascinating to study and draw but they play a huge part in our ecosystems and have been seriously endangered in recent years. As nature journalers, our observations can play an important role in citizen science and creating a record of these species in our areas.

Supplies will be included!  The class is offered at a sliding scale. $45 minimum to register. Please use the ticket link or contact us to sign up. info@hallbergbutterflygardens.org (707)823-3420

 

Scope Out Shollenberger Wetlands!

In May, the North Coast Nature Journal Club will scope out the marshes of Shollenberger park near Petaluma. This convenient park provides ample opportunities to sketch water birds and learn about California’s coastal wetlands, the most endangered of all our ecosystem types! The Audobon Society and local docents report 225 species of birds! There will also be expansive views of the long extinct volcano that is Sonoma mountain. We will focus on drawing and learning about the plants and birds that inhabit this area and we will also practice composing and executing small landscapes showcasing Sonoma mountain in the background.

Meet at the parking lot at 9:00. Earlier than our normal time! We are meeting earlier to beat the heat a little bit.

The address below might only get you to the intersection of Cader ln if you are following a GPS. From South Mcdowell blvd you will turn onto Cader lane/ Schollenberger park rd and continue to the parking lot. It could be a warm sunny day and we will be out in the open so plan accordingly. Sun hats, sunscreen, lots of water. The walk is very gentle, flat, and wheelchair and scooter accessible on a paved route. We will return to the parking lot before the potluck so you can keep bulkier food and beverage items in your car. Bring a light folding stool if you have one, we will do some more extended landscape and plant paintings at this location.

As usual be prepared to get super-curious in nature and connect with like minded people! Bring a potluck item to share for lunch around 12:30.

Suggested donation $20

Nature Journal Quick Tip:

Nature Journaling is not about drawing pretty pictures. It is about accelerating your learning and deepening your observations and connection in nature. Ironically, if you are focused on pretty pictures you will struggle to get pretty pictures and you will struggle to deepen your observations and accelerate your learning in nature  🙁

However, if you focus on the learning and observation you will end up getting prettier and prettier pictures as a by product.

Marvel at Incredible Carnivorous Plants!

In the month of January, the North Coast Nature Journal club will stay out of the rain and warm inside the bio-diverse greenhouses at California Carnivores in Sebastopol! This local business contains arguably the biggest collection of carnivorous plants in the world. Not only are these plants fascinating to study and beautiful to draw but many of them are also endangered. They also have many orchids, bromeliads, etc.

Topics covered will include: how to quickly capture the essence of complex shapes in our drawings, how to draw things we are afraid of, and how to nature journal in visually overwhelming or information-dense settings.

The weather will be relatively mild, humid, and probably warmish inside the greenhouses. Hats will be useful if it is sunny. We will not be walking much but the floor is uneven and made of gravel. Wear comfortable shoes, bring a folding stool if you have one, a potluck item to share, utensils for yourself and water to drink. There is a bathroom on site.

We will meet at 10 am in the parking lot. Look for people standing around with sketchbooks.  Potluck lunch around 12:30.

Be prepared for mind-boggling plant forms and colors as well as a good dose of novelty-induced dopamine!

$20 suggested donation. No one turned away for lack of funds.