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.
Nature Journal + Homeschool = motivated and engaged teen learning.
It’s a simple equation but don’t take my word for it. Amaya is a homeschooled teen who shares her passionate perspective in this talk. Nature journaling has become a central part of her homeschooling. She explains how this approach can launch any teen’s interest into a self-directed learning adventure!
Coming up with a homeschool curriculum can be stressful, especially if you want to include some nature study. This year millions of parents are homeschooling for the first time. This is an especially challenging time for homeschool teens. What can families do?
What if teens could be self-motivated to learn about a variety of subjects and direct their own learning all while developing self awareness, transferable skills, and getting nature time?
Then they get so inspired that they volunteer to teach their younger siblings? Next, they start going to conferences, publishing articles, and getting interviewed about their ideas!
Does this sound to good to be true? Amaya’s story proves this is real. Why aren’t more families using nature journaling in their homeschool program? Why haven’t I heard of this before? Nature journaling is still kind of new. However, nature journaling homeschool options are exploding in 2020. It’s actually very easy. Parents don’t need to have ANY experience to teach nature journaling, unlike other subjects (Try that with calculus!) There are even FREE resources that give you step by step instructions on how to lead activities and teach nature journaling. These resources even tell you how each activity can be connected to curriculum standards for different schooling systems! Check out John Muir Law’s book “How to Teach Nature Journaling.” You can buy the book or download a free PDF. There is also a facebook group and regular free zoom sessions on how to teach nature jouranling!
Look how Amaya has excelled with nature journaling! Fiona is on a similar path and has developed many skills. Nature journaling has obviously worked for these kids. Nature journal homeschool can work for you!
Did I mention Amaya’s article? She wrote an article that was featured during International Nature Journaling Week. You can read the article here.
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.
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.
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.