Nature Journal Galapagos Voyage!

In the summer of 2022 I will be nature journaling in the Galapagos Islands with John Muir Laws and a boat-full of nature journalers! The trip is already full but you can enjoy it vicariously through some of the videos, photos, and nature journal pages that I will share with you. (there might be more trips like this in the future too!)

I will also be making an illustrated publication based on my trip similar to my Tanzania Journals. This publication will be available for my Patreon supporters and through my website.

Let me know if there are things about the Galapagos that you want me to share  with you.

Nature Journal Galapagos Voyage

How to Choose a Sketchbook for Nature Journaling

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. How to Choose a Sketchbook For Nature Journaling Image 1 showing how orientation of page does not mean you cannot do a landscape on a page with a portrait layout.
Criteria for choosing a sketchbook continued:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

How To Draw Standing Up

Learning how to draw standing up can make you a better artist in addition to multiplying your drawing opportunities! Here, I describe several mistakes you are probably making right now and how to avoid them. I also provide several keys to this essential drawing skill.

Everyone knows how to draw sitting down at a desk! Unfortunately, the most interesting things to draw are out in the world! If you want to draw these things you have to go out, stand up, and draw them in the field. Sometimes, it is possible to find a bench in just the right place or bring a chair with you. Otherwise you are out of luck. Unless, that is, you know how to draw standing up. If you are interested in field sketching, urban sketching, or nature journaling then drawing standing up is especially important.

Draw Standing Up: Three Mistakes to Avoid

  1. Get rid of your backpack! For the best results you need to get a shoulder bag aka messenger bag. This will make drawing standing up easier, faster, and more comfortable. You can see some examples and reviews of such bags in these videos.
  2. Don’t use a soft cover sketchbook! One essential aspect of drawing standing up is having a god way to brace your sketching surface. If you use a hardback sketchbook of the right size it is easy to hold your journal in the corner of your arm. Check out this review of my favorite sketchbook.
  3. Don’t use regular watercolor brushes! If you use regular watercolor brushes you will need to have an open container of water. This is really hard and inconvenient when standing up. Instead you should use Pentel Aquash Waterbrushes or other similar brushes. These brushes hold water in a small reservoir built into the brush. Check them out here.

 

Check out more fun how-to nature journal videos here.

How to Nature Journal in 10 Steps

Do you want to learn how to nature journal?  Do you want to avoid the most common  beginner mistakes? In this video I show you 10 steps to getting started with nature journaling.

How to Nature Journal

  1. First, choose your location wisely. Choose a location that is close, convenient, and comfortable. This is a common mistake that beginners and experienced nature journalers both make. You don’t need the most exciting wilderness location to nature journal.
  2. Next, get your supplies ready. One mistake that many of us make is to get more art supplies than we really need. All you really need is a good bag, a sketchbook, a pencil, and whatever you need to be comfortable in nature. For a review of what I use see Journaling Kit Review
  3. Capture the context quickly. Whip your nature journal out and start using it as soon as possible. A common mistake is to wander around for too long waiting for inspiration. There is no perfect subject and the muse will not come to you if you don’t  get some pencil miles first. Start by putting metadata, sketching a map, or getting other contextual information on the page.
  4. Warm up your brain with “I notice, I wonder, it reminds me of.” Before you get caught up in trying to paint a portrait of a bird or flower start with this simple observation exercise. In this way you will warm up your observation skills and you will breach the barrier of the blank page.
  5. Now, draw a landscapito or paint a scene. Drawing a small landscape or scene will convey the feeling and ecology of a place. These will help you remember your trip and they look great on the page combined with your other notes and drawings. However, there are also side benefits of sitting still this long. Birds and animals often come close! For more on drawing landscapitos see these videos

“The real voyage of discovery consists not of seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes”
–Marcel Proust

Next 5  Steps

  1. Draw a Diagram. The next step is to draw a diagram of something that you are curious about. By making it a diagram you take the pressure off of it being a pretty picture. Use arrows, words, and numbers to add information that you can not convey with the image itself.
  2. Ask more questions. This is one of the most powerful tools of nature journaling. By practicing asking questions we sharpen our ability to learn new things.
  3. Stop before you are done. While you might be tempted to push yourself at first it is actually best to stop while you are still having fun. Start by giving yourself short outings that leave you wanting more. Like the small servings at a fancy restaurant.
  4. Get yourself an Ice Cream. Now that you have completed a session of nature journaling get yourself a reward. You deserve it and by rewarding yourself you will help ingrain this new habit.
  5. Review your work and share it: When you get home you can accelerate your learning by reviewing it, researching further, and getting feedback from others. What do you notice about your pages? What could be better? Can you think of more questions? Are there parts you would like to add color to now that you are home? Are there things you want to research further? Now is also a time that you could draw more detailed drawings based on photos you took on the outing, especially of fast moving birds or insects that you could not capture in the field. Sharing online and getting feedback from other nature journalers will also help you a lot.

how to nature journal

Pets in Your Nature Journal

Pets and nature journaling are a match made in heaven. If you have a pet and you have not nature journaled them yet then you are missing out! In this fun conversation you can learn: four benefits of nature journaling your pet and ten tips to do it better.

Recently, I interviewed Gargi Chugh and Akshay Mahajan about their nature journal pet named Mithuni. Akshay and Gargi shared their excitement, inspiration, and a lot of practical ideas. Even though they have an exotic pet their encouraging ideas apply to cats and dogs as well. First, lets look at some of the benefits.

3 Benefits of Nature Journaling Your Pets

  1. The first benefit is availability. Because many people have busy schedules they might not have time to go to a park frequently. They might get home after dark. However, if you have a pet, you can connect with nature at home. Your pet is an ambassador of nature and a fascinating subject. In short, your pet is more available then the wild animals outside.This also allows you to try more nature journaling techniques.
  2. Next benefit is a fast feedback loop. In the interview Gargi shared how a fast feedback look can accelerate learning. Because you can see your house cat every day it takes less time for you to recognize patterns and make connections. On the other hand you might only see a bobcat in the wild once a year(if you are lucky). Therefore it is much harder to make observations and learn about the bobcat in your nature journal.
  3. Third, by nature journaling your pet you can deepen your connection with the animal. Due to the amount of attention you are directing towards your animal your bond with the animal can grow. Akshay and Gargi found that they have become quite connected with their pet mantis over the weeks that they have observed it so closely.

10 Tips for Nature Journaling Your Pet

  1. Measurements are one of the best tools to use with your pet. Therefore it is useful to start nature journaling as soon as you get a new pet so you can track its growth. There are also other ways to use this tool.
  2. Try creating a journal just for journaling and sketching your pets.
  3. Don’t decide in advance what information is important to record. If you try to create categories in advance you will limit your ability to learn about your animal. You might not foresee what is most important.
  4. Since you don’t know what categories of data about your pet will be most interesting or relevant try using dates as categories. In this way you can just record whatever observations from that day and categorize them later when patterns emerge.
  5. Next, instead of focusing on pretty pet portraits try using diagrams. Diagrams are much easier and fun to do and more rewarding. You will also learn a lot more than if you tried to paint a Mona Lisa of your cat. For more about diagrams check out this awesome class.
  6. Start nature journaling your pet as soon as you get it. Documenting the growth of a pet is very rewarding!
  7. Try setting up experiments to answer your own questions. What fun experiments can you set up with your pet?
  8. m
  9. Try to answer your own questions before you look it up on google.

Avocado Seed Journaling in Your Nature Journal: 100 Days

Have you ever sprouted an avocado seed? What if you journaled an avocado seed’s germination for 100 days? In this video, I interview Kate Rutter who did just that! She shares some amazing journal pages, sketching pro tips, and some wisdom that applies to all kinds of journaling and art.

We eat so much avocado that we take it for granted. However, there is a whole world of learning inside that little seed. That’s one of the things that Kate Rutter learned in her 100 day challenge. Following are some of the things she learned.

Lessons from an Avocado Seed Project

1. First, find a small focus. Most nature journalers and nature lovers want to go to wild, exotic places and study “fancy” things in nature. However, focusing on something small and committing to it proves very rewarding. Because when you pay that much attention to anything in nature you open up whole worlds of fascination.

2. Next, establish creative constraints. While “constraint” does not sound like the sexiest word in the art vocabulary it is actually essential to good art and science. Kate created clear limits on materials, subject matter, and format. This helped her make it a routine. It also helped make for a more clear comparison of the avocado pit progress.

3.  But how do you keep from getting bored? Try looking deeper and more carefully. You can also do research about the bigger context. Kate did pages where she brought in outside research about avocado trees, the etymology of the word avocado, and science behind the germination of avocado seeds.

4. Last but not least try going public. During her project Kate has been posting on her twitter, a dedicated Tumblr page, and on the nature journal club facebook page in addition to her own website. Because of this she has received lots of feedback, questions, and suggestions. In addition the public nature of the project has helped her stay accountable to maintain her 100 day goal.

 

Avocado Seed nature Journaling for 100 days

Tree Drawing In Your Nature Journal

Tree drawing is a cornerstone of nature art in general and nature journaling in particular. When you learn how to draw trees better your sketchbook or nature journal will improve greatly.

So if drawing trees is so important why do so many people do it wrong? People learn bad tree drawing habits at an early age and we also tend to focus on the wrong things when we look at them. Despite all these problems there are a few tips that can help you draw trees better.

Five Tree Drawing Tips

  1. First, take a different perspective. Most tree drawings, even technically skilled ones, show the tree from the same boring perspective. Especially,since we are nature journaling and our goal is to learn it is important to look at things from new vantage points.
  2. Next, look for cylinders. If you want to draw realistic tree shapes you need to understand cylinders. Tree trunks and branches are made of cylinders. You need to be able to accurately observe and sketch cylinders from different angles. (Be sure to watch the video for a special trick for learning this). Not only will this technique help your drawings of trees but it will also help your figure drawing and animal drawing.
  3. Third, separate volume from texture. If you just spent thirty minutes or three hours accurately drawing a tree and its shape you don’t want to ruin it. One potential way to ruin it is by trying to add in all the complicated texture of the bark. Instead, try showing the bark in a separate drawing. And if you do decide to draw trees with bark texture, keep it limited and suggestive. Otherwise you risk messing up your whole drawing!
  4. Next, look for major value blocks. Value is the difference between light and dark. Most people focus on the idea that a tree should be green, however capturing the values is most important.
  5. Last but not least, keep it simple. If you can keep your tree sketch simple you are more likely to succeed and/or try again.

If you want to see another tree drawing video with great tips check out this one from John Muir Laws teaching at the nature journal club.

Tree Drawing nature journal
Tree Drawing fun with the North Bay Nature Journal Club

Nature Journaling For Kids and Families

Nature journaling for kids could be the solution for your summer. Are your kids already bouncing off the walls at home? Are you worried about them losing focus, losing momentum, or falling behind?

What if there was a way that your kids could be inspired to learn, you could relax, and your whole family could spend quality time learning about nature, science, and art? And all of this without driving anywhere or compromising your family bubble.

1.   What is it?

The Nature Journal Family Summer is a month long fully engaging learning adventure. This distance learning course will provide focused connection time for you and your kids while also nurturing a deeper connection with nature. The curriculum delivers exciting applications of art, science, math, and language. It also develops invaluable transferable skills such as focus, scientific inquiry, critical thinking, self-awareness, and visual problem-solving. When you sign up you can count on a structured learning experience that lets you simply relax and follow the journey with your kids.

Details:

A.     June 8th -July 3rd

B.     Four families

C.     One or two parents and one or two kids per family

D.    Kids: age range (8-15)

E.     Cost: $450 for three family members for four weeks

F.     Add-ons: $75 for every kid or parent over three total family members

G.     $100 for additional family check-ins

2.   Your Teacher

Marley Peifer has been teaching nature journaling to kids and adults for over five years. He frequently co-teaches and collaborates with John Muir Laws, one of the founders of the nature journaling movement. You can see how Marley brings a fun, personable, and in-depth approach to teaching in his weekly nature journal show. nature journal for kids class

3.   How it Works

Everything is designed to allow the maximum benefits of a learning community while also providing individual attention and flexibility for your family’s schedule. This takes pressure off the parents, provides a healthy peer-based motivation for kids, and allows for varying ages and learning styles.

A.     Week One: Plants

i.          Introductory Meeting just with parents

ii.           1.5 hour Group Class with all families on Zoom

iii.           40 minute Family Check-In with Marley and your family

iv.           Two fun 30 minute follow-along activity videos to use at your leisure during the week

B.     Week Two: Animals

i.         Group Class with all families

ii.         One Family Check-In

iii.         Two activity videos at your leisure

C.     Week Three: Connections

i.         Group Class with all families

ii.         One Family Check-In

iii.         Two activity videos at your leisure

D.    Week Four: Exploring Deeper

i.         Group Class with all families

ii.         One family Check-In

iii.         Two activity videos at your leisure

iv.         Final Journal Share with all families on zoom.

4.   What you need

Each participant needs:

A.     A sketchbook or journal. Dimensions of around 8.5×11” is best. Printer paper stapled together or simply bound and held on a clipboard can work in a pinch but is not ideal.

B.     Pencils or pens.

5.   Sign up

Reserve your spot before June 6th by emailing Marley at marley339 @gmail.com

 

Landscape Drawing In Your Nature Journal-With Charcoal!

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.

landscape drawing requires an understanding of value. This value strip shows light to dark in nine stages.

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

  1. First, choose a landscape photo that has extreme values. For more about how to choose a good photo for a landscape see this video
  2. Next, start by drawing in some of the darkest areas that you see.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Now you can knock the values back down with the rag.
  7. Next, use an eraser to lighten some of the values in your drawing that are too dark.
  8. Repeat steps four through seven a couple times.
  9. Stop before you start fussing over details too much.
  10. 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.

 

Drawing Prompts For Nature Journaling at Home

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)

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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)

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

drawing prompt number one is to trace shadows. This is an example of that prompt for drawing. Cast Shadow Tracing