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.
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.
Do you know how to nature journal from your window? This nature journaling technique is useful on cold, snowy, or rainy days. It is also useful during global pandemics or if you can not get outside for other reasons.
Do you ever not feel motivated to nature journal? Do you ever feel down in the winter? I feel those things too despite what you might think from my video persona. Luckily, nature journaling makes me feel better regardless of how low energy or depressed I’m feeling. I didn’t want to make this live episode. I had a lot of self doubt about whether I had the right “energy” to nature journal. That’s why I started and ended with a gratitude exercise. Because your mindset is the foundation of your nature journaling and your life.
How to Nature Journal From Your Window in 3 Steps
Set the Stage: You want to do this more than once. Therefore you need to find a good location.
First, it should be convenient. A gorgeous view is nice but if you are teetering at the top of a stairwell it is not worth it. Also consider your family movements. Where will you be disturbed the least? The less energy to initiate a session the better. If you have to move a ton of furniture each time forget it.
Second, it should be consistent. This way you get into a habit more easily.
Last, consider the view. Is there a variety of stuff to see?
Set Your Expectations: Ok, maybe this should have been first. Create realistic expectations and clarify your goals around nature journaling from the window. I strongly recommend input based goals not output based goals. For example, “I will nature journal from my window for 15 minutes every day.” In contrast “I will paint a pretty sunset in watercolor every day.”Which of these goals is more achievable?
Rosalie Haizlett is a conservation-focused illustrator. She has built a career around painting maps, botanical art, and detailed nature scenes in watercolor and ink. In addition to her art sales and commissions she teaches classes. Another key point we talk about in this interview is the therapeutic role nature can play. Rosalie is driven because she believes that nature-based art can have a deeper purpose.
How Nature Journaling Can Improve Quality of Life
Rosalie is a firm believer that drawing in nature can improve the quality of people’s lives. However, for many of us today this is not the default state.
“A lot of people are walking right past so many incredible wonders in nature and not taking time to notice them.”
She then goes on to point out that this is a learnable practice.
“Over time I began to notice more in the outdoors (…) My life was enriched by spending more quiet time in nature and using art to document what I was seeing.”
That’s wonderful if nature journaling and art can enrich our experience. But that is not all. She goes on to explain the healing effect these practices can have.
Rosalie shared her personal experience struggling with chronic migraines. Spending quiet time observing nature turned out to be a very effective therapy. This lead to her current practice around spending more time in nature.
How Her Art Can Help the Environment
I was interested in asking Rosalie about the role that she sees her art playing. A quote on her website said that she is creating “(…) visuals to help people see and appreciate the natural world in a deeper way.” I wanted to know more about how she is trying to implement this vision.
First, she creates art for conservation-minded companies and organizations. Some examples include: Patagonia, The Smithsonian, The National Parks, and the Audobon Society.
Second, she teaches regular people how to connect to nature through art and observation.
Lastly, she is sharing her experiences in nature helps invite others to explore more deeply.
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.
It was a weird year but the Nature Journal Show persevered! In 2020 I made over 60 episodes packed full of humor, tips, interviews, and motivation. Making these episodes for the nature journaling community was a life saver for me this year.
If you want the summary before you watch the video than here you go…
15 Reasons the Nature Journal Show is Great!
Humor. Funny is fun and it helps you learn better.
Practical tips. Very practical in-depth tips on more aspects of nature journaling than you even knew existed.
Science-based facts. Did you know that nature journaling burns calories? Now you do.
Ideas for everyone. Whether you are a home school family in Montana or you live in an apartment, the nature journal show has ideas for you!
Self-awareness. An essential life skill discussed in almost every episode.
Cool wildlife sightings. Falcons, frogs, felines, snakes, salamanders, spiders. Yup, come along for the adventure.
Risking my life to make good videos. Whether I’m crawling through cactus and rattlesnake habitat or painting at the edge of a cliff I go the extra mile.
Nature journaling where no one has before. I take you along for the adventure and test supplies in the weirdest conditions: up in trees, in ponds, on kayaks, whitewater rafts, and waterfalls.
Overcoming discomfort to push the envelope. I don’t let swarming flies, mosquito attacks, wildfire smoke, or extreme weather stop me from making episodes every week.
Innovative teaching techniques. I’m 100% committed to your learning even if it means I lose all the hairs on my arm or make a fool of myself.
Hands-on teaching style. No chance of getting bored.
Honesty. I share my personal struggles and keep it real.
Dedication. I’m dedicated to crafting the best videos even if I have to burn a sketchbook.
Good ideas. What other art teacher recommended you get a massage?
Good stories. The nature journal takes you along for captivating stories.
Paul Vecsei’s fish illustration is world class. His underwater fish photography is spellbinding, and his fisheries work is critical. So let’s dive into the world of fish, why they matter, and how to apply this to your nature journaling!
I first found out about Paul’s work on instagram @Fish_As_Art. The more I started looking into his work the more I knew I had to interview him. Eventually this conversation turned out to be one of the most fun I have had in a long time!
Fish Illustration Essentials
I asked Paul why does science illustration still matter in a world of photography. Since Paul does both I though he would have an objective answer. His response was short and to the point.
“Photos are plagued by their honesty.”
With drawing it is possible for the artist to focus on the characteristics that are most important. In contrast, a photograph blindly captures the way light is bouncing off a subject. For example, when Paul does a fish illustration he can be sure to depict the morphology that is essential for identifying that species. It is also possible to make sure all the fins are fully open which is important for identifying fish. It is also possible to do very clear comparisons between sexes for example.
Why Fish Matter
Fish are one of the most widespread animals on earth. They exist throughout the oceans and there are fish on or around every continent. As such they make up an important part of the food chain and are very important source of protein for humans. Paul also points out that they are intrinsically worthy of study and respect due to their fascinating behaviors, adaptations, and beauty.
Fish Illustration Tips for Nature Journaling
Pay attention to the context. Even if you can’t see the fish clearly or at all you can draw and record information about the aquatic ecosystem. Also look out for the presence or absence of fish hunting animals, fish remains on shore, and other signs of fish. Whether you see fish or not this information will add a lot to your pages and your learning.
Bring the fish to you. Instead of hoping that you will see a fish from the shore or trying to nature journal the fish that someone catches you can take matters into your own hands. Try bringing a simple dip net and a cheap plastic portable terrarium. Now you can catch small fish and keep them in water for a while to draw them. If you really want to be advanced you can get a photarium.
Become aquatic yourself. If you want to take it even further you should get a snorkel. This is gonna be the next step for me. Paul spends a lot of time in the water with fish and he says it is very easy. Most of the action is in very shallow water. You can take photos easily with a GoPro, make your observations and then journal when you get dry. If you want some tips for nature journaling around water then check out this post.
If you want to see the amazing lightning round with Paul then you’ll have to watch the interview on my Youtube channel.
You can see more of Paul’s fish illustrations and fish photography at his Flickr site. And you can follow him on his Instagram where he also posts his fish drawings, fisheries research, and photos of tasty pastries!
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.
Extreme nature journaling has lessons for all of us even if we are just nature journaling from home. Do you want to find a deeper connection and purpose in your nature journaling? Do you want to nature journal more in the winter?
I was so excited to talk to Kim Mcnett for this interview. Her pages on the nature journal club facebook page are great. But I knew I just had to interview her for the Nature Journal Show when I saw the crazy expeditions she was nature journaling on!
Why Extreme Nature Journaling Matters to You
Despite my obvious interest in extreme nature journaling I think there are lessons here for everybody. Even if you are not nature journaling in the arctic, in the amazon, in the grand canyon or with hunter gatherer tribes in East Africa, there is still a lot to learn. First, we can all be inspired by the work that extreme nature journalers are doing. These people can also contribute to the global awareness about the environment and the role that nature journaling can play. Imagine if there were thousands of nature journalers on the frontlines: Documenting endangered species on every continent? Sketching and sharing about critical restoration projects around the world? Asking questions and painting landscapitos of shrinking glaciers in the arctic?
Lastly, and more practically, extreme nature journaling is a crucible for testing techniques and supplies in the most challenging situations. If a watercolor palette works in the high Andes or on a sea-kayaking trip it will probably work at your local park. Extreme nature journalers can then help the rest of our community grow and learn better.
10 Tips for Nature Journaling in the Winter
Take care of your basic physical needs first. If you can’t stay comfortable and warm you will not be able to focus on higher level things such as nature journaling.
Reset your expectations. You might not make your most beautiful art while you are working in challenging conditions. Rethink what your goal is. What else do you value besides a pretty page?
Keep your supplies simple. Your winter kit should be basic. You don’t want to be fumbling with a lot of different materials.
Practice being outside more. It is hard to practice two new things at once. You might need to just practice being comfortable outside more before you try to add nature journaling to your expectations.
Try journaling from your window. You can nature journal the winter while staying in the comfort of your home if you sit at a window and look outside. This is a setup that is worth investing in. Maybe just moving some furniture around can make it work.
Nature Journal from your car. Similarly, you can use your car as a mobile nature journal studio. Park it somewhere cool!
Keep your hands warm with mittens. Kim recommends mittens over gloves.
Keep warm with disposable chemical hand warmers. Have one of these in your pockets in case you start losing dexterity in your hands.
Insulate your bum. Kim has cut a small piece of a sleeping pad to sit on. Or you can draw standing up.
Cold weather watercolor tips: Although multiple people say you can use vodka instead of water to prevent freezing Kim has not had good luck with this. She also warns that gloves and mittens often smudge watercolor so be careful.
Why should I nature Journal in the Winter Anyways?
First of all, nature journaling is good for your mental health. Winter can be a dark time in more ways than one. Connecting with nature, unlocking our creativity, slowing down to pay attention, and getting some light exercise outdoors are all scientifically tested ways of improving your mood. Second, not nature journaling for five months out of the year is gonna put a huge dent in your learning and skill-building. You can also fall out of the habit, lose motivation, and miss out on nature journaling community or friendships. (nature journaling outside with friends is a fine way to connect during covid). Third, nature journaling in the winter will help you understand where you live so much better.
Nature Journaling can help save humanity
I often like to ask guests on the Nature Journal Show what they think the future of nature journaling is. When I asked Kim she was adamant in her belief that we are in troubled times and that nature journaling could be one of the most important ways to help people shift their perspective. Living in Alaska for 10 years she has witnessed the accelerating climate change that is impacting the far north faster than the lower 48. She has watched permafrost disappear and glaciers recede. She argues that we have all the technology and know-how to fix this problem and prevent the destruction of our life support system. However, it is our willingness to change that is lacking. It is a shift in priorities and values that is needed and nature journaling can help people value nature in a deeper way.
More extreme nature journaling?
If you want to learn more about the nature journaling expeditions that Kim is doing and the other awesome work that she is up to check out her website.
If you want to a deeper look into some of the videos that Kim mentione and the work her partner Bjorn Olson is up to check out his website.
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.