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.
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.
I’m back from nature journaling in the Grand Canyon for 21 days. In my live “Show and Tell” video I share experiences and pages from the adventure!
You already know I have been testing nature journal supplies, clothing, sun protection, waterproof supplies, and other gear in preparation for this trip. You have heard about my training and my preparation. Now I’m back! And I have lots to share. In fact, it was so much I have to do a Part Two. My goal is to give you some answers to the following questions.
First, how did I prepare?
Next, how did I stay focused during the trip?
Lastly, what am I gonna do now that the trip is over?
Preparing to Nature Journal in the Grand Canyon
It can be hard to prepare for something that you have never done before. Had I ever been to the Grand Canyon before? Nope. Whitewater rafting with some of the biggest navigable rapids on the continent? Nope. Any whitewater rafting experience at all? No, but I went down a creek in an inner tube once. Any other river expedition experience? Nope. Had I ever spent 23 days camping with my girlfriend before? No…What about other multi-day expedition experience? Sort of… What about nature journaling in extreme conditions and unusual places? Yep, I got that one covered!
So first, I had to make sure I had the material needs covered to survive and thrive enough to enjoy the trip and have enough energy to nature journal. I didn’t want to break the bank on gear or spend forever trying to figure out what was best. Luckily, our trip leader, Cooper, and his partner Leah had a lot of the necessary gear that we could borrow. In addition, I managed to piece together a lot of the clothing necessary from my old wool hunting clothes and bought some used Patagonia layers. I love that they have a website dedicated to selling used gear that is still very useful and often like new.
Then, I focused my remaining funds on buying some key new pieces of equipment…
A waterproof bag just for my nature journal kit. Watershed Largo Tote Bag(full review coming soon). Keeping my nature journal supplies easily accessible yet safe was a priority!
Waterproof Notebook from Rite in the Rain. I also got two waterproof pens which ended up sucking…(review coming soon)
Sun Protection was a priority for me! A wind resistant, non-floppy sun hat. Sun gloves so that I didn’t have to worry about sunscreen on my hands messing up my paper. I also got two sun shirts for sun protection on hot days.
of arms they have a cord attachment that makes them less likely to break and they don’t fall off even in the big rapids or while swimming, or under a 60 foot waterfall. Yes I tested them in all those settings. More review of these coming in the future.
Last but definitely not least, I got an amazing camping chair. This chair was recommended by our trip leader for river trips. Luckily, I got it several months before the trip and it is one of my most useful nature journaling tools now! With this chair I was even able to sit in waterfalls and paint them.
Other Preparations for the Canyon
I knew from previous experiences that it would take me a while to get used to nature journaling in the Grand Canyon. Therefore, I tried to simulate aspects of the expedition in advance. I tested all the gear mentioned above. I tried to simulate conditions that I expected on the trip: wet, hot and sunny, cold and windy, etc. In addition to this type of training I also did research about the grand canyon and practiced layouts and techniques that I would use on my pages.
Balance and Commitment While Nature Journaling in the Canyon
Nature journaling is not always easy. Drawing moving subjects is not child’s play. Despite what people think, watercolor painting en plein air is not relaxing (especially when you only have 15 minutes, you are balanced on the edge of a sheer cliff full of cacti, the light is changing by the minute, spray from a waterfall is buffeting you, and a lifetime’s worth of potential paintings beckon to you from every direction you look in). Choosing to nature journal while in a group of people doing other things requires balance, self-awareness, and social intelligence. Just choosing to sit with one vista or one plant when there are thousands of sights and experiences vying for your attention is a mentally taxing endeavor.
Nature Journaling = Commitment
In these moments in the canyon it is easy for my mind to play tricks on me. It is easy to talk myself out of the work that I came to do. “It’s cold outside. Warm sleeping bag or sunrise landscape drawing? How can I nature journal before coffee? I should just take pictures of everything instead of trying to draw. I can draw from photos when I get back home. Maybe there is a better view around the corner. I probably need more time to capture this scene…no point in starting now. My nature journal supplies are too hard to get to. I’m too tired to try to draw this scorpion right now, besides look at all those legs! That is going to be too hard. I might mess up the look of the page if I try to sketch that scorpion. What if other people look at my drawing and its not that good?”
At such times it is good to shake all doubts from the head and invoke Steven Pressfield:
The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.
While busting one’s ass nature journaling is commendable being a human requires balance. Despite my own fantasies, this trip was not focused specifically on nature journaling in the grand Canyon. This was not like my Nature Journal Safaris in East Africa with John Muir Laws. Even though I planned on “working” on the trip and making a publication of my pages for my Patreon , the trip was actually supposed to be a vacation (why do I still struggle with that word?).
This trip also meant different things to different people. And despite my personal commitment there were plenty of other considerations on this trip. I was part of a team on a potentially dangerous expedition in an extremely remote area-I had a responsibility to the group and cooking and other duties just like everyone else. I was also part of a relationship – I was on this trip with my partner and had to tend to the needs of our relationship and spend quality time together.
After spending 21 days without even seeing a building or a computer it has been a little hard adjusting to being back. However, I’m motivated to share my experiences with the community and I’m compiling and improving on my nature journal pages from the voyage to create a publication for you! This publication will be similar to my Tanzania Travel journal and will be available for print on demand via my author page on Blurb. It will probably cost around $30 for the hard copy and maybe $2 for the e-book. In addition my Patreon patrons of $5 and above will all get a copy mailed to them.
Do you want to learn how to start a nature journal for beginners? In this conversation with nature journaler Heather Crellin you will find tons of good ideas! Even though she has only been nature journaling for less than a year she has lots of wisdom to share. Despite her newness, she has been learning fast, connecting with community, and sharing her work online.
How She Got Started With Art and Nature Journaling
Heather had somewhat of an accidental start. She had not made art since her “crayon days” until she accidentally walked into an Asian art class. She thought it was only a lecture but it turned out to be a hands-on class. That day marked her “artiversary.” After that she started drawing a lot and eventually found John Muir Laws’ youtube channel. But she still did not consider herself a nature journaler.
The Nature Journaling Community’s Response to COVID-19
In April of 2020 many people were quarantined and unable to access natural places. The nature journaling fieldtrips that used to be the mainstay of the community were canceled. However, these tough times did not stop the movement. In fact, there was an abundance of virtual workshops and an outpouring of generosity and resources from the community. Heather tapped into this. She began taking more classes. She joined several of the online groups. Soon, she was considering herself a nature journaler. Now, the nature journal club provides a strong sense of community for her.
How Beginners Can Share Their Work
New nature journalers often have trouble sharing their work. This can be a major source of fear and anxiety. Despite being a newbie Heather has been fearless about sharing pages online and getting feedback. In fact, she thinks that it is essential that more beginners share their work so that more skill levels are represented. This is especially important when the nature of social media has a bias towards the more polished looking pieces of art. Heather recommends that if you are new you can form community by sharing your work. Nature journaling is not just about creating pretty pictures. Think about why you are sharing before you share. Do not share with the expectation that you will get lots of likes. That is an unhappiness trap even for accomplished artists.
Five Tips For Nature Journal Beginners
Make nature journaling an easy routine. Try to find a regular time. Even 10 minute sessions are good.
Keep a simple sketching kit with you at all times. (like in your purse)
Identify “your daily nature” what aspects of nature are right outside your window? Heather was able to find these even without a garden or access to parks during quarantine.
Next, think of nature journaling as your “me time”. It helps you recharge and be a better person for your family. Thinking of it this way helps people who feel like they can’t take time away from family obligations.
Find Community. This should probably be number one. Try to find other people who will motivate you and help you learn. If you do this it will be much easier getting started with nature journaling.
If you know how to draw rocks then you will always have a subject. The bird flew away, the deer were hiding, and you missed the wildflower bloom. However, the rocks are still there and they probably won’t go anywhere for a million years. Whether you are in a park or at home you probably have access to rocks. Kids love rocks too! So let’s dive right in.
How to Draw Rocks in 5 Steps:
First, set a goal for your session. Are you trying to teach your kids about geology? Are you trying to relax with watercolor? Or maybe you want to get better at realistic rendering of 3D objects with pen and ink. Once you have a goal in mind it is easier to stay on track.
Next, start SMALL! Regardless of your patience and your art skills biting off too big of a rock is going to hurt. Start practicing on little rocks. You can even bring a few home and have them on your desk to practice.
Third, simplify your rock into basic shapes. Can you draw a 3D cube? If so, you can draw a rock. Start looking for the basic planes that make up the rock. If you are at home use a single strong light source on the rock. This lighting will help you see the simplified planes. Planes are the flat sides. Once you understand planes and how they relate to shadows you are ready to move on.
Next, try drawing a diagram. Your last drawing was meant to be a realistic illusion of volume, however your diagram is meant to highlight information. Have you ever seen geology cross sections before? If so, you know that they look like a slice of cake. What information or story are you interested in? How can you diagram your rock using arrows and labels?
Lastly, try using color swatches and texture panels to experiment. Instead of trying to show 3D, diagram info, texture, and color all in one drawing try separating these. By doing little watercolor or gouache swatches you will have better luck. If you combine everything in a single drawing it is really hard.
Let’s combine birding and Nature Journaling to see more birds, learn faster, improve our memory of field marks, and go deeper with each bird. In this video I show you how to use a secret technique to have more close encounters with birds. This approach can help you whether you are a birder or a nature journaler . You might be surprised because it is not what you think.
“The watched pot never boils”
Everyone has heard the above expression. However, not everyone knows that it applies to birding. In fact, the expression could be “the watched bird never does what you want.” Many times the watched area may not produce birds at all. Most birders and animal lovers have had this experience in nature. This experience can be especially difficult for bird photographers and artists. As soon as you see the bird it will turn away or leave. How can we solve this problem?
Secret Technique for Birding and Nature Journaling
First, we are going to pretend like we are not looking for birds.
Next choose a location that is comfortable and of varied habitat.
Bring a comfy chair, binoculars and nature journaling supplies.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
If you follow all of these nature observation tips you will be a Nature Sherlock in no time!
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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”
Next 5 Steps
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Try creating a journal just for journaling and sketching your pets.
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.
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.
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.
Start nature journaling your pet as soon as you get it. Documenting the growth of a pet is very rewarding!
Try setting up experiments to answer your own questions. What fun experiments can you set up with your pet?
Try to answer your own questions before you look it up on google.