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 Draw Rocks in Your Nature Journal

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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.
Next Steps

Are you tired of drawing rocks and want to do a landscape? Check out this post.

If you want to get better at rendering check out this video by Alphonso Dunn

Birding and Nature Journaling: Special Technique

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

  1. First, we are going to pretend like we are not looking for birds.
  2. Next choose a location that is comfortable and of varied habitat.
  3. Bring a comfy chair, binoculars and nature journaling supplies.
  4. Start drawing a tree or painting a landscapito.
  5. After about 20 minutes I find that the birds start to come to you. Be sure that you have your binoculars ready.
  6. Create a sidebar or reserve a blank area next to your tree drawing or landscape painting for recording your bird observations.
What if I’m new to nature journaling?
  • Nature Journaling is not focused on drawing pretty pictures. If you focus too much on pretty pictures or you have unconscious expectations about prettiness you will struggle more.
  • Focus on what you notice.
  • Turn your drawing into a diagram. This takes pressure off the art.
  • Trace shadows. If you are afraid to draw a tree, try sitting under one and tracing cast shadows on your page.
  • Trace leaves. This is another low risk method you can try.
  • Remember that nature journaling uses 3 languages: words, images, and numbers. Try to use them all.
  • Experiment with your own ways to combine birding and nature journaling.
What if I’m new to birding?
  • It is ok if you cannot identify birds at first. Sometimes you can notice more about things when you do not know their names. Just write down or sketch the features you notice about them.
  • Try looking up birds when you get home.
  • Try going with friends who are more experienced birders. Maybe introduce them to nature journaling.
  • Experiment with other ways to combine nature journaling and birding.

birding and nature journaling combined can help you learn more about common birds and enjoy drawing them. This is an example of a nature journal page where I focused on a common "trash bird" in Costa Rica that most birders would have not paid much attention to.

For more fun how to nature journaling videos.
For an in-depth guide to drawing birds check out this video from John Muir Laws.
See how nature journaling can make you a better birder.

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.

Nature Observation: How to See More With Your Nature Journal

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

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

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

Sherlock Holmes

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

12 Nature Observation Tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nature Observation Skills Will Help You See More in Nature

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

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.

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

 

Nature Comics to Show Action in Your Nature Journal

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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
  3. 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.