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.
Do you know how to draw with binoculars? Are you a birder, nature journaler, or urban sketcher? If so, you can see more, draw better, and learn faster with this technique.
For a long time I would carry binoculars on my neck but didn’t really know how to use them effectively. My binos were more ornamental then functional. They made me feel like a naturalist and they showed others that I was serious. Finally, I got a different pair of binoculars and I started using them more while nature journaling. Little by little I developed a system that helped me use them while drawing. Now, they have become an essential drawing tool for me just like a pencil or eraser.
How to Draw With Binoculars: Two Ways
Method One-The Shifting Eyes Method
This method is good for nature journal beginners
Use a chair
Don’t use very heavy binoculars
Support your drawing surface on your lap
Because your surface is supported you should be able to draw with one hand
Hold your binoculars against your brow bone (above your eye).
Get your subject in view and brace your bino-holding arm.
Angle your head so you can also peer out the bottom of your binoculars at your drawing and get your hand ready to draw.
Alternate between looking at your subject and looking at your drawing.
Keep your binoculars in position.
Method Two-The Visual Memory Method
This method is more difficult but is good practice for developing your visual memory as an artist.
Do you have nature hobbies or art hobbies beside nature journaling? Have you ever wanted to bring your nature journal along to your other hobby? In this video, I try to do just that! Then, I share 5 tips for nature journaling your outdoor hobby and my personal experience trying to nature journal on a fishing trip.
Do you like camping, gardening, hiking, birding, botanizing, sailing, kayaking, or horseback riding? Have you ever wanted to go deeper into your hobbies? You’re in luck because journaling can help.
If you are already nature journaling then you have a head start but if you are a total newbie that is fine. A nature journaling perspective can be combined with almost any hobby. Not only that but this perspective will help you maintain a useful record of your nature adventures.
Nature Hobbies and Journaling Tips to Remember:
First, you will need to address some of the mental obstacles listed below.
Number one, a limited definition of what journaling is used for will get in your way.
Once you overcome the mental obstacles you will need to simplify your kit. Since you are combining two hobbies you are likely to have a lot of gear.
Next you will need to focus on the essential aspects of your nature hobby. What is the most important part to capture in your journal? Since you have limited time you must focus.
After you find the essentials you will need to decide what nature journaling techniques will work best. Luckily there are a lot of great techniques to choose from. For example if you are mountain biking cross section map of the terrain would be great! If you are gardening, change over time would be good.
Lastly, if you are really struggling finding the balance try switching roles for a bit. Maybe on one of your trips you can focus on journaling the action while your friend does all the fishing or plants the flower bed.
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.
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.
As a nature journaler I am always curious how others got started nature journaling. And what about you? Do you ever wonder about the story behind the nature journalers whose sketches and paintings you see online? In this episode of The Nature Journal Show we learn about Melinda Nakagawa, her experience with nature sketching, nature education, and how she started a new nature journal club in Monterey California!
The first thing that I was impressed by in our conversation was that Melinda started nature journaling in 1998 since the term nature journaling has not been around for that long. Her first nature journal pages were from a whale watching trip. Before this however she was already an avid note taker and had used journaling in a diary sort of way.
After nature journaling on her own for some time her husband bought her a book by Clare Walker Leslie. Soon after that she also got the nature journaling book by Hannah Hinchman. Now she could see that other people were nature journaling too. A little bit later she got the book by John Muir Laws. While all of these books inspired her it was the Wild Wonder nature journaling conference in 2019 that really lit her up. Because of the incredible feeling of the nature journaing community at that event she decided to start her own nature journal club where she lived in Monterey California.
Four Nature Journaler Tips
1. First of all combine nature journaling with your existing interests. Melinda grew her nature journal practice from her birding and marine biology practices.
2. Next, build your skills of existing skills. Are you a note taker or a poet? Do you draw diagrams for work? Are you a data scientist? How can you use your existing skills in your nature journal?
3. Third, connect with community. By connecting with community you will get more motivation and you will learn faster. In addition, it is much more fun! Melinda got a huge burst of inspiration after she went to the Wild Wonder Nature Journaling Conference. Community can be online too.
4. Last but not least, start teaching nature journaling. Even if you are a beginner nature journaler there are people who are more new to it than you. By sharing what you have learned so far you will accelerate your own learning and reinforce your skills. Start before you are ready.
In this video we learn botany basics to help you understand flowers. In so doing we can draw them better in our nature journals.
Sometimes it is easier to draw something that you know nothing about. And sometimes it is easier to ask novel questions and make new observations if we know nothing about a subject. However, there are other time when a little bit of background knowledge can provide an important foundation for future learning.
Basic Botany for Nature Journalers
First and foremost, you must learn some taxonomy. Why? Because if you understand a plant’s evolutionary lineage you can unlock a lot more learning. But don’t worry, it’s not that hard.
In order to facilitate taxonomy you have to learn families. If you can learn plant families then you can go anywhere in the world and understand the botany better.
Finally, to understand families you need to understand flower morphology. And don’t worry, morphology is just a fancy way to say shapes. Many people look at plant leaves and hope to learn something from the leaves. However, the leaves are not a useful characteristic. Similarity in leaf shape does not mean that plants are closely related. On the other hand, flower features are the basis for determining how related plants are to each other.
Flower Morphology for Nature Journalers
Next time you look at a plant, look at the flowers first. As you approach the flower we will focus on a few key things. (we’ll keep the botanical terminology to a minimum for now).
First, how many petals and sepals are there?
Then we will look to see how many male parts and female parts are there.
Third, we will check to see if the flower has bilateral or radial symmetry.
Lastly, we want to figure out if the ovary is above the petals or under them
By figuring out the above information we can often identify a plant to it’s family if not to genus and species. Once we know the family we can make a lot of assumptions about the plant. We can make guesses about its ecology, it’s phytochemistry, and its potential ehtnobotanical status.
For some great educational and thoroughly irreverent botanical lessons check out this channel on youtube: Crime Pays But Botany Doesn’t This channel does use a lot of profanity so if you are sensitive about language you might want to skip it.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
John Muir Laws (aka Jack Laws) could inspire a hard boiled egg. In fact, after this interview you will never look an egg the same. But maybe you have never nature journaled before and you do not even have access to “nature.” regardless of whether you live in a national park or you live in an apartment this interview will show you how to connect to nature. We also talk about his amazing new book which could really help you if you are stuck at home with your kids right now. Actually, this curriculum could really help you even if you are and adult and stuck at home by yourself right now.
He’s our mentor. He’s our teacher. Jack Laws is our fearless leader. In this video he drops some huge bombs of wisdom. In particular let us look at 4 shining examples from the interview.
John Muir Laws Wisdom Bombs
First, “You can still help people during the social distancing of a pandemic.”
“You want reality? You can’t handle reality!” (be sure to watch the video to get this one…)
“It’s not where you look it’s how you look.” Jack emphasizes how the way we pay attention can reveal the wonder of a green bean or an egg. In other words, we don’t need to go to Yosemite or the Serengeti to appreciate the wonders of nature.
” The greatest organ of pleasure in the human body is the…” In spite of what you might think, John Muir Laws argues that the biggest organ of pleasure in the human body is the brain!
Do you need some inspiration and structure for your nature journaling? Or do you have kids at home that you are homeschooling? Regardless, be sure to check out Jack Law’s amazing new “How to Teach Nature Journaling” curriculum.
Trust me, this curriculum is kid tested and parent approved. Jack is giving it away as a free PDF. You can also order a hard copy of your own.
Have you looked at your very first nature journal recently? Or are you just starting out with nature journaling? In this video I share the good, the bad, and the ugly from my very first nature sketchbook. Hopefully, it will not be too embarrassing…
I first started nature journaling in February of 2014 after learning about the idea from John Muir Laws and looking at some of the content on his website. Because I had been inspired from John (aka Jack) I dove right into the practice. In addition to diving deeply into the subject I also practiced it frequently and used my journal for everything. In other words I did not get too “precious” about my first nature journal.
3 Tips for your First Nature Journal
First, JUST START! You have to find a balance between being prepared and actually starting. If you find yourself watching more videos and buying more supplies before you start filling pages then stop. It is better to err on the side of “starting before you are ready.
Second, JOURNAL MEANS DAILY. Try to get into a regular habit of working in your journal. Even if you are putting something on the pages that is unrelated you will build the habit of using the book and becoming comfortable with it. If you can try to create a time of day where you always use it. The word journal literally means daily (from Latin through French)
Last but not least, FIND OTHER PEOPLE to nature journal with. Hopefully, a mix of skill levels. Not only with they help you stay motivated but those who are above your skill level will push you to improve your skills.