Want to paint better watercolor landscapes in your nature journal?
Let’s go on a virtual landscape painting adventure through breathtaking mountain landscapes and learn how to paint mini-landscapes (aka Landscapitos) in this fun 2 hour class! David Lukas is a naturalist, author, and photographer who will take us into the mountains of Washington through his captivating photography. Marley Peifer will bring his love of watercolor landscape painting and a whole bunch of techniques to make your paintings more fun and more effective. All together we will have an engaging creative learning experience!
Sign up and ask questions about this class on Facebook. Click Here.If you are not on facebook then email Marley at Marley339@gmail.com
A. When: (new date!)Sunday November 7th at 1pm Pacific Time.
B. Where: The summertime mountains of Washington state via zoom!
C. What you need: Pen/Pencil and your nature journal. (Ideally with mixed media paper 90gsm-150 gsm). A simple watercolor set that you are used to will work best.
D. BONUS GIFT! When you sign up for the class you also get a landscape painting cheat sheet that Marley has distilled from his years of adding landscapitos to his nature journal pages!
In this week’s video, Marley tests out a new field kit from Art Toolkit, a supplies company created by Maria Coryell-Martin. Marley previously interviewed Maria on the Nature Journal Show about her expeditionary art.
Checking Out the New Tools
After looking through his knife collection and selecting a huge cleaver, Marley opens the package. Inside is the art toolkit containing: a sturdy zippable nylon kit pouch, pocket mister, Moleskine watercolor sketchbook, fine-tip Sharpie marker, medium waterbrush, binder clips, ruler, and waterbrush refill syringe. Some of the tools are a bit different from what Marley normally uses, but he is open to experimentation. Being flexible that way is a great practice for any nature journaler to have.
Testing a New Palette
Next, Marley decides to test out a free palette Art Toolkit sent him. The palette contains some watercolors Marley has not used before, as well as some old standbys. Maria uses a revolutionary system of magnetic pans, meaning you can easily switch out one paint pan with another, whether for custom field trips or different pan sizes, and ultimately control the layout of your palette. When you are testing out a new palette, remember the following tips:
Always start a new palette by making a full color chart. By doing this, you will know your supplies and be more comfortable with what they can do – before you go into the field.
Be honest about the colors you don’t love. They are taking up valuable palette space and can be vacated for other preferred colors.
Test the full range of each color. When you are painting a swatch, start on one end with the color at full strength. Then, clean off your brush a bit and continue painting the same swatch, so you can see what the color looks like when it is diluted.
List or label your colors. Better yet: keep them on the same page as your chart. Know what you have!
Keep notes on what you observe. Does this paint lift out? Does it granulate? How does it compare to other paints in your palette, in hue, constitution etc.?
Color chart done, Marley heads to dinner. When he comes back, he might be able to see other changes in his swatches that will give him even more information. As naturalists, it’s important to continually evaluate our field kits.
Want to try this kit out yourself?
You can try this art toolkit without even buying one for yourself. (Which is good because sometimes we buy something to test it out and then realize it is not the best for us anyways.) Guess what? Members of the Nature Journal Show Patreon get access to this community kit as it gets mailed from one member to the next! You can find out more about the other benefits of supporting Marley’s work on the Nature Journal Show Patreon page.
What do you like to do during the low tide? If you’re like Marley Peifer, you might enjoy going to the rocky shore, doing some nature journaling of the intertidal zone, and maybe even harvesting dinner! Join Marley as he explores the intertidal zone.
Tidepools are a dynamic place to visit, changing rapidly with the ocean and weather. Marley is quick to note the high “information density”:
“The main intellectual challenge in nature journaling at the tidepools is: there is so much information density, so many things to look at, so many potential subjects to choose from, that your main challenge is going to be focusing!”
Safety is #1.
Focusing on any one topic at the intertidal zone is one challenge; the other (arguably more important) one concerns logistics. It is vital to remain aware of your surroundings at all times when you’re this close to the ocean. The rocks are slippery and easy to fall on; the uneven terrain can catch your foot and get you stuck; and the ocean itself can catch you with its powerful waves. “Never turn your back on the ocean,” Marley is explaining – right as the ocean splashes him on the butt. He notes that it is better to come with a friend when exploring the rocky shore or intertidal zone.
So where do you start?
Despite the information density, Marley has a plan! He follows a setup that helps him get information down quickly without getting overwhelmed:
First, he situates himself so that he can observe safely and as comfortably as possible, and he secures his nature journal with binder clips so the pages won’t fly around while he’s journaling.
Second, he takes down the metadata: when and where he is, and what the weather is like.
Third, he makes a landscape rendering of the place, which really helps to set the scene.
Fourth, he zooms in on a subject. In this case, it’s one that isn’t moving, which allows for a longer time to observe the subject directly.
Fifth, he keeps his awareness of his surroundings and of any exciting fast-moving natural developments he might want to observe.
Later, he uses his close focus binoculars to try to observe a turnstone – mostly because the bird is far away and he wants to observe it before it flies off, but also because it is safer to observe from a distance, out of the ocean’s reach. Unfortunately the bird flies away very quickly, but Marley uses the information he has to make a memory drawing. By recording as many details as he can recall, Marley is cementing those details in his mind. He is also making it easier for himself to try to research the bird when he gets home.
How to nature journal a landscapito of the intertidal zone:
Marley has some tips for capturing a landscapito of this special location. For more landscapito tips, check out Marley’s earlier post here.
Punch in your dark values first, being mindful to reserve your whites. To capture the dark shapes in his landscapito, Marley uses a Pilot Futayaku Brush pen.
Put more details in the foreground; this is where the eye is drawn.
Put in only the suggestion of water at first.
When you begin using the watercolors, put in your lightest values first. In this case, that would be both the sky and the ocean, which Marley puts in at the same time. He uses John Muir Laws’s watercolor palette, which you can find here, and a Pentel large waterbrush.
Add the darker values in the foreground.
Now give this first layer of watercolor time to dry; the humidity near the ocean will make your page dry slower than you might be used to.
Adjust any values and saturations after the first layer has dried.
If needed, add back in your whites.
When it comes to adding white back into the landscapito, don’t be hard on yourself. Reserving whites is challenging and takes practice! You can add the whites back in using an opaque media, like the Presto Jumbo Correction Pen Marley uses. Always test the opaque media off to the side first before using it on your main piece, and be sure to stop before you actually feel ready. Otherwise playing with the correction pen might get too fun, and you might overdo it.
Marley’s practice and pencil miles pay off: he is able to get pages of rich information about his intertidal adventure AND harvest dinner! ¡Buen provecho!
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 leaves, 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, by itself this is not 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.
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.
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.
A good watercolor palette is one of the best art investments you can make so I am going to show you my favorite palette and four reasons why it is the best!
When you are nature journaling or even urban sketching you can produce more compelling sketches faster if you have watercolor. As it turns out there are tons of watercolor and palette options out there. However, finding a good portable palette and choosing watercolors that work well is a daunting task. You could spend all your time looking for the right supplies and not have any time left over for making art! Therefore, I’m gonna help you avoid that problem by showing you the best watercolor palette I have found. Let’s get into it. Cue the drum roll!
The best watercolor palette for nature sketching and journaling is the customized palette by John Muir Laws!
You can buy one of these palettes on his website here. But be warned, these palettes are hand made and often run out of stuck so be sure to get yours first. Or you can even make your own from John Muir Laws’ instructions because he is such an amazing and generous guys (more details on how to make your own palette below).
4 Reasons it is the Best Watercolor Palette
You are going to save so much money! Because this one art tool can eliminate the need for hundreds and hundreds of dollars of other art supplies. You can make so many combinations with the 32 watercolors included in this palette. Also, watercolors are so concentrated they will last a long time.
Excellent Color Choices! Because a professional illustrator and naturalist has carefully chosen all 32 colors you can avoid the guesswork. Therefore you can focus on making the art and learning how to use the colors in your paintings. Most of the colors come from Daniel Smith Fine Watercolors, a small company based in the US that still cares about quality art supplies.
So Organized and Compact! From the arrangement of the colors to the clear labeling on the outside this watercolor kit is dialed in! There are also mixing areas in all the right places. You don’t have to experiment over and over again to find a system because John Muir Laws has done it for you. The kit is also compact enough to fit in your purse or back pocket. That’s a lot of art power in your pocket!
Field-Tested and Child Approved! Finally, this watercolor palette has been tested by many artists in some of the most challenging field painting conditions! John Muir Laws and myself have both used this palette in places such as British Columbia, the Amazon Jungle, the Serengeti, Rwanda, the Sierra Nevada mountains, and the Ecuadorean Cloud Forest. This palette is tough and has stood the test of time.
Ok, One More Reason To get this Watercolor Kit
Last but certainly not least. This watercolor palette is the best because John Muir Laws shares the entire process of how to make it for FREE on his website! Just follow this link. That proves that he believes in this palette so much he would rather share how to make it than just try to make money. What a great guy!
Look at all the colors you can make with this kit! Here is a chart that I made showing all the combinations.
What about a watercolor palette for the studio?
If you want to get some more ideas about what would work good for the studio check out this video
But what paper should I use?
Now that you know the best palette for nature journaling you might want help choosing the best sketchbook. Check out this post where I share all the criteria you need to know to choose the best sketchbook for you!
Are you stuck at home but you still want to make art and nature journal? Me too! That’s why I made this video on how to make a landscape painting from photos. Whether you are stuck at home because of the weather, because of a pandemic, or because it is dark outside this guide will help you. Learning how to use reference photos for watercolor painting is a good skill to build regardless.
The 11 Step Guide To Landscape Painting From Photos:
First, you make a pot of tea. Actually, this is a very important step.
Next, you create the station where you are going to be working. Since you are going to paint from photos of landscapes on your computer or iPad make sure you get the area organized. Get all your materials ready: watercolor, towel, brushes, pencils, nature journal,
Third, choose your photo wisely. No matter your skills, your final drawing or painting is only as good as the photo it is based on. Certain things like sunsets are also extra hard to paint accurately so let us avoid those. Unfortunately, many beginners are attracted to sunsets. Hence the many amateur painting of sunsets online. We will get to sunsets once we build some basic skills.
Fourth, crop and edit your photo for better painting. In the video I go into depth about how important cropping is. By cropping your photo intentionally you can make your painting more dramatic and you can incorporate important design elements such as the “rule of thirds.” Additionally, you can focus on the values better by turning your photos of landscapes into black and white.
Next, we jump into the landscape painting process by drawing the basic shapes. Being able to simplify a landscape into 3-8 major shapes is essential. It is the arrangement of these basic shapes that gives the landscape painting it’s feeling and impact.
After drawing the shapes it is time to lay in the lights and darks. You should aim for 3-8 gradations from light to dark. The sky is always the lightest. These gradations should match the simplified shapes from step 5.
Now, it is time to go back and add another level of darkness to your landscape drawing. Pay attention to the dark spots in your photo reference and try to match these in your drawing.
Watercolor Painting Time!
Now, it is time to really start painting from your photo. Turn the photo back into color then take out your watercolor and start laying in washes. First, do the paler washes such as the sky and the background. Focus on keeping the values correct.
Add local color accents. Now, look at your photo reference and try to match some of the specific colors. But remember, these are accents so they do not need to go everywhere. And the most important thing is that your 3-8 major blocks are still recognizable separate.
Now, add more contrast in the foreground elements and push your values a little more. Most of the time watercolor landscape paintings end up to pale.
Finally, take a look at the reference photo for your watercolor painting and compare it to your actual page. Where could you do better? Try turning the photo back to black and white. How close are your values? For bonus points do another version of this landscape but with charcoal or graphite.
Painting from photos gives you a lot of tools to improve your landscape painting skills!
For more landscape painting ideas, especially for mini-landscapes check out this post
Don’t forget to watch the video for all the pro tips!