Best Books for Nature Journaling

What is your favorite nature journaling related book?  Do you use books that don’t have ‘nature journaling’ explicitly in the title?  Join Marley and me for this episode of “The Nature Journal Show” where we share the best books for nature journaling.

The subject of nature journaling is quite the multi-disciplinary one.  Natural history, ecology, art technique, mindset, and many other areas of study combine to make this unique subject.  Which categories are most important, are up to you.  But if you are looking for a place to get started in terms of resources, check out our list below.  We include some of the best books for nature journaling that have many of our fellow journalers going ‘Aaaaah!’*

*A quick note before we begin: Please don’t go out and buy all these books!  Please be selective – not each book will be everyone’s cup of tea.  Check your local library for hardcopies and audiobooks (or befriend a librarian).  Check your child’s school library and have them borrow books for you (hey, worth a shot!).  See if there are nearby nature journalers who might want to share books.  Ask in the online community to see if anyone is getting rid of any nature journal books and is looking for a new home for them.  Who knows, we may even start a traveling book collection or a nature journalers’ library someday!

In addition to listing the books we have also included links to many of them in case you want to buy them. The amazon links are affiliate links so we will get a small percentage if you use the link for a purchase without any extra cost to you. This helps support the Nature Journal Show. Where possible we have included the links to the author’s websites so they get the most benefit from the purchase.

Check out our list by categories:

Best Nature Journaling Specific Books

The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling by John Muir Laws https://johnmuirlaws.com/product/the-laws-guide-to-nature-drawing-and-journaling/

How to Teach Nature Journaling by John Muir Laws and Emilie Lygren https://johnmuirlaws.com/product/how-to-teach-nature-journaling/

Keeping a Naturalist’s Notebook by Susan Leigh Tomlinson

The Curious Nature Guide by Clare Walker Leslie https://amzn.to/2VMyKvP

A Life In Hand: Creating the Illuminated Journal by Hannah Hinchman https://amzn.to/3hEjSaq

Best Natural History and Ecology books for Nature Journalers

The Diversity of Life by E.O. Wilson a great book about the evolution of biodiversity from one of the foremost naturalists and biologists of today. https://amzn.to/3zeDGHA

The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs by Tristan Gooley

Braiding Sweetgrass and Gathering Moss, both by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Roadside Geology of Northern California

A Tracking Companion by Marley Peifer https://www.blurb.com/b/8746087-a-tracking-companion

When You Are Lost by Joy Colangelo

The California Field Atlas by Obi Kaufmann

Botany in a Day by Thomas J. Elpel

How to Identify Plants by H.D. Harrington

Nature Anatomy by Julia Rothman

The Total Skywatcher’s Manual

Secrets of the Oak Woodlands by Kate Marianchild

Best Field Guides for Nature Journalers

What it’s Like to be a Bird by David Allen Sibley. An amazing new look into bird’s lives  https://amzn.to/3ziQfBw

Sibley Birds East by David Allen Sibley https://amzn.to/3hEZPZI

Sibley Birds West by David Allen Sibley https://amzn.to/3zgGd3W

Reptiles of the Galapagos

https://www.tropicalherping.com/science/books/reptiles/reptiles_of_galapagos.html

Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals  https://amzn.to/3EkmyUz

The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada by John Muir Laws

Mammals of the San Francisco Bay Region by William D. and Elizabeth Berry

The Cloudspotter’s Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney

Other Nature Art Forms

California’s Wild Edge by Tom Killion and Gary Snyder. A beautiful collection of landscape prints, poems, and history of California’s coast.  https://amzn.to/3kdp9Yw

Also by Gary Snyder and Tom Killion:  The High Sierra of California https://amzn.to/3hCVK8q

Planet Ocean, Dancing to the Fossil Record by Ray Troll. Beautiful illustrations and stories about paleontology and fossils. A fun read and amazing pastel art work. https://amzn.to/3Ceciv9

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

Frontiers of Enchantment: An Artist’s Adventures in Africa

Best Art Technique and Sketching Books for Nature Journalers

Rosalie Haizlett’s new book: Watercolor in Nature (coming November 2) https://amzn.to/39d0oFv

Cyclopedia Anatomicae: More Than 1,500 Illustrations of the Human and Animal Figure for the Artist https://amzn.to/3k8Jzlf

Animal Anatomy for Artists by Eliot Goldfinger https://amzn.to/3hyxZOw

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain https://amzn.to/3tHHwI2

Dibujar la Naturaleza by Juan M. Varela Simó. One of the best books about nature sketching in Spanish. Many examples of nature journal type approaches. https://amzn.to/3zlhLi8

Alaskan Field Sketches by William D Berry https://amzn.to/2XmjtlK

Art Forms in Nature by Ernst Haeckel https://amzn.to/3C82vH4

Making Comics by Scott McCloud https://amzn.to/2Xy3ykN

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud https://amzn.to/3zf6DTC

Comics and Sequential Art by Will Eisner https://amzn.to/2XmyhRk

The Sketchnote Handbook by Mike Rohde https://amzn.to/3t2pONu

The Restless Kingdom: An Exploration of Animal Movement https://amzn.to/3hCrESd

Drawing Ideas by Mark Baskinger and William Bardel https://amzn.to/3EviZLx

Artist’s Sketchbook by Cathy Johnson https://amzn.to/3nDneOP

The Sierra Club Guide to Painting in Nature by Cathy Johnson https://amzn.to/3hFnXeI

Painting Nature’s Details in Watercolor by Cathy Johnson https://amzn.to/3zgZ9Qi

Botanical Drawing in Color by Wendy Hollender https://amzn.to/3zil9Kn

The Complete Book of Textures for Artists by Steven Pearce, Denise J. Howard, and Mia Tavonatti https://amzn.to/3hCtEKw

Urban Watercolor Sketching by Felix Scheinberger https://amzn.to/3zhs32C

Drawing Birds by John Busby

The Field Guide to Drawing & Sketching Animals by Tim Pond

The Weatherly Guide to Drawing Animals

How to Draw Animals, Jack Hamm

The Art of Animal Drawing by Ken Hultgren

Bird Anatomy for Artists by Natalia Balo

Capturing the Essence Techniques for Bird Artists by William T. Cooper

Art of Field Sketching by Clare Walker Leslie

Sketching in Nature by Cathy Johnson

Drawing and Painting from Nature by Cathy Johnson

Educational Coloring Books (which you can also use for line work inspiration)

The Botany Coloring Book https://amzn.to/3zeMFsc

The Marine Biology Coloring Book by Thomas M. Niesen

A Field Guide to Butterflies Coloring Book by Roger Tory Peterson et al

National Parks Coloring Book by Peter F. Copeland

State Birds and Flowers Coloring Book by Annika Bernhard

Mindset and Motivation

Mindset by Carol Dweck https://amzn.to/3AbmMLc

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

The Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv  https://amzn.to/2VKPyTX

Nature Poetry

The Home Place by Dr J Drew Lanham https://amzn.to/39biuYA

Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry

Devotions by Mary Oliver

Please add your own best books for nature journaling to the comments below!  Happy Reading!

Art Toolkit Unboxing and Review on The Nature Journal Show

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.

Marley examines the Art Toolkit he received in the mail.

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.?
  • Experiment!!
Marley does a color chart of his palette; it is important for nature journalers to know their palettes before they go in the field.

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.

Are you completely new to nature journaling?

If so, then this post has the basics : How to Nature Journal in 10 Steps

Do you need help choosing nature journaling supplies? In that case check out Nature Journaling Supplies: What You Need and What You Do Not

Using My Words at International Nature Journaling Week

7 days.  7 themes.  When Bethan Burton announced the dates for the International Nature Journaling Week she created, I could hardly wait!  This was my first year attending it, and it left my naturalist soul humming.

First of all, Bethan made it so that the week was information-dense without being overwhelming; 2 workshops a day was the perfect amount to leave us satiated and yet still hungry for the next day.  Second, having themes on each day allowed us to sink more deeply into those themes – words, pictures, numbers, “I notice”, “I wonder”, “it reminds me of”, and mindset – and process them more thoroughly.  Moving at this pace allows us to integrate each piece more fully into our nature journaling practices.

Within all the richness of topics and techniques, two workshops stood out the most to me: Emilie Lygren’s “Words that Connect, Words that Shine” and Marley Peifer’s “Unlock the Power of Curiosity in Your Nature Journal”.

Yvea's questions
All the questions!

Words, Words, Words

Why those two?  Words have long been my “bread-and-butter”.  Nature journaling itself is only a few years new for me, but I have been playing with and exploring words since I was 3 years old.  For many years, words were my only friends.  And yet in spite of my deep connection to words, there is still room for me to grow.

Emilie’s workshop helped me rediscover my poetry roots – this time with a nature journal bent.  It turns out that the core nature journaling prompt, INIWIRMO, is actually perfect for starting a poem!  “I notice” can help us to look closer and truly experience the details of our subject. “I wonder” helps us want to know more, and that same sense of wonder is why we fall in love with our subject and with nature.  “It reminds me of” brings in the power of memory and, with it, connection.  Of course these would be the perfect recipe for poetry!

Once you’ve made those observations and insights about your subject, you can combine them or reorder them to create a poem:

Yvea's sundew poem
My poem about a Drosera plant

If words are my “bread-and-butter,” questions are my “juice”.  Like Fiona Gillogly, I can fill whole pages with questions, and doing so only increases my energy level.  So when Marley offered new ways to examine and expand our questions, well, it felt a little like being offered nature candy.  Playing with questions makes our thinking more flexible and stretches our brains beyond their previous boundaries.  By doing that at every level and at every part of the nature journaling experience, to quote Amaya Shreeve, there can be “no end to the wonder.”

Marley's question techniques
Marley’s 10 techniques for expanding your questions

What Now?

Now that International Nature Journaling Week is done, it feels strange to go back to “Reality”, where we  as a community don’t see each other twice per day or talk deeply about these topics.  It would be easy for me to lose my motivation in light of the “post-adrenaline let down” feeling… But instead, I am reviewing my notes, adding things I thought of afterward, and looking forward to Marley’s next video – which is all about diving deeper into questions.  I am keeping my brain and all the teachings from the past week active.  Keeping that growth mindset.

For more information on “bread-and-butter”, “juice”, growth edge, and growth mindset, check out Marley’s class “Unlock Your Potential”, found here.

Birding Homework (live episode)

Do you ever give yourself nature journaling homework?  In this live episode of the Nature Journal Show, Marley shows us how to use birding homework to make us better nature journalers.  Follow along!  You will need: your nature journal, a writing utensil of your choice, a bird guide book, and your computer.

“Whether you’re in the field learning or at home learning – the nature journal is the perfect place to make your learning so much easier, your work so much better, and improve your memory so much more.”

Marley comes prepared with an agenda:
  1. First, he sets up his page so his information stays organized.

    Marley sets up his Sparrow Study
    Marley sets up his page for the sparrow study, using a grid to separate and organize the information for each species.
  2. Second, he uses the bird guide to draw quick sketches of the birds he wants to study.  Marley’s tools of choice:  Pilot Futayaku gray and black brush pen (his favorite!). Tombow brush pen in pale gray.  Pentel waterbrush size large. John Muir Laws’s custom watercolor palette.
  3. Third, he reads the descriptions in the bird guide and adds notes to his journal.  Here, Marley references the Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Western North America.
  4. Fourth, he listens to the birds’ songs on Dendroica and creates a sonogram of what he hears.
Marley uses Petersons for his Sparrow Study
Marley uses a bird guide book to find and write characteristics and details about the sparrows in his birding homework.

Why do homework this way?

Why not simply read about the birds in the guides or on a website?  What purpose does it serve to write all of this down when it’s not even your own field notes?  Marley has an answer for this: by writing down the information and interpreting it into your own way of thinking, you remember it better.  This is not busywork – you are training your brain to remember these details so they will serve you when you are out in the field.

Marley notes that it’s important to write down your sources for this information: “Think of it as your metadata!”  It is OK to copy from the book as long as you are not selling your work – but you should always credit your sources.  That way, if you need to revisit or modify the information, or if someone else wants to study it too, you know where it originally came from.

Using Dendroica's spectrogram
Marley uses Dendroica’s spectrogram feature to help him “see” the birdsong

A few extra tips

  • When you’re doing your birding homework, don’t worry about making your drawings perfect.  This is practice, and getting hung up on perfection might make it harder for you to complete the exercises.
  • Some birds, such as sparrows, have different dialects depending on where they are from. For example, a white-crowned sparrow from your area might sound very different from a white-crowned sparrow who lives somewhere else, so try to find a song sample that’s from your region.  If you can’t, try listening to multiple song samples from different areas and seeing where the similarities in them fall.
  • Use “it reminds me of” when you are listening to bird songs.  You can liken a particular note of the song to an instrument, or even to words.  Many birders hear phrases inside the songs that help them to remember their rhythm and cadence.
  • Listen to the song more than once.  Really slow down, and use the spectrogram to help you “see” the song.
  • Drink coffee.
birding homework sparrow study
The birding homework is done! For today…

Now that you’ve done your birding homework, go out into the field and try to use what you’ve learned!  You can always go back and add notes when you’ve learned something new, or do more birding homework to further improve your skills.  Interspersing homework with field study might just be the way to go.  Don’t forget your binoculars!

 

To meet another nature journaler who is also a birder, check out Marley’s interview with Christina Baal.

Are you new to nature journaling? If so, then this post has the basics : How to Nature Journal in 10 Steps

Do you need help choosing nature journaling supplies? In that case check out Nature Journaling Supplies: What You Need and What You Do Not

Intertidal Zone Nature Journaling

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!”

Marley nature journaling intertidal zone
Marley surrounded by mussels nature journaling the low tide
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.

Intertidal zone nature journaling page
Zoom-in drawing of a mussel. Watch your step!
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:

  1. 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.
  2. Second, he takes down the metadata: when and where he is, and what the weather is like.
  3. Third, he makes a landscape rendering of the place, which really helps to set the scene.
  4. 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.
  5. Fifth, he keeps his awareness of his surroundings and of any exciting fast-moving natural developments he might want to observe.
Intertidal zone nature journal page
Metadata and landscape of the intertidal zone

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.

bird memory drawing in the intertidal zone
A drawing of a turnstone bird from Marley’s memory
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.
Marley’s intertidal zone landscapito

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!

If you are just getting started with nature journaling check out this post : How to Nature Journal in 10 Steps

Need help choosing nature journaling supplies? Check out Nature Journaling Supplies: What You Need and What You Do Not

Nature Journaling Kid

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to nature journal all day, everyday? Does such a dream seem unattainable and far-fetched? Let our resident nature journaling kid, Raybonto, show you how he does it.

This week, Marley set out to answer the question: Who is Raybonto?

When Marley sat down to interview him, Raybonto was quick to show him his recent pages.  First was a field sketch of a tree: he wrote down and labeled the colors he saw, drew himself into the picture, and then estimated in feet the height of the tree. He also did a blind contour, something he says he almost never does in his nature journal, and then he followed up with a values sketch. On that particular day, he did not have any colors with him.

Raybonto's tree study
Raybonto does a field sketch of a tree.

“You can label them and color them back home if you can’t color them in the field, or you can just color them from your memory.”

Later, he was inspired by Marley’s video about how to nature journal while standing up.  

Nature Journaling Kid, Raybonto, sketching while standing
Raybonto uses his bicycle to hold his nature journal steady while he sketches.
Raybonto learns from different teachers

One of the youngest active nature journalers in the community, Raybonto is also one of the most fearless.  Regularly attending classes taught by John Muir Laws, Brian Higginbotham, Melinda Nakagawa, Yvea Moore, and others, Raybonto soaks in their ideas and practices like a sponge before making them his own.  Often, he brings up other naturalists and artists whose work he has studied.

Want to meet a nature journaling teen?  Check out Marley’s interview with Amaya here.

Raybonto fills the whole page

One thing that stands out about Raybonto is the way he uses the space of each page.  Recently John Muir Laws had taught a class on botany, so Raybonto showed Marley his notes.  There were at least 20 individual sketches over the two-page spread, as well as color swatches in every available space.  When Raybonto draws, he doesn’t get tied down to any one drawing; instead he fills his pages completely, drawing a subject multiple times, from different angles, sometimes using different media with each sketch.  He keeps two main sketchbooks: a practice sketchbook, and a field journal.

Nature journaling kid Raybonto's page of snakes

He has also been experimenting with toned paper, using both colored pencils and watercolor.  That brings his total of active sketchbooks to three.

Raybonto is not afraid to experiment

Before his current notebooks, Raybonto had previously been using a watercolor pad as well, though he found he was not able to be as diverse with his media on it.  He felt he had to always include watercolor on the paper, so changing to a different journal allowed him to use whatever media best suited him at any particular time.  

He experiments with any and all media he can get his hands, whether it’s regular paper, toned paper, colored pencils, watercolors, or a 12B graphite pencil – his current favorite.  By experimenting with so many different media, Raybonto all but guarantees he would be able to pick up almost any tool and be able to nature journal with it.  This only adds to his resiliency as a nature journal.

nature journal kid Raybonto draws horses

Raybonto nature journals every single day

For many of us, nature journaling every day might be a goal set too high.  We have other obligations in our lives, and it might feel impossible to squeeze time in for time in nature.  There is no need to beat ourselves up for this.  At the same time, it is more than OK to let Raybonto inspire us. He more than makes the time for nature journaling; rather, it appears he makes nature journaling the center of his day and schedules everything else around it.  Raybonto truly exemplifies devotion and treating nature journaling not as a hobby, but rather as a way of life.

nature journaling kid Raybonto's pencil miles
Our nature journaling kid, Raybonto

If you are totally new to nature journaling you can get started here with how to nature journal in 10 steps.