Right now, I’m going to show you how to nature journal using the “collection” technique. This is one of the basic nature journaling approaches. You can use it even if you are just getting started with nature journals. Experienced nature journalers will also benefit from this technique.
The basic idea is simple. You are out walking in a nearby park. You brought your nature journal but don’t know where to start. There are birds everywhere, there are wildflowers, and you also notice tons of lichen on the trees. “This is kind of overwhelming!” You think to yourself. “I only have 20 minutes for nature journaling.” What should you do?
How to Nature Journal a Collection
First, you need to choose the category for your collection. The category can be taxonomical, such as plants in the sunflower family (asteraceae), or a collection of warblers. The category could also be “things growing on other things.” In this case you would “collect” lichens, mosses, epiphytes, or fungus.
Second, think about your page organization. Do you want to divide your paper up into squares right away? How do you want to organize the individual subjects of your collection?
Third, think about how much time you have and how in depth you want to get with each subject of your collection. If you start off putting in a ton of information and details with the first few subjects and then simplify dramatically with the last few it will look bad.
Fourth, start drawing and nature journaling the individual subjects. Use words, images, and numbers for each one. Try to keep a consistent style to facilitate comparison and make the collection look better.
Mariia Ermilova Terada shows us how to nature journal biocultural diversity. Not only does she nature journal in three languages but she also incorporates the human-nature connection into her pages. In contrast, most nature journalers today omit this relationship. For example, I often choose nature subjects where I cannot see the human interaction. I frequently exclude hikers, benches, telephone poles from my landscape paintings. Another example is that I rarely nature journal my garden, my salad, or the other aspects of nature my life is directly dependent on.
In addition, we talk about Mariia’s studies, her love of frogs, fabric arts, and the role nature journaling can play in making the world a better place. Don’t miss the lightning round!
How to Nature Journal Your Breakfast
Did you nature journal the plants and animals that you ate for breakfast today? What about the plants or animals that made your clothes? Have you ever included the indigenous names for plants or animals on your page? If nature journaling is supposed to connect us more to nature why do we often avoid the subjects we are most closely connected to?
In the above example we can see how Mariia applies nature journaling to an everyday scene. Her neighbor caught a fish and is cooking it. This nature journal page captures that subsistence relationship. In addition she gives the name of the fish in three languages and points out how it is an invasive species. The combination of comic, recipe, and species profile give this page a biocultural significance. In contrast, Mariia could have just nature journaled a random butterfly. “What’s wrong with nature journaling a random butterfly?” In fact, there is nothing wrong with choosing a subject just because of an aesthetic interest. But let’s be self aware. Why don’t we nature journal what we eat?
How to Nature Journal Biocultural Diversity
First, be curious about local traditional knowledge about nature in the area where you are. What culture has been living there? What was their relationship to the plants and animals and landscapes you are drawing? Is there a way you can recognize and incorporate some of that into your journal? However, be aware of the issue of cultural appropriation.
Second, be curious about cultural context. Even the magnolia in your garden, the chicken in your soup, or your house cat have a cultural context. Even a quick search on google could find some cool background. What if you included a map, names in other languages, or historic references next to that sketch of your feline or flower?
Finally, what are some biocultural connections from your own life? You can also try to nature journal some of the aspects of your own life that are connected to nature. What plants, animals, fungi, minerals etc do you relate to on a daily basis?
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 lea, 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, that is not really 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.
Do you know how to nature journal from your window? This nature journaling technique is useful on cold, snowy, or rainy days. It is also useful during global pandemics or if you can not get outside for other reasons.
Do you ever not feel motivated to nature journal? Do you ever feel down in the winter? I feel those things too despite what you might think from my video persona. Luckily, nature journaling makes me feel better regardless of how low energy or depressed I’m feeling. I didn’t want to make this live episode. I had a lot of self doubt about whether I had the right “energy” to nature journal. That’s why I started and ended with a gratitude exercise. Because your mindset is the foundation of your nature journaling and your life.
How to Nature Journal From Your Window in 3 Steps
Set the Stage: You want to do this more than once. Therefore you need to find a good location.
First, it should be convenient. A gorgeous view is nice but if you are teetering at the top of a stairwell it is not worth it. Also consider your family movements. Where will you be disturbed the least? The less energy to initiate a session the better. If you have to move a ton of furniture each time forget it.
Second, it should be consistent. This way you get into a habit more easily.
Last, consider the view. Is there a variety of stuff to see?
Set Your Expectations: Ok, maybe this should have been first. Create realistic expectations and clarify your goals around nature journaling from the window. I strongly recommend input based goals not output based goals. For example, “I will nature journal from my window for 15 minutes every day.” In contrast “I will paint a pretty sunset in watercolor every day.”Which of these goals is more achievable?
What was your connection to nature where you grew up? In this video, I show you how to nature journal where you grew up as I explore the natural area I first explored and fell in love with as a kid. Come on this adventure with me. See where I went as a kid. We’ll nature journal Southern California plants and nature mysteries. In addition we will learn some techniques for reconnecting to a place.
Nature journaling is a powerful tool for science and for art. However, many people forget that journaling is probably the most powerful tool for connecting with feelings. Despite the direction science has gone in we cannot truly separate emotions from our connection with and understanding of nature. In fact, we can improve our nature journal pages by including more of these feelings. Not only that but when you get the feelings out of your head you can observe more of the world around you and perform better as an artist.
How to Nature Journal Where You Grew Up
First, be prepared. You can expect some strong feelings to come up when you visit your childhood nature. Many people will experience grief because their favorite tree from childhood is cut down. You might have lots of anger come up because the whole natural area has been developed. Be prepared for some emotions to come up. Try to be well resourced before you go. Did you get enough sleep? Do you have other major emotional drains in your life right now? If you are stressed in other ways it may make you more sensitive and reactive to what comes up for you.
Second, journal what is. For most people things have changed since they were a kid. This might make you avoid going back there. “I can’t nature journal there because it has all been developed.” “I can’t nature journal there because it is private property now.” The solution is to nature journal what is. Don’t ignore the human impacts. That is part of the place now, that is essential to the story. At the very least you could write a title, draw a simple map, and write down a few of your feelings. You will feel better by doing this and you will show respect for a place that helped shape you.
Third, use nature journaling to experience the place more like a kid. Your nature journal can help you see the place as you did when you were growing up. The nature journal process can help you slow down and remove the jaded perspective of an adult. This will help you connect to the place more instead of just walking around with your normal adult mind-wandering and ruminating. The default mode network is the part of your brain that will prevent you from connecting to this place.
We learn how to nature journal bugs and why they matter in this exciting conversation with the Beetle Lady! Why are kids fascinated with bugs? What about bugs grosses some people out? If we only like plants and birds then why should we nature journal bugs? Be prepared for the answers to these questions as well as more fun questions in this episode of the Nature Journal Show.
Stephanie Dole is a PhD entomologist, educator, artist, and mother in the Silicon Valley area. She teaches super fun hands-on bug classes for kids of all ages through her company and alias “Beetle Lady.” I’ve had the fortune of seeing some of her collection, including many pet insects and other invertebrates such as tarantulas. I have also been able to nature journal insects at her house and take her How to Draw Insects class. Check out her awesome reviews and offerings at her website.
Why Nature Journal Bugs?
Incomparable beauty. First of all, they are mindbogglingly beautiful. Where else in nature can you see the bright colors, intricate patterns, and fascinating forms of insects?
Diversity and Adaptations. Bugs display more diversity than almost any other type of life in addition to their beauty. Not only that, bu they also have some of the most fascinating and extreme behaviors and adaptations! Bugs do weirder stuff than any aliens in science fiction.
They are accessible and ubiquitous. Insects and other invertebrates can be found almost anywhere! Mammals, reptiles, and even birds are not that easy to find or look at. This reason by itself would be enough to make them an important subject for nature journaling.
They are essential to ecosystems. Bugs provide so many services that humans could not survive without them. They are also a food source for many animals that people think are more cute. For example: no bugs=no birds.
3 Pro Tips: How to Nature Journal Bugs
Learn to find them. First of all, you should improve your ability to find cool bugs in the wild. Practice looking under things, noticing damaged leaves, noticing other signs of invertebrates.
Connect the dots. Pay attention to the relationships that your favorite plants and animals have to bugs. What more can you learn about the birds and plants this way? Even if you “dislike bugs” this could be eye opening.
Get a pet. Bugs actually make great pets. They are good for kids and adults. They can provide a source of endless nature journaling inspiration. To see more about nature journaling pet insect check out this fun episode with tips on how to nature journal your pet!
Learning how to nature journal on a kayak can take your enjoyment of nature to the next level. You are guaranteed to see new things because a kayak is an easy way to access hidden areas. Even a small lake in a crowded park will have niches that you can reach while everyone else is walking on the trails. You can have a more immersive nature experience all to yourself.
However, there are also some challenges about nature journaling from a kayak. These challenges prevent many people from even trying. I made this video to help you overcome those challenges.
Ten Tips for How to Nature Journal on a Kayak
First of all choose a good location. You want a location that is close, convenient, calm, and comfortable. This will make it easier to nature journal.
Practice kayaking and nature journaling separately first. It is exponentially harder to learn two new skills at the same time than to learn one. The more you can practice these skills separately the better you will do when you combine them.
Keep your supplies simple. Don’t bring expensive stuff that you will get precious about. You don’t want to be fumbling with lots of stuff.
Be safe. Follow all safety recommendations for the body of water where you kayak.
Go with a friend. This is safer but also much more motivating.
Plan for the sun. Be sure to wear a hat and sun protection.
Deal with drift. It is hard to stay still while you are nature journaling from a kayak. Some options: use an anchor, do quick sketches only, wedge yourself in plants or mud, use a tandem kayak, or plan for the drift and set yourself up accordingly.
Take care of your basic needs. Warmth, food, hydration, comfort are essential. If you don’t take care of these don’t expect great nature journaling.
Use the kayak for access. In addition to nature journaling in the kayak you can use the kayak to access islands and other areas you normally couldn’t. Then just hop out and do some land-lubber nature journaling.
Lastly, find the right balance between accessibility and protection of your supplies. Inside a ziplock at the bottom of a cinched-down dry bag strapped into the back of your kayak you might be a safe place for your journal but you will never take it out. It will stay dry and safe but it will also be unused. If you leave your journal in your lap while you paddle it might get wet.
Want to learn about watercolor and watch another nature journal adventure? Check out this post.
Did you know that you can improve a drawing 75% before you even start drawing? Knowing how to use a viewfinder for drawing landscapes is the first step. Whether you are a nature journaler or a plein air painter this video and blog post will help you.
Why Your Eyes Betray You
Your visual system is not setup for making great art. Your visual system is setup for keeping your butt alive. What does that even mean? Our eyes and the visual centers of our brain are good at paying attention to our surroundings. We are good at scanning large areas and paying attention to the big picture. However, there is a lot more information coming through your eyes than what you can fit on your paper or your canvas. This is especially dangerous for drawing landscapes. A lot of times we are attracted to the expansiveness in a landscape. If we aren’t careful we bite off too much. We try too big of a drawing. We get frustrated, we get lost in the details, and we lose touch with the basic artistic priorities.
Your most important job as an artist is to make intentional decisions about what visual information to include and what to ignore.
If you don’t know how to make good decisions or even worse if you don’t realize you have to make decisions then your drawing will suffer. Using a viewfinder helps you be more intentional and disciplined. Your field of view with both eyes is between 200 and 220 degrees! That is far more than you can fit on paper.
How to make a viewfinder
Save the plastic container that salad mix comes in or get a sheet of cardstock or other heavy paper.
Decide what shape you are going to make your viewfinder. Put some thought into how this shape will fit on your pages. For more about composition and layout of journal pages see this video.
Trace your shape and carefully cut it with an X-acto knife or scissors.
You can add grid lines to help you with proportions.
Go out and use it right away!
Pro tip: Make multiple viewfinders of different shapes and sizes for your kit.
I really started using a viewfinder before my second trip to Tanzania and it really made my nature journal pages much better.
Once you know how to use a viewfinder for drawing landscapes you will thank me!
If you want a step-by-step guide to landscape drawing in your nature journal check out this post.
In this video I show you how to nature journal without fear, because I think it’s the most important thing for your nature journaling.
Why Nature Journaling Without Fear matters more than anything else
There are certain skills that automatically improve the more you nature journal. That is the good news. These aspects of nature journaling are easy to teach, easy to learn, and easy to pick up from repetition. However, there are other things that you will not automatically get better at. In fact, these things could actually get worse as you become a more experienced nature journaler or advanced artist. I know many veteran nature journalers who struggle with these challenges. What am I talking about? I’m talking about fear.
If you don’t have the best drawing skills it will affect your nature journaling somewhat. But if you are afraid of trying new things on your pages or are too intimidated to share your work it could hamper your nature journaling for life. Your drawing skills will probably get better just with more practice but your fears might not. It is easy to identify your drawing shortcomings, take a class, practice and get better. It is not easy to take a class to help you deal with your artistic fears and obstacles. You might not even be able to correctly diagnose the source of your mental obstacles or the fears that are holding you back.
Because of all these reasons I have decided that helping people be more fearless in their nature journaling approach is the most important thing I can share. If you want to learn how to nature journal without fear you might be interested in my one-on-one coaching.
Types of Fear in Nature Journaling
So, how does fear manifest itself in our practice of nature journaling? Following are some examples of fears related to perfectionism:
Fear of messing up, making mistakes, making bad drawings
Fear of nature journaling certain subjects: animals, movement, action, pets.
There are also major social fears. Such as:
Fear of feedback, judgement, or criticism.
Fear of nature journaling in public, sharing our work, or nature journaling with other people. Sometimes, this manifests itself as a fear to share our pages with certain people such as our family or spouse.
There are also the fears from being too precious:
The fear of wasting materials, art supplies, or expensive paper.
Fear of ruining a pretty journal page or a fancy journal.
Fear of trying new techniques or new materials.
There are also fears of commitment:
Indecision around which subject to commit to, which vista to draw, which park to go to. We are afraid that we might miss something better. There might be a more beautiful subject, a more interesting plant just around the corner. This can be a paralyzing fear that might lead you to only take photos with your phone and never pull out your sketchbook.
Fear of permanence, fear of ink, over attachment to erasers and graphite or overuse of non-photo blue pencil.
Unfortunately, we live in a society that has primed us for these problems. For example, I know many adults who are simply afraid to draw. Maybe this fear is the result of an unfortunate childhood experience. Most of us have also been ingrained with the fixed mindset. This mindset assumes that we are born with certain immutable talents and limitations and can not learn new skills.
We often build up layers of rationalizations and habits of avoidance around these fears making them even harder to identify. Do we really prefer such a tidy style or are we just afraid to make mistakes on the page? Are botanical subjects really all we want to do or are we just afraid of drawing moving animals?
What Fearless Nature Journaling Looks like
So what does nature journaling without fear actually look like?
I have gotten glimpses of fearless nature journaling in Nature Journal Show interviews with Amaya Shreeve and Heather Crellin. What do these two have in common? Both are relatively new to nature journaling. Both seem to take real joy in the process. In addition, they both focus on quantity and frequency of nature journaling even if it is just a short session.
How Can You Nature Journal Without Fear?
If you want help nature journaling without fear I can help. Sign up for persoanlized coaching with me. We will look at your pages, I will listen to your joys and challenges and we will come up with a plan.
I’m currently offering one hour sessions on Tuesday and Thursdays afternoons and Sunday Mornings. Click on one of the available dates (in white) then choose a time slot.
Do you want to learn how to start a nature journal for beginners? In this conversation with nature journaler Heather Crellin you will find tons of good ideas! Even though she has only been nature journaling for less than a year she has lots of wisdom to share. Despite her newness, she has been learning fast, connecting with community, and sharing her work online.
How She Got Started With Art and Nature Journaling
Heather had somewhat of an accidental start. She had not made art since her “crayon days” until she accidentally walked into an Asian art class. She thought it was only a lecture but it turned out to be a hands-on class. That day marked her “artiversary.” After that she started drawing a lot and eventually found John Muir Laws’ youtube channel. But she still did not consider herself a nature journaler.
The Nature Journaling Community’s Response to COVID-19
In April of 2020 many people were quarantined and unable to access natural places. The nature journaling fieldtrips that used to be the mainstay of the community were canceled. However, these tough times did not stop the movement. In fact, there was an abundance of virtual workshops and an outpouring of generosity and resources from the community. Heather tapped into this. She began taking more classes. She joined several of the online groups. Soon, she was considering herself a nature journaler. Now, the nature journal club provides a strong sense of community for her.
How Beginners Can Share Their Work
New nature journalers often have trouble sharing their work. This can be a major source of fear and anxiety. Despite being a newbie Heather has been fearless about sharing pages online and getting feedback. In fact, she thinks that it is essential that more beginners share their work so that more skill levels are represented. This is especially important when the nature of social media has a bias towards the more polished looking pieces of art. Heather recommends that if you are new you can form community by sharing your work. Nature journaling is not just about creating pretty pictures. Think about why you are sharing before you share. Do not share with the expectation that you will get lots of likes. That is an unhappiness trap even for accomplished artists.
Five Tips For Nature Journal Beginners
Make nature journaling an easy routine. Try to find a regular time. Even 10 minute sessions are good.
Keep a simple sketching kit with you at all times. (like in your purse)
Identify “your daily nature” what aspects of nature are right outside your window? Heather was able to find these even without a garden or access to parks during quarantine.
Next, think of nature journaling as your “me time”. It helps you recharge and be a better person for your family. Thinking of it this way helps people who feel like they can’t take time away from family obligations.
Find Community. This should probably be number one. Try to find other people who will motivate you and help you learn. If you do this it will be much easier getting started with nature journaling.