Erica Stephens is a Naturalist, Nature Journaler, Educator and the founder of Naturalist Nest and the East Bay Nature Journal Club! In this LIVE show we discussed the East Bay Regional Parks where she works, other national parks where she has nature journaled, nature journaling the Jurassic, and how she got started with nature journaling. Erica was also one of the teachers at the Wild Wonder Nature Journaling Conference where she taught a class on nature journaling the Jurassic!
East Bay Nature Journal Club
The East Bay is the most populous area in the San Francisco Bay area. It also contains some fascinating nature and a lot of biodiversity. Sounds like a great combination for a thriving nature journal club. Do you live in Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda, Concord, Emeryville, Fremont, Livermore, Pleasanton, San Ramon or Walnut Creek? If so, this nature journal club that Erica has started will have meetups in your area. The best place to stay informed about this group and join one of their outings is by visiting their facebook group. If you are not on facebook you can contact Erica directly through her website and see her calendar of events https://www.naturalistnest.com/
What makes nature journaling in Australia so different from everywhere else? Find out from Paula Peeters, a nature journaler, teacher, writer, scientist, and conservationist from Australia. In this episode of the Nature Journal Show, Marley interviews Paula about her books, different ways of describing a place, the ideal nature journal outing, resources for Aussie nature journalers, and what makes nature journaling Australia so special.
How do you describe a place?
If you’re Paula Peeters, you use a diversity of different ways to describe a place. Sometimes she goes for in-depth drawings that focus on details and take time to complete. Other times, Paula might opt for a cartoon – it’s easier to capture details quickly when you’re cartooning. Both approaches are very useful, depending on what Paula is after in her nature journaling session.
A particularly ingenious way of describing the complexity of a place is with a “folding forest” – Paula creates pages with lifting flaps and expanding backgrounds, so you can see what’s going on in the skies above and the earth below a particular ecosystem. Using such a variety of ways to show information can help deepen your understanding of that place, as well as the nature journaling experience itself.
To help other people engage in the places she cares about, Paula also writes books. Some are books to help people get outside more, such as Take This Book for a Walk and Make a Date With Nature. Others are coloring books of different habitats and the species living in them – some of which are threatened. By allowing the reader/colorer to go on an adventure in her books, Paula gives them an emotional investment into the wellbeing of these places.
What is different about the nature journaling experience in Australia?
Nature journal clubs have been growing all over Australia. Marley asks Paula why she thinks Australia is nature journaling so much. Here are three possible factors, according to Paula:
In Australia, you can go outside most of the year. The winters are not so severe – there is seldom snow, for example.
There is extraordinary nature in Australia. The trees are largely evergreen – there are over 800 different species of Eucalyptus alone! – and there is a diversity of certain animals you would not be able to find anywhere else in the world. Paula is quick to point out that there are not huge predatory animals, unlike in North America – though Australia is home to many poisonous and venomous animals!
Related to the last point: there are large parts of Australia that are still unchanged from when the European settlers first came, about 200 years ago. This means that there might be intact ecosystems and wild spaces, places to explore in an increasingly urbanized world.
Adding to INIWIRMO
One of the core tools in nature journaling is observation, and there is a commonly used three-pronged prompt that can help facilitate that process: “I Notice”, “I Wonder”, and “It Reminds Me Of”, or INIWIRMO for short. Paula adds one more prompt when she is sharing this activity with her students: “How does it (make me) feel?” (So would that be INIWIRMOHDIF?) Anyone can follow these prompts:
First, write down what you notice in the environment around you. This can be things to do with the 5 senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste), or the different species you see, or different behaviors you observe, or other things that are around you. Caution: try to refrain from making assumptions about what you’re seeing. You might observe
Next, write down questions that came up for you while you were observing the environment. You can write down question chains, where one inquiry leads to another, which leads to more. You don’t have to actually answer any of these questions! For now, let the curiosity flow.
Then, write down any connections you’ve made. Perhaps you’re watching an eddy in a river, and it reminds you of water going down the drain in your bathtub – write that down! Regularly making connections between seemingly unrelated things improves our creativity and changes our thinking. Plus, by making a comparison of something you see in nature to something that is very familiar to you, you will remember it better, and it might just give you more questions AND more answers!
Finally, write down how you’re feeling about what you’ve been experiencing so far. When we connect to things personally, we remember them better; so remembering how something personally made us feel then attaches an emotion to that experience. Paula strongly believes (and we agree!) that nature journaling can promote health and wellness. And by caring for ourselves in nature, we can also learn to care for nature.
There are so many lessons we can learn from Paula! Her greatest passion, as a teacher, writer, and scientist, is to connect people with the natural world in as many ways as possible. We save what we care about; to get people to invest in conservation long-term, we must help each other to experience nature firsthand. Let’s follow Paula’s example.
Liz does bird illustration. She paints birds for field guides. She paints birds in front of a live audience twice a week. And to top it off, she has a popular course on bird illustration and nature journaling through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Oh yeah, she was also a teacher at the Wild Wonder Nature Journaling conference where she taught how to paint birds using gouache.
Bird Nature Journaling Vs Bird Illustration
I asked Liz what is the difference between nature journaling birds and illustrating birds. For science illustration work she has to communicate certain information clearly and accurately. In addition this work requires lots of back and forth with the client to make sure the illustration is accurate. Nature journaling on the other hand feels more relaxing and more freeing for Liz.
“I think of (nature journaling) as more like a love letter to the birds that I am drawing rather than having to be super accurate…”
As you can see, Liz enjoys both approaches and each one feeds a different part of her. The nature journaling of birds is more of a joy-based experience about connection. The bird illustration brings out her artistic side and her attention to detail.
Why Liz Clayton Fuller Loves Gouache and You Should Too
First of all, gouache pops. Especially on toned paper.
Secondly, it can be a forgiving medium compared to watercolor.
Gouache is good for painting bird eyeballs which is one of her favorite parts.
With toned paper it helps you get the mid range values accurately.
Last but not least, gouache is somewhat mysterious. Either you know or you don’t know. To see what gouache supplies she recommends see below.
Supplies she uses for Bird Illustration
The Stillman and Birn sketchbook with three different colors of toned paper! She uses the softcover one and the spiral bound one. Click on the image to see on Amazon.
Click on the image below to learn about the Holbein Gouache that Liz recommends.
Don’t make the mistake that I did! Get an airtight palette for your gouache so it doesn’t dry up and crumble and go to waste.
Sharing Work on The Nature Journal Club Facebook Page
Liz and I talked about how social media can give people the wrong idea of what nature journaling looks like. She peruses the nature journal club facebook page but intentionally doesn’t post her polished bird illustrations there. Her concern is that people will think that meticulous, detailed portraits are the goal. When in fact, messy quick sketches are the norm. This is especially problematic for nature journaling beginners who see all these beautiful paintings on facebook and instagram. These nature journal newbies then go on to compare such artwork to their own experiences of drawing birds in the field. This comparison usually doesn’t lead to positivity or motivation. Her advice:
“At the end of the day, its not about the art that you create. It’s about solidifying that experience in your mind.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
Have you ever had a big birding day or a big year? Christina Baal’s plan is to see and draw all 10,000 birds on the planet! In this talk she describes how she got into birding, her mission, and how combining art and birding improves both!
Are you a birder? If so, then you are familiar with the desire to add more birds to your life list. Obviously, there is something very fun about “collecting” new birds. There is a powerful pleasure response when we see a new species for the first time. Many of us birders have goals, we have aspirations, we plan birding trips onto our family vacations. However, few of us set our sights as high as Christina Baal.
Birding Abroad or Birding at Home?
Christina has been bird-watching in some exotic places. And to complete her list there are still many more places to go. Despite this fact one of her favorite places to bird-watch is around her home. Indeed, the Northeastern United States can be a birding wonderland during the spring migration. Christina eloquently describes it:
One of the most magical things for me is to step out the door in the first week of May when all the wood warblers are just coming in. Everything is singing, all the flowers are out, and it smells amazing. And you just walk out and the world is pulsing around you. And there are just wonderful blobs of color everywhere.
Botanical art and nature journaling are essential to how Dion Dior makes meaning of the world. She shares some of her pages, favorite supplies, and technical tips in this talk. In addition she describes the huge privilege and responsibility that nature journalers have. Don’t miss the lightning round!
Dion lives in Noosa, Queensland Australia. She nature journals for herself as well as teaching and leading a local nature journal club. The Noosa Nature Journal Club holds free monthly classes in the Sunshine Coast area.
The Noosa Nature Journal Club is based in the Noosaville Area and is open to anyone with a passion for exploring nature with a field journal.We are a community of nature lovers and artists of all levels who meet to connect, record and appreciate the beautiful natural environments of the Sunshine Coast and beyond
Start With a Leaf
As a result of her teaching experience Dion has noticed that people are often overwhelmed in nature. “Where should I start?” Starting with a leaf is an antidote to this. Therefore Dion just tells people to pick up a leaf.
Botanical Art and Nature Journaling Begins with a Leaf
First of all, leaves are accessible and can be found almost anywhere there are people.
Secondly, leaves provide many avenues of investigation when we look at them carefully.
Thirdly,they provide many fun artistic challenges.
Last but significantly leaves are limited in their scope. A leaf once separated from the plant is a circumscribed subject. It is manageable.
Dion Uses Multiple Journals
Another thing that was interesting to learn was how Dion uses multiple sketchbooks and journals for different purposes.You probably know my thoughts about keeping multiple journals. If not, check out this post called “One Journal to Rule Them All.”
She has at least four different nature journals. One is made with nicer watercolor paper. This journal is mostly for botanical art. Dion mostly uses it at home when she is building her skills as an illustrator. She also has one that is dedicated to practice. She does not worry about what the pages looks like. This book is for fun and learning.
Birding and nature journaling should be an obvious match. That’s because you will be more observant, patient, and full of wonder if you do both. You could take my word for it. However, you could also hear it from the mouth of Timothy Joe. Tim has loved nature and art since a young age. In addition to birding he practices nature journaling, watercolor and gouache painting, oil painting, and pastels. In this live conversation we talk about his art, we talk about how racism has affected his experience, and we talk about how we can move forward as a nature journaling community.
I first found out about Timothy Joe from his Instagram where I saw one of his posts under the hashtag #naturejournaling. In addition to his artwork he also posts about his classes on Instagram. I saw that he was teaching a “Birds and Nature Art Journaling” class. Pretty soon, I was scrolling through a bunch of his other artwork.
Besides birds Tim also does a lot of rural landscapes, especially those that contain historic buildings. Similarly to nature journaling Tim finds joy and meaning in researching and sharing the background story of these buildings. For him, the story is as important as the visual which is demonstrated in the following quote from his artist statement.
Everyday things that usually would not get a second glance can become beautiful works of art. There is a message in every scene, whether it is a location, personal belonging, or building. There are so many beautiful subjects that should have its place on my canvas or any other painting surface. My mission is to capture these hidden treasures before time erases them completely.
Why Aren’t All Birders Nature Journaling?
With all these obvious benefits you might wonder why don’t all birders also nature journal?
First of all, many birders have never heard of nature journaling.
Second, many are in too big a hurry to stop and sketch. They just want to check off more life birds.
They are too focused on using all their energy to learn bird names and see more birds and be more hardcore birders.
Finally and significantly, birders are very emotionally attached to their subject and that makes them afraid to try to draw them. Compared to the precision of photography their early sketches of birds could feel awkward. Since they love their subject so much they want to do it justice.
Birding and Nature Journaling While Black
Timothy shared his experience and perspective as a black man in predominantly white hobbies and the outdoors. Later in the conversation we talked about positive ways to make these hobbies and the outdoors more welcoming. The first challenge for him when doing birding or going to an art event is looking around at the other participants. He is often the only black man. He has to reassure himself and the other participants that he is meant to be there. Sometimes they ask if he is lost. He often gets second glances. Just because of the color of his skin. This would be enough to make many of us give up. However, Tim has developed a protocol that he follows.
How to Nature Journal While Black
Show Off Your Supplies. Tim always makes sure he is wearing an artist’s apron, has his easel out and all his art or birding stuff very visible. This type of flagging shows off what his intentions are. Many black birders follow similar rules and try to make it extra obvious that they are birding. This is unfair and should not be necessary but many people in the USA are consciously or unconsciously prejudiced to be suspicious of black people walking around. This is no joke-innocent black people have been killed because of this. As a husband and a father Tim does worry about his safety.
Be Mindful of Your Surroundings. Birders and nature journalers and landscape painters are supposed to be observant. If you are black in the USA you have to be even more observant. Tim tries to pay attention to where he is and what is going on with the people around him.
Choose Your Locations Carefully. Unfortunately, there are locations that Tim would love to paint but feel too unsafe. Certain rural areas or locations that are too out of the way. He has to choose not to go to these places. Black birders have shared this as well.
Obviously, neither Dr Drew Lanham nor Timothy Joe should have to feel like they have to follow rules just to do what they love. Even if they do follow these rules it is possible they will be harassed or worse such as the incident with Chris Cooper in Central Park.
Birding and Nature Tours at the Joe Farm
Timothy shared about his family’s farm and all the accessible nature to be had there. They have birding events, wheelchair access, and art events. I want to go some day! Find out more at their website.
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?
Vitor Velez has a nature journal style that is instantly recognizable. When you see his Instagram you might be awed. In fact, you might even be intimidated. “How can I ever develop a style like that?” “He is talented.” “I could never do that.” “His style must have come to him like a lightning bolt of inspiration.” Watch this interview and you will see how he deconstructs his process.
I remember when I first saw Vitor’s artwork on his Instagram. The way he uses lettering and line immediately fascinated me. “This guy is doing unique work and I would love to introduce him to the Nature Journaling Community” I thought to myself. I told him about the nature journal club Facebook page and he shared some of his work there. Later, I decided I should interview him for the Nature Journal Show.
What is the Difference Between Writing and Drawing?
I was really excited to talk about this with Vitor. How can text be used as a visual element just like drawings? What is the actual difference between the two? How can artists and nature journalers combine the two in beautiful and functional ways?
Vitor believes that one of the main differences between words and images is how we interpret them. We interpret drawings and images automatically. In contrast we have to slow down and concentrate to interpret words. In addition, words or notes on the page allow the viewer to see into the mind of the artist. For example, we talked about the difference between Leonardo’s Mona Lisa and his sketchbooks. When I was a kid I couldn’t believe they were made by the same artist!
You have to watch the interview if you want to learn more about combining text and images!
Where Does Nature Journal Style Come From?
The most empowering or most depressing thing about this interview is how Vitor deconstructs his style. Depending on your perspective you will either be encouraged or you will realize you no longer have any excuses. The recipe is fairly simple.
Take equal parts enjoyment of the process and fascination with subject, mix in a diversity of visual references and inspirations, then add hundreds of hours of practice.
A unique nature journal style does not come from nowhere. Vitor was not born with his style. You will not be given one from heaven. Look at other artists. Get inspiration from many sources. Mix ideas around in your head. Try different techniques. Practice drawing a lot. Then practice drawing some more. Don’t get precious about your drawings.
Want some nature journal homeschool ideas? Want to learn about how a growth mindset can help your kids? Check out this interview with homeschool mom, podcaster, and art educator Dallas Nachtigall!
Bestowing the Brush is a podcast about passing on drawing skills to the next generation. Principles and practices of Charlotte Mason. Always exploring The Art of Seeing.
In this conversation I talk about how instilling a growth mindset can help kids and adults learn better, work harder, and build sustainable self confidence. In addition to growth mindset we share other key nature journal homeschool ideas that can help your family.
Obviously this all sounds great! If you are ready to dive in then you might be interested in the Nature Journal Family for February.
Earlier in the year I got to interview Dallas on the Nature Journal Show. It’s called Homeschool Nature Study with Dallas Nachtigall. She shares some of the benefits that nature study has brought to her family and shares some practical tips!
How I got Started with Nature Journaling
Have you ever wondered about my nature journaling origin story? Did I always love nature? Did I start nature journaling as a kid? Those of you who don’t know my back story will appreciate the questions that Dallas asked me at the beginning of the show. To summarize briefly:
First of all, I have only been nature journaling for 6 or 7 years! Are you surprised?
You won’t be surprised that I loved nature since I was a kid.
I was introduced to nature journaling for the first time in college. However, it did not really “click”! Can you believe it?
Full Time Nature Journal Educator
After sharing my nature journaling origin story Dallas asked me about my work. Since October of 2020 I have been a full time nature journal educator. I quit my other part time job and now am focused on what I know is my “life’s work.” Currently, work is focused on the following activities.
Creating educational videos on my YouTube channel. I make how to videos, nature journal adventure videos, and interviews of other artists and naturalists. These resources are all free but I am supported by fans through my Patreon.
Leading field trips and teaching groups of adults (on hold due to Covid).
Teaching nature journaling to kids and families (This is currently limited to my online class for families. I’m also doing a few Covid-safe outdoors sessions with individual kids.)
What Does a Nature Journal Session With Me Look Like?
Dallas was curious about my one-on-one sessions with kids. She asked me “When you go on these excursions (…) what does that look like and what do you typically do and how do you structure that time together?”
I answered with the following important reminder.
The thing that is super empowering for teachers and parents and mentors of any kind is to remember that nature is the best teacher and kids are the best learners. You basically just need to put those things together and know how to not get in the way.
After saying that, I explain how under every rock and around every turn in the trail there are lessons. There are physics lessons, biology lessons, or anything else you want to learn about.
The next key point is to balance structure with flexibility. When I teach in the field I usually keep the lesson plan as open as possible. I’m prepared to adapt to the needs of the kid and the materials that nature offers that day. Sometimes I do more focused skill-building activities or experiments. For example bringing an interesting fruit and dissecting it while drawing cross sections. Another example is a recent cratering experiment I did with kids and we nature journaled the whole thing. Check out the experiment directions from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab.
If you want more nature journal homeschool ideas you should listen to the podcast!