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

How to Teach Nature Journaling by John Muir Laws and Emilie Lygren

Keeping a Naturalist’s Notebook by Susan Leigh Tomlinson

The Curious Nature Guide by Clare Walker Leslie

A Life In Hand: Creating the Illuminated Journal by Hannah Hinchman

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.

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

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

Sibley Birds East by David Allen Sibley

Sibley Birds West by David Allen Sibley

Reptiles of the Galapagos

Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals

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.

Also by Gary Snyder and Tom Killion:  The High Sierra of California

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.

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)

Cyclopedia Anatomicae: More Than 1,500 Illustrations of the Human and Animal Figure for the Artist

Animal Anatomy for Artists by Eliot Goldfinger

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

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.

Alaskan Field Sketches by William D Berry

Art Forms in Nature by Ernst Haeckel

Making Comics by Scott McCloud

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud

Comics and Sequential Art by Will Eisner

The Sketchnote Handbook by Mike Rohde

The Restless Kingdom: An Exploration of Animal Movement

Drawing Ideas by Mark Baskinger and William Bardel

Artist’s Sketchbook by Cathy Johnson

The Sierra Club Guide to Painting in Nature by Cathy Johnson

Painting Nature’s Details in Watercolor by Cathy Johnson

Botanical Drawing in Color by Wendy Hollender

The Complete Book of Textures for Artists by Steven Pearce, Denise J. Howard, and Mia Tavonatti

Urban Watercolor Sketching by Felix Scheinberger

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

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

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

The Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

Nature Poetry

The Home Place by Dr J Drew Lanham

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!

The Nature Journal Club: Pencil Miles and Chill with Yvea

The Pencil Miles and Chill gatherings have become a mainstay of the nature journal club during 2020. Yvea Moore will tell the origin story of the gathering in this conversation. We will also learn the main benefits of nature journaling community, tips for nature journaling beginners, and more!

What are “Pencil Miles”?

In the first place let’s define Pencil Miles. In essence, it is a phrase that emphasizes quantity over quality. Does that sound backwards? As a matter of fact, focusing on quantity over quality is one of the most powerful things you can do for any practice. In nature journaling and art for example, too much focus on the quality of your picture or page can lead to many bad habits. In contrast, If you focus on drawing a lot instead of making perfect drawings you will end up making better drawings. The expression “Pencil Miles” has become a neat way to summarize this concept for members of the nature journaling community. For other examples of the nature journal club’s specific lingo check out this post. Here is an example of a page from Yvea’s journal showing her putting in some serious miles. an example of copious pencil miles in the nature journal of Yvea who is an important member of the nature journal club

Origins of the Pencil Miles and Chill Meetup

The first seed of this community gathering was planted by Akshay and Gargi during the beginning of the pandemic. Gargi created a google doc where the nature journaling community could self-organize virtual meetings. Individuals could offer to host their own online gatherings using different platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet, etc. Community members offered classes about different nature journaling subjects. Interestingly, some of the most popular were just free-from meetings where everyone could work on their own nature journal ideas and homework.

Activity on the spreadsheet began to lose steam around the summer of 2020. Meanwhile, Yvea had an idea during one of Brian Higginbotham’s Great Valley Nature Journal Club sessions. Brian asked people to write down their intentions for July. Yvea’s intention was finishing some of her nature journal pages. She decided to offer a space where others could do the same and could support and encourage each other. This evolved into her offering a weekly meetup for people to hang out and work on their nature journal pages. Pencil Miles and Chill was born.

What is Pencil Miles and Chill all About?

The Pencil Miles and Chill meetup only has one rule: be kind to each other. For the most part it is just a consistent time and (virtual)place for people to be together and work on nature journaling. There does not have to be a focus or a topic, instead everyone can work on their own project. Conversation is natural and sharing is encouraged but people can also just focus on their own work. For the most part it is like a virtual study hall for nature journalers. One last point about this group is the amazing inclusiveness and feeling of support that it offers. This is something that people in the nature journal club love about what Yvea is offering.

Top Benefits of Pencil Miles and Chill
  1. Providing community: One of the main benefits that people get from Pencil Miles and Chill and the Nature Journal Club Facebook in general is a sense of community. This was especially helpful during the isolating times of quarantine.
  2. Conversation: One specific aspect of community that people benefit from is conversation. Talking is fun and also allows for the sharing of ideas. This can keep us motivated as we nature journal.
  3. Providing consistency: Having 2 times a week that you know you will be nature journaling helps make it a habit.
  4. Technical support: When you are struggling with a specific issue you can bring it up and get ideas from other nature journalers.
  5. A place to relax: There are so many structured online classes for nature journaling that people sometimes get overwhelmed. Pencil Miles in contrast felt like a place you could relax into your own rhythm.
  6. The coveted book list: If I told you then it wouldn’t be coveted anymore. You will have to join Pencil Miles to find out 🙂 You can find out about the next Friday or Saturday session here.
Some of Yvea’s Tips for Nature Journaling Beginners
  1. Go easy on yourself.
  2. Take a break if you need to.
  3. How to not get intimidated by your journal or full page. Don’t worry about not filling a full page every time.
  4. Try a smaller sketchbook if you need to.
  5. Draw on lined paper. It makes you not worry about having precious paper.
  6. Find the things that motivate you. Find your “juice.” For more about “juice” and other mindset tips Yvea recommends looking at this mindset video I made.

Check out this pile of Yvea’s nature journals!A pile of nature journals belonging to Yvea Moore who started the pencil miles and chill nature journal club

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

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


How to Nature Journal a Collection

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.
Examples of Nature Journal “Collections”
An example of a nature journal collection with birds for how to nature journal a collection
A nature journal collection by Paula Peeters quickly captures bird species that she heard during her nature journaling session in Australia.
A nature journal collection showing different species of mushrooms
A nature journal collection with 10 different mushrooms collected over the course of an hour. Marley Peifer’s nature journal.
Just getting started with nature journaling?

Need more tips? check out this post. It will walk you through 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

How To Nature Journal From Your Window!

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
  1. Set the Stage: You want to do this more than once. Therefore you need to find a good location.
    1. 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.
    2. Second, it should be consistent. This way you get into a habit more easily.
    3. Last, consider the view. Is there a variety of stuff to see?
  2. 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?
Just getting started with nature journaling?

Need more tips? If so, check out this post. It will walk you through 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

How to Choose a Sketchbook for Nature Journaling

How do I choose a sketchbook for nature journaling? Which paper is best? What size should I choose?

Don’t worry, don’t waste money, and don’t blindly get the same journal as someone else. In this video I show you how to pick the sketchbook that is best for you!

It’s easy to spend more time shopping for a sketchbook than actually nature journaling. And it’s also easy to end up with a sketchbook that is not right for you. In fact, it’s even possible to think you are not good at drawing or not motivated to nature journal when in fact you have a sketchbook that doesn’t fit your needs. Instead of dogmatically telling you which is the universally best sketchbook I’m going to give you the criteria that you need to understand. With an understanding of these criteria you will be able to make your own decision.

Sketchbook for Nature Journaling Criteria:

  1. Size Matters. The size of your paper has a big impact on your nature journaling. If you have too small of a journal it can cramp your style. Making small drawings is often more difficult especially for beginners. A small sketchbook can also be hard to hold while you draw. Too big might be awkward to carry, inconvenient in the field, and too heavy.
  2. Binding. The next criteria to consider is binding. Spiral bound is good for folding back your pages and giving a flat surface to draw. It is also good for durability. However, a sewn binding is preferred by many people. Sewn binding gives you the appearance of a regular book and the spine looks good. You can also write or draw on the spine. The other advantage of sewn binding is you can draw across a 2 page spread which can be really cool. Sewn binding is usually harder to lay flat and they can be hard to hold if you are drawing standing up. Sometimes they are not durable.
  3. Orientation. The two main orientations for journals are “landscape” and “portrait”. Either one comes in a variety of ratios of height to length. I really like a portrait paper with 9″X 12″. And remember even if you like landscape format drawings you can divide a portrait style page up into smaller frames of any shape you want. How to Choose a Sketchbook For Nature Journaling Image 1 showing how orientation of page does not mean you cannot do a landscape on a page with a portrait layout.
Criteria for choosing a sketchbook continued:
  1. Paper type. You could spend your whole life trying to understand different paper types. However, let’s keep it simple. Paper can be understood by it’s ingredients, it’s weight, and it’s surface. Instead of worrying about these too much I recommend just choosing a “mixed media paper” for nature journaling. A mixed media paper will allow you to do some watercolor while still being able to write notes and draw with pen or pencil. I really like the Stillman and Birn Alpha Series Paper.
  2. Cover material. Although it is not the most important criteria the type of cover does have an impact. A stiff cover is easier to hold in the field and protects you paper better. An attractive cover that does not attract dirt and is not easily stained will also help you. This cover has a big impact on the appearance of your journal. If it is too pretty you might be afraid to use it. If it is too ugly or has big logos or stickers on it you might not feel drawn to it.
  3. Paper color. Lately, some people have been using toned paper to great advantage for nature journaling. Toned paper comes in black, gray, and tans. It is good for gouache, colored pencils, and pale subjects. White paper also comes in different “shades.” For more on how to use toned paper see this post by John Muir Laws.

If you are just getting started nature journaling now you know how to choose a sketchbook. But what if you still need some pointers on how to nature journal? This video can help you get started.

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

Nature Journaling Supplies: What You Need and What You Do Not

People always ask me what nature journaling supplies they should have in their nature journaling kit. Right now, I show you the most important and least important things that I carry into the field. These tools have been with me to the Amazon, the Serengeti, Ecuadorean Cloud Forests, through every rapid in the Grand Canyon and many more adventures.

I will give you a list of the supplies that I use and why I like them. However, even more importantly I will give you a rationale for choosing the supplies that work best for you.

The Main Principle Behind Choosing Your Kit

First and foremost. I believe in an underlying criteria behind everything in your nature journal kit. I subject everything to this test. Ask this simple question:

Does this help me nature journal more?

If the answer to this question is “no” then throw it away. If the answer is “yes” then keep it. For example. Let’s say you buy a new sketchbook on amazon and it has really nice thick watercolor paper. After a month of using this as your main nature journal you notice that you have only filled a few tentative pages. Since the paper is so nice you feel an obligation to do more detailed watercolor paintings. Meanwhile, you look at your old sketchbook, the one with the really cheap paper and see more filled pages. Way more pages.  That watercolor sketchbook might be good for someone’s nature journal kit but not you, not right now at least. It doesn’t matter who recommended it or how much you like it because it failed the principal test.

Sticking to this simple criteria will help you when you have to make the difficult decisions of what to bring in your kit. If you stick to this criteria I promise you will find more joy in your nature journaling and your pages will get better and you will learn more. You will spend less time shopping for art supplies, less time worrying about which paintbrush to take with you, and less time in analysis paralysis. You will also spend less money buying unnecessary art supplies.

My Top 6 Nature Journaling Supplies

  1. Nature Journal Shoulder Bag. I use a Patagonia Mini Mass messenger bag. This is no longer being made but I do a review of the essential aspects in this video: I also describe another shoulder bag that I have tested in this video: The Quest for the Ultimate Nature Journaling Bag Continues!
  2. Sketchbook. This is the most essential part of your kit and has a big impact on how successful you are. I love the Stillman and Birn Alpha series hardcover, wire bound, 9X12 inches. For help choosing the best journal for you check out: How to Choose a Sketchbook for Nature Journaling
  3. Pencil. After your sketchbook a pencil can be the most dependable and basic nature journaling tool. I like mechanical pencils and my favorite one is the Pentel Twist-Erase Click Mechanical Pencil.
  4. Pens. Recently, I switched from pencils to pens in an effort to get finished images more quickly in the field and develop a “fault tolerant” style. I am in love with this Pilot Futayaku Gray and Black Brush pen. It is my favorite drawing tool now.

5. Watercolor Palette. Shortly after I bought a good watercolor palette I gave away all my colored pencils and markers. I believe that watercolor is the best, fastest, easiest way to get color in your nature journal. I review the John Muir Laws palette I use in this post. It was worth every penny.

6. Waterbrushes. I am a firm believer in waterbrushes over traditional watercolor brushes. They make it possible for me to paint in the field with out carrying a water container and are much more convenient for nature journaling. Now, I use mine for most of my studio painting as well. I only use the Pentel Aquash brand in the large size.

 More Nature Journaling Tools

  1.  Binoculars: I have tried a variety of binoculars and by far the best all around binos for nature journaling are the Pentax Papilio Close Focus Binoculars. These are lightweight, inexpensive, good for birds in the distance, and good for flowers and bugs closeup! Since I got mine I never use my more expensive pair for nature journaling. It takes a while to learn how to draw while looking through them and many people struggle with this therefore I made a video showing you how to draw with binoculars.
  2. Opaque Drawing Tools. Despite being the best color option for nature journaling watercolor does have a weakness. Specifically its weakness is its transparency. Basically, if you have to draw highlights on top of a dark color you are screwed. There are a few options that you can use in nature journaling. None are ideal. However, after testing many and throwing many of them away I have chosen two that work. For fine work (water and reflections in animal eyes for example) I use the Uni-ball Signo White Gel Pen. For broader work (such as pale tree trunks and ocean foam) I use the Presto Jumbo Correction Pen.
  3. Binder Clips. Despite their small size these clips are essential for my nature journaling. They keep my paper flat when using watercolor and prevent the wind from flapping the pages all over the place. Medium Binder Clips Box of 12:

Other Tools to Consider

  1. Earplugs. I always have earplugs in my kit. When traveling and when nature journaling at zoos and natural history museums they help me focus.
  2. Paper towel, sock or rag. When you are using watercolor you need to have something to clean your brush on. Many nature journalers use an old white cotton sock and cut a strip off of it so they can wear it on their wrist. Unfortunately, this method doesn’t work with how I hold my sketchbook so I just bring a bit of paper towel.
  3. Measuring tools. In order to add quantification to your nature journal page it helps to have measuring tools. I have a goniometer for measuring angles and a slim measuring tape that is meant for sewing. You can find these at John Muir Law’s website store.
  4. Ink Brush. Do you like bold silhouettes and borders? If so you might like the Pentel Pigment Brush Pen. I don’t recommend this one if you will be flying or nature journaling at high altitudes because it can leak in those conditions.

If you are brand new to nature journaling and need help getting started check out How to Nature Journal in 10 Steps