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.
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?
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:
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.
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.
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.
Criteria for choosing a sketchbook continued:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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: https://amzn.to/2RrKDVn
Other Tools to Consider
Earplugs. I always have earplugs in my kit. When traveling and when nature journaling at zoos and natural history museums they help me focus.
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.
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.