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?
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.
This nature journal homeschool family will inspire you! Crystal and Amaya share their perspective of nature journaling in a family with four kids. Because of their experience I ask them to give me some ideas for my upcoming nature journal family class.
Crystal told me a story that sums up why nature journaling is important. Their whole family went on a nature journaling field trip to watch bats with John Muir Laws. Amaya was the main one nature journaling during the trip but the enthusiasm was contagious. The rest of the kids wanted to learn everything about bats later when they got home. This motivation allowed the family to go on a sustained learning adventure together. They looked up books. They watched videos. And finally they went to a zoo that had fruit bats. This is where the benefits of nature journaling stood out. While they were watching the bats in amazement another kid walked by. He took one glance at the bats and said “Eww, gross!” Crystal’s son Gabe looked at the boy with disbelief. His facial expression said it all…
“How could someone not appreciate how fascinating these animals are?”
To summarize, the nature journaling mindset had preserved a sense of wonder and curiosity in her kids. The other kid, in contrast, had developed the jaded perspective that plagues most adults. Not only can the jaded perspective make it harder to learn it can also take the joy and gratitude out of life.
Nature Journal Homeschool Tips
First, start with small expectations. Be realistic to start with so that you don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
Get personal supplies for each kid. Personal nature journaling supplies make the kids feel proud and responsible. Similarly, letting the kids pick their own supplies contributes to their motivation. See my interview with homeschooler Dallas Nachtigall for more about this.
Make it into a family event. Planning family outings around nature journaling brings the family together in nature without explicit pressure. For example, one kid like Amaya, might be nature journaling the whole time, but the whole family is there to learn and support each other.
Don’t pressure younger kids into nature journaling. If the younger kids see their parent, sibling, or family friend nature journaling this will inspire them. In contrast, their mom forcing them might backfire.
Reassess yearly. How’d it go? What did you learn? What’s next?
Want the perspective of two more homeschool moms?
Check out this live interview with two moms who homeschool and are also educators.
Rosalie Haizlett is a conservation-focused illustrator. She has built a career around painting maps, botanical art, and detailed nature scenes in watercolor and ink. In addition to her art sales and commissions she teaches classes. Another key point we talk about in this interview is the therapeutic role nature can play. Rosalie is driven because she believes that nature-based art can have a deeper purpose.
How Nature Journaling Can Improve Quality of Life
Rosalie is a firm believer that drawing in nature can improve the quality of people’s lives. However, for many of us today this is not the default state.
“A lot of people are walking right past so many incredible wonders in nature and not taking time to notice them.”
She then goes on to point out that this is a learnable practice.
“Over time I began to notice more in the outdoors (…) My life was enriched by spending more quiet time in nature and using art to document what I was seeing.”
That’s wonderful if nature journaling and art can enrich our experience. But that is not all. She goes on to explain the healing effect these practices can have.
Rosalie shared her personal experience struggling with chronic migraines. Spending quiet time observing nature turned out to be a very effective therapy. This lead to her current practice around spending more time in nature.
How Her Art Can Help the Environment
I was interested in asking Rosalie about the role that she sees her art playing. A quote on her website said that she is creating “(…) visuals to help people see and appreciate the natural world in a deeper way.” I wanted to know more about how she is trying to implement this vision.
First, she creates art for conservation-minded companies and organizations. Some examples include: Patagonia, The Smithsonian, The National Parks, and the Audobon Society.
Second, she teaches regular people how to connect to nature through art and observation.
Lastly, she is sharing her experiences in nature helps invite others to explore more deeply.
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!
It was a weird year but the Nature Journal Show persevered! In 2020 I made over 60 episodes packed full of humor, tips, interviews, and motivation. Making these episodes for the nature journaling community was a life saver for me this year.
If you want the summary before you watch the video than here you go…
15 Reasons the Nature Journal Show is Great!
Humor. Funny is fun and it helps you learn better.
Practical tips. Very practical in-depth tips on more aspects of nature journaling than you even knew existed.
Science-based facts. Did you know that nature journaling burns calories? Now you do.
Ideas for everyone. Whether you are a home school family in Montana or you live in an apartment, the nature journal show has ideas for you!
Self-awareness. An essential life skill discussed in almost every episode.
Cool wildlife sightings. Falcons, frogs, felines, snakes, salamanders, spiders. Yup, come along for the adventure.
Risking my life to make good videos. Whether I’m crawling through cactus and rattlesnake habitat or painting at the edge of a cliff I go the extra mile.
Nature journaling where no one has before. I take you along for the adventure and test supplies in the weirdest conditions: up in trees, in ponds, on kayaks, whitewater rafts, and waterfalls.
Overcoming discomfort to push the envelope. I don’t let swarming flies, mosquito attacks, wildfire smoke, or extreme weather stop me from making episodes every week.
Innovative teaching techniques. I’m 100% committed to your learning even if it means I lose all the hairs on my arm or make a fool of myself.
Hands-on teaching style. No chance of getting bored.
Honesty. I share my personal struggles and keep it real.
Dedication. I’m dedicated to crafting the best videos even if I have to burn a sketchbook.
Good ideas. What other art teacher recommended you get a massage?
Good stories. The nature journal takes you along for captivating stories.
Paul Vecsei’s fish illustration is world class. His underwater fish photography is spellbinding, and his fisheries work is critical. So let’s dive into the world of fish, why they matter, and how to apply this to your nature journaling!
I first found out about Paul’s work on instagram @Fish_As_Art. The more I started looking into his work the more I knew I had to interview him. Eventually this conversation turned out to be one of the most fun I have had in a long time!
Fish Illustration Essentials
I asked Paul why does science illustration still matter in a world of photography. Since Paul does both I though he would have an objective answer. His response was short and to the point.
“Photos are plagued by their honesty.”
With drawing it is possible for the artist to focus on the characteristics that are most important. In contrast, a photograph blindly captures the way light is bouncing off a subject. For example, when Paul does a fish illustration he can be sure to depict the morphology that is essential for identifying that species. It is also possible to make sure all the fins are fully open which is important for identifying fish. It is also possible to do very clear comparisons between sexes for example.
Why Fish Matter
Fish are one of the most widespread animals on earth. They exist throughout the oceans and there are fish on or around every continent. As such they make up an important part of the food chain and are very important source of protein for humans. Paul also points out that they are intrinsically worthy of study and respect due to their fascinating behaviors, adaptations, and beauty.
Fish Illustration Tips for Nature Journaling
Pay attention to the context. Even if you can’t see the fish clearly or at all you can draw and record information about the aquatic ecosystem. Also look out for the presence or absence of fish hunting animals, fish remains on shore, and other signs of fish. Whether you see fish or not this information will add a lot to your pages and your learning.
Bring the fish to you. Instead of hoping that you will see a fish from the shore or trying to nature journal the fish that someone catches you can take matters into your own hands. Try bringing a simple dip net and a cheap plastic portable terrarium. Now you can catch small fish and keep them in water for a while to draw them. If you really want to be advanced you can get a photarium.
Become aquatic yourself. If you want to take it even further you should get a snorkel. This is gonna be the next step for me. Paul spends a lot of time in the water with fish and he says it is very easy. Most of the action is in very shallow water. You can take photos easily with a GoPro, make your observations and then journal when you get dry. If you want some tips for nature journaling around water then check out this post.
If you want to see the amazing lightning round with Paul then you’ll have to watch the interview on my Youtube channel.
You can see more of Paul’s fish illustrations and fish photography at his Flickr site. And you can follow him on his Instagram where he also posts his fish drawings, fisheries research, and photos of tasty pastries!