Nature Journaling for Beginners!

Are you interested in nature journaling but don’t know where to start? In this video I cover the basics on nature journaling for beginners.

In addition to this video you should learn these basic nature journaling ideas and lingo here.

Of course there is a treasure trove of ideas for nature journaling beginners at John Muir Laws website because he is the greatest teacher in our movement!

nature journaling for beginners
Acting like a kid can help you learn faster when you are a beginner at nature journaling

How To Do a Curiosity Wander

The curiosity wander is the most basic nature journaling technique in the field. It is open ended and easy to do in a short amount of time. In this video I give 13 tips on how to get the most out of your curiosity wander.

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: https://amzn.to/2RrKDVn

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