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.
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!
Do you know how to draw with binoculars? Are you a birder, nature journaler, or urban sketcher? If so, you can see more, draw better, and learn faster with this technique.
For a long time I would carry binoculars on my neck but didn’t really know how to use them effectively. My binos were more ornamental then functional. They made me feel like a naturalist and they showed others that I was serious. Finally, I got a different pair of binoculars and I started using them more while nature journaling. Little by little I developed a system that helped me use them while drawing. Now, they have become an essential drawing tool for me just like a pencil or eraser.
How to Draw With Binoculars: Two Ways
Method One-The Shifting Eyes Method
This method is good for nature journal beginners
Use a chair
Don’t use very heavy binoculars
Support your drawing surface on your lap
Because your surface is supported you should be able to draw with one hand
Hold your binoculars against your brow bone (above your eye).
Get your subject in view and brace your bino-holding arm.
Angle your head so you can also peer out the bottom of your binoculars at your drawing and get your hand ready to draw.
Alternate between looking at your subject and looking at your drawing.
Keep your binoculars in position.
Method Two-The Visual Memory Method
This method is more difficult but is good practice for developing your visual memory as an artist.
Are you stuck at home but you still want to make art and nature journal? Me too! That’s why I made this video on how to make a landscape painting from photos. Whether you are stuck at home because of the weather, because of a pandemic, or because it is dark outside this guide will help you. Learning how to use reference photos for watercolor painting is a good skill to build regardless.
The 11 Step Guide To Landscape Painting From Photos:
First, you make a pot of tea. Actually, this is a very important step.
Next, you create the station where you are going to be working. Since you are going to paint from photos of landscapes on your computer or iPad make sure you get the area organized. Get all your materials ready: watercolor, towel, brushes, pencils, nature journal,
Third, choose your photo wisely. No matter your skills, your final drawing or painting is only as good as the photo it is based on. Certain things like sunsets are also extra hard to paint accurately so let us avoid those. Unfortunately, many beginners are attracted to sunsets. Hence the many amateur painting of sunsets online. We will get to sunsets once we build some basic skills.
Fourth, crop and edit your photo for better painting. In the video I go into depth about how important cropping is. By cropping your photo intentionally you can make your painting more dramatic and you can incorporate important design elements such as the “rule of thirds.” Additionally, you can focus on the values better by turning your photos of landscapes into black and white.
Next, we jump into the landscape painting process by drawing the basic shapes. Being able to simplify a landscape into 3-8 major shapes is essential. It is the arrangement of these basic shapes that gives the landscape painting it’s feeling and impact.
After drawing the shapes it is time to lay in the lights and darks. You should aim for 3-8 gradations from light to dark. The sky is always the lightest. These gradations should match the simplified shapes from step 5.
Now, it is time to go back and add another level of darkness to your landscape drawing. Pay attention to the dark spots in your photo reference and try to match these in your drawing.
Watercolor Painting Time!
Now, it is time to really start painting from your photo. Turn the photo back into color then take out your watercolor and start laying in washes. First, do the paler washes such as the sky and the background. Focus on keeping the values correct.
Add local color accents. Now, look at your photo reference and try to match some of the specific colors. But remember, these are accents so they do not need to go everywhere. And the most important thing is that your 3-8 major blocks are still recognizable separate.
Now, add more contrast in the foreground elements and push your values a little more. Most of the time watercolor landscape paintings end up to pale.
Finally, take a look at the reference photo for your watercolor painting and compare it to your actual page. Where could you do better? Try turning the photo back to black and white. How close are your values? For bonus points do another version of this landscape but with charcoal or graphite.
Painting from photos gives you a lot of tools to improve your landscape painting skills!
For more landscape painting ideas, especially for mini-landscapes check out this post
Don’t forget to watch the video for all the pro tips!