Botanical art and nature journaling are essential to how Dion Dior makes meaning of the world. She shares some of her pages, favorite supplies, and technical tips in this talk. In addition she describes the huge privilege and responsibility that nature journalers have. Don’t miss the lightning round!
Dion lives in Noosa, Queensland Australia. She nature journals for herself as well as teaching and leading a local nature journal club. The Noosa Nature Journal Club holds free monthly classes in the Sunshine Coast area.
The Noosa Nature Journal Club is based in the Noosaville Area and is open to anyone with a passion for exploring nature with a field journal.We are a community of nature lovers and artists of all levels who meet to connect, record and appreciate the beautiful natural environments of the Sunshine Coast and beyond
Start With a Leaf
As a result of her teaching experience Dion has noticed that people are often overwhelmed in nature. “Where should I start?” Starting with a leaf is an antidote to this. Therefore Dion just tells people to pick up a leaf.
Botanical Art and Nature Journaling Begins with a Leaf
First of all, leaves are accessible and can be found almost anywhere there are people.
Secondly, leaves provide many avenues of investigation when we look at them carefully.
Thirdly,they provide many fun artistic challenges.
Last but significantly leaves are limited in their scope. A leaf once separated from the plant is a circumscribed subject. It is manageable.
Dion Uses Multiple Journals
Another thing that was interesting to learn was how Dion uses multiple sketchbooks and journals for different purposes.You probably know my thoughts about keeping multiple journals. If not, check out this post called “One Journal to Rule Them All.”
She has at least four different nature journals. One is made with nicer watercolor paper. This journal is mostly for botanical art. Dion mostly uses it at home when she is building her skills as an illustrator. She also has one that is dedicated to practice. She does not worry about what the pages looks like. This book is for fun and learning.
Birding and nature journaling should be an obvious match. That’s because you will be more observant, patient, and full of wonder if you do both. You could take my word for it. However, you could also hear it from the mouth of Timothy Joe. Tim has loved nature and art since a young age. In addition to birding he practices nature journaling, watercolor and gouache painting, oil painting, and pastels. In this live conversation we talk about his art, we talk about how racism has affected his experience, and we talk about how we can move forward as a nature journaling community.
I first found out about Timothy Joe from his Instagram where I saw one of his posts under the hashtag #naturejournaling. In addition to his artwork he also posts about his classes on Instagram. I saw that he was teaching a “Birds and Nature Art Journaling” class. Pretty soon, I was scrolling through a bunch of his other artwork.
Besides birds Tim also does a lot of rural landscapes, especially those that contain historic buildings. Similarly to nature journaling Tim finds joy and meaning in researching and sharing the background story of these buildings. For him, the story is as important as the visual which is demonstrated in the following quote from his artist statement.
Everyday things that usually would not get a second glance can become beautiful works of art. There is a message in every scene, whether it is a location, personal belonging, or building. There are so many beautiful subjects that should have its place on my canvas or any other painting surface. My mission is to capture these hidden treasures before time erases them completely.
Why Aren’t All Birders Nature Journaling?
With all these obvious benefits you might wonder why don’t all birders also nature journal?
First of all, many birders have never heard of nature journaling.
Second, many are in too big a hurry to stop and sketch. They just want to check off more life birds.
They are too focused on using all their energy to learn bird names and see more birds and be more hardcore birders.
Finally and significantly, birders are very emotionally attached to their subject and that makes them afraid to try to draw them. Compared to the precision of photography their early sketches of birds could feel awkward. Since they love their subject so much they want to do it justice.
Birding and Nature Journaling While Black
Timothy shared his experience and perspective as a black man in predominantly white hobbies and the outdoors. Later in the conversation we talked about positive ways to make these hobbies and the outdoors more welcoming. The first challenge for him when doing birding or going to an art event is looking around at the other participants. He is often the only black man. He has to reassure himself and the other participants that he is meant to be there. Sometimes they ask if he is lost. He often gets second glances. Just because of the color of his skin. This would be enough to make many of us give up. However, Tim has developed a protocol that he follows.
How to Nature Journal While Black
Show Off Your Supplies. Tim always makes sure he is wearing an artist’s apron, has his easel out and all his art or birding stuff very visible. This type of flagging shows off what his intentions are. Many black birders follow similar rules and try to make it extra obvious that they are birding. This is unfair and should not be necessary but many people in the USA are consciously or unconsciously prejudiced to be suspicious of black people walking around. This is no joke-innocent black people have been killed because of this. As a husband and a father Tim does worry about his safety.
Be Mindful of Your Surroundings. Birders and nature journalers and landscape painters are supposed to be observant. If you are black in the USA you have to be even more observant. Tim tries to pay attention to where he is and what is going on with the people around him.
Choose Your Locations Carefully. Unfortunately, there are locations that Tim would love to paint but feel too unsafe. Certain rural areas or locations that are too out of the way. He has to choose not to go to these places. Black birders have shared this as well.
Obviously, neither Dr Drew Lanham nor Timothy Joe should have to feel like they have to follow rules just to do what they love. Even if they do follow these rules it is possible they will be harassed or worse such as the incident with Chris Cooper in Central Park.
Birding and Nature Tours at the Joe Farm
Timothy shared about his family’s farm and all the accessible nature to be had there. They have birding events, wheelchair access, and art events. I want to go some day! Find out more at their website.
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.
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.
Homeschool nature study and nature journaling are exploding in popularity as parents realize the many benefits for their children. Despite my experience with nature education, I’m not a parent. So let’s hear from Dallas Nachtigall, homeschool mom and artist, as she shares some of her experience.
Getting started with homeschooling
Why did Dallas and her husband decide to homeschool? It turns out that Dallas’ husband was homeschooled. One of the main benefits he experienced was how much time he was able to spend in nature. A love of nature is a cherished family value for them. Therefore, they decided to homeschool their kids. There is more flexibility to be outside more when homeschooling. I spoke with two other homeschool moms with similar stories in this live conversation.
Charlotte Mason homeschool style
As she was getting started with homeschooling Dallas soon learned about Charlotte Mason . The Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling provides lots of focus on nature study, journaling, art, and direct observation. Charlotte Mason lived during the 19th century in England and wrote extensively about homeschooling ideas.
Kids and adults learning together
Dallas has created an online art class for homeschool families. The class is based in Charlotte Mason methods and includes insights from Dallas’ academic background in fine art. This class is unique due to parents and children learning together. In most education systems, even homeschool, the adult has the role of teacher who knows about the subject. There is more humility and vulnerability in the method that Dallas proposes. There is also a freedom and relaxation that can come to the parent. Once you realize that you do not need to be a great artist or naturalist you can relax. Your role is mostly to “model” instead of teach.
Motivating less motivated kids
Motivation is easier when the adult is a co-learner and co-explorer with the kids. This is especially true with teens or more resistant children. The parent or tutor showing their own learning process, their own challenges, and their own shortcomings can help the student. Instead of pretending to be an expert about something the adult can share in the curiosity and humility of the learner. Most of us who were trained in the top-down education system will take a while to learn this new way.
Why is nature study and nature journaling important?
Dallas started her podcast to share the philosophy behind why nature study and drawing are important. Her podcast is called Bestowing the Brush and you can check it out here.
She believes that nature study and drawing are skills with many benefits. Her kids have become more observant and developed better hand coordination through their practice.
What is the difference between Nature Study and Nature Journaling?
Dallas describes the two approaches as complimentary activities. In her definition the nature journaling is more in the field and based on direct observation while the nature study is based on literature, nature lore, and books. For example, while reading about and studying fruiting trees and plants at home then afterwards going out to the field and observing cherry trees with fruit in a local orchard.
Homeschool Nature Study Tips
First, start with some basic art skills at home before going outside. Dallas likes to teach some of these basic skills in a familiar context before going out into the woods.
Make sure you have your kids basic needs met. Bring snacks, layers,etc. And have a good way to carry materials.
Next, invest in quality materials and build a functional kit for each kid. Dallas firmly believes that kids will take more pride in their work if they are given a certain level of quality in art supplies. Don’t be too cheap in the supplies that you give them
Combine writing, drawing, and diagramming.
Let the kid decide the subject.
Take the pressure off the kid. Too much pressure on the kid can kill their natural curiosity and motivation. This is especially important with small kids.
You can practice observation skills on regular hikes. If you want you can try to draw from memory when you get home.
Keep the lessons short. Especially with small kids.
Create a “Family nature journal”. This was one of the best ideas I learned from Dallas. She recommends creating a shared journal that anyone in the family can add to. During a fieldtrip she just lets the kids know the family journal is available. The parents can add to it, the kids can add to it. The journal is always ready. I love this idea!
Nature Journal + Homeschool = motivated and engaged teen learning.
It’s a simple equation but don’t take my word for it. Amaya is a homeschooled teen who shares her passionate perspective in this talk. Nature journaling has become a central part of her homeschooling. She explains how this approach can launch any teen’s interest into a self-directed learning adventure!
Coming up with a homeschool curriculum can be stressful, especially if you want to include some nature study. This year millions of parents are homeschooling for the first time. This is an especially challenging time for homeschool teens. What can families do?
What if teens could be self-motivated to learn about a variety of subjects and direct their own learning all while developing self awareness, transferable skills, and getting nature time?
Then they get so inspired that they volunteer to teach their younger siblings? Next, they start going to conferences, publishing articles, and getting interviewed about their ideas!
Does this sound to good to be true? Amaya’s story proves this is real. Why aren’t more families using nature journaling in their homeschool program? Why haven’t I heard of this before? Nature journaling is still kind of new. However, nature journaling homeschool options are exploding in 2020. It’s actually very easy. Parents don’t need to have ANY experience to teach nature journaling, unlike other subjects (Try that with calculus!) There are even FREE resources that give you step by step instructions on how to lead activities and teach nature journaling. These resources even tell you how each activity can be connected to curriculum standards for different schooling systems! Check out John Muir Law’s book “How to Teach Nature Journaling.” You can buy the book or download a free PDF. There is also a facebook group and regular free zoom sessions on how to teach nature jouranling!
Look how Amaya has excelled with nature journaling! Fiona is on a similar path and has developed many skills. Nature journaling has obviously worked for these kids. Nature journal homeschool can work for you!
Did I mention Amaya’s article? She wrote an article that was featured during International Nature Journaling Week. You can read the article here.
Have you ever sprouted an avocado seed? What if you journaled an avocado seed’s germination for 100 days? In this video, I interview Kate Rutter who did just that! She shares some amazing journal pages, sketching pro tips, and some wisdom that applies to all kinds of journaling and art.
We eat so much avocado that we take it for granted. However, there is a whole world of learning inside that little seed. That’s one of the things that Kate Rutter learned in her 100 day challenge. Following are some of the things she learned.
Lessons from an Avocado Seed Project
1. First, find a small focus. Most nature journalers and nature lovers want to go to wild, exotic places and study “fancy” things in nature. However, focusing on something small and committing to it proves very rewarding. Because when you pay that much attention to anything in nature you open up whole worlds of fascination.
2. Next, establish creative constraints. While “constraint” does not sound like the sexiest word in the art vocabulary it is actually essential to good art and science. Kate created clear limits on materials, subject matter, and format. This helped her make it a routine. It also helped make for a more clear comparison of the avocado pit progress.
3. But how do you keep from getting bored? Try looking deeper and more carefully. You can also do research about the bigger context. Kate did pages where she brought in outside research about avocado trees, the etymology of the word avocado, and science behind the germination of avocado seeds.
4. Last but not least try going public. During her project Kate has been posting on her twitter, a dedicated Tumblr page, and on the nature journal club facebook page in addition to her own website. Because of this she has received lots of feedback, questions, and suggestions. In addition the public nature of the project has helped her stay accountable to maintain her 100 day goal.
As a nature journaler I am always curious how others got started nature journaling. And what about you? Do you ever wonder about the story behind the nature journalers whose sketches and paintings you see online? In this episode of The Nature Journal Show we learn about Melinda Nakagawa, her experience with nature sketching, nature education, and how she started a new nature journal club in Monterey California!
The first thing that I was impressed by in our conversation was that Melinda started nature journaling in 1998 since the term nature journaling has not been around for that long. Her first nature journal pages were from a whale watching trip. Before this however she was already an avid note taker and had used journaling in a diary sort of way.
After nature journaling on her own for some time her husband bought her a book by Clare Walker Leslie. Soon after that she also got the nature journaling book by Hannah Hinchman. Now she could see that other people were nature journaling too. A little bit later she got the book by John Muir Laws. While all of these books inspired her it was the Wild Wonder nature journaling conference in 2019 that really lit her up. Because of the incredible feeling of the nature journaing community at that event she decided to start her own nature journal club where she lived in Monterey California.
Four Nature Journaler Tips
1. First of all combine nature journaling with your existing interests. Melinda grew her nature journal practice from her birding and marine biology practices.
2. Next, build your skills of existing skills. Are you a note taker or a poet? Do you draw diagrams for work? Are you a data scientist? How can you use your existing skills in your nature journal?
3. Third, connect with community. By connecting with community you will get more motivation and you will learn faster. In addition, it is much more fun! Melinda got a huge burst of inspiration after she went to the Wild Wonder Nature Journaling Conference. Community can be online too.
4. Last but not least, start teaching nature journaling. Even if you are a beginner nature journaler there are people who are more new to it than you. By sharing what you have learned so far you will accelerate your own learning and reinforce your skills. Start before you are ready.
Sitting down with Kim Lavere and learning about her journaling practice and the role that it has played in her life trajectory was inspiring. I definitely have been stealing some of her techniques for my own journaling practices! I posted the interview through youtube but it is mostly audio content so feel free to listen to it as such.
Do you know anyone with an interesting journaling practice? Let me know so I can interview them next.