Join me on a nature journal adventure with my friend and fellow nature journaler JP! It was Superbowl Sunday but we decided to nature journal instead. We saw a dead whale, we saw mergansers, and we even saw a crawdad and cliff-growing succulents.
Just Start Somewhere
Nature journaling in a new element is not easy. I made a whole video about how to nature journal from a kayak and I am still not totally comfortable. You will see how I struggle even getting started when you watch the video. I paddle around looking for a better angle. What should I draw? Where should I park my kayak? Should I nature journal from the shore?
“Start before you’re ready.”
The most important thing is to just get your journal out and start getting something down on the page. Getting started can be especially hard under the following nature journal adventure circumstances:
You are not physically comfortable
The environment is distracting
There are too many options to nature journal
You are worried about your materials getting lost or damaged
The art supplies you usually use are not conducive to the adventure
The best solution to all these problems is to clarify your intentions before you go, simplify your materials, and start making marks on your page as soon as possible.
Learning how to nature journal on a kayak can take your enjoyment of nature to the next level. You are guaranteed to see new things because a kayak is an easy way to access hidden areas. Even a small lake in a crowded park will have niches that you can reach while everyone else is walking on the trails. You can have a more immersive nature experience all to yourself.
However, there are also some challenges about nature journaling from a kayak. These challenges prevent many people from even trying. I made this video to help you overcome those challenges.
Ten Tips for How to Nature Journal on a Kayak
First of all choose a good location. You want a location that is close, convenient, calm, and comfortable. This will make it easier to nature journal.
Practice kayaking and nature journaling separately first. It is exponentially harder to learn two new skills at the same time than to learn one. The more you can practice these skills separately the better you will do when you combine them.
Keep your supplies simple. Don’t bring expensive stuff that you will get precious about. You don’t want to be fumbling with lots of stuff.
Be safe. Follow all safety recommendations for the body of water where you kayak.
Go with a friend. This is safer but also much more motivating.
Plan for the sun. Be sure to wear a hat and sun protection.
Deal with drift. It is hard to stay still while you are nature journaling from a kayak. Some options: use an anchor, do quick sketches only, wedge yourself in plants or mud, use a tandem kayak, or plan for the drift and set yourself up accordingly.
Take care of your basic needs. Warmth, food, hydration, comfort are essential. If you don’t take care of these don’t expect great nature journaling.
Use the kayak for access. In addition to nature journaling in the kayak you can use the kayak to access islands and other areas you normally couldn’t. Then just hop out and do some land-lubber nature journaling.
Lastly, find the right balance between accessibility and protection of your supplies. Inside a ziplock at the bottom of a cinched-down dry bag strapped into the back of your kayak you might be a safe place for your journal but you will never take it out. It will stay dry and safe but it will also be unused. If you leave your journal in your lap while you paddle it might get wet.
Want to learn about watercolor and watch another nature journal adventure? Check out this post.
I’m back from nature journaling in the Grand Canyon for 21 days. In my live “Show and Tell” video I share experiences and pages from the adventure!
You already know I have been testing nature journal supplies, clothing, sun protection, waterproof supplies, and other gear in preparation for this trip. You have heard about my training and my preparation. Now I’m back! And I have lots to share. In fact, it was so much I have to do a Part Two. My goal is to give you some answers to the following questions.
First, how did I prepare?
Next, how did I stay focused during the trip?
Lastly, what am I gonna do now that the trip is over?
Preparing to Nature Journal in the Grand Canyon
It can be hard to prepare for something that you have never done before. Had I ever been to the Grand Canyon before? Nope. Whitewater rafting with some of the biggest navigable rapids on the continent? Nope. Any whitewater rafting experience at all? No, but I went down a creek in an inner tube once. Any other river expedition experience? Nope. Had I ever spent 23 days camping with my girlfriend before? No…What about other multi-day expedition experience? Sort of… What about nature journaling in extreme conditions and unusual places? Yep, I got that one covered!
So first, I had to make sure I had the material needs covered to survive and thrive enough to enjoy the trip and have enough energy to nature journal. I didn’t want to break the bank on gear or spend forever trying to figure out what was best. Luckily, our trip leader, Cooper, and his partner Leah had a lot of the necessary gear that we could borrow. In addition, I managed to piece together a lot of the clothing necessary from my old wool hunting clothes and bought some used Patagonia layers. I love that they have a website dedicated to selling used gear that is still very useful and often like new.
Then, I focused my remaining funds on buying some key new pieces of equipment…
A waterproof bag just for my nature journal kit. Watershed Largo Tote Bag(full review coming soon). Keeping my nature journal supplies easily accessible yet safe was a priority!
Waterproof Notebook from Rite in the Rain. I also got two waterproof pens which ended up sucking…(review coming soon)
Sun Protection was a priority for me! A wind resistant, non-floppy sun hat. Sun gloves so that I didn’t have to worry about sunscreen on my hands messing up my paper. I also got two sun shirts for sun protection on hot days.
of arms they have a cord attachment that makes them less likely to break and they don’t fall off even in the big rapids or while swimming, or under a 60 foot waterfall. Yes I tested them in all those settings. More review of these coming in the future.
Last but definitely not least, I got an amazing camping chair. This chair was recommended by our trip leader for river trips. Luckily, I got it several months before the trip and it is one of my most useful nature journaling tools now! With this chair I was even able to sit in waterfalls and paint them.
Other Preparations for the Canyon
I knew from previous experiences that it would take me a while to get used to nature journaling in the Grand Canyon. Therefore, I tried to simulate aspects of the expedition in advance. I tested all the gear mentioned above. I tried to simulate conditions that I expected on the trip: wet, hot and sunny, cold and windy, etc. In addition to this type of training I also did research about the grand canyon and practiced layouts and techniques that I would use on my pages.
Balance and Commitment While Nature Journaling in the Canyon
Nature journaling is not always easy. Drawing moving subjects is not child’s play. Despite what people think, watercolor painting en plein air is not relaxing (especially when you only have 15 minutes, you are balanced on the edge of a sheer cliff full of cacti, the light is changing by the minute, spray from a waterfall is buffeting you, and a lifetime’s worth of potential paintings beckon to you from every direction you look in). Choosing to nature journal while in a group of people doing other things requires balance, self-awareness, and social intelligence. Just choosing to sit with one vista or one plant when there are thousands of sights and experiences vying for your attention is a mentally taxing endeavor.
Nature Journaling = Commitment
In these moments in the canyon it is easy for my mind to play tricks on me. It is easy to talk myself out of the work that I came to do. “It’s cold outside. Warm sleeping bag or sunrise landscape drawing? How can I nature journal before coffee? I should just take pictures of everything instead of trying to draw. I can draw from photos when I get back home. Maybe there is a better view around the corner. I probably need more time to capture this scene…no point in starting now. My nature journal supplies are too hard to get to. I’m too tired to try to draw this scorpion right now, besides look at all those legs! That is going to be too hard. I might mess up the look of the page if I try to sketch that scorpion. What if other people look at my drawing and its not that good?”
At such times it is good to shake all doubts from the head and invoke Steven Pressfield:
The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.
While busting one’s ass nature journaling is commendable being a human requires balance. Despite my own fantasies, this trip was not focused specifically on nature journaling in the grand Canyon. This was not like my Nature Journal Safaris in East Africa with John Muir Laws. Even though I planned on “working” on the trip and making a publication of my pages for my Patreon , the trip was actually supposed to be a vacation (why do I still struggle with that word?).
This trip also meant different things to different people. And despite my personal commitment there were plenty of other considerations on this trip. I was part of a team on a potentially dangerous expedition in an extremely remote area-I had a responsibility to the group and cooking and other duties just like everyone else. I was also part of a relationship – I was on this trip with my partner and had to tend to the needs of our relationship and spend quality time together.
After spending 21 days without even seeing a building or a computer it has been a little hard adjusting to being back. However, I’m motivated to share my experiences with the community and I’m compiling and improving on my nature journal pages from the voyage to create a publication for you! This publication will be similar to my Tanzania Travel journal and will be available for print on demand via my author page on Blurb. It will probably cost around $30 for the hard copy and maybe $2 for the e-book. In addition my Patreon patrons of $5 and above will all get a copy mailed to them.