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.
Pets and nature journaling are a match made in heaven. If you have a pet and you have not nature journaled them yet then you are missing out! In this fun conversation you can learn: four benefits of nature journaling your pet and ten tips to do it better.
Recently, I interviewed Gargi Chugh and Akshay Mahajan about their nature journal pet named Mithuni. Akshay and Gargi shared their excitement, inspiration, and a lot of practical ideas. Even though they have an exotic pet their encouraging ideas apply to cats and dogs as well. First, lets look at some of the benefits.
3 Benefits of Nature Journaling Your Pets
The first benefit is availability. Because many people have busy schedules they might not have time to go to a park frequently. They might get home after dark. However, if you have a pet, you can connect with nature at home. Your pet is an ambassador of nature and a fascinating subject. In short, your pet is more available then the wild animals outside.This also allows you to try more nature journaling techniques.
Next benefit is a fast feedback loop. In the interview Gargi shared how a fast feedback look can accelerate learning. Because you can see your house cat every day it takes less time for you to recognize patterns and make connections. On the other hand you might only see a bobcat in the wild once a year(if you are lucky). Therefore it is much harder to make observations and learn about the bobcat in your nature journal.
Third, by nature journaling your pet you can deepen your connection with the animal. Due to the amount of attention you are directing towards your animal your bond with the animal can grow. Akshay and Gargi found that they have become quite connected with their pet mantis over the weeks that they have observed it so closely.
10 Tips for Nature Journaling Your Pet
Measurements are one of the best tools to use with your pet. Therefore it is useful to start nature journaling as soon as you get a new pet so you can track its growth. There are also other ways to use this tool.
Try creating a journal just for journaling and sketching your pets.
Don’t decide in advance what information is important to record. If you try to create categories in advance you will limit your ability to learn about your animal. You might not foresee what is most important.
Since you don’t know what categories of data about your pet will be most interesting or relevant try using dates as categories. In this way you can just record whatever observations from that day and categorize them later when patterns emerge.
Next, instead of focusing on pretty pet portraits try using diagrams. Diagrams are much easier and fun to do and more rewarding. You will also learn a lot more than if you tried to paint a Mona Lisa of your cat. For more about diagrams check out this awesome class.
Start nature journaling your pet as soon as you get it. Documenting the growth of a pet is very rewarding!
Try setting up experiments to answer your own questions. What fun experiments can you set up with your pet?
Try to answer your own questions before you look it up on google.
Have you ever witnessed an exciting event in nature? An action even that you could not represent in your nature journal? If so, then nature comics might be the perfect strategy for you to practice.
This video did not turn out the way I was planning…However, nature is like that. And if we practice some of the techniques of comics and graphic novels we will be ready for the unexpected.
First, and most importantly, don’t give up if what you are observing in nature doesn’t turn out according to your plan. I thought that I was going to make a nature comic about my snake eating. However, my snake was shedding and was not interested in eating. Unfortunately, I had already laid out my page assuming it would be about the snake eating! At this point I almost gave up but instead I stuck with it. A comic can tell any story so don’t worry if it is not the story you were planning on.
Nature Comics Tips
First, Be aware of anthropomorphizing. It is easy to project human feelings and thoughts and communication onto non human beings. This can be useful in some ways and can make your subject relatable. However, it is important to be aware of this. It is therefore important to be aware of the fact that we can not truly know what other animals are feeling or thinking.
Next, be intentional about choosing your frames. Unlike a video, in nature comics you have an extreme limit on the perspectives you can show. As such, it is important to choose your frames with care. What is the most useful for telling the story you want to tell? For more about this check out the book Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
Last but not least, look for subject matters around you in your house. Maybe there is a pet or something that you have never paid attention to. Perhaps the way that your cat eats its food or plays with a toy could be the source of a nature comic that will help you hone your skills.
Do you like flowers? Do you like drawing? If so then this video about flower drawing in your nature journal is for you!
First, it is important to understand some basic botany to help you draw flowers accurately. In addition to making your drawing better this will also help you understand plant families. However, we will keep the technical terms to a minimum.
Drawing Flowers: These three Botany terms help.
Inflorescence. This is a grouping or cluster of flowers. Many “flowers” that we think of such as a sunflower are actually an inflorescence.
Corolla. This is not the car by Toyota. The corolla refers to all the petals combined, whether they are fused together or not.
Calyx. Similarly to the corolla this term refers to the next parts down. Underneath the petals on many flowers there are sepals. We can use the term calyx to refer to all the sepals whether they are fused or not.
Now that we know some basic terms let’s start drawing flowers! We are going to do three plant families today and draw flowers representing each one.
Drawing Flower Families
First, let’s look at the amazingly diverse Malvaceae. This is the cotton family and currently contains around 4,225 known species! When drawing these flowers pay attention to the 5 petals, and the 5 to numerous male parts often forming a tube. For more check out the wikipedia page about this plant family.
Next, is the Solanaceae. This notorious family contains many edible plants such as tomatoes and poisonous ones. When drawing this flower family look for 5 part symmetry such as five petals, five sepals, and five male parts. The female part is usually solitary. Sometimes, the petals (corolla) form into a tube. For more check out the wikipedia page about this plant family.
Lastly, is the Boraginaceae. This family contains around 2,000 known species including borage, Pride of Madera, and Forget-Me-Nots. When drawing these flowers look for a scorpioid inflorescence. Also look for 5 lobed calyx and corolla. For more about the Boraginaceae check out the wikipedia page on this plant family.
Come nature journaling at home with me as we explore my fridge! What is nature and where is it? And do you have to drive somewhere to find it?In spite of our tendency to look for it in national parks we can actually find nature at home. To start, I will show you how to nature journal using something we take for granted.
As it turns out, your fridge is brimming with subjects for nature journaling, science experiments, and creative art projects. First, you just need to get over the idea that nature is only to be found at the park. Next, you need to look with new eyes which can be hard. However, nature journaling provides the tools for seeing novelty in the everyday. Below I will give you a list of ideas to get you started.
Tips for Nature Journaling at Home:
First, do a sketch collection. This is a good place to start because it will get you warmed up. It’s especially good if you set a time limit to sketch each item. Start with a theme such as vegetables, condiments, etc. Then sketch ten items that fit that category.
Second, try a quantification exercise. Because nature journaling is about using images, words, and numbers it is important to not leave out the last one. Use a thermometer, a scale, a ruler, or any other measuring tool. I estimated and counted cabbage leaves!
Third, create a color palette for your fridge. Practice color matching with your watercolor and try to create swatches to represent the colors in your fridge.
Fourth, try to make a nature journal comic showing a process of cooking or a before and after.
Fifth, try designing a science experiment, make a hypothesis and test it. I want to try freezing different liquids such as milk, water, vinegar, alcohol and see how they freeze at different paces.
Lastly, if you or your home school kids are feeling adventurous, try letting something ferment or putrefy in your fridge. Nature journaling this process would be a learning adventure! For more ideas on how to do nature journal process page check out this video by John Muir Laws
If you want even more nature journaling at home ideas check out this post.
In this video you will learn ten drawing prompts that are fun, helpful, and engaging.
Have you ever experienced creative block? Have you ever felt a lack of ideas or motivation to draw, make art, or nature journal? You are not alone. It is for that reason that I have created this list of prompts.
Before we get into the list I want to say something about using the internet for inspiration. Basically, using the computer and the internet to inspire art is a double edged sword. On the one hand you have access to millions of images and ideas (Historical artists would have cut off their ears for that.) On the other hand you have the greatest source of distraction ever. Therefore I have separated my prompts into 5 without the computer and 5 with the computer.
Drawing Prompts (Analog Style)
Trace shadows. In order to get warmed up we will start with an easy one. First, we will find a spot with cast shadows. I like to find tree branches or other vegetation. Next, we will position our sketchbook to catch the shadows. Finally we will trace them and color them in if we want.
Paint a scene through your window. Now that we are warmed up we will find a window in our house that has a nice view. Because the window provides a frame we can skip some of the steps I talk about in my landscape painting video.
Draw from a book. This is a lost art. When was the last time you looked for a reference image in a book instead of online? Drawing from books has many benefits.
Draw your food. Do you want motivation? Don’t let yourself eat unless you draw the food first. Hunger will motivate you. Just kidding. But seriously, try drawing your food.
Nature Journal in your Fridge. Similarly to the last one this nature journal prompt is about looking for novelty in all the boring places. I’m gonna make a whole video about this one next week.
Drawing Prompts (Digital Style)
Draw from slow motion videos. Pick your favorite nature documentary on youtube and put it in slow motion. Try sketching. This is a great practice for improving your speed and confidence in the field. I used this technique before my trip to Tanzania.
Do a species profile from Wikipedia. If Youtube is too distracting for you then try this nature journaling prompt. It is the same as a regular species profile but you get all the info from wikipedia instead of from looking at the real organism. Don’t know what a species profile is? Check this video out.
Draw a landscape painting from a photo. Even though it might not be as fun there are many benefits to landscape painting from a photo. It is best to work from your own photos and you probably have a bunch on your computer. I did a whole post about this.
Nature journal conference call. You still can’t get motivated to draw? Try getting on a video conference call with a handful of friends. Instead of talking a bunch just keep each other company while you draw. It’s like study hall! You will feel more accountable and less distracted.
Draw from a webcam. Last but not least, this is a drawing prompt that I am really excited about. There are many examples of live cams or webcams at different zoos and aquariums around the world. You can watch many of these on youtube. Because it is live and the animals are moving it gives your drawing or nature journaling more urgency. Therefore this is good practice for the field.
John Muir Laws (aka Jack Laws) could inspire a hard boiled egg. In fact, after this interview you will never look an egg the same. But maybe you have never nature journaled before and you do not even have access to “nature.” regardless of whether you live in a national park or you live in an apartment this interview will show you how to connect to nature. We also talk about his amazing new book which could really help you if you are stuck at home with your kids right now. Actually, this curriculum could really help you even if you are and adult and stuck at home by yourself right now.
He’s our mentor. He’s our teacher. Jack Laws is our fearless leader. In this video he drops some huge bombs of wisdom. In particular let us look at 4 shining examples from the interview.
John Muir Laws Wisdom Bombs
First, “You can still help people during the social distancing of a pandemic.”
“You want reality? You can’t handle reality!” (be sure to watch the video to get this one…)
“It’s not where you look it’s how you look.” Jack emphasizes how the way we pay attention can reveal the wonder of a green bean or an egg. In other words, we don’t need to go to Yosemite or the Serengeti to appreciate the wonders of nature.
” The greatest organ of pleasure in the human body is the…” In spite of what you might think, John Muir Laws argues that the biggest organ of pleasure in the human body is the brain!
Do you need some inspiration and structure for your nature journaling? Or do you have kids at home that you are homeschooling? Regardless, be sure to check out Jack Law’s amazing new “How to Teach Nature Journaling” curriculum.
Trust me, this curriculum is kid tested and parent approved. Jack is giving it away as a free PDF. You can also order a hard copy of your own.
Every hobby has special concepts and lingo and nature journaling is no exception. Have you ever encountered nature journal ideas or language that you were unfamiliar with? If so, this video can help. I explain 10 nature journaling ideas and special words that every nature journaler should know.
And why should you know these words?
You should know these words because we need them to explain the specific ideas that are unique to our practice. In addition, they can be a shortcut to communicate a whole concept. For example, I can just say “pencil miles” to someone and convey a large amount of info succinctly. Otherwise, I would have to use several sentences to communicate the same idea.
Let’s get on with the words! Have you used any of the words below?
Ten Nature Journal Ideas You Need to Know:
Pencil Miles: This is a cool phrase that summarizes the importance of repetition and practice for the improvement of drawing.
Meta-Data: This heading at the beginning of our page gives info about the location, the time, and the date. In addition, you can add whatever data is relevant to you such as: the tide, who you are with, the humidity as well as symbols for the type of clouds or other weather features.
Landscapitos: These are small landscape drawings. For more about them check out this post on Landscapitos.
Non-Photo Blue Pencil: Many nature journalers use these pencils for a faint under-drawing. They do not show up in photocopies or scans. Check out what John Muir Laws loves about them!
The Pretty Picture Trap: This nature journal idea is one you want to avoid! Even though we all like beautiful drawings the fact of focusing on making pretty pictures can be a problem.
Precious: Sometimes, when I have a drawing that is looking good, I start taking fewer risks because I start getting precious about it . This can hamper our learning. Similarly, this problem can emerge if you have really fancy materials or watercolor paper and you are hesitant to mess it up.
Stealing Ideas: We use the word “stealing” in a positive way because we want people to be able to share ideas and learn from each other. Therefore, next time you are in a journal share “steal” some good ideas from someone instead of just admiring their pretty page.
Post Hoc: Any nature journaling work that you do after the field trip is called post hoc which means “after” in Latin.
Sacrificial Pancakes: One of my favorite nature journal ideas is the sacrificial pancake! These are the first drawings we make in a session while we are warming up because you have to make these before you can make good ones!
For number 10 go watch the video! You will also find a bonus one there.
Is there a potential nature journaling location that seems to too loud, too busy, or too crowded for you to get your sketching groove on? In this video I give you ten tips for nature journaling in such a location. I believe that practicing in these situations can make us much stronger as nature journalers even if our goal is to practice our craft in more relaxed settings most of the time.