Introducing the nature scroll: a compact, lightweight way to record your next journey

Nature scroll action in the rainforest!

I really like to enhance my travel with nature journaling. Be it a bushwalk, or a journey to another state or country, I always find that journaling enriches my experience and creates a unique memento.

Treasured memories from Japan

That’s why I often head out on a walk loaded down with journal, pencils and ink pens, and wonder why my pack is heavier than everyone else’s. (Oh and of course I pack plenty of snacks for on the way. That might have something to do with it too 😊).

So when I discovered the concept of ‘Strip journaling’ in the book ‘Sketchbook Explorations’ by Shelley Rhodes, I saw it as a terrific way to cut back on the luggage and increase the journaling fun.

(Ray coined the term ‘Nature scroll’ which I like much better than ‘Strip journaling’, as the latter sounds like some sort of performance art. But hey, if that inspires you – go for it!).

For this scroll I started with ink sketches, and added watercolour washes later.

The other advantage of using a narrow strip of paper for journaling is that it forces me to keep my drawings small and simple. This means I can capture many different impressions of the journey, and it suppresses the urge for perfection. Striving for perfection has a time and a place, but if I try to do it all the time, it just gets exhausting and leads to far too much self-criticism.

I took my first nature scroll for an outing in Lamington National Park and had a very fun time. Here’s the step-by-step instructions in case you’d like to try it too:

  1. Take a large piece of quality paper (I used a sheet of cold press watercolour paper) and cut it lengthways to form a long strip (mine was 77 cm by about 6.5 cm). I deliberately made the edge slightly irregular, but if you want a perfectly straight edge you could measure it out more precisely with a ruler first.
  2. Roll the scroll up and put it in a plastic cup with a lid. This is a great way to protect it from moisture, and from being squashed in you pack.
Use a plastic cup with a lid to store your scroll when hiking

3. Take out your scroll during your walk (or other journey) and add marks, sketches, words or colours.

4. You can always add to your scroll when you get home. I did the ink sketches on my walk, and added the colour washes later.

The completed nature scroll with watercolour washes added.

5. Hang your scroll on a wall (or tree!) and admire your work.

Just imagine how you could record a series of walks or journeys in this way. Or encourage a group of people to create nature scrolls on their next hike, and enjoy seeing the different response everyone has to the same trail. And the journey needn’t be a long one. Just a lap of a garden, or short stroll through your favourite park could provide plenty of inspiration to fill a scroll. The secret is to go slowly, and take the time to look closely.

And that doesn’t mean you need to restrict yourself to close-ups, either. Try to mix up close-ups, landscape views, even little maps, questions, lists of things you’ve seen, a circle of descriptive words, maybe part of a conversation you had on your journey… the potential variations are endless.

I can see the ‘nature scroll’ approach has many benefits and applications. I hope you can take one on your next nature adventure soon.

9 Responses

  1. Mt Gravatt Environment Group

    Great idea Paula.

    • Paula Peeters

      Thanks Mike!

  2. Mel

    Hi Paula, this is such a lovely idea and I can imagine they would look so wonderful hanging together as an ever-expanding collection! Could you please let me know what is your recommendation for the ink pens? I’m guessing waterproof to enable watercolour washes! 🙂 Thanks. Mel.

    • Paula Peeters

      Hi Mel, thanks for your feedback, and your enthusiasm for nature scrolls! Yes the ink needs to be waterproof if you want to draw first, and add a watercolour wash later. I started out using felt-tip fineliner pens, e.g. artline, pigma micron, copic, etc, which all work well. But they are disposable which I don’t like, so recently I’ve invested in some TWSBI refillable ink pens which I really enjoy using. If you get refillable, make sure the ink you’re using is waterproof – I use de Atramentis document ink. The ink fineliners can be bought at officeworks or any art supply store; the TWSBI pens and their ink you can find at Larry Post
      Have fun!

      • Mel

        Thanks Paula, that is great information! I’m also keen to avoid disposables so will check out the refillable option you mentioned. Thanks so much. Our whole family (two adults, three children) went for a walk around our garden, scrolls in hand, a few afternoons ago. We loved it (thought the children like having something sturdy to lean on) and are looking forward to observing more soon. The fridge is adorned with our little scrolls. 🙂 Thanks Paula, for all you do! M.

    • Paula Peeters

      p.s. That’s the TWSBI eco pen (not the super-expensive models!) that I use 🙂

      • Mel

        Thanks for the clarification! 🙂 (PS autocorrect changed though to thought in my last message)

  3. Cathy Ferrell

    Paula, this is wonderful!!!! I am particularly intrigued by the continuity of the nature scrolls, more the way we see nature and respond to it. We have the Environmental Learning Center, Vero Beach, Florida, close by and can see how valuable your approach to nature and journaling could be in getting people of all ages connected to the beauty around us, especially people new to our areas. Thank you for your talent and caring!!! Cathy Ferrell.

    • Paula Peeters

      Hey Cathy thanks for reaching out, and for your enthusiasm for the nature scroll concept. Yes it’s exciting to respond to nature in a linear way like this, and it’s also relatively small and accessible, perhaps getting over the perceived pressure of creating a large work… I hope you can apply it in the Environmental Learning Centre, and hope to see some photos if you do! Cheers, Paula