Today’s post is a short guide to nature journaling. I’ve been spending a bit of time in rainforest of late, doing some research for a book. So this post is illustrated with journal entries from rainforest places – mostly from Queensland but with one sneaky New Caledonian picture thrown in (botanists – can you pick it?).
A nature journal can be anything you want it to be. Sketches, creative writing, lists of species, hand-drawn maps with added points of interest or events that occurred on your journey. Mine mostly has drawings and field notes.
I think a nature journal has two main purposes. One is to record what you encounter, and your response to it. This leaves a tangible product. The other is the practice of slowing down, really looking at something, and spending time with it. This is far less tangible, but if you enjoy being in nature it’s a wonderful thing to do. Nature journaling is an excuse to be in the natural world without dashing off to a destination or striving for the next bird or plant ‘tick’.
If you usually spend a lot of time thinking in an analytical way (hey all you scientists!), it might also de-couple your analytical brain for a moment, and allow you to notice something new that you’ve skimmed over in the past.
The tools I use for nature journaling are simple and portable:
- a small sketchbook 14 x 20 cm (I use ‘mixed media’ paper which is smooth and thick because I use watercolour pencils, but any small sketchbook will do)
- watercolour pencils
- 2B pencil and eraser
- fine black permanent ink marker
- a paintbrush with its own water reservoir (these are very neat and can be found at most good art stores).
Many of you will probably say ‘but I can’t draw’. Yep, at the start none of us could draw, every one of us had to learn (a bit like all those young wizards learning magic at Hogwarts). You start off being really crappy at it, you practice, and slowly you get better. The problem is, most people gave up trying when they were kids, and told themselves they couldn’t do it. But don’t listen to yourself, turn off that negative voice. After all, since your nature journal is not destined for the National Gallery – does it really matter? You will know what your drawing is about: it will be your own unique set of marks, your own unique response. And the more you practice, the better you will get.
If you’d like to know more about rediscovering your ability to draw, check out the classic book Drawing on the right side of the brain. It includes a series of exercises which will help you to look at things like an artist, and to realize that just about anyone who can sign their name can also learn how to draw.
But don’t forget drawing is only one way to do a nature journal. You could also write, trace the shapes of leaves, do rubbings of tree-trunks or rocks, note down place or species names and invent your own meanings (or invent both names and meanings), observe and then try to reproduce the colours of a sunset or a flower, sit quietly and then write down all the sounds you just heard… The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.
Have a go – try it. You will probably surprise yourself.