A few weeks ago I led a nature journaling workshop in Trevallyn Nature Reserve, a precious expanse of grassy woodland and forest near Launceston, Tasmania. We were incredibly fortunate to discover a Southern Boobook Owl (or Morepork) peeping down at us from the entrance of a tree hollow. Not wanting to frighten the bird too much, I invited participants to do a 15-second sketch of the owl and then move away. Below are some of the gorgeous drawings created, all of which fill me with wonder, satisfaction and joy.

Wonder at human diversity and creativity – because everyone has drawn the owl differently.

Satisfaction because many of these people thought they couldn’t draw at the start of the workshop – and now they clearly have. I think I might have opened a door for them.

Joy because every person who did a drawing connected in some way with this owl, and then responded in the marks they made on the page. It’s connection to nature made visible, and the act of drawing has probably made that memory of the owl more detailed and strong than if they hadn’t drawn it.


Have you noticed I’m not critiquing these drawings? I’m not saying they are preliminary sketches, or that they need more detail, or colour or adjustment of proportions, or anything else. That’s very deliberate. I think they are enough, as they are. I think they are wonderful as they are. For the reasons stated above, and for more reasons that I’ll expand on below.

Nature journaling among the Black Peppermints (Eucalyptus amygdalina)(top) and Drooping Sheoaks (Allocasuarina verticillata)(bottom) at Trevallyn Nature Reserve, Launceston, Tasmania. Thanks to the Tasmanian Land Conservancy for organising this workshop.

When I teach nature journaling, I would like each participant to come away from the session with these things:

  • The experience of slowing down and connecting to nature.
  • The experience of awe.
  • Confidence in drawing and writing – the belief that ‘I can draw’ and ‘I can write’.
  • Understanding that nature journaling is simply ‘drawing and writing in response to nature’, and it can be done in a wide variety of ways that can include science, art, facts, feelings, imagination, memories, emotions and much more. There is no right or wrong in nature journaling, because it’s your own conversation with nature.
  • Understanding that there are many different ways to draw: drawing realistically is only one way.
  • Knowledge of a range of tools and approaches that can improve drawing and writing skills, and also skills in observing, asking questions and being creative.

I don’t instruct participants to draw a certain way, write a certain way, or produce a page that looks a certain way. Why not? Because this focus on the ‘product’ is likely to distract from the process. And in particular, that part of the nature journaling process that allows the participant to slow down, be playful, observe at their own pace, and towards what sparks their own interest, and respond in a personal, authentic way to what they’re experiencing. I think it’s these aspects of the nature journaling process that are most likely to foster a strong connection to nature, to make nature journaling enjoyable and rewarding to the largest proportion of people, to provide health benefits, and as a result be a pastime that people will want to revisit and continue after the workshop has ended.

Playing the leaf-matching game.

With these aims in mind, here’s a list of what I consider to be important elements of nature journaling, as I teach it:

1. Classes need to be held outdoors, in nature. Being outdoors has numerous benefits for our physical, mental and emotional health. The nature doesn’t have to be an amazing wilderness experience: an urban park or small backyard can often provide plenty of nature for inspiration.

2. Keep it simple. Nature journaling is simply ‘drawing and writing in response to nature’. It’s not rocket science.

3. The process is more important than the product. I would prefer that people have a good experience of the process of nature journaling (and all the benefits that it can bring) than feel under pressure to create a certain product on the page.

4. Encouragement and praise, not judgement. Many people have been discouraged from drawing or writing in the past, and now think they can’t do one or both of these things. Even if some people think they can do these things, there’s often a critical voice inside their heads that blocks them, or makes the experience miserable. If you can sign your name, you can draw. If you can communicate in written form in at least one language, you can write. Encouragement (and praise for the work produced) can help people overcome false beliefs and negative thoughts.

5. Inspire feelings of awe. Awe is great for our wellbeing, and can enhance connection to nature. I often start the session with a reflection on place and deep time, just in case the location and nature on hand isn’t enough to inspire awe on its own.

6. Embrace diversity: of people (their backgrounds, skill levels, their knowledge and their interests) and also their creations (what ends up on the page). You can nature journal in a multitude of ways. There is no right or wrong in how you might choose to nature journal, because it’s your own personal response.

7. Teach techniques that will improve drawing and writing, but don’t tell people ‘how to draw or write’ in a certain way. This is to keep the product open-ended and to empower people to discover their own personal style, and not to simply parrot someone else’s.

8. Teach techniques for improving observation skills, thinking analytically, being curious, sparking imagination and reflecting on memories.

9. Read body language and be flexible in how long you allow for each activity. This allows participants to slow down, and get absorbed in an activity and the moment, without feeling time-pressured. Sometimes I choose to drop planned activities if participants are fully absorbed and enjoying what they’re doing, because I regard this experience of the process of nature journaling to be more important than how many activities I can cram into a session. I can always point people to other resources (e.g. my free ebook Make a Date with Nature) at the end of the workshop if I think they would benefit from extra activities.

10. Encourage questions and discussion. Ask participants how they feel about drawing, and how they feel about writing. Use their responses as a springboard to discuss common false beliefs and negative thoughts. Ask for feedback (verbally, during the workshop) on how they found the activity they just did. Learn from each other. Be able to say ‘I don’t know’ if you don’t know!

11. Emphasise the importance of learning the names of species. These could include scientific names, common names and/or indigenous names. Explain that names are a doorway into stories and knowledge about the species. Plus it’s kinda respectful to learn the names of your neighbours and extended family.

12. Hold the space. Sometimes nature journaling can bring up powerful emotions in people. Be prepared to listen actively, but without judgement. Then, when the time is right, gently bring the awareness of the group back to nature and the present. If you feel out of your depth with what arises, seek support from mental health professionals.


I’ve been regularly teaching nature journaling for about 8 years, and I’ve created 3 books on the subject. My approach has been shaped by books I’ve read, teachers I’ve experienced, my experience of teaching other subjects and perhaps most importantly – by the responses I observe, and the feedback I receive, from the people I teach.

But I am still learning about this thing we call nature journaling, and I am very interested to hear other people’s perspectives on what it is and how we should teach it. If this article has resonated with you, please leave a comment or send me a message with your thoughts.