Nature Journaling For Everyone

An excerpt from our Embracing the Spring Thaw article for Tumbleweeds:

Here at the Railyard Park Conservancy, we’ve been inspired to try our hands at nature journaling. Motivated by RPC volunteers, the book The Lost Words by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris (see Lynn Grime’s article, There’s a Word for That! from our Spring 2019 issue), and John Muir Laws’ nature journaling website, we can attest that the world of nature journaling is truly amazing! You can go crazy with it — travel with binoculars and incorporate watercolors into your efforts — but really, a simple pencil and piece of paper are all you need.

Here’s a little how-to, should you find yourself in appreciation of the nature near to you:

  1. Find a place of your choosing and settle in. Take note of the time of day, the temperature, where you are at, who is with you, what it feels like. Write all that down as you get settled.
  2. Pick a nature subject that captures your eye and observe it in full. Give yourself time to really sit and look. Do a rough sketch of your subject just focusing on the outline. You should be looking at the subject more than the paper. In fact, if you can avoid looking at the paper all together, even better! Take your time on this. Go slow. No need for this sketch to be perfect. Draw lightly and don’t be afraid to make mistakes!
  3. Next, key into the broad details. Add these details to your rough sketch. You can clean up the shape a bit on this second go-around, too. This is when it’s OK to look at the paper a little bit more as you draw.
  4. Then, hone in on one detail and do a second sketch. For example, grab a pinecone or leaf from the tree you are observing. Or maybe do a close-up of one section. This picture can go next to the first drawing to really flesh out your subject.
  5. Add labels to your drawing. For example, draw an arrow from a petal and write out the color you observe. As you’re writing down your observations in word form, consider these three questions: What do you notice? What questions do you have? What does it remind you of? There are no wrong observations — have fun! Your nature drawing can have a gazillion labels or trains-of-thought on it.
  6. Go further still. Pay attention to your senses and consider going beyond sight. How does it smell? Feel? Sound? Taste? Expound on the observations you already made.
  7. Do not be critical of your drawing or observation skills. Forget spelling (for a little while)! The more you do it, the better you will get, and this exercise is not about the finished product. It’s about the process. After doing just one drawing, you will find yourself in awe of the subject you just explored.