Drawing and Your Nature Journal

“The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child. The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature
I was asked to post a little about my personal nature journal. I decided I would share, not because I feel as if I have the “right” answer but because I think it will be helpful to see how I have struggled through the years to find something that works for me. I am not an authority on nature journals, if there is such a thing, but I have been attempting this life project for many years now and have grown to love keeping a record of my experiences.

***Note to those just starting out with nature journals***
Everyone feels that little twang the minute a blank page is opened in the journal itself. I want my journal to be perfect and wonderful and worthy of awe but I don’t always seem to get what is in my head down onto the actual page so be comforted when you feel as if you are the only one that views your first efforts as inadequate.


I will try to explain what I have learned about nature journals and include some of my actual nature journal pages from the last eight years to help illustrate what I have discovered. Please know that it takes a lot of courage on my part to share my feeble beginnings and to show just how much I still have room to grow. Sharing these pages, others can see that this is a work in progress even for those of us who have been at the process of nature journaling for a number of years. (You can click on any of the images and they will enlarge.)

nature journal people
Here are some pages that show how I just do the best I can to get down on paper what I am seeing at the time. I don’t draw faces very well so I just left it blank. I also will sometimes just trace something like a leaf or a flower into my journal and then add a bit of color. It works.
The process of finding something you want to include in your journal is more important than the actual journal entry.
When you are trying to keep a nature journal, you actually need to have some sort of contact with nature and that is the first step….usually the hardest step is just getting out the door of your house. The actual getting outside into your little square of nature is more valuable than the journal entry itself if you really think about it. You are outside under the big, beautiful sky. You are spending time with your children and showing them by your example that you value being out-of-doors. Anything that happens while in the process of finding something to record in your journal is the real experience of the nature journal.
nature journal not artisticnature journal birdwatchingnature journal weather

 

Nature journals are not meant to necessarily be artistic. Once I took the pressure off myself to have a journal like the examples in How to Keep a Nature Journal, I noticed that I was having more fun keeping a record of my experiences. The point of a nature journal is to record things that inspire you and you want to remember. Your experiences out-of-doors should spur you on to make a record of those memories that are worthy of remembering just like a scientist keeps a lab book. Sketches, arrows, cross outs, diagrams, lists….these are all found in my nature journal. 

It is my journal and it can be any way that I wish it to be.


Here I am trying to show the progress of our garden.


nature journal pressed flower
I opened my journal this morning and this pressed flower fell out. I had pressed it between the folds of a napkin and put it in my nature journal. You can also find leaves pressed between the pages of my nature journal. 

 
nature journal lists

Sometimes I just like to list what I take photographs of and not take the time to actually sketch or draw and that is what I did on this day. I still like the entry and I could go back and put the photos on the next page if I want to but for now it is just a list.
Keeping a nature journal is a long-term life project. I have one nature journal that I have been working in for over eight years. It is a work in progress. My favorite entries are those that are not necessarily the most artistic but they hold the memories of my time spent in God’s creation. My nature journal goes with me on every trip we take….I have packed it three times to Hawaii, to Yellowstone, on countless trips to Yosemite, and on most every little day trip I make. Do I always remember to pull it out and record things? No. Do I wish I would have made more entries? Yes. There is the lesson.
nature journal trip accountnature journal unfinished entry
Sometimes my nature journal doubles as my travel journal. On these two pages I wrote and sketched about our time at Redwood National Park. I didn’t have time to finish the sketch but it still is something that reminds me of that time.
If you want your drawing skills to improve, you must practice.
Gulp. That is a tough one for most of us. I did not come from an artistic background so giving myself permission to try to learn to draw or paint or do anything artistic took a big shove from my husband. He encouraged me take a drawing class at the college. This was so far out of my comfort zone but I really wanted to learn how to draw past stick figures. It took time and effort. My suggestion for people who are striving to do a better job in sketching is to go to your library and go to the children’s section first and check out “how to draw” books and use them along side your children. I checked one out on how to draw insects and one on how to draw birds and then found some nature sketching books to try. These experiences with the book open in front of you and your sketching from the step by step instructions will eventually spill over into your nature journal.  

There is no magic formula but your success is equal to the effort you are willing to put into it. 

I started to work with watercolor and I was brave enough this summer to actually do a watercolor straight into my nature journal. You can decide what you need to teach yourself in order to make your nature journal your own expression of your experiences in nature.
nature journal watercolor
This is a more recent journal entry that I made *after* working through the book Sketching in Nature. I can already see the difference. I am starting to be able to take some of the ideas of others and make them my own in my personal nature journal. I am working on drawing the water so that it looks like it is moving…it is coming along.
I have recently become fascinated with the journals of Lewis and Clark and those of John Muir, the conservationist. The connections between their journals and their legacy is indisputable. Our journals and those we encourage our children to keep will be a link to their deepened understanding of how wonderful and exciting a world was created for us to live in.

Comments

  1. I really enjoyed this post, thank you for putting it up again for those of us who hadn’t seen it before. I’m off to see if my library has the sketching in nature book you mention.
    ~Becky

  2. I am new to your blog and I really enjoyed this post! (o:

  3. Thank you for that perspective! I recognize it so well.

    I’ve been trying to keep an illustrated journal next to my handwritten one (which is ugly as can be because I have terrible handwriting), for years. I’ve had months of success (though before I drew people, cartoon style, not nature so much) and then it just peters out. And, then, beginning again! It’s each time beginning from scratch.

    This time, with my daughter keeping an illustrated journal too, I might keep it up!

    Thanks to her I’ve also picked up watercolors. She uses them without fear, and is all in the moment of creating, and she really doesn’t care what the result is… except for my choked cries of “Wonderful!” of course ;)

  4. Love this post. Thank you for sharing all your hard work. I can’t wait to start ours!!

  5. I’m so glad I found this post! I noticed that while I encourage my boys to sketch in their journals, I cringe because I don’t feel my sketches will be good enough.

  6. I love this post Barb! Thanks for sharing your journal – I found it so inspiring. I am going to check out some ‘How To Draw’ books this week! Great tip.

  7. Thanks for pinning this. I appreciate you sharing your “beginnings” so much. My preschool boys and I have been getting out regularly for nature walks. Starting a nature journal is the next step, but I have had a bit of a mental block about it, since I have zero experience with drawing. (Yes, I have perfectionistic tendencies) I just need to jump in and practice!

  8. Katrina Sequenzia says:

    I know this is an old post of yours. I would like to buy spiral bound sketchbooks for my 9yo and 4yo for when we go out for our nature study. What size(s) do you recommend? I found a 8.5×5.5, 9×6 or 8.5×11. TIA!

    • Barb McCoy says:

      The bigger sizes are easier for younger students…we gradually made our journals smaller as the kids increased their skills in writing smaller and sketching in more detail.

      • Katrina Sequenzia says:

        Perfect. Thank you. That’s what my gut said, but I second guess. I just signed up for the Discovery level. I also happened to purchase your Harmony Fine Arts Grade 4 ebook. Thanks for sharing all of your hard work with us! Looking forward to adding these wonderful elements to our year!

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