How to get started with Nature Journaling

The trick is to dive in but that is not as easy as it sounds. Here are a few thoughts to help you get started and keep at it.

Moving the goal post

Do not focus on trying to make pretty pictures. That just leads to journal block. Open your journal with the intention of discovering something new. Use the process to help you slow down and look more carefully. If you notice something that you otherwise would not have seen, remember it more vividly, or start asking yourself more interesting questions about what you observe than the journaling is a success. Embrace this idea and go. This gives you permission to make lots of pictures. If you make lots of pictures you get better. Art is a side effect of the process of journaling.

The first page of a new sketchbook

A brand new sketchbook is a beautiful thing. It if full of possibilities and potential energy. It can also be intimidating. All those perfectly white pages, how can you make a mark in that? Many people also feel pressure to make something pretty on page one. If you have trouble cracking in a new book, try this. Get a pen and write your name and contact number on the inside cover in case you loose the book. This also helps break it in and make it yours. Then start on page two and go from there. At some point you will feel inspired to fill in that first page but untill then you have a lot of journaling to do.

The first page of the day

I know a lot of folks (including myself) who have brought their sketchbook with them on a hike with all good intentions but spend the whole day without getting it out. It is just dead weight in the backpack. At a certain point you feel  “oh I should have been journaling and now I have missed so much good stuff that I might as well forget it for today.” The book stays in the backpack. We are creatures of habit- even in a single day. Once you get your book out and start to explore, you will do it again and again and go home with pages full of discoveries. It is the first entry on the first page that starts the cascade. To break in the first page, open your journal at the trailhead and write the location, date and weather. Just this is often enough to get more material to follow. I will often make a warm up sketch or two right there as well (see Sacrificial Pancakes below). Start playing with your journal early and you will sketch all day.

Sacrificial Pancakes

When you start to make a batch of pancakes, the first one off the griddle invariably are a mess.  Perhaps the pan is not the right temperature our has uneven heat. If you stopped then and said “I can’t do this, making pancakes is too hard” you would never have a satisfactory breakfast. Cooks know that the first ones are the sacrificial pancakes but that they make the way for the perfect pancake. So too with drawing. Every day when you start to draw you need to warm up. Do not expect the first sketch to come out the way you expect. You need time to reconnect your eye, brain, and hand. So plunge in, knowing that you need to create a few drawings just as a warm up exercise and do not expect them to be a work of art. Choose something interesting and explore it as a diagram, adding written notes, side views, and enlargements. Focus on seeing something new, not making a pretty drawing but get yourself drawing none the less. By the time you are done, you are warmed up and ready for a day of sketching.

 Journaling with friends and family

Nature Journal Club outing & Elkhorn Slough - Moss Landing, CA,What if everyone on your family had a journaling kit and you made sketching and exploring in nature a part of the way your family connects with the world? We are social creatures and love to do things together. Just as you are more likely to keep to a diet or exercise program if you do it with a partner, having a journaling support group keeps you going. When you are feeling a little off, you only need to look to your peers to get respired. When you are on your journaling game, you inspire them. Together you keep the habit going and progress much more quickly. Make his a part of your families’ practice or home-schooling curriculum.

Forming a nature journal club

Another way to get going and keep your momentum is to join (or start) a nature journal club. These groups meet throughout the country and if there isn’t one nearby, you can start your own. Having a regular schedule will allow members to put the events on their calendar in advance. Change the locations or topics every month to keep thing varied and interesting. Social media platforms such as Meetup or Facebook are good ways to connect with journal club members. You can also hang notices in local art supply stores, nature centers, or museums. Provide some social time on the events to help people get to know each other. A portable potluck lunch is a great way to bring people together. Towards the middle and the end of each outing, encourage people to open their journals together on a table. Look at the ways that other people are document, and describing the same place. Instead of just appreciating pretty pictures (an unproductive way to stimulate your inner critic) use the opportunity to actively steal ideas about what to observe and how to record it. Copying ideas or the style of another person does not make you less creative, on the contrary, it helps you see through new eyes and expands your repertoire of what it means to journal.