Starting your own Nature Journal Club

Journal Club photo smallDo you wish there was a Nature Journal Club in your area? Why not start one? Journal clubs are a fun, family friendly way to develop a closer connection with nature, build community and a support system around sketching outdoors, introduce people to natural areas, inspire sharing of ideas and resources, and promote stewardship.

You do not need to be an expert at identifying plants and animals or a professional artist to start a group. You can draw upon the resources of group members, learning birds from the birders, flowers from the botanists, and sketching techniques from the artists.

Here are some lessons learned from the Bay Area Nature Journal Club.

  • Try to keep events on a regular schedule. If people can count on a field trip every second Saturday of the month, they will put it on their calendar and show up. It makes a huge difference if people can reconnect on a regular basis and build upon developing skills.
  • The more events the better. Once a month is good. Twice a month is better. If you try it weekly, let me know how it goes.
  • Mix it up. A little nature study, a little sketching, a little hiking, a little technique demonstration, a little poetry, a big potluck, a little more sketching…
  • Intergenerational programs are best. Parents are looking for things to do with their families. Encourage parents to bring children who express genuine interest in nature drawing and to monitor their behavior. When kids see adults journaling too, it gives the activity credibility. When adults see kids journaling, they think, “if she can do it, so can I” and give themselves permission to try. There is something really lovely about seeing elders and youth exploring nature together.
  • Cost. People take a free program for granted. A small fee will help participants value what you offer. Alternatively, you can offer a way for people to donate to support the club. Do not be shy about passing the basket.
  • Ask for help. You do not need to do this alone. The more you involve group members in organizing group activities and share ownership of the group, the more people will be invested and regularly take part. What can you delegate?
  • Leverage social media. Facebook and meetup groups are excellent ways to announce group events and to connect people in the group to each other. Facebook groups ares a great way for people to share photos, sketches, and discuss ideas outside of group meetings. Group members can also organize additional field trips or carpools.
  • Potlucks. People connect through sharing food. If participants bring their own sack lunches, they will eat separately. If you tell them to bring a portable potluck item to share and their own plate and spoon and throw out a ground cloth at lunch time, a feast will magically appear. You do not need to tell people what to bring, it will work out (perhaps with too much hummus but that is OK). People will gather around the food, meet each other, laugh, and connect.
  • Technique workshops. Mini “how to” workshops in the field a great addition to the flow of a day. They can give people a way to start. If the group gets too big, you can also try more extensive journaling classes that are separate from the field trips in a venue that would allow everyone to see. This has the added benefit of reserving more time in the field for people to observe and sketch instead of learning how to do it while they are outside. You can use any of my videos to get ideas for your own workshops and classes. Everything I teach is open source art instruction. Make it your own and have fun.
  • Sharing. This is a big one. Give participants time to see the work of other journal keepers. Before lunch and before wrapping up for the day, lay the journals out on a flat rock or table and explore how other people have documented the same experience. Encourage participants to point out and try techniques that interest them. You will not stunt your own creativity by copying other people’s journal ideas, using their ideas gives  you a jumping off place for new discoveries. Do not look at this sharing as an art contest, it is a place to share observations and journaling ideas. Encourage people to take away ideas and techniques, not just to look at pretty pictures.
  • Look for nature centers, zoos, museums, and other venues with which to partner and organize the group. Many sites will be delighted to support this kind of programming.

The big thing is- you can do this. All it takes is an organizer with gumption to get things off the ground. The experience and the community that grows from the club will be your reward. I am here to help you any way I can. Please contact me if I can be of help.

Here is an example of another Nature Journal Club based on this model. You can do it too.

Jeffco Open Space Nature Journal Club

12 thoughts on “Starting your own Nature Journal Club

  1. Eriko Kobayashi says:

    Hi John,
    I am thinking a building a group, but I am wondering if there are any particular differences between nature journals and field notes. Could you tell me about it ? The term “nature journal” is not familiar to people here than “field note”.
    Thank you for all the useful information.

  2. Lyn Lull says:

    I am an introvert when it comes to asking for money, but extrovert when it comes to talking about art and nature. I could really use some help on passing the money basket issue. I am also trying to find out about regulation/ordinances in my area about workshops or clubs. We have so much interesting terrain, natural areas in NH. We have so many people moving into NH from other areas and they don’t understand the intricate dynamics that make up NH’s environment and it would be great to show them. Any help would be greatly appreciated as I have not done something like this before.

    • Hi there Lyn,
      I would be happy to talk to you about this, feel free to give me a call any time. Talking about money and asking for it is aquward. Part of our culture wraps a taboo around asking for money. It is as if work done for the good or as art should be done for free. We have the ideal of the starving artist and anyone who makes money from what they do has “sold out”. This is a false dichotomy and a double standard. You should be able to do good and do well. Recieveing money for what you do helps make your work sustainable. It does take work and logistics. I like the donation model. I suggest to people a $20 donation which seems reasonable. I also tell them that if you can not help in this way, to intentionally find another way to pay it forward in the community. I also encourage people to make larger donations if possible. I find that people are generous and supportive but you have to ask. You will not get rich and that is not the point but it helps keep the program going. One other interesting piece is that people tend not to value what is free. If people sign up for a free program, they tend not to show up, no matter the content. If there is even a slight fee, or donation, people feel they have invested and follow up by showing up.

  3. ELLIOTT FAURE says:

    Hi Jon. LOVE your site and everything I have seen thus far! You mention taking a small fee. What would one do with the money? I agree with people taking for granted “free” things, but where the $ goes or how it is spent is another can of worms… Do you have any ideas? Of course, one receptical would be funding the guest speaker or the direct owener/manager of the place you are at… but have you ran into problems or do you have any insite?? Thanks in advance.

    • You could use that money to support volunteers, leaders, buy supplies, or buy a burrito. It does take a lot of work to manage programs like this and if some compensation helps keep things going for the long term, it is a good thing. Just because you are doing a good service does not mean that you should not be compensated for it. I suggest it as an optional donation and if people can not support you in that way, they could find another way in the community of paying it forward.

  4. Kerstin says:

    Dear John,

    i am thinking about building a group. I am infected with this “i want to share virus”.
    Right now i am struggling with the money basket. I can´t determine
    a small fee. Where would you start? Where could i find answers?

    Thanks a lot. Love and adore your work.

    Yours Kerstin

  5. Cati Vawda says:

    Do you know of anyone from the Durban or KwaZulu-Natal area of South Africa, who might be interested in being part of a Nature Journal Club?

    I’ve been asking around, and have not yet found one.

  6. Sean Hawken says:

    Hi john, I was wondering if you have anything on drawing japanese maples? Im struggling to find any good sketches of them

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