Start your own Nature Journal Club

No clubs in your area? Start your own!

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.
  • Create a webpage to post and coordinate group events and communication. Once you do, share the URL with me and I will add you to the interactive map. Facebook and meetup groups are excellent ways to announce group events and to connect people in the group to each other. They also are 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.
  • Decide how often will you meet. Once a month is good. Twice a month is better. If you try it weekly, let me know how it goes. Keep it within reasonable limmits. If you try to do too much it will not be fun for you.
  • 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 but do not put undue pressure on people to contribute.
  • 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? 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.
  • 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.

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.

33 thoughts on “Start your own Nature Journal Club

  1. Ellen Rathbone says:

    We’ll be starting one here in Central New York at the start of 2023. The Second Sunday Scribblers. To meet 1 pm on the 2nd Sunday of each month at Rogers Center in Sherburne, NY.

  2. Scott Burke says:

    Hello John,
    I am working on starting a nature journal club in my area. There is a local arboretum (The Brenton Arboretum) that I am hoping will be willing to provide a monthly meeting location for club meetings. Initial conversations with their management team regarding this idea shows me they are receptive to the idea if our club would rent their available space for each meeting. Rental fees would be quite pricey, especially for a group that has no active members beside myself at this time. I have networked with the management team at this arboretum for many years and have a positive relationship with them. As such, I would like to approach them with a plan that would encourage them to start a nature journaling club as part of their existing educational outreach in the area. Any suggestions you could offer in regards to talking points for such a proposal would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for everything you do to help others connect with the natural world around them.

    • John Muir Laws says:

      yes, give me a call and we can talk about strategy. Also if you want to patch me in on a conference call for part of the meeting I would be happy to do so.

    • Terri Mando says:

      I have have a similar problem with the LA Arboretum, I am a 10 year volunteer there. I’ve been working on launching the Burbank Nature Journal Club, and we are finally beginning official meet ups at local parks. I definitely want to engage the LA Arboretum, but expect that only people with paid MEMBERSHIPS or pay for day ($15). One option would be to offer “classes” thru their education department, but likely the Arboretum wants to make money!!!

      I’d also like to recruit Jack’s assistance for talking points for pitching a group through the LA Arboretum.

  3. Shelly Spencer says:

    Hi John, I am very interest in starting a Nature Journal Club in Utah, the Salt Lake City area. I feel a little blind on how to attract individuals to join. I have set up a Facebook page “Utah Nature Journal Club”. I would love to have monthly get together’s, but I need to find some people who would be interested. Any suggestions?

  4. Natasha says:

    Just wanted to say thank you for the info. I am hoping to start a nature journal club here in the UK. I have tempted some of our crochet club into joining me and am hoping we can open it up to the wider community.

    • John Muir Laws says:

      give me a call at any time if you want to discuss more logistics. Also, let me know when you get your group up and running. I would like to promote your group via social media and the nature journal club facebook group.

  5. Rachel Embry says:

    Hi John,
    I was just at the Garden and Library event in Concord and I enjoyed your presentation so much! I have been wanting to do something with nature journaling in my homeschool community, but I’ve always felt that I don’t know enough about science or art to lead one. I left the event so encouraged and I am excited to start something in our homeschooling community here in Visalia, California.
    If you are ever leading a nature journaling field trip in the Sequoias we would love to join you!
    Thanks again!

  6. Sandy McDermott says:

    Hi John,
    Two things:
    1) I am interested in starting a Nature Journal group in my area and wonder if you keep track of those that are active? If one already exists here (White Mountains of NH) I don’t want to interfere or compete. But I don’t know how to know if one exists in my area; and
    2) May I borrow some of your topics? I have been teaching for more than 20 years. Feeling a little drained of ideas, I could use a little inspiration by borrowing ideas. Would this be ok as I get started in creating a Nature Journal Club until I know my region of people, flora and fauna a little better (recently moved to this area).
    Thank you! LOVE your work, not just your art but all that you do.

    • John Laws says:

      Hi there Sandy,

      I don’t know of a NH group. It would be a perfect place to start one! All om my topics and ideas are open source- use anything that helps in any way. Please contact me if you would like to discuss ideas and learn tricks that have worked for me.

      • Sandy says:

        I am just seeing this as I sit in the dark of Juneau, AK on Oct 25. Heading home to NH soon and planning my 2020 teaching schedule….this is so timely. I will definitely reach out when I have something up and running. THANK YOU!

  7. Sarah Schmidt says:

    Hi- I’m wondering if you have any suggestions for keeping nature journaling going during the cold winter months. I live in a climate that has long, cold winters which can make it prohibitive to get outside. So I’m wondering about any adaptations you may suggest?

    • John Laws says:

      Views from the window, things snow does, winter twigs, migratory birds, fruit from the market, the spider in the cellar, cloud patterns…

      • Quentin van Ginhoven says:

        Hi Sarah, When the time is really bad, cold or dark, you could focus on sketching skills: revisit contour – gesture- and negative space drawing in a club or at a nautical history museum.(Spice it up with snacks). For something more active: there are feeder cams where you can “draw from live birds”. See Cornell U. for example. Last suggestion for now: go outside and draw/investigate animal tracks. Enjoy!

  8. Ramadevi says:

    Thank you so much I’m so inspired by all your videos and I would love to start a nature journaling Club in my area but I live in Canada and the weather isn’t always great for sitting outside for long periods of time we have to keep moving so we stay warm so I’m just wondering if you have any suggestions of how we can do nature journaling without sitting outside in the cold…

  9. 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.

    • John Laws says:

      Any term you wish to use is great. No need for new terms if that is what your folks are used to. Please let me know how I can support you.

  10. 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.

    • John Laws says:

      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.

  11. 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.

    • John Muir Laws says:

      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.

  12. 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

  13. 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.

    • John Muir Laws says:

      Hi Sean, I do not have anything on that particular species- yet. You may find some pointers in the blog post on drawing broadleaf trees.

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