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Journaling in Nature [FREE NATURE DRAWING LESSON]

Helpful tips for journaling in nature. Learn how to add more intention and focus to your favorite outdoor hobby. Give your journal a creative twist by taking my NATURE DRAWING VIDEO LESSON ABSOLUTELY FREE.

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Journaling in nature has become one of my favorite ways to connect more deeply with my environment. Although there are many benefits, the main point I want you to consider is that nature journaling will help you discover things that you would never notice otherwise

You’d be surprised how many amazing nature moments are completely missed by the average hiker. Despite being surrounded by an abundance of wildlife, complex ecosystems, and epic scenery, we still have a bad habit of getting distracted on the trail. Let’s face it, between phones, confusing maps, and overly chatty trail companions, the list of distractions can easily spiral out of control. Why would anyone want to hike like this??

Journaling in Nature

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Nothing bothers me more than spending a lot of money to realize I’m not having fun, which is why I’ve always enjoyed trying new hobbies that are low risk and high reward. The good news about journaling in nature is that it’s probably the most affordable hobby to test out. All you need to get started is a pencil and a notebook, which is pretty low risk (we’ll cover additional materials in more detail later). 

In order to get that high reward, I want you to approach this activity like an observation exercise. Journaling in nature improves your on-trail awareness because it forces you to slow down and consider what’s around you from the top-down. You can begin to imagine the kind of discoveries you’ll make after adopting this mindset!

Take A Nature Journal For A Test Drive

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I could write a whole post on choosing the right kind of nature journal, so for now, a simple notebook will do. Consider this your “test drive journal“. There is no such thing as mistakes here! The whole point of this step is to figure out if nature journaling is for you. The bonus is that you get to sharpen your observational skills and document what you find interesting on your hike. There’s that low risk, high reward ratio that I love!

Your nature journal is a place to record not only observations from external sources, but questions and thoughts that are framed internally, as well. Filling your journal with questions is equally as important as writing down facts. That’s how you know what to look for moving forward.

If you’ve already chosen your ideal format, I recommend that you download this handy list of nature journaling prompts.

Sketching in Your Nature Journal is a Bravery Test

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Let’s get this out of the way – you don’t need to be an artist to benefit from this practice. Believe it or not, teaching sketching to adults is harder than teaching the exact same thing to children. The main reason is because kids aren’t afraid to draw. The legendary Bob Ross used to call moments of artistic apprehension “bravery tests”

Luckily, nature journaling isn’t about making pretty pictures. The point of this exercise is to slow down and focus on something long enough for you to notice something interesting about it. The drawing doesn’t even have to look good for this to be effective! It’s a trick you can play on your brain to tune out all the distractions and focus on making discoveries.

Never Underestimate the Value of a Good Nature Journaling List​

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Nature journaling with a bullet list

In addition to field sketching, using lists and bullet points in your nature journal is THE best way to break it in. Over the course of a few years, a collection of lists can not only tell you what kinds of wildlife to expect in a given location, but also WHEN. It’s also the best way to document your questions and observations on-the-go. Not everyone has patient trail companions!

I also recommend writing down the trail conditions. This is great supplemental information to any hiking maps you purchase. Over the course of a year, you’ll be able to pin-point optimal trail conditions in every season.

Nature Journaling With Real Specimens​

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Having a sense of humor helps

Before you start bringing home the whole forest, it’s important to recognize that some things should always stay in the woods, especially anything that’s endangered or threatened. Stay up-to-date with your local laws and even see how to apply for collection permits from the USDA Forest Service. The best way to play it safe is that if you are not sure, just leave what you found where you found it. This helps protect your local environment and prevents the spread of pests and other invasive species. You can always snap a quick reference photo!

That being said, feathers, leaves, and even certain insects can make excellent educational specimens for your nature journal. I keep a little roll of tape in my kit for just such occasions. This is especially helpful for when I want to create a diagram using a physical specimen rather than a drawing. It’s also a cool way to demonstrate the differences between a variety of species of the same genus.

Experiment With Natural Mediums While​ Journaling in Nature

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Athabasca Glacier Icefield in Alberta, Canada

It’s tempting to schlep a bunch of different supplies with you on the trail, but I recommend sticking with a limited kit that consists of basic drawing supplies. You want easy-to-use tools that require almost zero cleanup, such as color pencils or felt tip pens. I wrote more about this in my kit building article

For years I’ve enjoyed using natural mediums found on the trail. Some of these include blackberry juice, flower pigments, cave dirt and even clay from glacial fields! Not only does this add a bit of visual variety to your field sketches, you actually get to create visual memories using the actual landscape! Your nature-connection doesn’t get much more personal than that.

Every Nature Journal Needs a Point of Interest

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My nature journal entry from July 2020

Last summer, my goal was to become more familiar with the local plants I encountered while guiding hikes. I found a very insightful mentor who set me up with different “homework” assignments that I would complete on trail. My nature journal was an integral part of my studies and I am a more knowledgeable wilderness guide as a result!

My point is that if you choose a nature subject that truly captures your curiosity, your nature journal will quickly become your favorite trail companion. I’ve encountered wonderful nature journals from hikers, birders, climbers and fishermen. Now that I’ve told you all you need to begin journaling in nature, it’s time for you to pick your favorite subject and dive in!

Your Next Steps for Journaling in Nature

I hope you’re excited to start journaling in nature! I wrote about sketching and now I’d love to TEACH you how to use art as a way to explore with your nature journal. Subscribe to my mailing list and you’ll get a nature drawing lesson FOR FREE. I send helpful tips, how-to videos, and other useful resources every week.

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