Keeping a nature journal or nature notebook is a very personal thing. Some people prefer a blank-paged notebook, while others prefer a lined composition book, and still others prefer to use prepared notebooking pages. Some people like to simply draw sketches with a label or two, while others enjoy journaling full pages alongside their drawings.
No matter what your nature notebooking style, the important thing is that at least some of your nature walks involve a nature journal. Why? Besides the obvious academic answers that nature journals incorporate art, writing, science, history and maybe even math, is an even bigger answer. A nature journal helps us really slow down and make those detailed discoveries about the world around us. Discoveries like:
- who lives in a habitat
- how a plant/animal/season changes
- how ecosystems interact
- what parts make up a plant or animal
- the list could go on and on
Nature journals also help us keep records. After some time keeping a journal, we can become familiar with which wildflowers bloom in May vs. August, or which animals should begin migrating in October, for instance.
There is no perfect “how-to” for keeping a nature journal. However, if you’re hoping to see a clearer picture in your mind of how you might begin, Clare Walker Leslie is the first example that comes to mind. I remember the day I first checked out Drawn to Nature by Ms. Leslie from the library. It was so inspiring to see how beautifully, yet how simply she keeps her journal!
I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing two of Clare Walker Leslie’s nature books, and I’d like to share them with you.
Drawn to Nature: Through the Journals of Clare Walker Leslie is for children and adults alike. Quite simply, you’re taken on a journey through several of the author’s nature journal pages over the years.
The pages are organized for you in categories such as the moon, sky, animals, plants, views through a window, and special places. Each page shows you how Ms. Leslie sketches what she sees and writes small notes to remind herself of important details like the date, weather and what might be happening.
You see how different days call for different materials. Some sketches are made with a pen, while others are made with colored pencils. Within this book, many of the sketches have been colored in with watercolors. Very beautiful indeed!
What I like most is that the drawings aren’t perfect. Don’t get me wrong, she’s quite an artist, but the book doesn’t make you feel like she’s accomplished something that you can’t do. It’s very easy to use her example and create your own similar sketches. Most importantly, this book is your example and inspiration, rather than a how-to.
Keeping a Nature Journal by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles Roth is directed more toward the adult, but I’ve used the examples on many occasions with my children.
This is more of a how-to book. Chapters teach you through written instruction and plenty of examples how to get started with a nature notebook and how to keep going through each season. There’s even an entire section dedicated to teaching children how to draw and journal in nature.
Hints are given on everything from possible notebooks you might choose as your journal to the variety of materials you might pack with which to draw or paint. Examples are provided for using each medium, as well as many varied styles of notebooking. For example, you’ll see very simple pencil sketches with a quick note about the subject as one example. Then also see detailed drawings that might include a page or more of writing to go along with the drawings. No matter what style fits your groove, this book teaches you how to do each.
Keeping a Nature Journal differs from Drawn to Nature in a couple of major ways.
- There is a lot more “practicality” to the examples in Keeping a Nature Journal. For instance, I mentioned above that several of the examples in Drawn to Nature included watercolors. In Keeping a Nature Journal, most of the drawings are much more simple and quick (what we really do most of the time in our journals.)
- You will leave Keeping a Nature Journal feeling instructed, whereas Drawn to Nature seems more for inspiration.
Both books are awesome in their own ways. Which one you choose will depend on whether you’re looking for inspiration or instruction.