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Nature Journaling

I’ve walked hard to reach the red sandstone headwall of Sheep Leap Draw…watching mostly the faint trail ahead, noting only an
occasional Rock Wren jingle or the cuneiform jab of a deer print. This hunger to cover ground, gain a prominence, infects everyone …

I’d rather get in touch with the day. My body is awake, but I missed nearly everything on the way up; only the most minimal bits of
pierced my exercise consciousness. I need to stop and watch for a while. It’s impossible to catch the drift of things
immediately. It takes time to become present. Here’s a circular toupee of grass, a sign that I am supposed to sit down.

A Trail Through leaves: The Journal as a Path to Place. Hannah Hinchman



How do I begin? In truth, the very first step is developing the discipline of slowing down, of taking the time to sit on a log or patch of grass, and devoting an hour of your life to nature journaling. This will be the first challenge with a group of kids.

The winning formula: don’t let a single outing go by without at least a thirty-minute period of journaling. In the beginning it will seem like a discipline, and for some it will always be so, but for many it will become easy and most rewarding.

What do I look at? Hinchman says we should look in a focused way and watch in an unconstructed way. You may guide a group to do one of these first, but allow time for both.

1. Perception: In seeing nature, a shift will occur from the sense that it’s a flat, lifeless plane to the awakening that it’s a seething, moving mass of life. 2. Differentiating: Some will grow from seeing a bird to an eagle, and then to knowing it as a Bald Eagle.

A few will collect lists of names and seek out ‘firsts.’ They might end up traveling this path for life. But others, equally observant, become interested in names only after learning about the interactions between the organisms they represent.

The second type of observation is event-based. Apprehending the world as events, neatly circumvents the frustration of not knowing the names of things, which can cause alienation.


This watcher, says Hinchman, “Jumps right into the fray and gets caught up in the unfolding stories. This strikes me as a good way to introduce children to the world of nature, trusting that the riveting quality of event perception will prompt more curiosity, and inspire some systematic learning.”

Events we might observe include: weather, sub-seasons, climate and landscape and what water does. Structures might include: leaf shapes, nest shapes, plant structure by season. Consider processes by asking, “ what happened here?”

Questions will arise. Encourage participants to jot a few down in their journals. They needn’t try to name everything they see, it’s more than enough if just a few specimen names are learned on an outing, or later at home while paging through a field guide. Encourage them to note the distinction between tree and shrub, between frog and toad, or moth and butterfly. Distinctions are easier to master, yet provide a wealth of natural information, while facilitating connection.

An event map will introduce the need for decision. Those who are committed and engaged may become a little overwhelmed, feeling they have to note everything and sketch it. But it’s about moving at a slow and steady pace through a small piece of landscape, noting events that touch one in a personal way, while adding texture with a few observations.


An Additional Artistic Alternative:

Artists will be able to suggest various ways in which sketching and painting might serve the process of nature journaling, but we would like to offer just the following two techniques. They introduce different mediums and are easy to implement.

Watercolor pencils can be used to add color to sketches. Simply color in as with any pencil, and then take a small brush dipped in water to apply
a soft wash. Trial and error will soon produce the desired result. Color is not required but some will take to this, enjoying the added dimension. It can also be used as an extra touch here and there to liven up a page, with a single flower on a stem colored in, or just a couple of leaves to indicate certain seasonal aspects.

Markers and watercolor paint can also be used as a tandem technique to nature journaling. Read more by downloading the full article linked at the top of the page. This is a quick and easy technique that produces striking results.

View the slideshow linked below for a few examples of the marker/watercolor technique,
and regular sketching with and without color.