How a nature journal can help you to experience nature and get better at observing and drawing

I wanted to show you how my nature journal is coming along after a few weeks of regular sketching. A few thoughts about my decision: I had been thinking about starting a visual journal on this blog for a while. I like the thought of documenting my artistic journey in a chosen field and to be able to see later where I’ve developed and become better. I’m not sure yet if it is comfortable for me to share my journey, instead of finished results, but I want to step away from perfectionism a bit and push myself outside of trodden paths and comfort zones when it comes to my art making. So I’ve decided to start this nature journal and share it here.

As I’ve written before on this blog, a nature journal or nature sketchbook is about making art in the field: short, sketched observations – either visual or written. Like the field journal of a naturalist, it’s about observing details that you otherwise wouldn’t notice, and even being able to use your sketchbook as a scientific resource, which ties in with my interest in botanical and natural history illustration. However, a nature sketchbook does not have to be a finished portfolio of work (that’s why it’s called a sketchbook) and overall it’s a tool to learn observing. I’m allowed to play and experiment in the sketchbook, and getting better at certain skills only comes second.

A nature journal for me is a great way to:

  • document my time in nature and connect more with the things I see by noticing details
  • getting a better understanding of plants and animals
  • sharing my experience of nature with others
  • getting a better understanding of the tools I use (drawing in graphite and ink, painting in watercolor and gouache, sometimes colored pencils)
  • getting better at sketching and painting nature – particularly flora and fauna
  • getting ideas for personal projects

These are a lot of positive factors and I hope that by documenting some of my sketchbook activities here I will see some change in my observation skills, drawing techniques and nature experiences over time. Of course there are also things to keep in mind like time and convenience – I will see if the idea to start such a journal in the cold season is great or not (so far it hasn’t been very cold this winter).

In the last month, I’ve learned a ton about bird anatomy (for another project I’m working on, more about that soon!) and I’ve used the nature sketchbook for bird studies. It’s fun when you can watch them outside, but also interesting to go into the details at home (where I can use reference images and books).

I’ve also been documenting the rest of water that’s left in the Edersee, a local water reservoir lake that was almost empty all summer and autumn. It hasn’t been this empty in over 10 years. We were able to walk around on the lake’s ground (and on sunken bridges) and saw the ruins of the relocated houses. Also interesting moths and what looked like a moon landscape of dried mud and stones. There were wooden poles in the ground that showed the mark at around 8,50m (about 9 yards) in the air above us where the water line would usually be when the lake’s full. An eery feeling.

I hope you’ll read along with me on my journey with exploring nature journals. Let me know if you have any questions or would like to start a similar habit. I’ve also recently shared my experience with nature sketchbooks and some helpful techniques in my Skillshare class How to keep a Nature Sketchbook, which you can find here.

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