Why I Love Nature Journaling With Watercolors

There are lots of ways to keep a nature journal, some prefer pencil only while others like using colored pencils or ink. I keep coming back to watercolors. This might be because I’ve been painting in watercolor for a few years now, but even apart from that I find that it is a wonderfully versatile and expressive medium that work very well for nature journaling outside.

Watercolor – Portable & Lightweight

Watercolor might be the most classic medium for sketchbook painting. It definitely was the first truly portable medium for artists that enabled them to work in the field without bringing along big easels, tubes of paint, and big canvasses. The only thing you need for watercolor painting is a small paintbox, a brush and a sketchbook – watercolor can be a very lightweight and spontaneous technique.

Watercolor Has Many Options

I love watercolor because it has so many options. You can create very expressive and quick sketches with it, but it can also be used for precise paintings, whatever your style is and whatever you prefer. I’m always amazed by the multitude of different styles that I see from different watercolor artists.
The paint itself has an easy concept: pigments mixed with water-solvable binding agents that will activate when water is added. Different pigments react differently, some are intense and good for mixing (like the Phthalo pigments), some are more natural and subdued (like many earth pigments), and you can get a wide range of mixed colors by combining these pigments.

A Great Tool For Sketching Outside

Watercolor is great for sketching in nature, because with a few simple brushstrokes you can document what you see outside. This means you have a great tool to make your nature journal more visually compelling. Color will add another layer of information, and it will help you remember what you saw better, because before you start adding color you will usually study your subject intensely. And by doing this over and over you will become a watercolor expert over time and better your painting skills.

Mastering The Basics

Watercolor is quickly associated with hobbyist painting, but you actually need to learn a few key techniques before you can use it effectively in your sketchbook. Very often watercolor has its own mind, and it does what it wants on paper. Since correcting the paint is difficult once it is on paper, this is usually the most frustrating stage for beginners.
Your watercolor style can be loose or precise, whatever you prefer. That is the beauty and versatility of this medium. With a few basic techniques under your belt, you will master it in no time. As long as you keep practicing, you will see results.

For me, watercolor goes hand in hand with nature journaling, and I couldn’t imagine doing it without my small watercolor field kit. I also like exploring other techniques to combine it with, but I always keep coming back to watercolor, and I find I can constantly learn new things about it.

What technique do you like to use for nature journaling or in your sketchbook?
Do you have any specific questions about watercolor? Is there something you’d like to learn about the basics? Please let me know!

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Hello, thank you for this post! I really enjoyed it. What is the least amount of colors that one can get away with for nature journaling if only a limited palette is accessible and what colors would you recommend for such a limited palette?

Julia

There are artists who work with a very limited palette – just primary colors (yellow, cyan and magenta). I find mixing with these very basic palettes a bit limiting, especially when you sketch outside it’s great to have at least a green and some earth tones ready to go – often your subjects will disappear before you can mix all the colors you need.
I’d say having a cool and a warm version of each primary color is good, then a green and one or two earth tones. More if you feel the need for a specific color. You can get a lot of colors by mixing!
I have quite a lot of colors in my field kit because I like to test new paints, but it’s still very small and portable. Here’s my palette – you could easily adapt this for a more limited approach:
https://juliabausenhardt.com/my-current-watercolor-field-kit-tips-for-choosing-a-palette/

Angela Cox

lovely page of paintings . there is so much to look at at this time of year

Julia

Thank you Angela! I agree Spring is a wonderful time to sketch!

Lynne Mohr

I just signed up for your newsletter today, after viewing your excellent class on Sketchbook Revival. I want to say that it has been my favorite and most useful class in the second series of SR.

I was happy to see that you have several Skillshare classes available, which I will be checking out immediately. Thank you!

Julia

Thank you Lynne, I really appreciate it! I hope you will enjoy the Skillshare classes!

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