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!
Learn how to build creative habits and get tips about sketching in nature and watercolor techniques, one article per week.
Receive my favorite tips for creating great sketchbook pages and my 5-step guide for drawing birds as a welcome gift for joining the newsletter!