Drawing and Painting
for Nature Journaling
"Anyone can draw.
Anyone can write.
If you can sign your name, you can learn to draw.
If you communicate in at least one language,
you can learn how to write."
in Make a Date with Nature: An introduction to Nature Journaling, page 13. Adapted from "Drawing on the Right Side of Your Brain" by Betty Edwards
Drawing or sketching for nature journaling is using images to visually record information such as observations, thoughts, experiences and feelings.
The word "drawing" is used here to mean using images of any style. You can develop more than one style. The range of possible styles is infinite from symbolic to realistic. It is helpful to have a personal set of symbols like icons for ideas and as a form of shorthand.
Here is a quick glimpse of some drawing styles used in nature journaling.
Tip 1 - Check your expectations
What are your expectations of the images you create in your nature journal?
Are your expectations of your images different for when you are outdoors versus indoors?
What is your purpose in nature journaling?
Are drawing and creating images your starting point and happy place in nature journaling?
Take a few deep breaths when you look at posts of nature journal entries on social media. Notice what you are feeling. Are you awestruck, excited and motivated, or deflated?
The person may have many years of experience.
The person might be a professional artist, naturalist or both.
This is just one of the person's entries. You are not seeing what they did not post!
The nature journal entry might have been done, completely or in part, at home from photos and memory.
Use these moments as sources of inspiration - "I want to be able to do that!
What was this person doing that you admire?
How did they do that? Why might they have done it that way?
What other ways are there of achieving that purpose?
Tip 2 Ways of using drawing
Drawing to think uses different tools than drawing to record observations.
Check your expectations of the appearance of your drawings against both the purpose, and location. Expect the drawing done from direct observation outdoors to look different
than that done or "finished" back inside.
Field drawing, that takes a few seconds may look like this
Or minutes might look like this
Field drawing that takes more time may look like this
that may take hours,
can look like this
Or might be a polished studio drawing,
the final rendering that may take days or weeks,
can look like this example.
Using your own photos as drawing references
is not wrong, it is just different than recording
directly from life.
This is an example of an entry made outdoors
and completed from photos.
Field drawing is done in the moment, only while the subject is present.
It is not the "best" or "correct" way, but it looks very different than drawings done after the subject is no longer present, whether you are in outdoors or indoors. Each type of drawing provides different experiences, draws on different information and
is a different kind of record.
Explore, mix and match.
Find what suits your for each of your purposes.
Transcends specific spoken or written language
Slows you down, get into flow – reduces oxygen to your inner critic
Sketches communicate different things than words or numbers.
Visual information complements text and numbers in what it communicates,
Develop different understanding based on different processing than with words of numbers
It differs from most drawing
Purpose (see below).
Need to develop speed in sketching.
Everything moves. Things shift and they shift in relation to each other. Subjects – move, light changes,
Accuracy not completeness. This can include the sense of movement, or a feeling.
Do not have all your supplies at hand.
Unless prepared, can be uncomfortable, need to take care of yourself: eat and drink
Unprotected - may need to move because of change in weather.
May have to move at the pace of others.
Can’t come back later like with photos or a still life.
One of the tools for recording information. Context notes are important part of what goes with a sketch. Remember to record: place, date and time.
Drawing to think. A way of working through an idea or experience.
Drawing to understand a subject. A way to observe more completely.
Pay attention to and connect with the world.
As a complement to words and numbers, helps to record greatest density of information, especially information that is only available while in the field.
As a primary data source if is not from memory. Note changes you make to sketches once subject is not in front of you.
A nature journal is not an art project. It is not a portfolio of portraits, not a pretty picture in the middle of the page. Not botanical art, not field guide art. If you want to create pretty pictures, then draws lots of pictures. The pretty pictures will come as a result.
Field Sketching Adaptations
Need to have field kit: light-weight, sturdy backing, Kit ready, out as soon as you arrive,
Skills to develop: simplify, see shapes, leave details until the end, increase speed
Field sketches do not have to be complete, or be completed. They stand on their own.
Anticipate and welcome movement of subject.
“If I had to pick only one thing to tell you about learning to draw, it would be this:
If you can see what is wrong with an image, you can correct it.”
Susan Leigh Tomlinson, How to Keep a Naturalist's Notebook, page 29
Learn how from these people
In his talk at TEDxYouth@GrandBahama, he transforms words of a subject into drawings of the subjects such as the words cat, dog and turtle into drawings of a cat, a dog and a turtle. "He is a self-taught artist who has the keen ability to present life-like images on his canvas and viewers are mesmerized by the subject’s likeness."
Salla Lehtipuu, a Finnish visual facilitator, "... believe(s) that everyone can learn visual logic and how to draw simple icons and figures. Drawing is a great tool for your notes, facilitating a process and as a support for your own thinking." She challenges people's idea that they can not draw in her talk "Think you can't draw?" at TEDxTurku.
Here are two short excerpts from Sade's post:
"I want to say her name because I am a Black woman, and Black women are often
forgotten in movements like these. I do not want her to be forgotten, and I will not
"One of the topics of my master’s thesis was the need for Black people to reclaim
tools to create spaces for themselves. The spaces are hard-won and often short-lived.
The tools that they use are nearly always declared illegal. These are spaces that they
are not really allowed to have. They are not allowed to loiter. They’re not allowed to stroll. They are most certainly not allowed to run."
2. Alphonso Dunn on
3. Dr Oto Kano on
Colossal Colour Showdown - useful comparisons of watercolour paint across brands
Field Drawing Fundamentals video workshops
Drawing as a Process
My drawing process and practice, lecture at the Foster in which John Muir Laws “describe(s) my process of creating the Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada and nature journaling.”
Getting Three Dimensions
Splash and scribble: wet watercolor and aquarelle pencils, video workshop
Creative Lettering for Nature Journaling, video workshop
Sketching on toned paper, blog post
In Technically Correct Colour
Reinventing the Wheel: Why Red is not a primary color blog post
Supplies, Equipment and Visual Aids
Downloadable Leaf and Flower Models