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."

Paula Peeters

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 observations, information, and feelings. The word "drawing" is used here to mean making any type of image from symbolic to realistic.

It can look like this


or this

or this

Why Drawing?

  • 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

  1. Purpose (see below).

  2. Need to develop speed in sketching.

  3. Everything moves. Things shift and they shift in relation to each other.  Subjects – move, light changes,

  4. Accuracy not completeness. Strive to be as accurate as possible.

  5. Do not have all your supplies at hand.

  6. Unless prepared, can be uncomfortable, eat and drink

  7. Unprotected - may need to move because of change in weather.

  8. May have to deal with other people if in a group. May have to move at the pace of others.

  9. Can’t come back later like with photos or a still life.

  10. 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.



  1. To observe more completely,

  2. pay attention to and connect with the world,

  3. Aim for greatest density of information, especially information that is only available while in the field.

  4. Primary source as not from memory unless sketch changed or done afterwards. Complements words and numbers.

  5. 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

  1. Need to have field kit: light-weight, sturdy backing, Kit ready, out as soon as you arrive,

  2. Skills to develop:

    • Simplify

    • See shapes

    • Learn to not get distracted by details until the end,

    • Increase speed

  3. Field sketches do not have to be complete, or be completed. They stand on their own.

  4. Anticipate and welcome movement of subject.

  5. Be prepared.

Drawing, sketching, making images while recording outdoors is different than
“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

Jamaal Rolle, a Bahamian visual artist, demonstrates the idea that "Everyone can draw!".

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.

Sade - artist behind Sadie Saves the Day 

       How Small Can I Paint? | AAC Union Island Gecko an example of her posts painting

           endangered animals to raise funds for and awareness about conservation. Sade is

           a member of Animal Artist Collective.
       6 Tips to Improve Your Art   

       Black Lives Matter Art | Breonna Taylor Watercolor Portrait   


     Also read her blog post

       How to help Black Lives Matter which contains a link to and transcript of the video 

        "Breonna Taylor Watercolor Portrait", plus extensive resources and suggestions. 


       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

       forget her."

      "One of the topics of my master’s thesis was the need for Black people to reclaim 

       public spaces 5 6 and how minority populations throughout the world used the same

       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

Drawing Basics 


Trees & Leaves 

Landscape & Scenery 

Sky, Space & Clouds

Rocks & Mountains


Watercolour with Pen & Ink

3. Dr Oto Kano  on

       Colour Theory

       Colossal Colour Showdown - useful comparisons of watercolour paint across brands

       Using Salt in Watercolour

       8 Ways to Add Texture in Watercolour and 8 More Ways to Add Texture in Watercolour

4. John Muir (aka Jack) Laws

   Field Drawing Fundamentals 

Field Sketching Basics, video workshop 

Five Tips for Better Drawing, video workshop

Fundamental Drawing Techniques, video workshop 

Shape vs. Structure: Integrating two ways of drawing, video workshop

Doodling with Diagrams video workshop by Amy Schleser

It Moved! video workshop

  Drawing as a Process

Introduction to Sketchnoting, video workshop with Kate Rutter

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

Showing planes with line angle, blog post

How do straight lines curve on a rounded surface? blog post

Exploring values with graphite pencil: Great Horned Owl Skull

  Drawing Techniques

Gesture SketchingVideo Workshop

Splash and scribble: wet watercolor and aquarelle pencils, video workshop

Hatching and Crosshatching Technique, blog post

Creative Lettering for Nature Journaling, video workshop

Sketching on toned paper, blog post

  In Technically Correct Colour

  1. Color and Value; Color gets all the credit, Value does all the work video workshop

  2. Reinventing the Wheel: Why Red is not a primary color blog post​


  Supplies, Equipment and Visual Aids

  1. Choosing Watercolors

  2. Watercolor Color Chart

  3. Choosing and Organizing Colored Pencils

  4. How to Make Your Own Palette

  5. Make your own Value Filter

  6. Make a Model of a Bird in Flight

  7. Downloadable Leaf and Flower Models

If you want to use photos from the internet, look at one of the websites listed in the below. These are collections for which the photographers have given their permission for their images to be used freely.​
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