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Drawing and Painting
for Nature Journaling

Watercolor Brush 19

"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

Paper Plane

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.







Click on image for larger view and information about image.


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.


Deflect deflation 

  • 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


Studio drawing,

with details,

that may take hours,

can look like this

Or might be a polished studio drawing, the final rendering that may take days or weeks,

that can look like this example.



Use your own photos as drawing references. It 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 you for each of your purposes.

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

Field and nature drawing differ 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.


Possible Purposes - You may have one or many

  • 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 does not need to be an art project - unless you want it to be. 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.

  • Be prepared to sketch and record special moments whenever they occur.

“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

Watercolor Primaries | Red Blue Yellow vs Magenta Cyan Yellow

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 video workshops

Field Sketching Basics

Five Tips for Better Drawing

Fundamental Drawing Techniques 

Shape vs. Structure: Integrating two ways of drawing

Doodling with Diagrams by Amy Schleser

It Moved!

  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

How do straight lines curve on a rounded surface?

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

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

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


  Supplies and Equipment

Choosing Watercolors

Watercolor Color Chart

Choosing and Organizing Colored Pencils

How to Make Your Own Palette

Make your own Value Filter


Visual Aids

Make a Model of a Bird in Flight

Downloadable Leaf and Flower Models

If you want to use photos from the internet, read this article "Best Free Image Resources for Artists". The writer provides useful description of collections for which the photographers have given their permission for their images to be used freely.​
NHI 101 Final Assignment resized.jpg
NJ entry CV - DBG Heron, Spoonbil and Mo
Sketchbook Birds at DBG 2018-05-06_edite
Watercolor Brush 19
Watercolor Brush 19
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