Close your eyes and imagine a nature-rich place.
What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear? How do you feel?
Do you see a clean landscape, an unmined mountain, a forest not a plantation, a lake or river full of diverse life, sewage drain-free beaches or open ocean?
Do you filter out the litter that is often in even protected places: on land, foam on water, or the smells of sewage or industrial waste?
Pollution of the air, water, and land is built into the way humanity currently exists.
“Contributors to poor air quality in South Africa include the mining and agricultural industry and coal burning.“
Poor air quality, unhealthy water and land all lead to ill-health and preventable death in people and other living beings. It is causing climate change.
For the Earth to be healthy and maintain its life-sustaining cycles, the air, water (fresh and ocean), and land needs to be clean, free of poisons, and undisturbed to allow the many, complex ecosystems to work.
Humanity needs a planet that is healthy and safe for all life. These needs for humanity and the Earth are so important that people and the Earth have rights.
As nature journalers we can prevent and reduce pollution by:
Choosing our tools with the environment in mind
Choosing to collect and dispose of our own waste
Collecting and properly disposing of litter we find
Supporting efforts of others to reduce the harm of pollution in the areas we live and visit.
Choose Supplies with the Environment in Mind
The contents of your nature journal kit need to be a good fit for you.
How much choice you have depends on whether your nature journal is for personal, programmatic or professional purposes.
If you are making professional fieldnotes, then you must use archival ink whether in a standard or fountain pen. You will need to use lightfast pigments when you are adding colour. You may need to use specific formats for recording information. Even the size and type of paper might be determined by the project design.
For personal use, your kit fit will be based on your personal circumstances, preferences and aspirations.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when putting your kit together:
Do I need this item? Can I borrow or try it before buying it?
Is it single use or refillable?
What is the lifecycle of the item? What has gone into making it, under what conditions and where?
What is needed to maintain it? How will this affect the environment?
Where will it go when I am done with it?
Do you use a pencil?
The first choice you make are between two types of pencils. The most commonly used are wooden, like the yellow pencil in the photo. These are widely available. The other type is a mechanical pencil. The red and black pencil in the photo is a mechanical pencil. A mechanical pencil does not need to be sharpened.
Wooden pencils need to be sharpened. You can do this with a sharp knife or a pencil sharpener.
Some pencil sharpeners have space to collect shavings. You can empty the shavings into a rubbish bin when it is full.
If you use a knife or pencil sharpener like the pink one in the photo, you need to collect the shavings. You also need to dispose of them with other rubbish.
This is especially important if you are using coloured pencils or watercolours. They contain pigments or dyes. Some manufacturers include pigments that use heavy metals like cadmium, chromium, cobalt, nickel and others. If you are using old supplies, it is difficult to know what they contain. In the past, lead, arsenic and mercury were used to produce the desired pigments. It might look like a small amount, but it matters. Pigments are not meant to be eaten. This might be small from a human perspective, but might be significant to an insect.
It is easiest to sharpen pencils directly into a bin. If you are outdoors, keep a bin with you.
Your bin can be a plastic or paper packet. Make this a standard part of your kit.
What about Pens and Markers?
Use refillable tools rather than single-use
In the long-term, refillable pencils, pens and markers can be less expensive, depending on what you buy. They can be more environmentally friendly. However, they can be more expensive when you first buy them. Think about how easily available refills are for you to get.
If you are interested in trying refillable fountain pens, they are available online from a South African stationery company Write GEAR. Try Platinum Preppy, they are reliable and low-cost. These can be easily modified to take more ink with either a converter or doing an "eye-dropper" conversion. With this option, refills are done from a bottled ink rather than using cartridges. The eye-dropper conversion allows you to have a crazy amount of ink in your pen, so you will need to refill it less frequently. Either adaptation is cheaper in the long run, and better for the environment.
Whatever ink you buy, double check that it is made for fountain pens, not for drawing or dip pens! Dip pen ink will destroy your fountain pen. "Only use inks that are labeled for fountain pen use. Do not use india ink, calligraphy ink, or drawing ink. These inks contain binders and particles that will clog a fountain pen."
Depending on the ink you buy it may smear when re-wetted unless it is waterproof. Two popular waterproof inks are deAtramentis Document ink and Rohrer & Klingner SketchINK. With waterproof ink, you can add watercolour after the ink has dried. With other inks, you can explore other techniques.
Test this yourself or see one of the many internet posts. Check these reliable sources, here and here to see how waterproof an ink is. You can learn more about fountain pens and inks here.
... And What of Watercolour Painting?
If you include watercolouring in your field practice, then here are a few tips.
Check what's in the tube(s) or pan(s). The best advice is to ignore the manufacturer's name for the paint. Reputable paint companies list the pigments used. These are PR for Pigment Red, PY for Pigment Yellow and so on followed by a number. However they do not necessarily list all the ingredients. An example of this is Opera Rose (see next paragraph).
Use lightfast paints. Fugitive means that the colours fade or change over time with exposure to light. Why spend money on paints that will fade and change colour overtime, when there are so many options available? Notable fugitive favourites of well-known and professional artists include:
Alizarin Crimson with PR83
Aureolin with PY40
Opera Rose which contains a PR122 and the light-sensitive fluorescent dye BV10
Even the most popular and respected manufacturers have fugitive paints in their range. Many have updated their formulations, but check to be sure. Paints containing fugitive pigments are not necessarily cheaper.
Limit or eliminate use of paints made with heavy metals like cadmium, manganese, cobalt and nickel.
Denise Soden has put together a range of "non-toxic, vegan watercolour paints under the daVinci label. She writes that "this palette allows artists to further reduce their impact on the environment by intentionally avoiding the use of cadmiums, cobalts, manganese, and nickel pigments.”
Consider making your own.
Try using empty chewing gum blister packs or sweet tins
Make sure that paint will stay in the mixing area the box, and not spill on to the ground.
Water and Brushes
Switch to using a waterbrush, if you are not using one already.
The handle of the waterbrush holds water so that water containers for rinsing are unnecessary. They can be refilled. The clean water can be refilled.
Waterbrushes are much less expensive than travel brushes.
In South Africa, a waterbrush costs about R80, while traditional travel brushes are R400 to R800 each.
Cloth not paper to wipe
And add a sock or other cloth rather than paper for wiping off excess water or paint. It is a convenient and environmentally friendly.
Don't lose it when you use it
Try to use pens, markers and brushes with caps that "post" on the end. Post means that it clicks into and stays in place.
You are much less likely to lose things if you have a system that lets you see what you have at a glance. Here are some examples from one bag.
Assign a home place for everything that you take outside with you.
Attach the most frequently used pencil or pen directly to your notebook.
Group and store coloured pencils together.
Check your kit before you leave a spot. Is anything missing?
Consider supporting other stewards in caring for the environment and environmental justice.
"When you visit a place, look for stewards who live in and around the place.
Here are examples of efforts that you can support.