Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Connecting With Nature Through Art: Nature Journaling Tips for Beginners

Staff and volunteers head out on the beach to find subjects to draw and enjoy the sun
What is nature journaling and why would anyone want to do it? Last week, a group of volunteers at the Marine Science Center got a chance to connect with nature through our Brown Bag Lunch Volunteer Lecture Series on a rare sunny day out on the beach.

“Nature journaling is the process of keeping a place-based, personal record of events, observations, and experiences in the outdoors.” Kate Hofmann and Joe Passineau, A Nature Journaling Guide: Fostering a Naturalist Outlook

A nature journal is more than just a sketchbook, and the process of nature journaling goes beyond simply making art that is nice to look at. An important part of the process is making careful observations about what you are drawing, and asking questions about what you see. Nature journaling can be a great way to make deeper connections with the world around you, to become a better observer, and to learn more about plants, animals, geology, or any other natural science subject you're interested in. The best part, of course, is that it's lots of fun! You get to decide what approach to take, and what you want to get out of it.

“One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, ‘What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?” —Rachel Carson

After creating art my entire life, I have recently started exploring nature journaling as a way to improve my skills, productivity, and the level of meaning in my work. I shared my philosophy and a few practical tips to help volunteers get started. These tips are also great to keep in mind for anyone who wants to pick up a pencil and some paper and head outside, regardless of your skill level:

  1. Accuracy is more important than aesthetics 
  2. Record basic info like the date, location, and weather to help capture the moment. 
  3. Detailed labels and notes are key! 
  4. Don't be afraid to write on your drawings 
  5. Make it personal — add your thoughts and feelings 
  6. Respond to what you are seeing — ask questions 
  7. Try to fill a page each time you go out 
  8. Nature is all around you — journaling can happen anywhere!
Wendy and Katie investigate a bird on the beach
Once you are comfortable with a basic approach to journaling, there are many ways to extend the scope of your work and get even more value out of it. You can make a species study, examine the life cycle of a plant or animal in your backyard, examine the geology of a nearby bluff, create a diagram of an object or a map of the vegetation in your backyard, etc. In addition to providing valuable personal enrichment, nature journaling can also be a conservation or science-education tool. The possibilities are up to you!

Roger journals on the beach

CAROLYN WOODS is the Natural History Exhibit and Volunteer Educator and an AmeriCorps Member serving at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.


  1. Great class Carolyn - hope you can do more!

  2. I absolutely loved your workshop, Carolyn! Your own recent examples of looking closely at nature, recording observations and asking questions was inspiring, and your sketches are beautiful. Thank you!

    1. Thanks Wendy, I'm so glad you enjoyed the program!


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