Nature Journals – Details – AMC Outdoors

October 14, 2003

AMC Outdoors, July/August 2003

Entering Observations
Although there are numerous ways to format a journal, the following is one that Clare uses. (excerpted from Keeping a Nature Journal)

Basic Information

  • Name.
  • Date. This establishes the season and month in relation to the year. How would things look outdoors in spring? In winter?
  • Place. What town and state do you live in? Compare habitats to get a sense of place or home. How is this place like somewhere else where a relative or friend lives? How does this place differ from other places you have traveled or seen pictures of?
  • Time. This does not have to be accurate clock time; it can be simply “early afternoon,” “late morning,” or the like. Animals and plants respond to light conditions. What would be happening outdoors at 2 a.m., as distinct from 2 p.m.?
  • Weather. Weather conditions affect the activity of most living things. Record such things as temperature, which affects animal activity and plant growth; barometric pressure, which affects animal behavior and activity, and the movement of air masses that generate weather; and moon phase and daily sunrise and sunset, which can be found in local newspapers or the Old Farmer’s Almanac.
  • First Impressions. Once you’re outdoors or beginning your walk, take a few moments of silence to orient yourself. Listen. Write what you hear. This helps acclimate you to what you may be observing and drawing. Brainstorm mentally, or on paper, what you might expect to find out here to observe and draw — new flowers, insects, birds you hear singing.
  • Wind Direction. Locate and draw the points of the compass. Then add wind direction by looking at which way a flag or even your hair is blowing.
  • Cloud Patterns and Cloud Cover. Cloud patterns can be drawn; cloud cover can be recorded by drawing a small box and adding an illustration of the clouds or the kind of sky you see. Write a description of the sky below the box.

Begin Drawing
To get started, you may find this sequence of observations helpful; they get you looking at different distances from where you are standing or sitting. This pattern gets you in the habit of observing all around you.

  • Ground Observations. Get close to individual objects, where you can readily examine a leaf, a flower, insect, rock, or earthworm casting. Try to draw everything actual size. Draw two or three objects and move on. Label each item if you know what it is. Take no more than five minutes per drawing. Give size measurements. For further learning, try writing down one question about each object: How did it get there? Where does it go in winter? Can it be found in other habitats?
  • Eye-level Observations. Standing up so that you are free to move around, draw what comes into view at eye level — particular leaves, tall plants, shrubs, low nests, insects on surfaces, birds.
  • Overhead Observation. Look up. Choose a tree to draw. Record the colors you see. Illustrate objects, such as birds, insects, or planes.
  • Whole Landscape Observations. Landscape drawing can be overwhelming; divide the landscape into simple shapes and label what is there. Keep shapes simple, like pictograms. Label elements.

Subjects To Draw in Summer

  • Read guidebooks and practice drawing bird shapes: blue jay, chickadee, magpie, red-tailed hawk, song sparrow, mallard duck, common loon.
  • Summer is the height of productivity for frogs, toads, snakes, salamanders, turtles, spiders, and earthworms. Document who is doing what.
  • Draw and record your own garden’s growth.
  • Document the weather daily for a month.

And remember, the world is rich and full of life in the summer. It’s all around you. Record what is special about wherever you are.

Excerpt reprinted with permission of Storey Publishing.

 Learning to See, main  | Clare Walker Leslie  | Nona Bell Estrin  | Getting Started  | The Finer Details  | Tools and Accessories

Madeleine Eno is publisher and co-editor of AMC Outdoors.

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