Nature Journals – Getting Started – AMC Outdoors

October 14, 2003

AMC Outdoors, July/August 2003

If you’ve got a yen to head out with your sketchbook, the following ideas (excerpted from Keeping a Nature Journal, by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth) should get you started — and keep you going.

Overcoming Fears of Drawing
Some people panic at the thought of making sketches in their journals. If you believe you can’t draw, now is the time to lay that fear aside. Everyone can draw at some level of competency by simply making lines that correspond with what is observed. Clare once accompanied a class of students and their teacher outdoors to set up journal pages. The teacher, Mrs. Jay, said she preferred not to draw because she was “no good.” Teachers are obvious role models to students so Clare encouraged her to try. Students like to see their teacher struggling with what they might do more easily. Seeing how engaged her students were in drawing, and feeling the safety of Clare’s support, Mrs. Jay, giggling, joined her class and drew the November oak tree in their schoolyard. The class discussed tree branching, an exposed summer squirrel nest, afternoon shadows across the tree bark. They guessed at the tree’s height. The sixth-graders were involved, curious, proud to show their drawings. And Mrs. Jay, carried by the mood, admitted, “This is the best tree I have ever drawn!” She had leaped off the cliff of fear — and found she could draw.

Beginning Drawing Exercise
When you first try these drawings, you may find yourself … unable to make a good drawing right away — but you will discover how a form works … Just let your creative side lead the way. Don’t try to overrule it with your logical side. Blind contours, done in one continuous line without ever looking at your paper, are very good for capturing moving animals that may leave at any moment. Modified contours allow you to peek at your paper while still moving your pencil in one continuous line. This technique helps you capture the form of any plant or animal.

Group Journaling
If you’re traveling with a family or close group of friends, try keeping a group journal. Each person can contribute observations in his individual style, which are then shared or combined into one book. Maps can add a great dimension to such travel journals, and remind you later of just where you had those fine experiences.

Journaling While Hiking
Journaling on hikes is a great focusing activity and gives you a good excuse to take frequent breath-catching breaks, along with the opportunity to reflect on the places you are visiting. Another good time to journal is while you are picnicking. You can write and draw and tell good stories.

If hiking, you might want to write in your base information before you get started. Then, once you’re walking, stop and draw what first catches your attention that is less than three inches in size. Then draw objects from different levels. Drawings can be done later from a field guide and added to the journal entry.

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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