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What is a Nature Journal? Here's the 411

Nature Journaling 101- the who, what, where, how, and why

Ok, so this will not be the sexiest article I write, but I think it is a good place to start. If this break down is too basic for your journaling journey then you can read some of my other blog posts or wait with bated breath for the next one : “Nature Journaling: Your Brain at the Gym”. Now that will be juicy!

Who should nature journal?

I will start with the easiest of today’s topics. Everyone on the planet!

It takes little supplies, it is very adaptable, can take little time or hours upon hours, does not hurt anyone or anything, and it is great for everyone’s brains. Here are some famous naturalists that kept journals where you can get inspirations from Leonardo Da Vinci, Bernd Heinrich, Beatrix Potter, John Muir, John Muir Laws, Maria Sibylla Merian, Harriet Scott, and Helena Scott.

New to nature journaling? You are probably asking “Well what is it, really?”

Just a notebook filled with observations of the natural world, yet it is so much more. I think the two most important differentiating points are “natural world” and “observations”. We are not recording our dear diary daily thoughts. We are focused on nature and all things that make it up. Can you draw buildings or write about the promotion you got at work? Of course, no one is grading you. No one else has to see your journal if that is important to you. “Observations” means two things for us here. First, you are recording the real the world you observe, not an imaginary one. Second, observation encompasses more than just your eyes. It includes hearing, smelling, touching, and even tasting, if that’s your thing.You will often see people integrate questions, hypotheses, and analysis in their notebooks. Writing notes by hand and sketching with pen/pencil are in my opinion the best way to supercharge your brain while journaling. Although no one says you can’t do all your nature journaling with an ipad, we’ll save that for another discussion.

Journal right where you are.

Living downtown does not mean you can’t find “nature”. Just walk outside and look around you. Nature does not have to be a wild animal preserve or a long drive out of the city. Street trees are nature too! Don’t overlook the pockets of green, wild, and growing things in your city. Someone’s stoop with potted plants is a great place to observe a pocket of nature. Dog parks are also fun areas to find some urban “wildlife”! Even looking out a window when you can‘t get outdoors can tell you about the weather, the season, or the phase of the moon.

How do you start? No excuses- You be you.

You don’t have to be an artist or a writer or spend lots of money to start journaling today. Grab a Bic pen (my preference) or pencil and a random notebook. Your journal could be stapled recycled copy paper, a stack of forgotten index cards, or even post-it notes! Sure you can go buy a cool perfect bound sketchbook and set of travel watercolors or colored pencils. But don’t feel you have to if you want to make a journal that is wonderful and useful. Start with something that feels comfortable to work inside. My favorite is a soft-covered mixed media sketchbook 8.5”x5.” with a combination of Bic pen, fountain pen, a travel watercolor set, and a few pencils and markers. Now go outdoors and sit. Even if it is for only five minutes. Write some words about what you see, smell, hear, touch or taste out there. Then make a quick sketch. No need for judgement here. If that is all the time you have on your lunch or coffee break- awesome.

Spending time in nature is a must for my survival. I know some of you are also like that. So get out there and spend an hour sketching, strolling, writing. Connect with your surroundings and let them teach you about their world. Your pages can be half done or filled to the margins. It’s ok if you’ve tried to keep journals and just let them get dusty on the shelf or under the bed. (You could even repurpose a partial journal as a new nature journal!) There are no wrongs when you’ve spent time in nature. So do it again because it felt good the next week or next day. The more you spend time with your journal the merrier!

Why? Because when you draw what you see, you will see what you draw.

Nature Journaling has so many benefits I think I am reduced to a bullet point list. I should take this section and elaborate more in another blog post. I can also get some outside experts to give us their take on the importance and benefits of journaling outdoors.

  • Drawing forces you to really look at your subject and find new things about it

  • The more you draw and write the better you get

  • You can refer to your observations later for sharing, watching changes, and analysis over time

  • Writing with pen and paper increases your memory of the words

  • Being outdoors in green spaces helps reduce stress

  • Observations lead to questions that lead to new information and more questions

  • Going outside with family, friends, and colleagues is a lovely place to make personal connections (esp. kids)

  • Exploring your natural surroundings give you a strong sense of place and empathy for the area and its inhabitants

  • In an over scheduled world we need time to make ourselves slow down

  • Focusing on one object can reduce the stress of overstimulation through new media

  • Natural sounds have been shown to reduce your blood pressure

In short, grab a pen, paper, and a few minutes to go outdoors and record your natural world. I think you’ll love it and like me want to share this love with others. Family members are great folks to include in your nature journal journey. If you are looking for other fun ways to be outdoors with your family check out Finches’ FREE download “12 Easy Ideas to Get Your Busy Family into Nature Now”.

I hope this has given you a neat little introduction to the world of nature journaling. As you read there are more articles to come from nature journaling and spend more time in nature. I am on it! If you have questions or comments please shout them out in the comments. The most important things to take away from this article are go outdoors to observe and record the magical world around.

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