A Couple of Things I Know: Nature Journal Edition

In the past three weeks, there's been a trend.

Three different times, the opportunity to teach a class on nature journaling has dropped in my lap.   Four, if you count an accidental click on a website I like that's -- surprise, surprise -- looking for a teacher for this kind of class, too.   A couple for adults, a couple for kids.  

Mind you, I haven't taught an in-person class since 2003, so to say I'm rusty is an understatement, and I kinda brushed these opportunities off a little, in my head, thinking that clearly, these people have no idea what a bumbling idiot I really am.

(Yeah.  Thanks, brain. Goober.)

But here's the thing:

One opportunity, and I could ignore it, thinking it's just a fluke.

Two, and I start getting brow-quirky and sensing a trend.


(Clearly, in my head, the Universe is from Brooklyn.)


I really kind of feel like I only know a few things about keeping a nature-specific journal, and some of them aren't exactly nature journal specific.

I've been keeping one, off and on, since roughly forever.  I was that kid, in grade school, with a notebook full of observations about the world.  Who did experiments and wrote them down.  Who read field guides and studied waterstriders in puddles because the nearest park was just outside the boundaries of where I was allowed to ride my bike unattended.

In other words, I was a giant nerd.  I'm okay with that.

(And then I discovered boys, and my nature study was more about making out than making sketches.  Ahem.  Not the point.)

1.  I know that it's not about the art.
No art has to be pretty, but with most kinds of nature journaling, that's doubly-so.  It's about information.  What color is it?  How big is it?  What are its unique properties or behaviors?  Things don't have to be pretty to be functional in this way, unless you're Sibley or someone and want to publish them someday.  (And even then, rough drafts are fine.)

2.  But it IS about the drawing.
Not entirely, but drawing the thing is pretty important.  It slows down your brain, helps you focus on what you're doing, and allows you to absorb/notice details that you might not otherwise notice in the rush and haste to be onto the next thing.  (As is our modern society's way, it seems.)  As a tool to aid observation, it's kind of irreplaceable, IMHO.

3.  Information is king.
Aim for learning.  The more you write down/draw, the more raw material you have for later identification/study/observation.

4.  On-location's only about half the battle.
Especially if you're new, half your pages will come from the research you do when you get home.  Field guides, the internet, expert friends -- this is when you do your positive identification and add in all the good stuff that explain your earlier observations.  Was that animal behavior normal?  What is that plant?  What grows/lives on/near that environment?  Here's where you dive deep, and find out just how miraculous that thing -- and our whole world -- actually is.

5.  Organization is key for ongoing study and practice.
It's why I don't keep my nature-specific journaling in a book, most of the time.  I keep my individual pages on individual sheets (or multiple sheets), so I can put them in a binder for easy rearranging when I have new information or related species, etc..  It makes finding things I've already done, or things to which I want to refer back MUCH easier.  MUCH.  Sometimes, I'll even cut things out of bound sketchbooks later, and put them into the binders, or color copy them for the binders, because it's worth it for the ease of info retrieval.

6. Cycles are okay.
Life's busy.  It's okay if you're not doing this practice every day.  Nature herself has cycles; it only figures that your interest/energy/time would wax and wane, too.  If you go into it with an all-or-nothing approach (i.e. I'm going to do a page every day and complete them all on Saturdays when I'll take eight full hours to research all the things I've seen this week.), you'll likely burn right out like a shooting star.  There are lots of ways to motivate yourself, but rigidity usually isn't one of them. It's okay to play when you can.

I think there are probably more, roaming around in my head.  Things like know your area's toxic and poisonous plants and leave no trace...yes, that means you and don't get eaten by bears, but as far as practice goes, those are the biggies, I think.

Now I just have to figure out how to synthesize all that information, make it accessible and interesting, and try to short-circuit the part of my brain that is already actively rebelling against the thought of wearing pants and people-ing.

(Yikes.  No biggie, there, right?  Eep.)

This should be fun. :)

1 comment:

  1. Yep, you should absolutely, definitely do it. Dooooo eeeeet. You are inspiring. Now I want to go find out wha5 that funny plant in my yards is....