A Beginner’s Guide to Nature Journaling

If you would like to deepen your connection to nature, try keeping a nature journal to record your observations. This daily practice will calm you and encourage you to spend more time outdoors, all while creating a record of your adventures for you to look back on.

Nature journaling is a creative endeavor that anyone can do. You do not have to be an artist or ecologist to journal, and you can start wherever you are. This post will offer ideas for starting a nature journal.

Gather Your Materials

Obviously, you will need a journal or notebook to hold your observations. We recommend unlined paper since you’ll be drawing as well as writing. Make sure the paper fits the medium (watercolor paper if you’re working in watercolors, for example), but the most important aspect is that the journal is functional.

The best journal is the one you will use.

You will need a pen or pencil to record your observations. Choose tools that you can both draw and write with, as you’ll be sketching what you find and writing observations, taking notes of field marks, etc. Some people draw in pencil but take notes in pen; experiment and choose what works best for you.

Many people also choose to add color. A popular choice would be colored pencils, though you could also use markers, crayons, pastels, or watercolors.

What If I’m not Good at Drawing?

Open any nature journaling book and you’ll be floored by the gorgeous illustrations, the attention to detail, the nuanced depictions. Though well-intentioned, these perfect drawings can be intimidating to a beginner, or to those who aren’t particularly interested in art.

Fear not! The act of journaling is not so much about drawing as about seeing. Drawing is the method that forces you to pay attention; the very act of trying to record details will supercharge your perceptions.

So, use those perfect illustrations as inspiration to get outside and look, but don’t let perfectionism spoil your fun.

Benefits of Nature Journaling

  • Slowing Down and Relaxing: As you begin to journal, you’ll find yourself paying more attention to your surroundings. You now have an intention to find interesting things while outdoors, and as you search for journaling content, you’ll automatically slow down and move at the pace of nature. This slower pace makes journaling a calming activity and can help relieve symptoms of anxiety and stress.
  • Developing a Sense of Place: It seems like most of us have little knowledge of our local area. Even if we have lived in a place for a long time, our lives are engineered to speed through our environment, which means we lack both knowledge and connection to our homeplace. Journaling will help you pay more attention and notice how your place changes over time. Be ready for some surprises!
  • Learning to Focus: Because journaling is a daily practice, you will develop an ability to commit to a positive habit that will affect other aspects of your life. Similarly, drawing requires patient sitting and attention, which may be challenging at first, but like a muscle, these habits will be strengthened with continued practice.

Ideas to Focus Your Journal Entries

Nature journals are creative, so you are free to draw or write about anything you observe. Most people, especially beginners, find it useful to have a point of focus to help them get started.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Observe one thing every day – Take a short walk and make a point of noticing one new thing, no matter how small.
  • Observe the changes in one plant or community – Pick one plant or small ecological community and draw it every day. Note how it changes with the weather, with seasons, etc.
  • Track the changing seasons – Each day, write down seasonal changes and how these can be seen in plant and animal life. This is easiest to do during transitions, especially in Spring and Fall.
  • Watch the weather – Note each day’s weather as specifically as you can but take care to make this entry visual. Draw clouds, raindrops hanging on plants, etc.

Resources for Nature Journaling

For a book on the process of keeping a nature journal, the best is still Leslie and Roth’s Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You. This book offers not only beautiful illustrations but practical samples of entries, some of which are simply line drawings and scribbled notes.

That is, the book is practical; it’s not there to sell art but to teach you, the reader, how to keep your own journal.

As you journal, you will start to see connections between your observations, and this will often lead to questions about what you saw when you were outdoors. This is a great moment to increase your knowledge, and we recommend a nice set of reputable field guides. Each field guide has a different focus (e.g. birds, edible plants, medicinal plants, trees, etc.) so choose the one that fits your frequent observations.

Lastly, there are a few valuable apps that can help when you are in the field. One of these is Seek by iNaturalist, which allows you to take a photo with your smartphone and will then identify flora, fauna, and fungi. It’s a free app and very handy if you’re puzzled by a species or do not have a field guide handy. For more app ideas, check out this handy guide from Garden & Gun.

Follow Your Intuition

Remember, these are just ideas for getting started. Once you get going, you’ll notice connections that will lead you onto new ways of journaling. Don’t worry if that intuitive pull leads you away from traditional methods of journaling.

This is your journey. Listen to that inner voice and enjoy yourself!