I teach a Nature Journaling class from my home. My students, who range in age from 7-15 so far, receive a journal and #2 pencil to get them started. I like to use a Strathmore 300 series, 5×8 notebook with the spiral down the side. There are plenty of pages, the paper is great and the size is just right for a small tote or backpack. When they get hooked on it, they can purchase what ever extras they want: color pencils, a variety of B and H pencils, charcoal pencils, various erasers and sharpeners. Everyone has their own level of supply needs; I furnish the basics to get them started but they can borrow any of my art supplies during class to try out.
We spend the first day talking about what a journal is, compare samples of my old journals and a page or two from some else’s published journal. These other journals can be Lewis and Clark’s, Audubon’s, or any other journal you might find in the library. I go over a list of supplies for a backpack if you should want to go out away from the comforts of home and sketch in the field. I like my students to have this list in the back of their journal, so we take time to write it in. Then we head out in my yard with field guides, binoculars, journals and pencils to start our books.
If you just sit and watch, and then sit with your eyes closed and listen, and then take a deep breath through your nose, you can experience so much of your surroundings in a short amount of time. We did this exercise each day to start and then we wrote. I am always amazed by what is written and the way it’s written. The same observation of a bird singing in a crepe myrtle just a few feet away is revealed so differently from one person to another. I enjoy my student’s writing.
Then we draw. I can be anything: the bird we heard, the mosquito that bit someone on the arm while we sat outside, the ant carrying a pretty big piece of something across the patio. Field guides are great for this exercise. I teach them to gesture sketch and quick sketch things that will move. Then use the field guides to work on details.
For the rest of the week we take field trips. Last week we went to 5 Rivers and the Fairhope Pier among other places of interest. I haven’t planned out next week’s trips yet; weather is a factor but we’ll probably go back to 5 Rivers.
Journaling is a great creative outlet for anyone. It is a little bit of art and a little bit of journalism. It’s making scientific observations or an accidental discovery. A journal page could be scattered with seemingly random pictures and a few words describing them. It could also be a lengthy story of how last week you didn’t think spring would ever come because the trees were so bare and suddenly, in what seemed like a flash of time, everything is covered in green.
I’ve written about how I watched fish crows dive into mockingbird nests and carry off a nestling while being chased by the parents. I’ve written about the oil spill and drew before and after pictures of the beach. I’ve drawn the creatures that inhabit my fish tank and follow it with a paragraph describing each. A nature journal can be anything you want it to be.
I get emails from the folks in Manatee County FL listing their nature tours and events. One email struck me as especially cool. They were looking for naturalists in the area who had kept journals chronicling various nature events. What a cool thing, I thought, to be able to assist in the study of our natural surroundings. Perhaps you have kept track of when your magnolia trees bloom each year, or what the temperature is each night the crickets are deafening, or what date the wooly caterpillars make an appearance in your neighborhood. Maybe you won’t get published in a major scientific journal, but your grandkids could enjoy knowing what the environment was like when you were a kid.