Drawing on nature
Creating a journal can help us appreciate new aspects of nature’s infinite variety and beauty
Keeping a nature journal to record the plants we see around us can raise our appreciation of nature’s beauty
In an age of communication and connection through the mobile phone, blogs, vlogs, podcasts and social media platforms, it has perhaps never been easier to record our lives and share experiences with others. Indeed looking back through an Instagram or Facebook feed can feel like flicking the pages of a diary to jog our memories of events and occasions past.
But how many of these moments were fleeting? Did we allow ourselves time to really enjoy and observe or were they merely glances, recorded with someone else’s approval in mind?
Nature journals are nothing new – think of Edith Holden’s 1906 naturalist diaries, rediscovered in the 1970s and turned into the bestselling title The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady. The diary was a careful and personal recollection in drawings, poems and anecdotes of the countryside around Edith’s home and the passing of the seasons observed through the nature and wildlife she experienced at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Edith never meant the diary for publication yet its run-away success (it remained in the bestseller list for a record-breaking 63 weeks) does suggest the delight and enjoyment we can experience from a closer observation
of the world around us. Of course, we can look at and appreciate those created by others – better still to make your own nature journal.
At its simplest, a nature journal is an engaging way to record experiences, note locations visited, observe and collect things, and mark the changing of seasons. Embrace all of those aspects as they are key to getting you started with your journal. Trained as a plant ecologist, artist and nature journal enthusiast Lara Call Gastinger (whose illustrations you can see here) has been creating journals for years. “I keep a sketchbook to learn about the plants and their habitats around me, to observe seasonal changes especially in this time of climate change, and for myself to experience peaceful meditation with pen to paper in this ever-increasing digital world,” she explains.
A nature journal is also a way to push curiosity and begin to question the connections between things. John Muir Laws, a US-based naturalist, artist and educator – and practised nature journaller – offers plenty of advice on how to develop your journalling. Key to his approach is to not just look, but to start a conversation with yourself to encourage curiosity and make your drawings both easier to approach and more focused.
Once you have your item to draw, consider some of following: what is it like, how does it work, why is it like this, how is it changing, how is it connected, is there a pattern here? As John puts it, this will help you observe with your brain and not just your eyes. Try to answer those questions and thoughts in your drawings, along with notes and annotations that highlight smaller details and recall connections – you might, for example, want to include a related fact, tasting note or a poem that springs to mind.
So, how to get started? Once you’ve made the decision to create a journal it needs to become a habit; you’ll also find that the more you do it, and the more you practise, the better you will become. Decide what you want to achieve – is it a drawing a week, or one a month, learning more