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

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