This essay was originally published in The Rhythm of the Home, Winter 2010.
Thoughts ricochet through my brain all day; when I sit down at my desk to work, drive in the car, cook dinner, take a shower, lie down to sleep, even when I read to and play with my children, I hear a constant inner chatter. I have not been able to develop a yoga or meditation practice that slows my thoughts--sitting quietly or lying in shivasana only sends my mind into overdrive.
I very often find myself feeling overwhelmed by the demands of my three children, my work and my other obligations. Time spent alone in the nurturing embrace of nature with my journal almost always brings a sense of balance to my life and puts other worries and cares into perspective.
I often like to start a new journal with the new year in January, and even though I spend less time outdoors in winter, I find I generally do more nature journaling at this time. Winter is a time to slow down and be more reflective, while the other seasons involve more vigorous outdoor activities. I love to make a cup of tea and sit near a window, sketching birds at the feeder or the skeletal branches of bare trees. Or I will bundle up and take a walk through the woods near our house, settling down to sketch or write, wearing a pair of fingerless mitts, unassailed by bugs.
Keeping a nature journal requires very little in materials, and you probably already have everything you need at home in your children’s art supplies. A simple notebook and a pencil or pen are all you need to get started, though over time you may want to add other types of writing instruments or select a special book. I prefer a hard-covered wire-bound field sketchbook about 7 x 10 inches--it’s small enough to carry in a bag or pack and the wire binding allows me to fold it back on itself--but any book with blank pages will do, including inexpensive sketch books or hardbound journals.
I keep my notebook in a zippered shoulder bag with a fabric roll that holds a mechanical pencil, a black roller ball pen, a brown felt-tipped pen (for when I’m feeling fancy!) and a small selection of watercolor pencils.
- draw with your non-dominant hand;
- make a blind contour drawing, where you only look at the object you’re drawing, not your paper (no peeking!);
- set a time limit (say five or 10 seconds) and do a quick sketch, or gesture drawing, of whatever it is before you (this is an especially helpful technique for drawing things that move, like birds, animals and children).
If you’re not sure how to get started, try this: look for one natural object for every color of the rainbow; sketch or list and describe each item you find. This can be done in any season, though as you can imagine it’s a lot more challenging in the winter.
I have not actively tried to involve my children in nature journaling with me--they spend their week days in structured activities so I try to keep their home time as free as possible--however I often journal in their presence and they are welcome to join in.
My children are my most honest critics--sometimes I hear “Wow, Mom! That looks real! How’d you draw that?” and sometimes, “That doesn’t even look like what you’re trying to draw.”
April 17, 2002
Morning “hike” in Vaughan Woods w/ 3 other baby-mom pairs. Milo enjoyed the waterfall on Vaughan Brook--we didn’t think of playing Pooh sticks at the bridge. It’s so amazing to share new experiences with him--like the rain now pouring down outside--as if I’m experiencing everything for the first time myself. A reawakening of the Sense of Wonder!
May 24, 2002
I sat outside with Milo this evening to cool his fever and calm his fussies. The almost-full moon glowed in the sky over my shoulder. He reached for it as if he could snatch it out of the sky and said, “bah” (ball).
Check out these books for further inspiration:
- Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth
- Drawn to Nature through the Journals of Clare Walker Leslie by Clare Walker Leslie.
- The Sierra Club Guide to Sketching in Nature by Cathy Johnson
- A Trail through Leaves: The Journal as a Path to Place by Hannah Hinchman
- Field Trips: Bug Hunting, Animal Tracking, Bird-watching, Shore Walking by Jim Arnosky
- The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Hamilton
- A Crow Doesn’t Need a Shadow: A Guide to Writing Poetry from Nature by Lorraine Ferra
- The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: A Course in Enhancing Creativity and Artistic Confidence by Betty Edwards