Drawing from nature – nature journals

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Capturing observations and feelings about nature
     Capturing observations and feelings about nature

Creating a nature journal or field guide can be a richly rewarding experience. It is the perfect way to develop and record an understanding of the natural world around you by using observation, reflection, drawing and creative writing.  Traditionally, nature study journals were more of a scientific way to record observations, but they can also be a wonderful way of capturing memories and feelings about nature experiences. Follow these guidelines for project ideas and drawing tips to get started.

Firstly, decide on what kind of nature journal you want to create. There are many approaches to nature journaling from personal studies to improve your naturalist skills, travel nature journals or as projects to be shared. This post will focus on projects that can be created by groups such as schools, youth groups and wildlife clubs where the finished journal or guide is shared and everyone can delight at seeing their own thoughts and drawings included.

Project ideas:

Create a Wildlife Field Guide or Nature Trail Guidebook. This can be for your school grounds, a shared community wild space such as a park, flower meadow or woodland. This is a fun project where lots of information can be gathered, recorded and celebrated as a book. Next decide on how this project can be organised. It’s helpful to have class and group topics such as wild flowers, insects and birds to ensure a variety of wildlife subjects are explored. Encourage individuals to sit quietly, alone or in pairs, and observe nature first before putting pencil to paper.

Changes in nature. By recording changes in the seasons, such as the first spring flower or butterfly, an on-going nature diary or journal can help you understand your local area and its habitats better. It’s a great way to record your nature-ranging activities throughout the year and develops a sense of caring for your local environment.  Old journals can also help reveal subtle changes from one year to the next.

Field trip journal. This could be a chronological journal of a class or group visit to a new place such as the New Forest. Again don’t start drawing or writing straight away – explore your outdoor surroundings first. Drawings will then help the group to observe better and provoke questions and feelings about new experiences. This form of nature journaling is a wonderful way to share and assess learning.

A travel journal - exploring and learning about new trees
A travel journal – recording new encounters

Also think about how the drawings should be created and if your project will be written as scientific reports, creative writing, poetry, or a mixture of these styles.

Older students can confidently draw from natural objects and will enjoy researching their subject independently, whilst younger children can be guided through step by step drawings. Line drawings, such as those found in nature colouring books can be enlarged on a photocopier and fixed onto a board. While you draw over the lines with a coloured marker the children can follow.  This technique works well when introducing studies of invertebrates to help illustrate that insects have 3 body parts; spiders 2 body parts.

There are drawing tutorials you can follow on You Tube for ideas. The Woodland Trust http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/   have a range of downloadable wildlife line drawings that can be used as visual aids.

Provide a camera, as drawing from photographs is helpful when drawing birds, butterflies and other creatures that are quick moving. Images can be enlarged to study smaller detail. Also use a range of field guides for pictures and scientific information for written entries.

Finally, photographs can also be added to the journal or guidebook together with pressed flowers, leaves, feathers and bark rubbings. These additions add layers and richness to the journal.

Happy nature journaling!