Explorations in Nature Journaling

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When we started homeschooling and began to research the Charlotte Mason approach, I knew that nature study and nature journaling were going to be a big part of our homeschool life. Spending time outdoors, paying close attention to the amazing beauty around us and learning the names of our finds, and using art to record it all while also practicing handwriting… it seemed a perfect and important part of the experiential, hands-on curriculum I was forming.

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I gave Seth a small notebook to record his finds and we began paying more attention to the world around us. I was so excited for all that he’d learn from these experiences, but I had absolutely no idea how much I would get from it myself. I always loved art, and used to spend a significant amount of my free time as a child and teen painting and drawing. But along the way I got busy, and often frustrated by my efforts. I turned to the camera as my primary means of artistic expression. So when I pulled out my watercolors and purchased a little watercolor journal, I was mostly doing so to encourage Seth and sketch alongside him. But I fell in love. My prior frustration and perfectionism fell away because it was simply a field journal and didn’t have to be perfect. I was reminded why I’ve always loved to paint, and got excited about learning about the amazing creatures and plants surrounding us. The process of documenting our outdoor adventures has become so therapeutic for me and I look forward to that time spent with my paints and field guides and this little book. I’m doing it regardless of whether Seth is in the mood or not (because, as a five year old boy, he’s definitely not always in the mood), but I’m certain that my passion for it will rub off on him and his brother at least a bit. Already, they are asking for their paints and art supplies more frequently.

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My Materials

My sketchbook of choice: Strathmore Visual Journal 140lb
For more official paintings (which I’m doing much more of as a result of this love ignited by nature journaling), I love Arches Aquarelle blocks
I have been using the same very inexpensive set of tube walercolors that I’ve had since college, but I’m so excited to have just purchased this simple set from Winsor Newton. Learning to mix any color from just a few is one of the most important skills in watercolor. This set is wonderful because it’s small enough to go with me anywhere.
My brushes are a mix- some were my mom’s and could easily be older than me. When I purchase a new brush I like to do so in person rather than ordering online so I can see and feel it. My most-used brush at the moment is a size 3 round brush made by Grumbacher.
My pencils are all Faber-Castle but I’m really not very picky- any art pencils will do. My favorite pens are Micron- they are really amazing. I use the tiny 005 for details and fine lines, the 01 for slightly heavier lines, and the 03 for writing.
Field Guides: I love the laminated pocket guides made by Quick Reference Publishing (I found many at Barnes & Noble that are specific to our area.) We also have and love the Audubon Guide to Florida.

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My Process

I only sometimes sketch right there on the spot. I’d really like to do so more often, but my current season of life involves chasing a 2 year old, so I usually snap photos with my phone of things I want to journal later—along with collecting things like leaves, rocks, shells, and flowers to press.

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I start by sketching with pencil, getting the basic lines and shapes. I usually have a basic rough idea in my mind of how my page will end up, which items I want to draw, etc. I cross-reference my phone images with my field guides and often the internet as well, and in the process I learn interesting facts about each thing, it’s scientific name and common name, and those things go into the journal as well. When everything is done in pencil, I go over it with my micron pens and erase the pencil lines. Once in a while I’ll paint first and add in details with the pens later, but usually I prefer the prior method. When I’m painting, I begin with the lightest colors and then layer in the deeper ones.

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While at Wild & Free recently, one mama mentioned that her boys don’t have the patience for very much art journaling, but they love to recreate some of their nature finds with clay. I thought it was such a great idea, and definitely one I’d like to try!

We’ve been incorporating art in other ways as well, and my goal is to weave it into many different subjects. There are so many ways to tie art into science, geography, history, literature, and the list goes on. I really believe that they’ll learn more and internalize what they’re learning better if they exercise creativity while learning it. Seth always seems much more interested when we do. When we were discussing the the axial skeleton in science, he drew a skeleton (looking at a library book for reference) and labeled the bones we’d been talking about.

I will have to post an update soon, because already I’m seeing our methods shifting into something much more experiential and less workbook-based. And as a result, we’re both enjoying homeschool so much more!

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3 Comments

  1. This is amazing and inspiring and i am so eager and encouraged to take the next steps into a more experiential homeschool experience myself! I’ll just follow your lead! And my goodness, the talent you have is unbelievable! Seriously, your boys are blessed to have such an artistic mama!

  2. I love this post and find it inspiring! You’d think I’d be better at this, given I was an art student myself in college and in my own homeschool student days was never without a journal/sketchbook. But I’ve found it harder as an adult to incorporate into my life and the life of my kids. I’d love to do so more this year. Thanks for the inspirational post and images!

  3. Thank you for sharing! This was really helpful to see how you approach nature journaling. We just added this into our homeschooling this year and I’ve struggled some with the challenges of where we journal and whether we can or can’t take something with us… Your pages are inspiring, thank you!!

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