A fantastic way to keep a sketchbook is to start an illustrated nature journal, nature journals, journal of nature where you record everything from the leaves that fall in the fall to butterflies to birds to the plants in your garden to flowers to the night sky. Those are so many different things that can be the subject of a nature journal, nature journals, journal of nature. It’s also a fantastic way to learn to draw and to improve. Your skills in watercolor gouache various other things and we have probably the greatest living illustrated nature journal, nature journals, journal of natureer. Right here at sketchbook skool john muir laws is an author of half a dozen definitive books on keeping a nature journal, nature journals, journal of nature and we’re excited to have him teaching a special nature journal, nature journals, journal of natureing class here for us so i wanted to give you a chance to to learn a bit more about nature journal, nature journals, journal of natureing and what you can do with it and to hear it from the master himself. Here’s john muir laws. Hi john how are you doing. I’m doing really well today. Good excellent so um i wanted to talk to you about. I don’t know art and nature and nature journal, nature journals, journal of natures and nature journal, nature journals, journal of natureing and art nature journal, nature journals, journal of natureing and the like. What do you think that’s excellent. Because it’s one of my favorite topics all right good then. This should be excellent so um tell me a bit about what what does what does nature journal, nature journals, journal of natureing do for you. So first. What it is is using words and pictures and numbers together on a page to explore the observations that you make the questions that you’re wondering about and to help us make connections between things that we have seen before and what we’re experiencing right now so it’s essentially a way of thinking on paper it is it de-emphasizes the need to make a pretty picture. But it regularly uses drawing and sketching and painting and pictures to explore things. And it’s for me my my best hack to get me to pay deeper closer attention to the world and to really have fun just geeking out with phenomena so it’s really it’s nature journal, nature journals, journal of natureing. It’s note taking it’s observation first and foremost and the art or illustration part of it is all in support of that.
Then that’s right so it’s the art is in support of paying attention to the world and because of that if you make a drawing and it’s not a pretty drawing that’s okay. You’re you’re totally successful. That’s you’re on task and so what that does is just gives you permission to like. I’m going to make another one. I’m going to make another map and sometimes if you make a map and you go like oh. That’s not a pretty map. I can’t make maps then you don’t want to make maps and then you’ve just taken a tool out of your quiver but if you make a map and you’re kind of like okay. That was useful. It wasn’t a pretty picture but it was useful. You just got a little bit more experience making a map and then a little bit more and then a little bit more so you keep doing it again and again and again you’re practicing and boom you develop these skills in so down the line. You look at somebody’s you know maps and diagrams and their drawings and their landscape sketches and that they’re doing rarely in their nature journal, nature journals, journal of nature. And you go. Wow those are really pretty pictures but the way to that. It was not by saying i’ve got to make pretty pictures. It’s just it’s a way of making lots of pictures. The ability to draw is part of it and it comes along with it but because it’s not the focus of it it gives you permission and room to be more playful to make lots of mistakes and to be sort of in a state of just perpetual growth and learning so it isn’t about. Let’s draw a bird. Let’s draw a tree it’s about. Let’s look at a bird. Let’s look at it. It’s it’s about the bird it’s a it’s all about the bird um and you can use the drawing as a tool for deep geeking out with the bird you can also do written descriptions. You can also um make a little diagram of the song that it’s singing and so you can. You can use all of those different strategies you put them down on the page and it just helps you pay attention to the bird. Pay attention to the bird. Pay attention to the bird.
Otherwise what we tend to do is your brain kind of looks at it and goes like oh i know what kind of bird that is now. I’m ready to kind of go on to the next things but the minute i start making a sketch of it now the bird just changed position. So i’m going to make a new sketch and it’s showing me different things i i love looking and exploring the natural the natural world around me trying to figure things out and the and that’s something that that anybody can do whether you consider yourself to be a naturalist or not um i i often think of the term naturalist as a fairly broad label. Um doesn’t mean that you have to be um it doesn’t mean that you have to be making your career by doing it but i often associate that term with sort of the insatiable curiosity like an explorer of the world. Yeah and explore the world and that can doesn’t necessarily mean that i am. I am now off to darkest peru um it can mean that um i found these this ant nest in my backyard and look i made a little map of where the trails went and look at how they are owning my vegetable bed. That this little you know. Whatever it is that you’ll discover by by looking at these you’re just you’re you’re it’s a great way of helping yourself become more curious about the world around you and then those little mysteries start pulling you into deeper and deeper investigations. The next thing you know danny you’re a naturalist it can happen. It can happen just like that but i don’t want to be a naturalist um so let me. Let’s switch direction. What about tools like what. What kinds of media do you find most useful for this kind of thing. Are you dragging out. You know oil paints are you um just doing doodling with a pencil. What what are you doing to make because i think your pages are beautiful and i’d love to know like what are the key. Uh sort of supplies. Are you using um so what i do. Is i have a little portable sketchbook that the major tools that i use um are are pretty simple.
I’ll often have a light value color pencil that i’ll block in basic shapes with and i have then been going over that with a pen. I’ve got a ballpoint pen and i will do. My sketching in that other people like to do most of their work with a with a pencil. But i find that my pencil pages tend to smudge a lot and so now i am. I’m going more for the ballpoint pens. Although i have recently started to play with a fiber tip pen the tool really you know you ask me today and i’ll tell you one thing. Ask me in a few weeks. I’ll be like i think this thing’s kind of cool once you get. Experience with them. Watercolor becomes a very efficient and practical way to work but at the start. It’s it’s kind of weird to figure out the way that watercolor behaves. I love what you’re saying. I love seeing your art. I’m ready to start nature. Nature journal, nature journals, journal of natureing what should i do today to get going. Ah all right so what you want to do is uh today. You’re gonna you’re gonna gather some supplies into a little pile the ones which you’re gonna want to have with you when you’re going out sketching and and and exploring so in that you can also include things like binoculars or a hand lens. Then put those supplies into a portable little bag. I like one that i can throw over my shoulder. So that you’ve made a little kit a lightweight. Little kit that you can bring with you anywhere you go rambling outside. And that way it’s so much easier to pick up the bag and walk out the door rather than like. Oh i gotta look around. I’ve got a pin somewhere and like where did i put that. I think i need a no. There’s a pencil sharpener. Where um it’s over. Oh it’s over by the other desk and then you get out there and go like i didn’t bring that little colored pencil that i like to use. Oh that’s a nuisance. It’s nice just to have a little kit kind of a go bag a bug out bag that you can grab and go you want to keep this lightweight and then what you’re going to do is you’re going to go outside and you are going to go for a walk and you’re going to ramble along and you’re going to be looking for wonder and beauty and so if you see something that makes you go.
Ah oh that’s beautiful and take some time sit down and appreciate it figure out. What is it about that that makes it really beautiful to me and then open up your nature journal, nature journals, journal of nature and um you can either do a little mini landscape of that or write a few words about it as a as a haiku or um or or make a little map to find it again you just get some initial marks down on the page very often. It’s also helpful to put in the the date the weather and your location. So then you’ve got something on your page and once that something is down it’s a lot easier for other things to follow it so wonder and beauty so we talked a little bit about beauty for wonder you’re looking for the little things that make you say hmm right so little weird mini mysteries. So why is that part of the meadow drying up before that part. Why is it that when light falls on those dark rocks they are even brighter reflecting than those light-colored stones over there. You know you’re looking for things that are little mysteries where you do not understand the details of what you’re looking at and so you start with questions start with questions start with wonders start. Start wondering so start with. You’re going to either be pulled in by the the the gravity well of of uh of a little moment of beauty and just spend some quality time with that or into you’re going to fall into the gravity well of of a question a little mystery. Why is this like this. How come this where did it go. What kind of what made these. And when you’ve got that little question you’re just going to record all your thoughts and ideas. You don’t have to to answer it. You’re going to come up with many more questions over time than you’re ever going to be able to answer and your drawing doesn’t matter you’re drawing the drawing doesn’t matter investigative tool the drawing doesn’t matter. I would say that the drawing does matter in that you want to do them because it’s going to make you think in a different way but it doesn’t matter in terms of pretty picture or not pretty picture and just sort of be aware that the more drawings you log into your nature journal, nature journals, journal of nature then the faster you’re going to kind of get to that point where where a lot of people want to be where you’re looking at something and the drawing that you make looks like the object that you’re looking at because that’s fun because you’re looking at it carefully so yeah yeah and then that that experience comes by um by by looking directly at things.
Sometimes it’s useful one other strategy that i find very very useful. Is that many people when you’re doing this. They are even. We’re saying to yourself okay. I’m not going to get stressed out about my pretty about a pretty picture and you start to draw a picture and you go like. It’s not a pretty picture. Ah right so and if if that happens to you and it will. It happens to me. It happens to everybody at that moment. Just say to yourself hey. This isn’t a drawing. This is a diagram and start writing a few little labels and little lines pointing to parts of the things. Turn it into a labeled diagram and then the words start carrying a lot of the information and your brain starts to. You’ll find that your brain try this. Your brain will start to treat that page in a different way. It’ll start to start saying like. Oh oh i see what you’re doing. I’m sorry i thought you’re just trying to make a pretty picture of something but you’re trying to record information about this and sort of note that like oh the hairs are long over here. And they’re short over here right by getting a higher density of information on the page by these labels then your judgy artsy mind will simmer down and um you can get back to enjoying the flower. It’s a great strategy. It really works. You draw you draw and then then if you start to feel that like oh. I don’t like my drawing right just kind of go.
Oh diagram time and you you put those uh those labels all over it. All that art pressure goes. And you’re good and do it with a kid because kids are natural investigators anyway and they’ll notice things and they also i mean kids take have great nature journal, nature journals, journal of natures so it’s and if you don’t have a kid be a kid right good. Well thanks so much. This has been really interesting. I love seeing your sketchbooks and um i love having you being a part of sketchbook skool so it’s really fun to be with this community yes and thank you so thanks for sharing. I hope we’ve inspired some folks to take this take this thing up and uh and experience the world and all of its beauty. Thanks so much jack. Thank you so much danny. Great talking with you. John is a member of the faculty of spark which is the membership program. Here at sketchbook school we have uh live streaming classes on zoom 20 hours of them. A week that’s right. You get to spend two or three hours a day if you want to. You don’t have to take all of our classes of course but you sign up for as a member and you’ll have access to to john and to many many other amazing artists and instructors and you’ll learn all different aspects of keeping a sketchbook drawing water coloring lettering. Cartooning all kinds of different things. If you’re interested in learning more visit sketchbookschool.com and check out spark. You can even try a special free trial period to see what you think. Join us and i’ll see you again soon bye.
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