Intro to Nature Journaling with Kids
|Nature journaling. Photo by Frog Mom|
Impressionists had it all figured out. Dressed in casual country chic (straw hat de rigueur even if it snowed), they walked to a nice spot in the woods, strived hard to look moody and set up their easel. Then they drunk bucket-loads of absinthe, got their palette out and painted a museum piece in large brush strokes. That was nature journaling at its finest with a good case of delirium tremens to boot. Except with children, carrying easels and drinking absinthe might not be your best ticket to a fun day out.
The G-rated version of a Manet landscape starts with a sketchbook, a travel watercolor set and pencils. Oh, and the great outdoors – it wouldn’t be called nature journaling otherwise. Here’s the recipe.
“There is no right or wrong way to nature journal,” writes Scott, “you can use drawing, painting, text, maps, poetry, taped in picked flowers (even bugs), leaves, leaf rubbings, or whatever mediums and ways you can think up to record your observations. The only measure of success should be that you feel you have captured and recorded the observations you wished to capture in your journal, without worrying about creating a ‘pretty picture.’”
Based on Scott’s guide, here is a list of essentials.
- Fine tip 5mm mechanical pencil like the BIC Matic Grip – or a HB lead pencil for contours
- Travel size watercolor set from Winsor and Newton or a Koi Watercolors Pocketfield Sketch Box - the Koi set has a nifty device called the refillable water brush that stores water while on the road, a hit with my girls
- A watercolor sketchbook like the Strathmore Watercolor Paper or a bound journal (8 by 5″) like this Moleskine Watercolour Notebook
- A white cotton sock cut in the middle to resemble a sleeve – to wipe off the brush between colors
- A small bottle of water – to refill the water brush
- Icing on the cake: Crayola Watercolor Pencils – for kids who like to mess around with their page
To change colors, my girls simply expressed water from the brush until it dripped enough for the previous color to fade away, rubbed it on the sock – aha! so that’s what it was for – and dipped the brush in a different color. They didn’t have any problem doing it.
Since Scott had brought two different watercolor sets, we were able to experiment with both and between the Winsor and Newton and the Koi sets, the Koi clearly won our hearts. Better colors for outdoors experimenting, more choice (the Winsor and Newton didn’t have any black and with so many rocks around us, that was an issue), cool water brush.
The trick, particularly for the younger set, was to learn how much water was enough and how much water was too much. That’s why it’s important you pick watercolor paper as opposed to construction or regular sketch paper. Watercolor paper is designed to absorb water moisture and you won’t have paper mache right away.
The kids were done in 20 minutes, which was much longer than I expected. Usually at home when they’re drawing, a piece of paper doesn’t last more than 5 minutes unless they are in a deep drawing mood. A few tears were shed over mixed colors and page flooding but overall they were satisfied about the outcome.
“Can I do another one?” asked my 3rd grader. Of course, I said, and she went on to draw a beautiful blue flower while her young sister took a stab at painting a pumpkin – go figure. Sitting in a pine forest in the dead winter, neither blue wildflowers nor bright orange pumpkins were to be found around us. Hmm. It made me wonder.
Is it possible that they painted the landscape around us to make us happy but that what they really wanted to paint was something completely different?
Whatever it was, they completed 3 paintings each but the most detailed – and in my perspective the finest – was the first landscape of our surroundings. My girls can draw a plant on a blank page but they have a hard time situating it in a fictional landscape. It’ll remain a stand-alone plant on a blank page.
Hence the plus of nature journaling. Your model is in front of you, as intricate or simple as you want to render it, and it won’t walk away.
Back from the Sierras, I’ve ordered two pocket watercolor sets so we can add them to our hiking essentials. We’re more likely to use them if they are already in our backpack and they’ll be a fun addition to our basic sketchbook and pencil.
- The Magnifying Glass – Online Nature Journaling Blog: Nature Journal with Twig Binding Tutorial (awesome resource for crafty parents)
- Smithsonian Education: Introduction to the Nature Journal (for the ambitious ones)
- Sierra Club: downloadable Nature Journal template (for budding naturalists)
- Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth – Keeping a Nature Journal (for advanced tutorial)
- Family Fun: Back to Nature/A beginner’s field journal from Family Fun by Kristi Dahl (simple and to the point)
- California State Parks: Nature Journal Observation Sheet (more like a log)