3 min read

What is nature journaling?

I see nature journaling as the intersection of science, art and nature
What is nature journaling?
A recent page from my nature journal describing a moth.

The term nature journaling conjures images of writing or drawing something from nature while sitting under a tree. Perhaps this is all people want it to be (which is fine), however my understanding from the nature journaling community is that this is nature drawing or writing, while nature journaling is a little bit more involved.

Nature journaling certainly uses words and pictures to describe nature. Numbers are also integral, and with it comes scientific practice.

Nature Journaling is collecting and organizing your observations, questions, connections, and explanations on the pages of a notebook using words pictures, and numbers. - John Muir Laws

I see nature journaling as the intersection of science, art and nature (along with a possibly more formal version: natural history illustration). Importantly, the act of nature journaling is also about forming connection with our surroundings, adding the element of recording our immediate environment, not just any picture of a leaf from the internet. The pages are a mix of a writing journal, sketchbook and field guide.

Venn diagram showing nature journaling at the intersection of science, art and nature.
Nature journaling is the practice of drawing or writing in response to nature. This fun, relaxing practice helps you to connect more closely with nature, and results in the creation of your own unique nature journal. Both the practice and the end product are important. - Paula Peeters

Although it sounds as if nature journaling is therefore limited, I would argue it is in fact quite flexible with what people can make their journals to be:

  • The artist can emphasize the visual nature of what they are observing.
  • The writer uses the power of words to describe not just objects but sounds, tastes, textures and our feelings that are also an important part of connecting with our surroundings beyond the visual sense.
  • Finally the scientist harnesses curiosity to drive learning, make new discoveries, forge connections with other fields and build our collective knowledge base of how the world functions.

Depending on our strengths and preferences each of our journals (and even pages within our journals) will be different not just in subject choice but the ratio of words, pictures and numbers used to describe it. We can be an artist that includes some words and numbers around the central image, or a scientist employing a labelled diagram to explain a phenomenon, or a writer evoking a strong vision of a time and place. We can be all three or any combination thereof too! Someone who might not consider themselves an artist, writer or scientist can also still make a page with those elements.

Nature journaling is available to those both young and old, and those without artistic, writing or scientific skills. How can this be? Well, a child who can't write can have an adult record for them for instance, and even words outside proper sentences, or incorrectly spelled, are important. Drawings do not have to be 'good' or accurate to depict an aspect of a subject (for example just add a blob of colour) and anyone can include data without needing to know what they are recording (e.g. name) or how it will be used.

So go on, explore your creative or scientific abilities in nature today and see what you can learn just by paying attention and recording.