Today I woke up to see a layer of frost on our wooden deck. The grass and the alpacas in the pasture both have a dusting of frost like powered sugar. It makes me smile. The air was so cold and crisp on my face…
Monterey Bay Nature Journal Club (MBNJC) took a virtual nature journaling trip to Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary, in Northampton and Southampton, Massachusetts. MBNJC member and Arcadia Art House Director Jan Ruby-Crystal guided us through the woodlands, meadows, grasslands, and wetlands. We sketched through the stations along…
In nature journaling, there are a multitude of tools, strategies, and prompts to record our observations in our nature journal. They also help us to see more deeply, stimulate curiosity, and wonder.
Sometimes they can work to free your inner creative from the hold of the inner critic!
We can learn these tools from many sources, but if we don’t use them, we are not likely to remember them. It’s like buying new tools. If they are not in your tool belt for easy access, but locked away in the toolbox, you won’t use them.
The way we get them into our tool belt is to use them!
I’ve seen 1-minute sketches on the pages of other nature journalers in the past and have done a few myself. But recently, Kate Rutter reminded me. She showed us how to use 1-minute sketches in her class at the Wild Wonder Nature Journaling Conference.
So, I have been intentionally been using 1-minute thumbnail sketches on my journal pages more frequently and this is what I’ve discovered.
Warm-up: It’s a great way to warm up your eye-brain-hand coordination and get creative juices flowing.
Low commitment: I can do this when its a subject I’m still learning how to draw well, or is something complex and only want to show certain parts. And if you don’t like your drawing, just move onto the next square!
Quick: I can do this when I only have a few minutes.
Concise: You can show a variety of objects seen at a location in a short amount of time and space.
Counts as pencil miles: it gives me lots of practice -like this page. I’m still working on drawing alpacas well, so
Hones our observational skills! By drawing several thumbnail sketches of an object from different angles and perspectives, you discover things you had never seen before!
They are FUN!
I draw boxes on my page freehand– but you can use a ruler. I like freehand better because it removes me from perfectionism.
When I’m in the field, I don’t use a timer because I kind of know now about how long 1 minute is now. And if I start putting in too much detail I know I’ve gone overtime.
So, try adding some 1-minute sketches to your page! Let me know how you are using them. Post your page on the Monterey Bay Nature Journal Club Share space!
On this particular day, I wandered around looking for something to capture my attention. The nasturtium flowers were in full bloom and I have been wanting to study them. Here is a series of photos showing the process of how I nature journaled this page.…
The PG Museum Series Nature Journaling is far more than knowing how to sketch. It’s about reconnecting to nature, observing what lies around us, and deepening our relationship to the natural world through curiosity and wonder. Spark in Nature’s Melinda Nakagawa and Pacific Grove…
Sometimes during a nature journaling session, I find myself getting caught up in drawing minute details: every feather, hundreds of pollen specks, or pinecone scales . This can be painfully time-consuming!
Sometimes I might want to show this level of detail because its a point of interest like the head stripe pattern in a sparrow or the arrangement of spines along a cactus.
But here, I’m talking about when I’m documenting a big picture view of a subject or I telling a story about an action. This is when every stripe or minute hair or series of spots can drag me down the rabbit hole of detail!
Or perhaps I get bent out of shape that this crow’s beak doesn’t look right when I’m really wanting to show something it DID.
The Detailed Drawing Trap
Most of the time, I’m trying to document the story or overview and I end up getting caught in what I call the Detail Drawing Trap (DDT).
I’m giving it a name because it happens so often. DDT shows up and I get pulled in IF I’m not paying attention to what I’m actually doing and thinking.
My younger self always approached drawing this way, caught in DDT. I was so curious about nature and I saw all the detail in everything. I drew every speck of pollen, or wrinkle in a rose petal. A few hours into the painting session I got so tired of the tediousness, got irritated with “WHY DO I DO THIS?”. The pain and frustration became so great that I stopped drawing and painting altogether.
Now, here’s a caveat- noticing and drawing detail is important and valuable —it’s a skill that makes us keen observers and good naturalists. But only when drawing it is needed or wanted.
So, you must have an awareness of whether it’s wanted!
Back to the solution for DDT
These days I can quickly snap myself out of the detail drawing trap by asking myself a simple question. “What is my intention?”
That is actually a shortcut to remind me of a bigger question. What is my intention or purpose of this nature journal page? What am I trying to document or convey?
In my late 20’s I started drawing again after going back to college and taking a biology class. We had to keep detailed drawings of biological dissections—and the details were necessary and appreciated. I learned how to observe with intention, draw details, take careful measurements, and label everything! This was such fun!
Some examples to illustrate the point
Some examples of when you may want to focus on the minute details.
- Drawing the head feather pattern on a bird to set it apart from a similar bird
- Investigating parts of a beetle for identification
- Comparing the leaf margins of two plants (and use a Zoom in strategy to save time)
Some examples when you don’t need as much detail
- Show what the bird did (carried something or flight pattern)
- Arrangement of leaves on a branch (don’t need leaf detail, you can use a diagram)
- To show the flight path of a bee from bush to to bush (don’t need to show every stripe or wing detail)
If you find yourself drawing the 10th leaflet of a fern dreading the 30 others that need to be drawn, as yourself this:
What is my intention or purpose of this nature journal page? What am I trying to document or convey?
Practice gesture sketches. These are rough, loose lines to capture the main shapes of a subject and are sketched rapidly.
I find that doing a number of 30-second gesture sketches improves my hand-eye coordination, my understanding of the general shapes, and my drawings capture the essence of a subject without getting too much detail.
The Monterey Bay Journal Club had a special guest: Janai Southworth, host of PacificPlankton who shared microscope views of live plankton from the waters of San Francisco Bay. Plankton are tiny organisms that drift in the ocean. They come in a rich diversity of shapes,…
Nature Journal at the Museum Series
Nature Journaling is far more than knowing how to sketch. It’s about reconnecting to nature, observing what lies around us, and deepening our relationship to the natural world through curiosity and wonder.
Spark in Nature’s Melinda Nakagawa and Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History (PGMNH) partners to bring this series o you.
Let’s go on a journey to opening our eyes to nature around us, while building our own nature journal with museum specimens!
Dates and Times:
- Aug 21: Native Plants
- Aug 28: Monarchs, etc
- Sep 4: Birds
- Sep 11: Small mammals
- Sep 18: Snakes and kin
- Sep 25: Marine organisms
5:30 PM- 6:30 PM Pacific Daylight time
Link for Meeting
Join us a few minutes before the start time and click to Join the Zoom Meeting
Support the Museum and Spark in Nature
This event series is free and open to all.
However, at this time, your donations make a huge difference to the Museum and to Melinda. Your gift ensures that we can continue to bring these and more free events to the community. Thank you!
The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History : Donate to PGMuseum
Melinda at Spark in Nature: Donate to Spark in Nature
We have partnered in our shared mission to inspire discovery, wonder, and stewardship of our natural world.
What to bring?
All levels of experience are welcome.
Bring a journal/paper, a pencil, and your curiosity!
Optional: your favorite color media, colored pencils or watercolor.
For more free Sunday Nature Journaling: See Calendar here