Text & photos by by Susie Kowalik, Instructor, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
“Redwing & Swallowtail” by Roseanna H Haaland, TN
Years ago, I came across a book by Claire Walker Leslie called Keeping a Nature Journal
. It was my introduction to journaling… and the discovery of a wonderful gift, both for myself and those that I have had the privilege of teaching over the years. Leslie’s definition read thus, “Nature journaling is the regular recording of observations, perceptions, and feelings about the natural world around you.” At the time, I found that definition a little stringent… especially the use of the term “regular”. It sounded a little bit like work, but it did keep me at it until I gave myself permission to not be so “regular” in my recording, and began to find my own way. I thought: What a great thing! I don’t have to spend days creating a great work of art! I can find 15 minutes or half an hour and make a little record, a visual memory, a sketch. Do-able!
Nature journaling could easily be called, keeping a field journal, or a garden journal — a sketching journal or, for some, a travel journal. Erin O’Toole, in her book Create Your Own Artist’s Journal
shares these thoughts… “The main thing I use my journals for is to practice being observant. Observing means letting go of the way I think things ought to look and really seeing them for what they are. I think of myself as a visual reporter. Journals are books of discoveries. They are a curious look at life. A place to capture thoughts. Journals are an excuse to explore new places.”
“Douthat State Park” Betty Gatewood
Some people find the writing gratifying… some the sketching… some find just the joy of being out there being in the natural world and contemplating. Words… images… thoughts..seeing things in a fresh way, and creating a page to remember it by. I often start a page with just a notation with the date, where I am and a little about the weather. Then I might do a small sketch of something that catches my eye that I want to remember … a flower, or a bird or a little of the environment I am in. And then I talk about it to myself with words. Words that help me remember. Up and down and around the page. Designing the page. I have come to love using watercolors from a little portable field box for a quick notation of the colors I am seeing.
Maryann Merritt, Untitled
Frederick Frank said, “I have learned that what I have not drawn, I have never really seen.” One the day I was studying a tulip and drawing it into my journal. As I looked at it over and over again, the light was changing… and when I looked once again, the sun had found the translucent yellow base of the flower and it glowed! A small, transcendent moment of discovery, but one I would hate to have missed!”
Susie Kowalik, “Yard Detritus”
Although I have never been the “regular recorder” that Leslie would like me to be, I think these words by Annie Dillard sum up why I do continue to keep nature journals: “You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.” Isn’t that enough reason to create anything? Even a small page.
On March 30, join artist Betty Gatewood in the Lora Robins Library from 1 – 4 p.m. as she demonstrates nature journaling and answers questions about the exhibit.
Lee Halsted “Pussy Willows”
The post first appeared on the Central Virginia Botanical Artists blog & is used with permission.
Want to read more? Here’s another blog post about nature journaling.