Great Nature Journaling Ideas, Prompts, & Books

Featured image for our nature journal article

Table of Contents

For the first time in human history, technology is desensitizing society to “nature awareness”. For instance, kids are wired to view screen time as a more appealing playtime than being in the park climbing trees or on a jungle gym. I didn’t realize how much this problem affected me until I began going on walks with Casey. Periods of reading Twitter updates were alarmingly more satisfying than viewing the scenery on oceanside trails.

I wondered if there was a way to strengthen my appreciation for the natural beauty around me – an appreciation whithered by years of artificial stimuli. Nature journaling – specifically Edith Holden’s way of nature journaling – seemed effective!

What is Nature Journaling?

A page from my nature journal focusing on fungi and foliage
Nature journaling can begin anywhere. Here’s a quick entry I did in a local park

 

Nature journaling is predominantly a form of field journaling where you’re reflecting on the natural world. In other words, you’re spending time outside writing about, sketching, painting, and even photographing the organic environment, but in a way that focuses more on your feelings.

Relying on one’s observation skills to populate a “nature notebook” is not new. In fact, some of the keenest minds in history have used such journaling techniques to make the greatest discoveries. But a humble girl in the early 20th Century took the concept of field journaling to a more “hobbyist” level.

Edith Holden’s Way of Nature Journaling

Edith Holden (1871-1920) was an English naturalist who is credited for inventing a funner, more creative way, of nature observation. She’d carry an unassuming notebook on strolls around her native countryside, making artistic documentation of whatever captivated her.

Her most famous work, The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, contains spread after spread of the cutest artwork enwrapped with insightful musings. Its format has been replicated by enthusiasts all over the world. Below are some pages from her diary. Credit: @countrydiaryedwardianlady

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Country Diary (@countrydiaryedwardianlady)

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Country Diary (@countrydiaryedwardianlady)

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Country Diary (@countrydiaryedwardianlady)

What Are the Benefits?

Become more grateful for what we have. When we intently observe nature – even the local phenomena – we can’t help but feel awe. Such feelings provide an opportunity to develop greater gratitude for life despite all that’s going on. Positive thinking = half the battle, right?

Improve mental health. I know, I know… We hear this one whenever the term “journaling” pops up. But studies have shown that adding nature observation to our diaries will help us feel more relaxed, less stressed, and generally happier.

Improve brain function. By using our observation skills to specifically make connections between our subject and our experiences, we’re improving memory retention, emotional intelligence, and cognitive ability.

Boost creativity. Nature journaling involves a lot of art and self-expression. Whether we’re sketching, painting, photographing, or answering journaling prompts, the process trains our artistic eye and creative writing skills.

Great Tips to Keeping a Consistent Nature Notebook

Start close to home. Even in an urban environment, there is so much variety in wildlife! Use the familiarity of your own neighborhood to get a feel for how you personally connect with nature – and how this affects your journaling goals. Ease into the process!

Integrate your journaling session into another activity. If you’re busy, kill two birds with one stone (actually, not a good idea for this type of journaling practice…) by combining a brief session of journaling with another errand. For instance, walk, rather than drive, to the bank and observe the foliage along the way. Or spare 10 to 15 minutes of your break time to walk around your workplace.

Don’t bring your phone (if possible). This isn’t practical in some situations, such as when you’re in the great outdoors where you’ll definitely want access to emergency communication. But if your device tends to distract you, why not leave it at home if you’re heading to a local park?

Practice drawing plants & animals in your area. Look up tutorials on how to draw basic natural subjects, then practice. Before long, your artwork will noticeably improve, contributing to your enjoyment of nature journaling.

Do a bit of research on your subjects. At the least, it’ll be intriguingly fun. For instance, I learned that squirrels are superior puzzle solvers! At the most, it’ll inspire you to contribute your share to environmental conservation efforts.

Make connections between your subjects and your experiences. In other words, observe and contemplate more than just the scientific facts. Involve your memory, your feelings, and your opinions. This form of meditation will broaden your heart now and make for a much more pleasurable, insightful read down the road.

Unique Ideas for Your Nature Journal

Single-themed Nature Notebook

How about dedicating an entire nature notebook to a single subject? For example, I was fascinated by mushrooms and fungi when I was little. Had I nurtured a nature journaling habit back then, it might’ve yielded something like this (albeit not nearly as artistic). Credit: @foraging.gardener

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Hana (@foraging.gardener)

Or, how about documenting the glory of the sky? Its character can fill volumes. Bethan, the founder of International Nature Journaling Week, painted this gorgeous collage using watercolor. Credit: @journalingwithnature

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Bethan – Nature Journaling (@journalingwithnature)

Subject Progression or Timelapse

Another engaging way to hone your observation skills is to record a plant or a scene over time. Bethan once again shows off her talent with this portrait of a nasturtium flower. Credit: @journalingwithnature

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Bethan – Nature Journaling (@journalingwithnature)

Phenology Wheel

A phenology wheel is a circular diagram depicting how an ecosystem interacts with time and seasons. “Diagram” sounds intimidating, doesn’t it? Actually, think of it as an art project, because that’s all it really is! It’s a timelapse of what YOU observe in natural phenomena.

Here’s a nice explanation of how to make one. And these ones, in particular, caught our eye:

Charlene Collins Freeman, an accomplished artist who also teaches online workshops, made this stunning diagram of a great blue heron’s life cycle spanning the four seasons. Credit: @charlenecollinsfreemanart

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Charlene Collins Freeman (@charlenecollinsfreemanart)

Rachel Wentworth went on a worthwhile route depicting all that occurs in her own yard. We’re mesmerized by her skillful use of bold colors! Credit: @rachelannwentworth

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Rachel Wentworth (@rachelannwentworth)

Nature-specific Journaling Prompts

Journaling prompts keep our brain juices flowing when we think they’ve run out. They also challenge us to leave our comfort zone in terms of self-reflection. We’ve come up with the following prompts tailored exclusively toward nature journaling. They should be excellent exercises for a fun, educational, and reflective experience!

  • What color stands out on your subject? Make a swatch chart of all the shades you notice for this color.
  • What would happen if your subject went extinct?
  • List 5 interesting facts about your subject. If you can’t complete 5 from memory, do some research until you can list 5.
  • What do we know about this subject compared to 100 years ago? 1000 years ago?
  • Does the subject remind you of anything? If so, why and how?
  • Find and document ANOTHER subject that your current subject depends on for survival.
  • What is the most beautiful feature of your subject? What is its most functional feature?
  • Why did you decide to document this particular subject? What about it grabs your attention?
  • Identify and draw the basic SHAPES of your subject.
  • Identify and draw the basic PATTERNS found on your subject.
Casey tried out nature journaling albeit in digital form on her iPad
Casey used her iPad to try out several of the journaling prompts above. Although most enjoy field journaling on paper, there are no rules against going digital!

Books & Websites That Inspire Nature Journaling Goals

The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady reached its centenary in 2006 and is the cornerstone for myriads of nature journals worldwide. This is Edith Holden’s flagship work – a beautiful album of art and soulful captions which form the blueprint for one of the most adventurous journaling techniques ever devised.

‘International Nature Journaling Week’ Website. A hub to every nature journal club! Australian artist and environmental educator Bethan Burton pioneered the idea of “INJW” in 2020. Incredibly, yet not surprisingly, her baby matured into a global event. This site is a definitive resource for nature journal methodology.

The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling. John Muir Laws is an inspiration to not only nature and field journaling enthusiasts but to the whole educational community. He copes with dyslexia, yet provides the clearest, most comprehensive nature journaling curriculum online. His ability to observe, draw, and paint the natural world – and to teach these skills with clarity – is second to none.

Leo Cai

Leo Cai

Leo Cai, the one solely responsible for the inception of this Mickey Mouse operation, has at least garnered the acceptance of Casey Cai - his wife. He used to view himself as an avid writer back in high school, with grandiose dreams of making a living using words. That never culminated because, as he himself puts it, "It's more practical to stock bakery shelves while striving to become a professional photographer".

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About Us

We’re Leo & Casey Cai, and Journaling Diaries is our outlet for sharing what we’re learning from the lightweight, nearly disaster-proof hobby of journaling. So far, we’ve found that journaling isn’t merely a shameful tool for hard times or a poor memory. It’s enriching & fun. Whatever, whichever, however – as long as it involves journaling – we’ll be covering it all here. Thanks for stopping by!

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