Field Journaling: A New Class

Click for larger view.

This month, I’m offering a new class: Field Journaling. While nature journals often reflect the inclinations of the journalist in response to the natural world (by incorporating poems, quotes, art, etc.), Field Journals narrow the focus to more of the qualitative and quantitative observations in an orderly way that invites additional inquiry. By noting patterns and connections, journalists can explore, ask great questions and devise ways to answer those questions. Whether you are a science major, citizen scientist, serious birder or curious person, Field Journaling is a time-honored way to hone your observation skills and record your personal discoveries.

In this class, we will jump right into the fun of exploration and notation. For inspiration, we will also look at some notable Field Journals that have been left by past biologists, archeologists and explorers in a variety of fields, as well as the methods they employed.

If you are interested in taking the class, here is the information for the first time it is being offered:

Click for larger view.

Field Journaling Workshop
Instructor, Kelli Hertzler
Wednesday March 30, 1:00 – 3:00 pm
Frances Plecker Education Center & EJC Arboretum in Harrisonburg, VA

Register here.

Please direct any questions about registration to the Arboretum. I am happy to answer questions about the content of the class.


Drawing Skills by Nature Journaling

KHertzler_NJ013Each autumn at the large homeschool co-operative where my children attended, I request to teach the Advanced Drawing class for fifth grade. Students at this age are ready for the challenge of accurately drawing what they see. Parents might be disappointed with the lack of refrigerator-worthy pieces as the focus is on skill work that will remain long after the class ends. I’ve tinkered a bit with the curriculum over the last ten or twelve years, always including elements of natural study. This year, I went full-scale Nature Journaling. And the results were fantastic!

KHertzler_NJ011I purchased an inexpensive journal for each of my eleven students. It has 8.5″ x 5.5″ pages of toothy drawing paper with a heavy craft paper cover. The students glued paper rulers to the edges of inside covers and personalized the outside with stamps or drawings. (A photo at the bottom of this post shows the inside cover with paper ruler.)

The class jumped into making intentional observations of the natural world and a record of those observations. Pretty pictures were not the goal. Each study needed to include a drawing based on what could be seen, some description with words, a number or measurement and basic metadata (i.e., date and also weather if we were outside). Most weeks, I would introduce a new item to observe, a new medium and/or a new art technique. We explored graded pencils, pen, watercolor pencils, and charcoal. We learned about proportions, overlapping, shading techniques and texture. But we focused on getting to know the plant or animal in front of us.


It is important to note that I never provide photos. These kids are working with three-dimensional objects. Their brains have to do the hard work of translating that into a drawing on a two-dimensional plane while taking in the smells, changing highlights, shadows and colors, prickly or smooth textures, insects or spiders crawling on their samples and bits falling off onto their work surface. It’s very tactile and the students quickly become immersed in their work.

The usual “I can’t draw” comments were not spoken. Each class typically has a few art-reluctant kids who need to be convinced that drawing is a communication skill that everyone can learn – like writing or math. But we avoided that obstacle altogether this time. We were too busy exploring, investigating, discovering. And as a byproduct, making some very fine drawings.


Youth Nature Journaling Class

sketchbook turtle
A page from my sketchbook featuring turtles at JMU’s arboretum.

In June, I’ll be teaching a one-day nature journaling workshop for youth ages 12-18. And it’s at the perfect location for such a thing: the JMU Arboretum. The class is limited to just 12 students, but a parent (with sketchbook) can tag along for free.

Do you know someone who would enjoy this class? Please pass on the information!
Nature journaling is a great way to get closer to nature, bring together the disciplines of natural science, language arts, drawing and even a little math. Our focus will be on recording our observations – not necessarily making pretty pictures. Do not let a lack of confidence in your art skills keep you trying this amazing activity!
The class will start with practical helps and a few guided group observations, then we will head out to explore the amazing plants and animals of the arboretum and choose our own adventures.

Journal page of Deadnettle. All rights reserved.
Journal page of Deadnettle. I used a microscope for the tiny details.

The class is June 15 from 9-12. All necessary supplies will be provided. Cost is $25.

You can register online directly with the arboretum or see the Facebook event for more information.

A journaling page from my sketchbook featuring Lilacs. There is so much to learn when we look intentionally.


Nature Journaling: Birds

Bird Study results at the Shenandoah Nature Journaling Club, February 2018. Lesson led by Kelli Hertzler.
Two members of the Shenandoah Nature Journaling Club produced wonderful studies of the American Gold Finch. The color is a glorious representation of their winter plumage.

Last fall, I joined a relatively new art group, the Shenandoah Nature Journaling Club. The members come from a variety of backgrounds. Some are accomplished artists while others are just picking up the challenge to learn to draw.  All share a desire to learn more about the nature world. The people are encouraging, informing, welcoming and so friendly.  An active Facebook group keeps me engaged and sketching between monthly meetings.

The casual format means that members take turns presenting or planning a program. February was my turn and I led the group in a bird study. We began by looking at basic parts all birds share and discussed how variations/adaptations on those themes can inform about that animal’s behavior, diet and habitat.

Just the bones! An SNJC member making a beautiful skeletal study.
Just the bones! An SNJC member making a beautiful skeletal study.

Each person drew a gull as we learned exterior anatomy. Several bird skeletons were on hand (thanks to Kris from BRCC) to help visualize how the parts intersect beneath the feathers. “Quick draws” followed; participants sketched from photos within increasingly smaller time limits. This is good training for field studies of real birds who will not hold still while we make their likeness! Virginia Wildlife magazines provided reference material for longer, independent studies. Some really great bird studies were the result!

Shenandoah Nature Journaling Club drawing a bird study lesson. February 2018.
Shenandoah Nature Journaling Club during a bird study lesson. February 2018.

SNJC members examining a mallard drake up close.
SNJC members examining a mallard drake up close.

Interested in joining SNJC? Find the group on Facebook and request to join. Meeting information is posted there.

Scientists Can Draw, Too!

I’ve had a several wonderful opportunities to teach this winter. This post focuses on the one furthest from home.

In February, Virginia Working Landscapes at the Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal invited me to teach a Nature Journaling workshop for their volunteer Citizen Scientists. What a fantastic group of people! I thoroughly enjoyed the evening sharing journaling tips and techniques with people who already had a vast body of nature knowledge. Several people who said they could not draw made wonderful observational sketches – surprising themselves! One of the great things about studying nature is that we focus on observing and the drawing takes care of itself.

Kelli Hertzler teaching Nature Journaling.
Teaching Nature Journaling to Virginia Working Landscape’s volunteer Citizen Scientists at the Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia. Photo credit: Charlotte Lorick of Virginia Working Landscapes.

Nature study has always been part of my love of art. “Nature Journaling” is a term I first heard when homeschooling my children and it immediately resonated with me as a wonderful, immersive whole-brain learning activity. My Fine Art degree is coupled with a minor in Biology, so I feel that I am making a complete circle by teaching citizen scientists to sketch their observations.

This Smithsonian facility keeps a low profile. Its work focuses on research of endangered and threatened species around the globe. There are a number of exotic species on site, but the public is only allowed on the campus one weekend per year, in October, and none of the animals are on display. I took my children last fall and was amazed at the work that goes on there and also that we were talking with the actual researchers about the work they do. I whole-heartedly recommend this field trip for both adults and children. Best trivia learned for the day: animals in captivity have different colors of glitter added to their food so when the feces is analyzed, scientists can identify the individual  from whom it originated.