My first week of Nature Journal July was exciting and educational. I decided from the start that I would try new things, make an effort to use different approaches that I’ve heard others mention to see what does and doesn’t work for me. That’s how I discovered the pitfalls of working in the studio instead of the field.

My first journal page for my Nature Journal July project.

On Friday morning, I woke up to a bird bonanza right in my own back yard. There were twenty Canada geese spread across the lawn. A mama mallard was sitting down by the water with at least eight ducklings. There was even a great blue heron stalking along the shoreline fishing.

When I saw the heron with a bluegill in its bill, I grabbed my cell phone and got pictures of it swallowing its breakfast. At the time, I thought everything was happening much too fast for me to journal about it “live,” so I decided I would spend my next journaling session in the studio, where I would use the photos I’d taken to record the morning’s observations.

I spent an hour that day making journal pages about the birds in the yard and the heron with the fish, and I still wasn’t done. Despite all that time and effort, they aren’t good pages (which is why you won’t see them here). They lack the energy I get when I draw from life and they are full of details that I couldn’t actually see but found in online images.

My cartoon of the heron eating the fish, based on photos I took. (Journal page by Kit Dunsmore.)

My “where the birds were” drawing was supposed to be a diagram to show locations, but working from photos, my perfectionism kicked in. I spent lots of time trying to draw realistically. A map with symbols would have been just as informative and much quicker to record.

The next day, I put in another twenty minutes on my overly detailed heron and fish diagram. Then I made a cartoon more like what I actually saw, though most of the images are based on the fuzzy photos I got with my phone and the results are stiff. While it might have been messy, sketching madly while it happened would have captured the event more vividly.

The heron was back on Monday, so I spent a few minutes drawing it based on what I could see in the moment. I only worked for a few minutes because I was clearly making the heron nervous. The result is not fine art, but the sketches feel much more alive to me than the ones I did from photos.

Great blue heron drawings from a live model: sketchier but better. (Journal page by Kit Dunsmore)

I know lots of people work from photos and use their studio time to make truly beautiful journal pages, and I can imagine doing that myself in certain instances. However, I don’t just want to make pretty pictures. My main interests in nature journaling are connection and education. I want to feel connected to the natural world and I want to learn as much as I can about it from my own personal experience. (I discovered this by working through the questions regarding mindset and intention posed by Marley Peifer in his long but useful Nature Journal Class video “Unlock Your Potential.”)

So my big lesson for the week was that I need to make my observations in person, in real time, and work with what’s in front of me. I’ll probably do more studio work of some kind this month, but if I do, I will approach it very differently.

Do you prefer studio or “live” nature journaling? Are there useful things you do in the studio that you cannot do in the field? (Asking for a friend.)

2 thoughts on “Nature Journaling: The Pitfalls of Studio Work”

  1. I had to leave a comment, man do I’ve a difficult time writing
    a blog. Im wanting to kick start one on my website
    and I have to say
    its not easy at all. I do admire people like yourself who are
    able to write about anything with ease. Keep up the nice work!

    1. I’m glad to hear I make it look easy. I find blogging a challenge, too. It’s a completely different mindset than the one for the rest of my writing (which is novels). But it’s also a chance to do something relatively quickly and to get feedback right away. I highly recommend it. It helps if you have something you really enjoy to write about because then it’s more fun.

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