I first saw Tony Foster’s Lockdown Diary during his talk at the Wild Wonder nature journaling conference two years ago. He painted things he saw on his daily walks during a 56-day COVID lockdown. Though I’m not good at “every day,” I wanted to create a compact local nature journaling project of my own. Result: Colors of Colorado.

This is my set up: card clipped to stiff cardboard and held in the same hand as my paints.

Originally, I planned to make watercolor cards like the paint samples you get at the hardware store. I would practice color mixing by choosing something outside and matching its color. Over time, I would have a collection of colors that represented my home state, Colorado. But that seemed too simple. I wanted to draw and paint the object that the color represented. I imagined delicate drawings highlighted with brilliant color.

Card 4, cottonwood bark.

However, I am rarely able to capture the things I see with paint. The classes I took during Wild Wonder 2022 reminded me of that. So did a Facebook post to The Nature Journal Club group by Sarah Reid. A UC California Naturalist and self-proclaimed nature addict, Sarah also has a hard time with watercolor. She mentioned Jean Mackay’s class and how the instructor had a lot more “watercolor miles” than she did, an excellent reminder that with practice one can get good at this stuff.

Sarah Reid nature journaling in Euer Valley, Tahoe National Forest, Truckee, California, July 2022. Photo by Ken Reid, patient spouse.

I also need more watercolor or brush miles. I’ve put in a lot of pencil miles — drawing, drawing, drawing — and I am improving. I need to do the same thing with watercolor painting if I ever want to be able to use watercolors in the field.

I carry these cards with me as reminders. The hash marks on the front of the card tell me which card I am on. Finished cards are put in a box and stored in my studio.

Full of energy from Wild Wonder 2022, I painted my first Colors of Colorado card the day after the conference ended. I drew and painted some leaves on a cottonwood tree. Wanting to journal as well, I flipped the card over and made some notes. I was done in a short time, and wondered if I’d made the cards too small (they’re roughly 3 x 5 inches or 7.6 x 12.7 cm). I had to remind myself that part of the point of this project is to make it as manageable, which is why I am using small cards and aiming for five days a week.

Colors of Colorado Card 5, front and back, plus the milkweed that was my subject.

I made myself about thirty cards over a year and a half ago with this project in mind. Why did it take me this long to get started? Because I was afraid it wouldn’t be any good. This is a common trap. “I don’t paint well enough to do that,” but if I don’t practice my painting, I’ll never be good enough. So I finally just started.

My first Colors of Colorado card, with subject.

So far, it’s a success. Some of the cards I like, some not so much, but I’m learning with each card I make. Most important of all, I’ve started. I am practicing. I am motivated to get my watercolor paints out. Colors of Colorado will help me get better with watercolor over time, if I just stick with it.

How do you get your brush or pencil miles in?

2 thoughts on “Colors of Colorado: A Nature Journaling Practice”

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