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Tools for Nature Journaling

Tools for nature journaling will improve the look of your journal pages and assist in your observations in the field.


With the proper tools you can embellish your page and create text you can be proud of.


We’ll look at tools that field scientists use to observe wildlife and plants up close or from a distance and perhaps expand your personal nature collection along the way.


Here's the quick version:


List of Tools

  • Cheap notebook

  • Small bag

  • Lettering guide

  • Fountain pen

  • Sketching pencil

  • Mechanical pencil

  • Mixed media paper

  • Waterbrushes

  • Color swatches

  • Your choice of field collection or observation device

  • Field guides

  • Bug spray

  • Hat

  • Blanket


Tools Explained

Let’s start with writing tools.


Writing Tools


I prefer to scribble and scrawl in a sloppy writing notebook first because my handwriting is atrocious when I’m walking, standing or just trying to get things down quickly.


A sloppy notebook will help you organize your thoughts about what you are seeing and leave room for corrections and additions at a later point in time in your “nice” notebook.


For the perfectionists out there (like me) this notebook will take ALL the pressure off getting it right or making your notebook pretty.


This is the practical side of exploring nature.


This notebook will get destroyed in your pack, get muddy, buggy and wet, it is NOT precious.

Get a cheap notebook the is comfortable to hold and not too big so you can fit it in a small bag.


When you get home you can record the information in a more legible hand and form text boxes around your drawings and diagrams with ease.


The key is to just get it all out in the cheap notebook.

You can let your mind flow freely, unconstrained on the pages of your sloppy book.


This is where the magic of connections happens and where you begin to merge with nature in mind and body.

The next thing you’ll want to be able to write well is an architects or Ames lettering guide and/or calligraphy lettering guide paper.


Most nature journals are blank to leave room for watercolors and drawings so it can be intimidating to write on a page with no lines to guide your handwriting. Ending up with a page with writing too big, too small, and at all sorts of odd angles can be frustrating if you’ve taken time to draw and paint something beforehand.


This is where it is totally okay to map out where you want your writing to go.


The things you’ll want to map out in pencil first are the title, subtitle, text boxes, labels and frames.

The architects lettering guide can be used to slant your font, space letters, square off the tops and bottoms of block lettering and more.


The calligraphy guide is great for long format text and paragraphs and will prevent you from having to use a ruler.

A light box could come in handy if your paper is too thick to see the lines through.

For a more advanced technique in lettering, you may choose to use a website like font squirrel to find a font you enjoy, print out your title and trace it onto your page for a customized page look.


This obviously isn’t for everyone but if your nature journal is akin to an artistic hobby you may enjoy this option.


Lastly, you might want to try a fountain pen to write with.


Write in script or try a new style of writing for you, capitalize, and bolden terms.

This is a simple and effective way to create a journal you love that you will be able to reference back to for years to come.


Next up, drawing and painting tools


Drawing and Painting

My favorite pencils are blackwings and mechanical pencils.


The blackwing is great for sketching and shading and the mechanical pencil helps with the tiny details. The mechanical pencil is also great for field work because you don’t need a sharpener.


Minimization is key in the field! I don’t erase, I can start drawing lightly and go darker as I’m making line corrections with the blackwing or I can start on a new section of paper if the drawing is totally inaccurate.

I carry a sloppy notebook for writing but a decent quality mixed media paper for field drawing to record plants and animals in.


The mixed media book is great for pen and watercolor as well.


It is my favorite notebook for nature journaling because it’s spiral bound and has plenty of paper for a good price. This paper can take may layers of thin watercolor washes but only a few of very wet washes.

If you are going to watercolor in the field (which I highly recommend you do at least some of the time!), you’ll want the pentel aqua brush water brushes.


The water amount can be controlled well and it will minimize the amount of containers, etc. that you bring with you.

They work well with inexpensive watercolors (although you will want to try to use less water for more saturated color) and professional quality paints.

They are for beginners or professionals.


They hold very fine points as well. If you have a couple sizes, I recommend a flat brush and one medium size , you will be able to produce a wide arrange of effects and cover a page if that is your intent.

Color swatches for the paint palette you are using will be very helpful in the field for when you don’t have time to sit and paint (which is often for me).


Your palette will help you color match while you are in person so that your final illustration will be accurate. They can also save you time color mixing and can lead to more saturated tones since the more color you mix in, the muddier the paint becomes.

Your field tools

Field Supplies


Depending on your area of study or where you are exploring you will have a variety of tool options to choose from here.


If you're in your backyard you may want a butterfly net to capture insects and a jar or cage to put them in to observe.


If you are in a national park you will definitely want a camera so you can “capture” what you see in a manner permitted by the park.


If you want to be a soil scientist or a bryologist you will want small jars and a hand lens.


If you want to be an ornithologist for the day you’ll want a pair of binoculars and maybe a tripod to hold them still.


For the botanist you can pack envelopes to store leaves or a jar with a little water for plants.

Regardless of what you study if you are going to be nature journaling for any length of time I highly recommend bug spray, a hat, and something to sit on.

My favorite is a fold up picnic blanket with a carrying strap.

Lastly, you’ll want access to field guides to learn more about your subjects of study.


You may have your own for your favorite plants and animals or you can go to your local library which will have all sorts of guides for your area from which to research.

I find this option to be much easier than searching the web as many websites will bring you all over the world and a lot of the information is just not good.


My advice, go to the professionals. These guides can also help you to flesh out the details in your drawings since most have full color illustrations.



List of Tools

  • Cheap notebook

  • Small bag

  • Lettering guide

  • Fountain pen

  • Sketching pencil

  • Mechanical pencil

  • Mixed media paper

  • Waterbrushes

  • Color swatches

  • Your choice of field collection or observation device

  • Field guides

  • Bug spray

  • Hat

  • Blanket

You obviously don't need all of this to get started! These are just my recommendations to be comfortable.


By all means get outside with just a hand lens and an open mind to start! Your imagination will inspire you to begin taking your own field notes.



What are the tools you can’t live without?


Join our discussion forum to chime in with your favorites and discoveries.