KEEPING A FIELD JOURNAL
Most of the time, people think keeping a field journal only as sketching while sitting in a field of wildflowers. Yes, that’s one way to do it – and a delightful one if flowers are your thing.
Most everyone has some sort of hobby or interest that grabs them deep at the core. Maybe you can’t wait to get out there and go fishing, or perhaps you show dogs, maybe birding is your thing, or hiking or cycling. Maybe you love to wander the back roads with a 4-wheel drive. Or perhaps your garden plants bring you relaxation. Maybe you’re a voracious reader or relax by whipping up gourmet meals that you pair with just the right wine. Perhaps you’re deep into a spiritual journey and considering keeping a prayer journal to document answers and insights.
The Field Journal method of keeping track works for it all.
THE TRADITIONAL BASICS OF KEEPING A FIELD JOURNAL
Take notes. Lots of them. You don’t need anything more than some way of capturing thoughts and observations. It can be digital or analog (paper and pen). Part of your field notes might include photos. This is not your journal – this isn’t the place to write out pages of scribbled thoughts. Notes. Just enough to remember.
The traditional method assumes you’re outside wandering and observing. It expects you to include in your notes and your journal:
- date and times (usually in 24 hour clock)
- a map or a description of the route you took
- sketches with notes and/or measurements
- perhaps photos.
This is your finished product. The entries stem from the notes you took while out ‘in the field.’ Perhaps you’re printing out a photo book, so you create the page on your computer. Or maybe notebooks or scrapbooks are your end product.
It’s best to translate your field notes into journal entries as soon as you can – ideally the same day. The more time that passes, the harder it is to reconstruct the day. But even if you create the journal entry later on, those field notes are crucial to jogging your memory.
This section houses the specific observations for a particular species, or focus. In a nature journal, you might create sections for the local wildlife you see regularly. For example, if you have a robin nesting in a tree near your house, a section just for the more detailed observations of the robin would go into the Species Account for Robins. If you are tracking your life, each person in the family probably should have their own section. For my Thermal Journal, each geyser or hot spring that garners detailed observations has that go into their own section.
Taking the step to more fully document your interests in life gives them stronger validity. At first it might feel a bit odd to write down what seems so normal, but the more you do, the more normal it feels. Plus, the more pages you add to your journal, the more you see the value of this system. Gather and build a collection of stories.
It also brings focus and mindfulness that shapes your interest into something more. Questions start to rise to the surface – is the Mountain Chickadee always the first one to the feeder in the mornings or does it just seem that way? It brings organization that helps shift things to a whole new level. Plus, if you have kids, setting the example may very well give them a sound foundation that leads them to a career in science somehow.
When looking for information on the traditional Grinnell Field Journal method, I came across wonderful examples here at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at Berkeley . There are also examples on the Smithsonian’s Field Book Project. Interestingly enough, though, Grinnell himself didn’t follow his method – personally, I think he worked at figuring it out as we all do. You start, and then figure out what works and what doesn’t and tweak as necessary until you reach a point where it all flows seamlessly.
Books on Field Journaling
- The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling by John Muir Laws
- How to keep a Naturalist’s Notebook by Susan Leigh Tomlinson
- Keeping a Nature Journal by Clare Walker Leslie & Charles E Roth
- Illustrating Nature: Right-brain Art in a Left-brain World by Irene Brady
Books on Sketching and Drawing
- Drawing with Children; A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too by Mona Brooks
- Drawing for Older Children & Teens by Mona Brooks
- Fundamental Graphite Techniques by Katie Lee
- Botanical Drawing in Color by Wendy Hollender
- Botanical Portraits with Colored Pencil by Ann Swan
Products I use in the field and in my Field Journals
- Field Journal Chipboard Binder (I like to paint mine)
- Ali Edwards Page Protectors (I punch new holes to fit)
- Koi Water Color set of 24 colors
- Ann Swan Colored Pencil Set (mine is a bit different, but this is a really nice set to start with for flowers and most nature sketches)
- Pentax Papilio Binoculars 8.5x21 (small and portable, and able to see far away as well as zooming in on a flower you’re already close to – about 18″ away)
- This stand up Pen/Pencil Case
- My current favorite pen for field notes (no cap to lose, and glides across the paper with a fine line)
Some of the links above (and in posts on this blog) are affiliate links. That means if you use those links and purchase from the link it takes you to, I will receive a small portion of the sale (even if you purchase a different item). This allows this blog to be updated more frequently simply because I can spend less time making money elsewhere to keep this blog going. Thanks for your support!
Posts on Journal Keeping from the blog:
11 Feb 2017 | Ever since the last few snow storms that moved through, the rabbits we would regularly see have all disappeared. In fact, the past few days, I continually look specifically for them and find none. Then last night while taking Rhad out (my corgi that's...
“If you are interested in something, you will focus on it, and if you focus attention on anything, it is likely that you will become interested in it. Many of the things we find interesting are not so by nature, but because we took the trouble of paying attention to...
As you start to think about what you want your 2017 to look like, you might want to add in more time outside. Being outside is healthy for us on many levels. Connecting with nature has been proven to have multiple health and mental well being benefits. One of the...