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.




Field Notes:

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)
  • weather
  • a map or a description of the route you took
  • sketches with notes and/or measurements
  • perhaps photos.


Field Journal:

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.


Species Accounts:

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


Books on Sketching and Drawing


Products I use in the field and in my Field Journals


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Posts on Journal Keeping from the blog:

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