This post is part of a series, on getting started with nature study:
Since releasing my new book Exploring Nature With Children: A complete, year-long curriculum, I have had several questions about the best supplies to use. We have used different journals and art materials over the years, but here is what is working for us now.
This is a very personal choice. You need to find a journal in a size you find comfortable, and you may also want to consider whether you wish to use a bound book, or a spiral bound book. Spiral bound books lie completely flat when opened and they cope better with items being glued into the books, such as feathers and photographs. You may find a bound book will struggle if you add in a lot of items that add to the thickness of the book.
The weight and texture of paper is important; choose paper that suits the media you use. Generally speaking, if you use a lot of coloured pencil, a smooth texture is best, whereas if you tend toward water colour, a ‘toothy’, rougher texture will cope better with all that lovely, juicy paint.
We are currently using the Leuchtturm 1917 sketchbooks in medium (A5). The paper is a decent weight, and very smooth, however the paper is really too thin for watercolour, so I have found that once I have completed my painting & it is dry, I miss a page, & glue them together, so I get a double weight of paper.But I like the journals a lot, and we enjoy using them.
In the past we have used much cheaper journals with great success, so if possible, choose your journal in person; you will have the opportunity to touch the paper and feel the weight of the book in your hands.
I really recommend popping your nature journal in a strong ziplock bag. Accidents happen!
Water Colour Paints
We tend to prefer watercolour in our journals. The girls use Winsor & Newton paints, I use a selection of Winsor & Newton and Daniel Smith paints. Winsome & Newton offer a smashing little travel set.
Above, you can see my paint tin along with a little swatch card that I made to help me remember my colours, as they look so very different in the palette.
When nature journaling, I really recommend water brushes. Such a clever invention, you simply unscrew the brush part, fill up the barrel with clean water, screw the brush back on nice and tightly, and you are all set! You squeeze the barrel lightly and this releases a little water into the bristles. No need to take jars of water out with you for nature study! When you wish to clean the brush, simply squeeze to release a little water, and wipe the bristles on a clean tissue. Genius!
Stay away from hard, brittle pencils and choose ones with soft, creamy leads instead. This way you will get glorious colour and coverage. Experiment by layering your colours to get the rich hues that are found in nature.
I use Prismacolor pencils, they are beautiful, but, must be used with caution as they are so soft and creamy, they are extremely fragile. They are also very expensive. Mine were bought for me several years ago as a gift and they are still going stong. For my girls, I bought the Staedtler Ergosoft pencils. Still a lovely colour ‘pay-off’ but much stronger lead, and so much cheaper too.
These can be picked up very cheaply; they negate the need for a pencil sharpener and usually have an eraser on the end too.
I love my carbon pen and use it all the time for quick, watercolour sketches, but I wouldn’t recommend this for a child.
A smashing tool for nature study; small and light-weight, a loope will allow you get really close up to your specimen and to engage with it on a whole new level.
We have used well-rinsed yoghurt pots in the past, but a special bug box with a magnifying glass in the lid is extra-special 🙂
For collecting other specimens, such as a feather, a fungus, or a few leaves.
I am in England, and I use this one a lot.
Handy for cutting off small sample branches and such
I know…sounds OTT? Let me tell you about the afternoon we went for a winter woodland walk, became completely absorbed, and suddenly realised it was dark! That torch was very useful!
A Water-bottle And Snacks
To keep up the energy of your wee naturalists!
A Mini First Aid-Kit
A few plasters, antiseptic spray, and something to treat bites and stings.
Something To Carry It All In
I carry my own stuff in a backpack. For the girls, I have found those insulated lunch bags really useful. Something like this.
These are the basic items we take out on most nature walks. Please share with me in the comments below what you consider to be your nature study essentials.