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What is nature journaling? History and origins, part 1.



It’s been a long time since I dipped into ‘The Country Diary of An Edwardian Lady’ by Edith Holden.



  

This is a book I have been inspired by and had on my shelves for many many years.  After recently scanning my shelves for ‘nature journal’ books and using Edith’s book as a reference in my ‘What to look for in June’ nature journaling tutorial, I realised this is one of the only books I own that would actually come under the ‘category’ of ‘nature journal’.


 *please note for this post that I’m defining a ‘nature journal’ as books that include writing, notes and drawings*


Edith's book could be seen as one of the very first 'nature journals' 'in print'.





‘The Country Diary of An Edwardian Lady’ by Edith Holden was posthumously published in 1977.  Originally called ‘Nature Notes for 1906 ‘ Enid’s ‘nature journal’ wasn’t published for over 70 years. Edith was a part time art teacher and children’s book illustrator.  Edith’s book is a combination of beautiful drawings/paintings and a diary of nature notes, facts, poems, and folklore.  


This got me thinking about when the term ‘nature journaling’ came into being and what other ‘nature journal’ books were out there.  What is ‘nature journaling’ and what makes a ‘nature journal’? 




After much research I couldn’t find any reference or history to the origins of the term ‘nature journaling’ or ‘nature journal’.


The first time the term appears to have been used ‘in print’ was by Richard Mabey in his 1989 book ‘A Nature Journal’. 




This book is a condensed version of Mabey’s 20 years of keeping a ‘nature diary’ , a written record of his nature interactions across the UK. The book is ‘illustrated’ by Clare Roberts. Unfortunately I can’t find any information about Clare, but it seems her specialty was garden and nature illustration.  She also illustrated ‘A Country Calendar’, a collection of work by Flora Thompson (self-taught author of Larkrise to Candleford, a novel set in the English Countryside, Flora also kept a written ‘nature diary’).


‘The Country Diary of An Edwardian Lady’ by Edith Holden was posthumously published in 1977.  Originally called ‘Nature Notes for 1906 ‘ Enid’s ‘nature journal’ wasn’t published for over 70 years. Edith was a part time art teacher and children’s book illustrator.  Edith’s book is a combination of beautiful drawings/paintings and a diary of nature notes, facts, poems, and folklore.  


The next ‘in print’ example of a ‘nature journal’ I found was Janet Marsh’s ‘Nature Diary’ published in 1979 by the same publishers as Edith Holden.




Janet was very much inspired by Edith’s work , and recreated her own ‘nature journal’ of the area she lived in Hampshire.  Janet’s book is a combination of written diary style notes and beautiful illustrations.  There is an interesting article here about how Janet’s observations and paintings have since helped to show how the river in her book has changed over 5 decades.  


It wasn't until 1998 that a book about ‘how to nature journal’ appeared ‘in print’.  The book ‘Nature Journaling: Learning to Observe and Connect With the World Around You’ by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E Roth.  A very well known book now published as ’Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You’  (a book that I don’t have on my shelves.)






Clare is a self-taught artist, naturalist, and writer.  Clare was interviewed last year during ‘International Nature Journaling Week’ and also attended Wild Wonder Nature Journaling Conference 2019 (I love how she talks about reading being integral to her nature journaling).


‘Drawing was the most direct way of studying nature’ - Clare Walker Leslie



Although it doesn’t appear to be written anywhere that I can find, it seems to me that we can call Clare Walker Leslie the originator of what we now call ‘nature journaling’.  I love how Clare is so humble, self deprecating and always gives credit to the mentors and teachers that shared their ideas and knowledge with her. 




Clare was a huge influence and mentor to John Muir Laws (author of The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling, and 'nature journaling' champion).  His chat with her on his channel is worth a watch.


Clare talks about accidentally falling into being a naturalist and artist. She originally studied as a musician and cellist.  Spending time with a birder sparked her joy at the natural world.  Clare then went on to learn how to draw, not only learn how to draw, but learn from the masters in their field.  Travelling and learning from wildlife artists in Europe at the top of their field like:


Eric Ennion - Eric Arnold Roberts Ennion (1900–1981) was a British artist, writer, illustrator, and radio presenter, specialising in birds and other natural history subjects.


John Busby - John Busby (1928 – 2015) was a British landscape and wildlife artist, teacher, author and illustrator.


Gunnar Brusewitz - Kurt Gunnar Brusewitz (1924-2004) was a Swedish writer, artist and cartoonist.


Lars Jonsson - Lars Jonsson born 1952. He is a Swedish artist, author and ornithologist

All artists who made their drawings outside in the field.


Clare says that even though she includes drawing, the drawing is ‘no longer’ important to her in her own work. That she has found meaning in other aspects of her ‘nature journaling’.  But she always credits those she learnt from, those that shared their expertise and time.


Isn’t this a journey that we should all go on?, ‘our own journey’.  Being inspired and learning from others, then finding our ‘own way’.


I too began my journey accidentally and drawing was my main focus.  But over time that has expanded and I don’t think that would have happened without the drawing.


Drawing is an ‘in road’, what follows after are billions of paths that you can choose to go down.




So, what is ‘nature journaling’? What is a ‘nature journal’?


Questions that will take me more than one post to answer. Find out more in part 2.




Want to learn how to draw, how to nature journal and begin your own journey? Why not join my Patreon nature journaling community? or join one of my tutorials on my website?



*You could also join in with International Nature Journaling Week which takes place this week from 1st - 7th June


*the font in the images was created using my own handmade ‘shaggy inkcap’ ink



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