Slipped Between the Pages: Nature Artifacts in the Journal

With some tape, glue, a plant press, and tracing paper, the pages of the nature journal can come alive with artifacts collected from the natural world. Flipping through the pages of one of my journals, I am treated to pressed cottonwood and alder leaves, bark rubbings, a dusting of volcanic ash, a chunk of old man’s beard lichen, and the brilliant black-and-blue barred feather of a Steller’s Jay. A nature journal that accompanied me on vacation holds a black-and-white striped scale from a tropical fish, stringy fiber from a fresh-cut coconut, a paper cocktail umbrella, and sand from three different beaches.

Sand and Shells from Waterhouse Beach

One of the five paths to creative nature journaling that I previously described here is A Path to Observing. This pathway engages the scientific mind, encouraging data collection and scientific notation. One component of this pathway is collecting nature artifacts and tucking them among the pages of the nature journal. Note: When teaching journaling workshops, I advocate for careful collection of artifacts: taking only a small sample of plants, such as a leaf or a bit of moss; not taking anything that would cause harm, such as collecting live insects or removing tree bark; and whenever possible, collecting items that have fallen to the ground, such as castoff leaves or found feathers.

Stick Down Some Sand and Soil: Try describing the texture and colors collected in a handful of beach sand, and then dribble some glue to the journal page, sprinkle the sand on top, and wait for it to dry. The sand sparkles with quartzite in a way difficult to capture in words alone. The texture is preserved; a fingertip can lightly graze the grains. I use acid-free, archival quality glue to stick artifacts to my journal pages. The liquid glue is white but dries clear. It is strong enough to stick down sand, soil, bits of lichen or moss, pine needles, or other small objects.

Track Down a Texture: Besides tape, glue, and my mini-plant press, my nature journaling kit is also stocked with tracing paper and a couple crayons. Pads of this onion-skin thin paper can be purchased from art supply stores. Positioning a sheet of tracing paper over tree bark, a leaf, cobblestones, an etched gravestone and rub, rub, rubbing with a crayon allows you to capture the essence of an interesting texture. I then either tape the sheet directly onto the journal page, or fold it small and tuck it between two pages.

River Textures: Lichen, Needles, and Sand

Affix a Feather: A bird feather provides natural inspiration for journaling. Draw a feather, write about the feather, and actually affix the feather to the journal page. You may use the feather to identify the bird from which it came using a field guide, or to take home for further practice with drawing or painting. I capture a feather by using a strip of acid-free, archival cellophane tape along the feather’s shaft.

Press a Flower or Leaf: A flower or leaf can be preserved by pressing it flat between sheets of paper. Commercial plant presses (big and small) can be purchased from botany and gardening stores. You can make your own plant press using two light boards sandwiching layers of cardboard, newspaper, and acid-free paper. Place the plant sample between two sheets of acid-free paper; the newspaper absorbs moisture and the cardboard provides stiffness. Hold the press together with extra thick rubber bands, or drill holes to allow for wing nuts and bolts. Often, if a leaf isn’t too thick or juicy to make a mess, I’ll just slip it between two pages of my hardback nature journal, allowing it to dry and flatten in place. I may later glue it to the journal page, or allow it to remain dry, crisp, and free floating. However, it is always safer to use a plant press and then transfer the dried plant to the journal, as you risk ending up with pigment stains or smeared ink across the journal page.

What artifacts will you collect and slip between the pages of your nature journal? What stories will these objects help you tell?

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