Nature Journaling with Betty Gatewood


Keeping a journal of your observations, questions, and reflections will enrich your experiences and develop gratitude, reverence, and the skills of a naturalist. The goal of nature journaling is not to create a portfolio of pretty pictures but to develop a tool to help you see, wonder, and remember your experiences.  – John Muir Laws

Accomplished botanical artist and Headwaters Master Naturalist Betty Gatewood, Cohort I, treated Headwaters Chapter members to a Nature Journaling workshop on Friday, October 27 at Sandy Greene’s log cabin in Mt. Sidney. Thanks to Elaine Smith for coordinating this opportunity and putting together some photos from the class and of the venue into a Journaling Workshop Oct 27 2017 Flickr album here.

Photo at top is by Elaine. It shows (L-R) workshop participants Kathy Whitten, Breyette Lorntz Covington, Sandy Greene, Betty Forrest, and Barb Phillips flanking Betty third from left. took the photo on the right showing workshop participants matching up leaves to drawings of the leaves on her cabin porch. See “To Each Its Own” journaling idea from Betty below.

You can stay engaged with nature journaling by joining the Shenandoah Nature Journal Club which meets on the 2nd Saturday of each month. Email shenandoahnaturejournalclub [at] to be put on the email list. Join the Shenandoah Nature Journal Club facebook group for announcements and updates about meetings. The group draws inspiration from the works of naturalist and artist John Muir Law quoted above.

A Few Journaling Ideas from Betty

  1. Enter “metadata” – date, time, location, special considerations of where/why they are where they are.
  2. Colors of the Day – to break away from that blank page, use colored pencils or paints to document the day with streaks of color that they see.
  3. Mapping – for practice, draw a map of their home/house/yard, then expand to mapping their schoolyard, nature trail, or what area is of importance to your objective.
  4. Blind Contour Drawing – (Drawing without watching what is being drawn!) Using leaves or natural items that you have provided or that students can see without picking, hold the item in one hand and have students study the leaf. Then with the other hand, position pencil on the paper (and without looking at their paper!), draw the leaf (blindly) by following the outside of the leaf with the pencil.  Have students imagine that their eye is an ant crawling around the leaf, and that their pencil is mimicking its crawling.
  5. To Each Its Own – This activity gives participants confidence in the fact that they CAN draw! Each person takes a leaf that you have collected. (All leaves from same tree, so not too much difference).  In pencil, give participants 5-10 minutes (?) to draw the leaf in as much detail as they can, i.e. outline, veins, any insect damage, distinctive features, etc. Collect the leaves.  Have each person lay down their drawings – table/ground.  Now each person takes a leaf from what you have collected, but not THEIR leaf.  They need now to match up the new leaf with the leaf drawing.  Group rearranging might follow, but certainly discussion. The goal is: “I CAN draw because someone else identified the leaf I drew!”
  6. Power Place – a sensory activity with art and/or language arts applications.

More about Betty Gatewood from the VMN VMS calendar event listing:

Midway through her college career, Betty Gatewood changed her interest from laboratory science to the “outdoor” sciences of ecology, natural history; and science education. She’s been outdoors ever since ~ observing, hiking, skiing, teaching, learning, sharing, documenting, journaling, and painting. After teaching middle school for several years, and being the Teacher-in-Residence at Mary Baldwin College with Dr. Tamra Willis under a NOAA grant, Betty enjoyed being an Education and Interpretative Park Ranger in Shenandoah National Park. She continues as an active member of Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and advisory council member for Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Trail To Every Classroom. Her passion is to provide opportunities for anyone to get outside to experience, observe, analyze and document the natural world through art and journaling.

Betty provided the cover art for Virginia’s Mountain Treasures, published by The Wilderness Society, and for the Virginia Native Plant Society’s Wildflower of the Year brochures for 2009 and 2013. She has contributed illustrations for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Junior Ranger Booklet and Virginia Department of Forestry’s book, Common Native Shrubs and Woody Vines of Virginia. She has co-conducted local art and journaling workshops for teachers, as well as Shenandoah National Park visitors. She has exhibited her Appalachian Trail/travel journals and her botanical art at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond and at Staunton Public Library. In 2016, her witch hazel illustration was on display at the US Botanic Garden in Washington, DC, along with 70 other botanical art images for the Flora of the National Parks exhibit. Most recently she illustrated the children’s book, Milkweed Matters.

Frequently on her outdoor ramblings, she is accompanied by her husband Mark, an avid outdoors-man, who often suggests particular subjects to document with her art. Her rambles near and far have provided many inspirations for her journals and art ~ the Shenandoah Valley, Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park, and New England are her favorite places to experience and document the beauties and intricacies of the natural world.