How to keep a nature diary

How to keep a nature diary

Do you love wildlife? Would you like to learn how to draw the things you see? John tells you how to get started with your own nature diary, and shares some of the wildlife that he loves to draw. See more of John’s drawings at
John Walters

I’ve loved wildlife for as long as I can remember. I began drawing the butterflies, moths and caterpillars that I found when I was growing up in Hampshire, and those sketches became my first nature diaries. Today I am still drawing, painting and learning about the wildlife around me. 

There’s no better way to learn about wildlife than by putting notes, sketches and photographs in a scrapbook. Over the years you will build up your own collection to look back on!

Sketch kit

Which paints should I use?

Watercolour paints are the best to use because they dry quickly, and are easy to use outside. Buy just a few colours, then mix your other colours using them. I use:

  • Ultramarine blue
  • Cerulean blue
  • Cadmium red
  • Quinacridone violet
  • Lemon yellow
  • Cadmium yellow

Getting started

Start by drawing things that do not move very much, like flowers or moths. The most important thing is to draw from life (the things in front of you), not photographs. You will see much more by looking at the living plant or animals. 

Oak bush crickets - John Walters

©John Walters

How to draw moving animals

Moving subjects like this cricket are much more difficult! First, draw just what you see. If the subject moves, start a new drawing. You can go back to the first drawing if the animal moves back to that position. 

You might end up with lots of half-drawn sketches, but the most important thing is that the bits you have drawn are accurate. If you practice lots, then you will be able to draw the whole creature. You’ll even be able to capture its movement and bring it to life! 

Sit by the river

Ducks, like these mandarins, at a local pond or riverbank are often quite tame. I really enjoy trying to capture the lovely shapes they make when they preen (clean their feathers). 

Roe deer - John Walters

©John Walters

Take your time

Sometimes, if you’re very patient and try to draw the same creatures in the same place for a while, they can get used to you.

I have spent a long time sketching roe deer in my local wood. At first, they were very shy and it was nearly impossible to see them for long enough to draw them. 

After days of trying, the normally shy deer became used to me. They let me get much closer, and sketch them for hours on end! Having wild creatures accept you is so satisfying, and very much worth it. You will be able to watch their behaviour in a way that few people are lucky enough to see. 

Long horned bees - John Walters

©John Walters

Buzzing about bees

Over the last few years I have become very interested in bees, and I spend a lot of time in the summer sketching them. These are long-horned bees, which are particularly attracted to the flowers of the pea family, like tufted vetch and everlasting pea. 


Hopping mad!

For a week or two each year over a hundred frogs visit our small garden ponds to spawn (release their eggs). I have been watching them for over ten years now, which means I now know lots about them. Every year I look forward to sketching them – I find it far more special drawing them than taking photographs. 

Common frogs - John Walters

©John Walters

Why not start your own nature diary? Grab yourself some paper and pencils and capture the wonderful wildlife on your doorstep. Let us know how you get on!