Nourish Your Life Through Nature Journaling

Nature Journal with red bird.

By Laurie Casey

Many people nourish their lives by making writing a daily practice, like eating and exercise. Oak Park-based artist Sallie Wolf gave a presentation on nature journaling to West Cook Wild Ones last month. She showed off some of the more than 100 journals she has created over more than 50 years. These beautiful documents trace her most intimate thoughts, travels, goals, garden wildlife, and even the moon in the sky.

"My journals are a combination of an anthropologist’s field notes, a writer’s notebook, and an artist’s sketchbook," says Wolf.

Sallie Wolf suggested creative methods for journaling at a West Cook Wild Ones meeting. Photo by Cassandra West.

Sallie Wolf suggested creative methods for journaling at a West Cook Wild Ones meeting. Photo by Cassandra West.

At the workshop, she walked participants through her method of creating simple journals and then explored the different ways she works in them: writing, drawing and collage. Wolf is not a perfectionist, and she uses her journals to practice, play, observe and explore. She encourages beginning journal keepers to read The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron.

Her remarkable body of work is deeply personal, containing ink sketches and watercolors created en plein air during her travels or from behind her window looking out into her garden. For inspiration, you can see Wolf's moon project, which she derived from 20 years of journal entries at her website: http://www.salliewolf.com/moon.html

While she does go over lines that don't look right in the moment, she never crosses out her mistakes and enjoys looking back to see her skills progress. Many of these doodlings later became finished works of art. Others appeared in her books, such as The Robin Makes A Laughing Sound: A Birder’s Journal, a collection of observations told in poetry, lists, questions, notes and sketches.

Originally trained as an anthropologist, Wolf writes in dense lines in stark black ink. Her daily journaling practice traces her goals for the year, as well as things on her to-do lists. Regular, daily features in her journal also include notes on the birds in her backyard, the blooms in her garden, the day's weather and diagrams of the positioning of the moon that have become an art installation.

In her frequent and far-flung travels, Wolf always brings her journal, fountain pen, ink and water colors to record nature's beauty. She says her sketches help her capture the scene's emotion and proportions better than a camera, which distorts the view and creates artificial distance between her eye and the scene.

Wolf uses many store-bought journals, but she also enjoys making her own. At the workshop, Wolf demonstrated a basic method of book binding. She folds 8 or more 8.5" by 11" pages in half. For the cover, Wolf enjoys recycling materials whenever possible, such as cardboard from pads of sketch paper, wallpaper samples and even birdseed bags. Then she uses an awl to punch 3 holes through the spine of the cover and paper. Finally, she weaves a piece of jute or yarn between the holes to tie the cover and paper together.

Visit Sallie at her studio, 331B Harrison St., in the Oak Park Arts District by appointment, or see her website at www.salliewolf.com