Nature Journaling is about immersing yourself in nature, learning how to see and think, observing the real world outdoors and letting your curiosity lead to new questions and answers. It is not about making fine art or collecting detailed research data – instead it is mental creativity and learning how to see and think. The process involves sketching, writing, and gathering information of many kinds on a blank page by hand, and how and what you focus on is up to you. Nature Journal pages are personal explorations, incorporating sketches, words, and numbers, all in many different forms. We follow John Muir Laws’ curriculum setup of ‘I notice, I wonder, and It reminds me of…’ being present on each journal page.
You will be exploring Nature Journaling as a way to study nature, guided by five professional instructors: scientific illustrator Bobbi Angell (Vermont), art teacher and illustrator Barbara DiLorenzo (Princeton, New Jersey), professional nature journaler and teacher Marley Peifer (California), science communicator Mary Nucci (professor at Rutgers University, New Jersey), and botanist and naturalist Lena Struwe (professor at Rutgers University). Our instructors are active nature journalers and artists who depict natural phenomena and organisms. Mary Nucci and Lena Struwe teach nature journaling at Rutgers University, and Marley Peifer runs nature journaling classes to the public around the world with his own YouTube channel.
Willing to let nature come to you, and you to nature, you will sketch with pencil on paper outdoors. This is not photography nor digital art and you don’t need to have known how to draw in the past. You will learn methods and techniques in art and journaling, from pencil, ink, and watercolor, from graphing numbers, mapping, to sketch noting, and to landscape perspective to measuring organisms. As an immersive, hands-on course, a large part of the course will be outdoors in the rainforest, observing, sketching, and journaling, and then sharing with everyone each day what was seen and put on paper. The course will be at La Selva Research Station in a lowland rainforest in Costa Rica with a wonderful variety of habitats and organisms.
Students will be able to explore and develop their own styles. There will be hikes with guides in the rain forest, activities such as waterdrop microscopy and moth sheets at night, and free time to explore and discussions on human health improvements associated with journaling. Instructors will not focus on good/bad (those words are banned in this course), instead focus on interesting questions, observations, thoughts, and science and art exploration. The instructors are 100% committed to an inclusive learning environment where differences are celebrated and accepted as the norm. The course will end with a discussion on how to teach nature journaling to others, so you are ready to share what you have experienced and learned.
A basic nature journaling kit (journal, pens, eraser, etc.) will be provided to students, as well as a printed course manual. Students are encouraged to bring additional art and journaling supplies of their own choice as well as a good hand lens (10x magnification). We will have access to microscopes, moth sheet setup, a few binoculars, and similar. Additional information will be distributed to accepted students.
This course is for undergraduate and graduate students. You must have at least one course either in ecology, evolution, biodiversity or natural history (Faculty, scientists, and other non-students will be allowed to apply and might get accepted if there are unfilled places after students have been selected for the course. Such faculty applicants will be charged the non-member student fee, regardless of if they come from a member institution.)
As an OTS student, you must be proactive in asking the questions (and finding the answers) that are important to you, but you must also be ready to share your own knowledge and experience with the rest of the group.
Course will be held in English.
Up to 25 students will be admitted to the course (a minimum of 15 students is required for the course to run).
Itinerary and Schedule (class activities are tentative, order might change)
Assignments to be done at free time and place are indicated in italics.
Friday Jan 5, 2023
Student Arrival (SJO airport). OTS shuttles students to hotel
Dinner in San José
Saturday Jan 6, 2023
Travel to La Selva
Introduction to La Selva, Guided field tour (3 h)
Why Nature Journaling? by Lena Struwe; Materials used in Nat J by Mary Nucci
Sunday Jan 7, 2023
Getting Started: Sit Spot; Zoom-in/Zoom-out
Guided Plant walk. @4 PM, share your work.
Design and components on a page by Marley Peifer (Moth night)
Monday Jan 8, 2023
Landscapitos / Skyscapitos
String safari. @4 PM: share your work.
Watercolor, ink, various methods (Moth night)
Tuesday Jan 9, 2023
Mapping andSlicing the landscape
Tour of natural history collections at La Selva. @4 PM: share your work.
Pencil and ink, scientific illustration by Bobbi Angell (Moth night)
Wednesday Jan 10, 2023
Change over time / Animals in Motion
Waterdrop microscopy. @4 PM: share your work.
Telling a story by Barbara DiLorenzo
Thursday Jan 11, 2023
River Boat Tour
Human detritus. @4 PM: share your work.
How to teach nature journaling, resources and methods, creating a curriculum
Friday Jan 12, 2023
Travel to San Jose
Bus to San Jose and hotel in San Jose
Free time in San Jose
Saturday Jan 13, 2023
Leave Costa Rica
Shuttle to SJO airport
The full cost of tuition for students from non-member institutions is $3600. Students from OTS member institutions are charged $2900.
The tuition includes all lodging, meals, transportation during the course, and all course materials.
Personal expenses such as laundry, mail, entertainment, international travel, insurance, medical expenses, etc., are not covered. Also, students planning additional time in Costa Rica before or after the course should allow $30-40 with lodging on a basic hostel per day not including transportation.
Bobbi, an internationally renowned scientific illustrator, draws plants for botanists from herbarium specimens at The New York Botanical Garden and other institutions. Her several thousands of illustrations, mostly neotropical and focusing on many new species, are in numerous botanical publications. Sketching during field work in temperate to tropical regions and drawing plants at her home in Vermont contribute to her diverse interest of plants. Bobbi is also a printmaker and gardener with artwork included the NY Times garden column, seed catalogs, and several memoirs. She is co-author of A Botanist’s Vocabulary and Darwin and the Art of Botany. See www.bobbiangell.com
Barbara is an author and illustrator of books for children and a teaching artist for the Arts Council of Princeton and the Princeton University Art Museum. She works in various media, including graphite, ink, watercolor, oils, acrylic, and digital paint. A Rhode Island School of Design graduate, Barbara helps students of all ages (2–100+), abilities (neurodiverse as well as physical challenges), and backgrounds (including unhoused students from HomeFront) connect with their creativity. She believes every person is entitled to a creative life. During the pandemic, she filled up 13 sketchbooks! For more information, visit www.barbaradilorenzo.com
Mary is an associate professor in the Department of Human Ecology at Rutgers where she teaches multiple courses in science communication, including a course on nature journaling. She developed and directs the Minors in Science Communication and Science Outreach, and with colleagues across the University, created the Science Communication Initiative, a network of Rutgers faculty, staff and students who promote research, teaching and training in science communication. She also serves as Assistant Dean for Campus Engagement at Rutgers where she is responsible for developing and leading co-curricular activities to generate school-wide engagement among faculty, students, and staff.
Marley is a professional nature journaling educator and explorer who has nature journaled in the Amazon, the Serengeti, the Galapagos, and the rainforests of Costa Rica, Panama, and Ecuador. He believes that nature journaling has untapped potential in science and science communication. Marley has dedicated his life to spreading nature journaling and using it in more applied ways. In pursuit of this vision he has produced hundreds of videos and online classes, trained hundreds of teachers in how to teach nature journaling, and led nature journaling trips for almost a decade in English and Spanish.
Lena is a professor at Rutgers University whose research and teaching focus on biodiversity and its evolution, shape, and form (mostly plants – from anatomy to family phylogenies) using innovative teaching and outreach methods leading to national awards. Lena has participated in OTS for 15+ years, visited Costa Rica a dozen times, and led a 2023 Tropical Environments course at La Selva. She teaches nature journaling at Rutgers University using John Muir Laws’ curriculum ideas. Lena also runs the annual Personal Bioblitz on iNaturalist, is a nature journaler and painter, and runs the websites Botanical Accuracy and BotanyDepot. See https://tinyurl.com/lenastruwe
It is important to recognize that the OTS program differs from your typical on-campus life in a few ways. Though you may have prior experience of living with one or two roommates on campus, during the course you will be living closely with many others. You will share bathrooms and common areas, and it will sometimes be difficult to find personal space. This means communication and respect will be crucial. We also need to have sincere respect for one another, regardless of different opinions, abilities, and lifestyles. This includes respect for privacy, respect for rules and regulations, and even respect for the fact that unpredictability is an inherent feature of field-based programs such as ours. Indeed, next to communication and cooperation, flexibility and a good sense of humor are the most important characteristics of a successful student in our program.
You must have a valid passport to travel to Costa Rica. It is important that the passport does not expire within six months of entering Costa Rica. If you are NOT a citizen of a North American or European country, you will probably need a special visa to get into Costa Rica. We recommend that you contact your respective consulate or embassy services to determine if you need a visa to travel to Costa Rica. It is important to consider the requirements to get a visa approved before you apply for one of our courses. If you are accepted into one of our courses, we will provide any information necessary, within reason, to help with the visa application. Please keep in mind that the visa application process can take several months, depending on the country of issue. For more information on this topic please visit this website.
U.S. citizens entering Costa Rica are automatically granted a 90-day tourist visa. Students planning to stay in Costa Rica after the program end date need to take this into account.
Review the requisites for traveling and entering Costa Rica in the following links:
OTS is deeply committed to student safety and well-being and does not expose students to unnecessary danger or risk. OTS monitors national and international events that might affect our students. Five decades of risk assessment, emergency response, and crisis resolution have enabled OTS to maximize student safety and security. All students participate in an onsite orientation program upon arrival in Costa Rica. For our most current safety information, contact the OTS Enrollment Management staff at firstname.lastname@example.org