Memorializing Firsthand Experiences in Nature with James Sisti


We're looking forward to hosting a nature journaling and book signing event with James Sisti on May 4th at our Brooklyn shop to celebrate the publishing of his book "A Field Guide to Nature Journaling", which will be available to purchase. Beyond authoring and illustrating this book and founding Hike And Draw, James Sisti is a professional artist, wilderness guide, and art instructor. We interviewed him to understand what nature journaling is, how he developed a passion for it, and how it can provide a deeper connection to our world.

What is nature journaling?

Nature journaling is easily my favorite hobby. In fact, I love it so much that I wrote a book about it! Nature Journaling is a different experience than keeping a diary or a sketchbook. It is the exciting practice of recording personal experiences from the great outdoors through a combination of writing, drawing, and other creative expressions. Those who participate in nature journaling have the intention of memorializing their firsthand experiences in nature by blending a pursuit of knowledge with a deep affection for natural history. In short, it’s the marriage of science and art. 

How can nature journaling impact the way we engage with the world?

Aside from a growing need to reconnect with nature, there’s a reason why nature journaling is becoming a popular practice among hikers, birders, gardeners, and nature lovers in general. To briefly summarize the long list of benefits, nature journaling is simply a fantastic approach to enhancing your experience of the outdoors. It’s a place to cultivate curiosity, record data, ask questions, and share thoughts. It is a mobile laboratory where an individual might gain mastery over their powers of accurate observation and their understanding of how natural systems operate.


How did you start nature journaling?

I started nature journaling after I broke my femur in Wyoming back in 2009. During that time I couldn't even get dressed by myself, let alone walk, but I DID have a great view of a wild elk preserve from my hospital window. I spent my time at that hospital sketching the different animals and beautiful mountains in my journal. It was almost 5 months before I was able to freely move again, so nature journaling became a crucial part of the recovery process and I’ve just kept doing it ever since!

Capturing memories via the camera on our phone can feel like it mediates the experience of the world around us while nature journaling is about enhancing that experience. Why do you think that is?

You’d be surprised how many amazing nature moments are completely missed by the average hiker. Despite being surrounded by an abundance of wildlife, complex ecosystems, and epic scenery, we still have a bad habit of getting distracted on the trail. Let’s face it, between phones, confusing maps, and overly chatty trail companions, the list of distractions can easily spiral out of control. Why would anyone want to hike like this?? Nature journaling improves your on-trail awareness because it forces you to slow down and consider what’s around you from the top-down. You can begin to imagine the kind of discoveries you’ll make after adopting this mindset!


Could you describe how your personal path has led to founding your nature-based art program Hike And Draw?

The answer isn't as straightforward as you might think! In fact, just a few years ago I wasn't even teaching nature drawing or journaling. I was working 60+ hours a week at a NYC startup (yuck!). After that, I became a licensed wilderness guide and dedicated my time to learning from some great mentors. You could say that nature journaling helped me transition careers! I used my nature journal to map out hikes and help explain different nature subjects to my clients on different outings. Eventually, I learned through experience and gained enough of a following to start Hike And Draw!

What made you want to write a Field Guide?

I was inspired by the 1960’s era Golden Field Guides you often find in thrift stores. These vintage books have a character of their own and always make me want to be in the great outdoors. I wanted to make my version of this. After several years of teaching nature journaling, I had enough content to build on. The result was a simple yet useful guidebook. An object of beauty that’s small enough to fit in your back pocket. 


What are citizen science projects and how can we participate in them through nature journaling?

The problem with spending the broad majority of time in a lab is that projects become more and more detached from their sources. The need for relevant, real-time data is more important for research now than ever before! As such, scientific research teams from the university level to the Smithsonian Institute have realized the value of tapping into the vast networks of local nature enthusiasts and subject matter experts for their data collecting needs.

Having an army of “Citizen Scientists” to help record data in the field helps keep projects more connected to real time field observations. Strict data collection guidelines help ensure that the observations being submitted by citizen scientist volunteers are up to standard. Even children can participate in citizen science!

Gathering and recording data are wonderful byproducts of nature journaling. This is especially true if you have a specific area of interest that makes your time in nature more enjoyable. Let’s call this area of interest your “niche”. I’d recommend visiting websites like to get involved with Citizen Science today! (I also wrote this article about the same subject).

How does the practice of nature journaling translate into how we approach daily life?

Life moves quick once you stop paying attention. The beauty of nature journaling is that it allows you to approach a subject with intention and focus. That’s a very useful skill that can be applied to daily life! The digital age has its merits, but at the same time, it’s important to remain grounded in reality. Nature journaling helps keep a finger on the pulse on the parts of the world that are still wild and free. 

Come by our Brooklyn shop on Saturday, May 4th to join James Sisti's nature journaling workshop.