How to Start Your Own Country Diary

It's still early in the year, and though it is dreary here in Canada, I always get inspired to start some sort of nature inspired project at the beginning of the year. Usually I think about it, and then I wonder how I would do it and when I would find the time to keep up with it. That usually fizzles out my dream and another year passes by.

This year I am going to make my best effort to create more paintings of native plants in my sketchbook. I would love to make a monthly title page and create layouts like Edith Holden did in her Country Diary, however I know I may not have time to do that this year. If I set my expectation too high I might get discouraged when I fall behind. 

I am going to focus on painting native plants of the pacific northwest to start, then I can always add in title pages and spot illustrations later, perhaps during a time when I am not moving and renovating a tiny home.😄 Life is full of surprises and our painting time is so easily taken up by less exciting matters.

I would encourage you to just start, where ever you are on your journey as a creative. Edith Holden didn't even "nail it" the first time.
She created her first work The Nature Notes of 1905 before her Country Diary. These are her 2 published works, so you can imagine that she had plenty of discarded drafts before that as well.

So how do you start? First thing to do is notice the different types of layouts and illustrations that Edith combines. You can then choose what you will focus on. If you can do all them great! If not, that is ok, as I mentioned my schedule will likely not allow me to add in all these elements. This is why I am focusing on creating "plant collections with labels" of native plants this year. (See description below).

  • Monthly title pages

  • Plant collections with labels (singular plants with their names written beside them grouped beside each other ex. p. 118)
  • Like item collections (dead leaves in January page.4)

    • Spot illustrations (small illustrations on their own that only take a small portion of the page, ex. daisies on page.10)

    • Illustrative vignettes (illustrations with faded or loosely defined edges. The loose edges incorporate the white of the surrounding page, ex. birds in nest on p.24)

    • Mixed single page arrangments (a collection of different plants on a single page ex. summer flowers on page. 76)

    • Full page spreads (a large composition of plants and insects that spans across 2 pages ex. p.63-64)

    • Ink illustrations, often more scientific (frog lifecycle on page.39)

    • Decorative borders made up of small simple flowers (spring flowers on pages 37-38)

    • Plant focuses with landscapes fading in the background (often on title pages, most complex ex. p.36)

    • Detailed illustrations with abstracted landscapes implied in the background (birds feeding with snowing woods in the background p.176)

    I would be happy to just created one page or spread of wildflowers/ native plants with labels for each month. Starting simple is key.

    There are other nature sketchbook layout ideas that Edith Holden did not use that you could choose to incorporate into your work as well. For more ideas check out my article on 5 Nature Sketchbook Layout Ideas here.

    Now you just need a sketchbook, some drawing tools, your paints and you are ready to go! Remember it doesn't have to be perfect, it is more interesting to see a larger collection of imperfect paintings and sketchbook pages than just a few very perfect ones. I am writing that as a note for myself to implement.

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    • Thanks for the lovely comment Carrie. Edith’s work has always been a huge inspiration to me.

    • This is a fantastic post. I have all four (huge) puzzles of Edith Holdens seasons with only one left to complete. I love how you break down to the finer points of her diary for us and I can’t wait to get going. I started a small native plant sketch book last year and now I’m excited to pick it up again. Thanks for a lovely and timely post – happy painting!


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