Winter scene through a window
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January is often the coldest and snowiest month of the year here in the Midwest. And sometimes it really is too cold to go out in the elements. Yes, I know last month I encouraged you to get outside but that was December and this is January and it’s a whole new kind of cold. So how do you keep your nature journaling going during this long frigid month? It’s easy when you remember four simple words…”Look out the window.”

You don’t have to be out in the cold to sketch the winter outside. In the past, I have sketched winter from my unheated, parked car. Or out in the elements wearing thick-soled boots, wool socks, long underwear, and a down coat, gripping my journal and pencil (pen ink can freeze in the cold) with fingerless gloves. Then, I realized this wasn’t fun.

In January, I draw winter from inside, looking out. This month is a great time to find a warm place with a great view. Think hot cocoa (or coffee) by your side, journal on your lap, curled up in a chair, kind of place. But really, any window will work.

Does your window face east? If so, try getting up a bit earlier to watch and record the sunrise. The colors in winter are beautiful and each second brings changes. Looking west? Sunsets are equally spectacular in winter.

Of course, there is a scientific reason for those incredible sunrises and sunsets. Blue light has a short wavelength, so it gets scattered easiest by air molecules. Longer wavelength lights -- reds and oranges -- are not scattered as much by these molecules.

During sunrise and sunset, light from the sun must pass through more of our atmosphere before reaching our eyes, so it comes into contact with a lot of air molecules. Most of the blue light gets scattered away, making the reds and oranges more pronounced. Dust and pollution particles in the air also scatter light and reduce how much makes it to the ground, and thus reduces the intensity of colors at sunrise and sunset. So when the days are hazy the colors of the sunrise or sunset are more muted. (Hazy days of summer, anyone?)

In winter, however, the air is crisp and clean and more colors of the spectrum make it through to our eyes without getting scattered by particles in the air, producing brilliant sunsets and sunrises that can look red, orange, yellow or even pink. Pretty cool, huh?

With all of the beautiful colors just outside your window, it is a great time to add some color to your journal. Experiment with colored pencils and watercolors while attempting to capture the beauty of the moment. Your sketch will not be as vibrant but it is fun to try.

So stay warm this month while still enjoying nature. You need only to “look out the window” to discover the wonder around us.

Quick tip: If using watercolors, paper matters. Different weights and textures of paper will produce different results. (My journal of choice is Canson’s Mixed Media sketchbook.) And limit the amount of water you use. Too much will buckle the page and it will not dry flat.

Quick tip: Watercolor pencils are a quick and easy way to get great color. Just color and then sweep a wet paintbrush over the area to blend the color.