AFF Children’s Nature Journal for Day Camp

Work for hire by Lara Lee while employed at the Alice Ferguson Foundation with permission for Lara Lee to display for self-promotion. 

AFF 2024 Children's Nature Journal

Background

Located on 330 acres of emergent wetlands and the longest, freshwater Living Shoreline in the nation, the staff and educators of Alice Ferguson Foundation (AFF) have provided transformative environmental education experiences for nearly half a million area students since 1954 — including myself!

AFF is a familiar name among Maryland locals since many, many children have attended their overnight nature camp at Hard Bargain Farm or picked up trash out of the Chesapeake in AFF’s biggest annual watershed clean-up. To date, AFF has impacted the lives of over 1 million students grades K–12 with environmental education in and about nature and cleaned 8.5 million pounds from the Potomac Watershed. AFF is also home to the only fully certified Living Building in the DMV area and the 13th project in the whole world to achieve the prestigious certification.

AFF’s Director of Development Jon Pattee invited me to coordinate with the Environmental Outreach Coordinator Beth Mays to update the nature journal for their Summer and Winter childrens camps. Typically designed in-house and once recently outsourced to a marketing agency, AFF wanted to better capture the unique experience of their nature camp and update the files as they grow the camp.

In then end, I elevated AFF’s brand with a custom children’s nature journal, including 57 custom-illustrated characters and icons representative of the AFF’s very own camp attendees, wildlife, and offerings.

My Role

Graphic Designer
Illustrator

Agency

Self

By the Numbers

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Concepts Presented
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Illustrations of Attendees,
Wildlife, & Activities Total
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Hours to Complete

Reviewing Current Nature Journals

Although I had a lot of flexibility, it was important to AFF that the journals really felt like their brand. Additionally, their primary users are elementary students, so the journals needed to easy for kids to use.

A review of the existing journal materials revealed a few pain points:

  • Not as kid-friendly: the agency’s booklet used larger pages but a small, narrow, condensed font. It fit a lot of information, but we imagined a 3rd-grader would have a difficult time reading it.
  • Not on brand: the journals don’t adhere to brand guidelines. For example, the kids in the agency booklet wore clothing that went against camp dress code and would, in reality, get messy and make it difficult to complete the science experiments.
  • Not unique: Reliance on stock art meant the images weren’t descriptive of the camp’s unique offerings. For example, generic bird silhouettes wouldn’t help kids learn local birds.
  • Not exciting: Finally, Beth recounted an earlier experience with the old journals: she saw many kids forget their journals. They would leave them behind after the day camp concluded or fail to remember bringing them back during the overnight camp. While of course kids can be forgetful, she hoped the new journals would be more exciting and memorable and prompt kids to show them off to others.

Pitching New Visual Identities

Since the original nature journal was a minimalist B&W booklet, I wanted to explore visual looks and feels AFF wanted to see in their new journals. I presented three unique concepts:

Concept #1

  • Crafty, friendly, & whimsical
  • Watercolor illustrations on kraft & cut-paper textures
  • Mixed photos & graphics
  • Attention on nature

Concept #2

  • Quirky, cool, & playful
  • Lots of themed, hand-drawn icons & cut-paper textures
  • Big & bold textboxes
  • New, colorful background for each spread

Concept #3

  • Simple, stylish, & charming
  • Custom map of AFF & its buildings
  • Illustrated journey from city to AFF
  • White space to doodle & write

Exploring the Chosen Concept

Beth and Jon selected Concept #2 as their favorite and approved it for build-out! While they thought the bold graphics of Concept #1 would be very appealing to kids, they ultimately thought Concept #2 would yield much more engaging interior nature journal designs. They also loved the “window” mock-up of their barn with the hand-written text. We revised the cover to spotlight the artwork of a local artist and some local inhabitants of the farm — the goats!

Cover
This spread has two activities for kids. On left, kids explore the food chain. Lots of vocab and a quick exercise drawing their own food chain invites kids to think about nature as a flow of energy. On right, kids explore the food web and plot multiple transfers of energy as organisms consume each other.
The nature journal's final spread invites kids to reflect on their camp experiences and next steps they can start implementing at home.

Illustrations from the Nature Journal

To create the unique look of the camp AND apply that hand-drawn-with-a-marker feeling to the dozens of characters, wildlife, and icons for the nature journal, I spent a lot of time illustrating. While a fair number of stock art was usable as-is, others required manually adding colors and/or adjusting stroke widths for a hand-drawn look. Still more required from-scratch illustration such as the milkweed plant. Besides the benefit of customization, my illustration often helped save time and money to achieve the look we wanted!

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Modified Stock Graphics
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Customized Kid Graphics
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Custom Illustrations
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Total Drawings
Cartoon graphic of a little girl running with binoculars.
Blue Jay
Northern Cardinal
Eastern Meadowlark
Maryland Blue Crab
Washington, DC SmarTrip Metro Card
Fast Food French Fries
Terrapin Turtle
False Parasol Mushroom with Leaf Litter
Milkweed with Monarch Butterflies
“Everyone loves the journals, and we gave each board member a copy. The look is so grand; I think this is of a quality a WWF or Smithsonian would produce. Thank you for all the care you took with it.”
Monogram J
Jon Pattee
Director of Developmenet