Wednesday, April 27, 2016

CM West :: Retreat at the Beach Impressions

I recently wrote a post about the CM West :: Retreat at the Beach over at Charlotte Mason West where I shared some pictures and discussed our schedule and talks.  However, I wanted to also write a post here to share a little more about what the retreat meant to me.

One of the real highlights of the retreat was the wonderful group of women who got together for it.  Women who talked about books and ideas, who are interested in lifelong learning, and who are passionate about educating their children using life giving methods.  It was such a delight to be around such enjoyable people!

During the retreat, we spent a fair amount of time on our nature journals.  Ever since the Seattle conference, I've been diligently working away at my nature journal, and it has become a fairly established part of my life.  I'm averaging an entry a week, which is right where I want to be.  However, as I looked at other women's journals, I realized how text heavy my journals are.  The writing is a good thing, and the cataloguing and descriptions are certainly useful endeavors.  My observation skills are growing and I am learning more about what I am seeing around me.  However, I realized I would be encouraged to look even more closely and carefully if I was also challenging myself to draw more often.

It isn't that I didn't already know that my nature journaling would be enriched by more drawing.  After all, I own The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling, a couple books by Clare Walker Leslie, and a few others that I've reviewed and then passed along.  I've even spent some time paging through them and reading them.  But it always seemed a little too challenging, a little too daunting.  

However, as I watched some of the women I had come to know work with their journals, I was challenged in a new way.  And this time the challenge seemed within reach.  Because I knew these women a little bit, and because I could see how their journals had progressed over time, I had a sense of what could happen if I made the effort to do a little more.  I had a sense that I could improve over time, and that the time spent practicing and drawing would be enjoyable and enriching.  

So I tried to stretch myself at this retreat.  I did a more involved sketch at the retreat, and with encouragement and some tips, tried some watercolor as well.  The result certainly wasn't amazing, but really, it isn't about the results.  It is about the process, the observations, the willingness to try, and the time spent in focused attention.  And I enjoyed the process, and as I drew I was encouraged to look at the object in front of me in a way that I wouldn't have if I was simply cataloguing it or writing about it.

This is the best I could do with a photo, so I knew I would have to make close observations if I was going to try and sketch them.

I had so much fun stalking these curlews - err... Marbled godwits (oops!) trying to observe them enough that I could sit and sketch them.

Oooh, watercolor!

Since the retreat I've finished reading and commonplacing through the first section of The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling, and rather than flipping through the various sections, getting overwhelmed, and putting it on the shelf, I opened to the wildflower section and started working on his first pages for drawing simple flowers. And then I went outside, found some basic five petaled wildflowers, and sketched them.  And you know what?  It was great fun.  I noticed so many new things by trying to sketch as well as catalogue.  And by pairing my sketching with some instruction, I was much more satisfied with the process and the results.  

Drawing practice in my drawing sketchbook
Practicing the techniques I learned in my nature journal

Even though I'm only one step ahead of my kids, I introduced these techniques to them as well.  First during one of our drawing instruction times I introduced the basic methods, then during our nature journaling time we worked on using those methods to draw buttercups.  I was so encouraged to see how much more they enjoyed their nature journaling and the greater confidence they had just from this little bit of knowledge passed along.  

Working with Nathan on sketching a buttercup and also introducing him to watercolor.
One further note:  If you're interested in going to a retreat like this, I would encourage you to seek one out.  Or consider planning one yourself and putting it out there.  There is a strong interest in retreats like this, and I think they are well worthwhile.  They also aren't all that hard to organize and arrange.  If you'd like to know more about how we did it, please contact me and I'd be happy to answer questions via email or a Skype call.  


  1. A journal entry once a week is pretty good. I'm very much few & far between, which I am trying to remedy. I posted a comment on your wildflower post yesterday, I think, or the day before?? but it's disappeared. The problem may be that I used my Ipad so I'm trying on the home computer now. I'm very interested in the Law's book. It looks great.

  2. Replies
    1. Sorry, that was my fault, I didn't see that your comment on the wildflowers post got held up for moderation. Thanks for mentioning it, and thanks for your comments!

      I've really only managed to become regular with my entries this school year. It has been pretty hit and miss up until this year, but in my planning for the year the main area I wanted to improve was our nature study. I hadn't realized at the beginning of the year how much that would really mean increasing my own commitment to it, but it has turned out to be the most fruitful course.

  3. I love these, Amber! I really appreciate how you've jumped into the book with such enthusiasm. Your limpet and crab claw from the retreat are particularly lovely. And I think I identified the birds as Marbled Godwits, but take a look online and tell me if you agree! :)

    1. Oh, yes, you are definitely right! Thanks! What a name 😄

  4. Lovely post, Amber.

    And I love what you did in your Nature Journal. I, too, was encouraged to step up my game, but I'm still at every other week. I'm trying to do the mini landscape, and several drawings when we go out, though. Good to know about the Marbled Godwits. I loved watching them run.

    And amen on the kind and fun fellowship!

    1. Thanks, Helen! I'm glad you were encouraged too. I'm trying the mini landscapes too, although I've yet to do one I'm particularly happy with... but I'll keep trying!