Today, as part of the year-long nature journaling series I am running, here on Raising Little Shoots, I am very pleased to share an interview with Celeste Cruz. Celeste is very active within the home educating community, and blogs over at Joyous Lessons. Without further ado, on to the interview!
~ Hello Celeste, I am delighted to have you here on Raising Little Shoots! Please could you tell us a little about yourself.
I’m happy to join you here, Lynn! My husband and I live in the Bay Area, California with our eight children: four boys and four girls, all ten and under. We also have another baby boy on the way this summer! We have a chaotic home that I try to “tame” through order and wonder — in our homeschooling and through our Catholic faith. I am a runner, a reader, and a Charlotte Mason devotee. I have organized a local nature study group for the past five years and through that time have become a lover of the outdoors and a nature journaler as well. My joy is learning alongside my kids and encouraging other moms in the same journey.
~ When did you first begin to keep your nature journal and what got you started?
I grew up as a real homebody — my favorite thing to do on a beautiful day was to curl up with a book. I didn’t hike, camp, or really do any outdoor activities other than distance running — which meant lots of hours outdoors but mostly plugged into my earbuds or chatting with running friends. When my children were very small, we began the habit of a daily walk together, and all of us enjoyed noticing seasonal changes and the particular features of our local landscape. But I was still very intimidated by journaling, having left any drawing practice behind long ago in childhood. When my oldest two were starting kindergarten five years ago with the Charlotte Mason method, I decided that the best way I could cultivate my children an interest in journaling was to model one myself. I stepped out of my comfort zone and began keeping both a nature journal and a Calendar of Firsts, per Miss Mason’s suggestions. I found it to be a soul-filling, life-giving practice and really fell in love with the process. I have kept up those habits ever since then, now joined enthusiastically by my kids, who enjoy working alongside me. So the modeling worked! But even if it hadn’t, the habit has been worth it for its benefits to me — that was something I didn’t expect.
~ Have your journals evolved from when you first began to keep them?
My journaling has changed in quite a few ways, actually. At the beginning, I was very tentative. I was intimidated by paint, which seemed rather unruly! 🙂 So I stuck with colored pencil or graphite even though I wanted to branch out — I let fear keep me from doing so. And I drew mostly from photos or field guides. I don’t think this is a bad way to begin! It helps many people over the hump if they engage in ways that are comfortable to them. But now I stretch myself to try and capture individuality, make comparisons, embrace mistakes, and paint processes and not just portraits. Those are all challenges for me, but I can’t express the gift it has been to overcome my perfectionism. My default is to journal in static, safe ways, but I’m pushing myself to represent the exploratory and get down what I’m noticing on paper without the strong filter that tries to hold me back. Similarly, I now use watercolor, ink, pencil, pastels — I try not to let fear of a medium or a mistake keep me from recording in the mode I feel captures my observations best. This year, I’m also committed to drawing more in the field. So I try to look for new challenges and that has changed the look of my journals.
~ Please could you share with us your favourite journaling supplies?
I have experimented with lots of different starter supplies but have come to really like a portable kit, not just for field work but for trying to journal with little hands about. The smaller the kit and quicker the set-up and clean-up the better when you have toddlers in the home! 😉
I pull most of my supplies from John Muir Laws’ recommendations along with a few personal favorites: a Pentel waterbrush, a Winsor + Newton Cotman pocket watercolor set, a couple drawing pencils (2H and 2B, usually), Prismacolor illustration markers in .01 and .005, and a white gel pen for highlights. I also carry a water-soluable graphite pencil for when I want something different, a hand sharpener, and an eraser.
As for journals, I have a couple favorites. I like the Canson field sketchbooks in their large size along with Strathmore pre-cut watercolor cards that I tape in when I want to paint. That’s a great option for those wanting to use quality watercolor paper without wanting to commit to primarily watercoloring (other media don’t always go down smoothly on textured watercolor paper). But I now also use a little watercolor journal for when I’m out and about. I’m still getting used to the smaller format but I do like being able to paint right onto the page.
And my two favorite books on the topic: The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling and Clare Walker Leslie’s Nature Drawing. They both are philosophical and practical gems.
I am still very new to nature journaling, so take my non-expert recommendations for what you will! 😉
~ Would you share some of your favourite pages with us, and let us know what you like about them?
My favorite pages are those that respresent some way I have stretched myself as a journaler:
Here I took on a couple challenges from the Laws’ Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling with my kids in addition to my regular notes: I did a comparison of two live oak varieties on the left, and I did a far-away / close-up set of observations on the right.
On this outing, I challenged myself to journal some events rather than just objects. I have two events here: a chase between a squirrel and some woodpeckers, and some phoebes catching insects above the pond. The results aren’t necessarily “pretty” but I felt like they captured my observations effectively.
This page is nothing special visually, but the process of working on it was a real challenge: my first time drawing moving animals (in this case, barnyard birds) in the field. Our nature group took a trip to the farm and I took a half hour or so to follow the fowl around sketching. These were all drawn from life, not photographs or field guides, which has always intimidated me when it comes to animals, and still does! But this morning was one step toward overcoming that.
This is one of my most recent entries. Most of all I’m loving all the spring color after a historically rainy winter for our area! But I’m including it because it combines some of the recording tools I’ve been working with over the past couple years: making comparisons, keeping lists, asking questions, including both actual size and close-up drawings, and using tiny landscapes (John Muir Laws calls them “landscapitos”) to give a sense of place and season.
~ What would you say you have been the greatest benefits to keeping your journals?
The greatest benefit absolutely is relationship. It is why nature journals don’t need to be works of art. The goal isn’t the product, but the process — and not even the process of drawing, but of looking and noticing that happens through writing and drawing. I have years of data in my book. My journals are records of my own relationship with my local landscape and of new places. It is a reference and a labor of love. A side benefit has been a noticeable growth in my skills, which is added motivation to continue. 😉
~ What advice would you give to fellow nature journalers?
I’ll speak to homeschool moms who want to be nature journalers here, since I’m guessing that’s many of your readers: I get asked all the time how I foster an interest in journaling in my kids. I always answer that your best bet is to show interest alongside them. Children can tell whether you think something is worth the time it takes or not, and our practices need to show our principles. It’s very easy to send our kids outdoors; I do it all the time and my kids are the better for it! But if that’s all you do — send them out to journal on their own — the child who takes that journaling and runs with it with lifelong eagerness is rare. Most children need the atmosphere of shared enthusiasm and benefit most when a love for nature becomes part of the family culture, not just a box on their weekly checklist. I’m not saying this is a foolproof method to raising journalers, because all kids are different and education is not a system! Different students will respond differently, of course. But my biggest suggestion is to join in with your children when you can, how you can, with what you can. And you won’t regret it for the benefits you get from the habit either, so it’s a win-win!
~ Where can people find you on the web?
You can find me in a few different places! I share the joys of a Catholic Charlotte Mason home education on my blog, Joyous Lessons — that’s my “home base,” where I write quite a bit about our nature study outings and schooling adventures. (There is also a companion Facebook page for those that prefer following that way.) I really enjoy Instagram as a place to connect with other homeschooling mothers and nature lovers — that’s probably where I post most often. Also, I moderate at the AmblesideOnline forums and help to organize retreats and conferences on the West Coast through Charlotte Mason West.