Saturday, September 13, 2008

Dead Black Swallowtail Butterfly

In early August, Steve found this beautifully formed dead butterfly in our yard. I thought it would make a great kick-off to our nature notebooks. Pamela made her entry at the beginning of the school year, but spilling coffee all over my laptop last month got in the way of editing the video clips. OOPS! My bad!

Natural Lighting:

Unnatural Indoor Lighting:

Pamela's Nature Notebook Entry:

What the Dobbins Taught Me:

Nature notebooks
are a great way to work on dynamic intelligence because they are rich in opportunities for dialog and inter-subjectivity (the fancy word for one person relating to another). Not only that, nature study is good for the brain and, if you don't believe me, listen to what Dr. Carroll Smith has to say on the topic (one of my favorite talks at the 2007 Charlotte Mason Conference). I am grateful to people like Jeannette Tulis and Deborah and Holly Anne Dobbins who have guided me in learning more about how to paint with watercolors (check out their article on nature study).

I am going to share with you clips that show you step by step how I guided Pamela in painting her butterfly. We spent fifteen minutes on one day and fifteen minutes on another day doing this watercolor. I wanted to spotlight a couple of points:
  • Cardstock paper works well: you can cut one sheet into four mini-paintings. That is the perfect size for beginners. The picture I painted of the lantana leaf was on a sheet of cardstock of that size!
  • Most people recommend Prang watercolors. I think they are great!
  • You need more variety of brushes: thick ones are for mixing colors and wide expanses, the thin ones are for details and outlining.
  • Never use the green in the tray. Nature has a wide variety of green. If you use the prefabricated one in your tray, your paintings will get boring before long.
  • Have a paper towel available to blot mistakes and dry your brush. Too much water will cause your paper to wrinkle.
  • Outline in yellow before you start painting. If you mess up, it will be less obvious!
  • Think of ways to scaffold your child: I help Pamela with mixing. She has a tendency to use the colors in the tray and not make her own.
  • Here is a cheat for white. There is no way I can scaffold the idea of leaving white space, so I bought a set of thick watercolor paints that includes a tube of white!
  • Talk about what you see before doing anything! Spend a couple of minutes observing and sharing perspectives.
  • If you have never done this before, try making your own watercolor attempts first. It is hard to guide someone in something you have never done. It can be fun!
  • Do not paint while your child is painting. It is hard to be a guide when you are trying to be the next Van Gogh!
Talking about the Nature Specimen

Outlining in Yellow

Painting the Black Base

Painting Orange Spots

Adding Brown to the Base

Adding White Spots

Adding Blue Spots

Finishing Up

One tip I got from the 2007 Charlotte Mason is to take advantage of technology. If that butterfly is flitting around too fast to draw, take a picture, transfer it to your computer, and zoom in for a closer look! Here are two memories Pamela and I made from pictures taken on a visit to Cypress Gardens.

Pamela's Cypress Gardens Entry

My Cypress Gardens Entry


Anonymous said...

You amaze me -- I love the way you tie all this together: Charlotte Mason, nature study, RDI and so forth. Your nature notebooks are excellent, and thank you for the guidelines! I would like to introduce this again with my kids (in the past, nature notebooking has never *stuck*)

Robyn said...

Hi Tammy,
What do you use for Spelling? I went to your site but Im having a hard time finding something for spelling and love the way you present it. write me at


The Glasers said...

Steph, this is not ME, nor CM, nor RDI. I tried to make this point at my presentation at the Charlotte Mason. When you seek to uncover God's law for education (CM) and document His plan for the development of typical children (RDI), you end up coming to similar conclusions. Neither they nor I are doing anything special except following a plan already designed at the formation of life!

The Glasers said...

Robyn, I will drop you a line.

poohder said...

Tammy, I went to Carrol Smith's presentation on Nature Study at Child Light site. I listented to it yesterday. It was wonderful!
THanks Rhonda

Mrs. C said...

BEAUTIFUL! Just beautiful.