Picture Study notes from “In a Large Room” Retreat

This post is part of a series on the “In a Large Room” Retreat

I asked my friend from California, Cristina, to give the Picture Study talk. Here are her notes, slightly edited for publication.

If you know a little bit about Charlotte Mason, one of the highlights of her educational philosophy is “spreading a feast of ideas” before the child. A feast in that it’s a diverse range of subjects verses just “3 R’s” – reading, writing and arithmetic.

Part of the feast she suggests is something called Picture Study.

When I first was reading about Charlotte Mason five or so years ago and trying to wrap my mind around the whole thing, Picture Study stood out as something new, something exciting, but also slightly intimidating. My husband would ask,  “How is this different than just looking at pretty picture?”.

1) So first I’d like to talk about WHY picture study? 2)Then I’d like to share five brief directives on HOW to do Picture Study with your students and even with yourself, because if it is good for our children, certainly there is the same growth we can gain from it. 3)Then we’ll do a Picture Study together, where you get to be the student.

The WHY . . .

1) Charlotte Mason talks about something called the “treasure chest of the mind” — storing up beautiful images for us to recall as we grow, as we consider. Certainly we are surrounded by images everyday and unfortunately now it’s really hard to keep the worst kinds out of our minds. By showing our children some of the most beautiful and celebrated images, whether it be paintings, illustrations or 3D sculpture, we are teaching them what is truly beautiful,  à la Phillipians 4:8.

2) This also develops the habit of attention. Sir Isaac Newton said “If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been due more to patient attention, than to any other talent.” Charlotte Mason says that after teaching obedience to our children, attention is one of the most valuable habits for all of education we can train our children in.

3) Finally, Picture Study develops the skill of narration. You can’t hear about Charlotte Mason and also not know that narration is the means of training our children how to tell back, in their owns words, really anything: a portion from a book they read, a direction you gave them, a movie they saw. They use the storehouse of their own vocabulary having internalized the idea (making it thier own) then telling back in their own words what they have “gathered.” In telling back what we see from the picture, the children (or ourselves) have not only recreated that image in our head for life but gaining adjectives, adverbs, even telling a story in sequence describing words into our mouths. The images play out as words on a page, even as we internalize great classic books so we can do with great paintings.

Ok- so HOW do we do it?

1) Your most important job as the teacher is selecting the images (the paintings). You want to discriminate, using the best, the best place to start is the masters, but eventually as you get the hang of it you’ll be able to even sort through more contemporary work.  You can do picture study really anytime, but as you consider what picture you will use, you might consider whether you want to…
A) study one artist at a time (artist study)
B) study a subject (Sunday school)
C) maybe you want to look at picture from a time period you are studying, either by when it was painted or the subject matter that is presented (i.e. paintings of Middle Ages)

2) As the parent/teacher your role after choosing the pictures is to secure the time and place of looking at these pictures and as they are being studied, carefully choosing questions that might lead the eyes of the children to parts of the image that they might be missing. Remember the goal is for them to internalize it, develop their ideas about it. Don’t ask if they like it or don’t like it.

3) Once it’s been studied a few minutes, take the picture away and challenge the student to narrate back all he remembers. If there is more than one student, ask the youngest to start then move to the older and challenge to bring out details not already mentioned by the younger child.

4) Leave the painting up to enjoy in the home.

5) Try to get to a museum to see the actual work of art or practice picture study with what you see there.

Book of Centuries and Sabbath Calligraphy

I’m prepping for our upcoming trip to Italy and I thought I’d make a few entries in my Book of Centuries. I drew the Colosseum first. I sketched it with pencil, then traced the lines with a Micron pen and erased the pencil with a kneaded eraser. Next, I’m going to draw Giotto’s Campanile (Bell Tower).


In an effort to work out what keeping a Sabbath looks like for a Mom, I have added “Sabbath Calligraphy” to my Sunday afternoon schedule. Wanna see what I’ve got so far?




P.S. If you like this kind of calligraphy, you should check out Modern Calligraphy by Molly Suber Thorpe.


I’m reading John Ruskin’s commentary on “The Vaulted Book” which CM talks about as “The Great Recognition” i.e. the fresco depicting the substance of her 20th Principle (the Holy Spirit is our tutor/teacher for all things, not just those we consider “spiritual”). I’m so looking forward to seeing it in person!


Dry Brush Watercolor Tips

This post is part of a series on the “In a Large Room” Retreat

I gave a brief demonstration of the Dry Brush Technique as used for nature notebooking in a Charlotte Mason education (or just for a rich and full life of any person, not necessarily a student).

Here are the tips I shared:

  • Use very little water: avoid puddling in your paints and have a paper towel or cloth nearby to blot excess water from your brush.
  • Keep a lovely point on your brush and only gently stroke your paintbrush in one direction (no scrubbing back-and-forth with the brush).
  • Paint exactly what you see: life-sized, include damaged parts, just like a colored photograph of your specimen.
  • Place your specimen on the opposite page in your notebook to give it a white background and make the shadow easier to see.
  • Never use the green in a store-bought palette; always mix your own from yellow and cyan.
  • Test your color on a scrap of watercolor paper to make sure you have the right color.
  • Do not sketch an outline with a pencil or paint. Instead, paint a solid undercoat (filled-in, not an outline). Painting or drawing an outline makes a harsh edge which does not look realistic.
  • After the undercoat is dry (which shouldn’t take more than a few seconds because you used very little water), then go back and add in all the details like veins, shadows, etc..
  • It’s not really about art, it’s about building skills of observation and appreciation for God’s creation.
  • It can be helpful to make a map of your watercolor palette showing each color full strength all the way to the palest version when diluted with water (see photo below).





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A Retreat for Moms

So, I had this crazy idea to host a retreat for homeschooling moms. Then I dismissed it because: 1. I have literally no experience homeschooling (we just started), 2. I have no time for something like this (I have three kids, two in diapers and two non-walkers – my plate is really full, you know?), and 3. well, it just seemed like a crazy idea. But, the idea didn’t go away, and I thought it might be coming from the Holy Spirit. Well, I won’t say no to God!!! My friend was coming to visit for a few days from California and she said she would be blessed by it, so I picked a day while she was going to be here. I figured nobody else would want to come, and if it ended up just being the two of us, it would still be great.

I decided to go for it just two weeks before the actual event. Yikes! I figured out a schedule and sent out invitations via evite. Many moms said they were really interested but they weren’t available on that particular day.

Yesterday, I had TWELVE! delightful ladies (and about 14 kids!) in my home for a whole day of encouragement and discussion of Charlotte Mason’s methods. It was really really wonderful!

Here’s our schedule:


Here are some snippets of our retreat:

I decorated with some quotes on the walls for inspiration. And Adele helped. =)



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I was up until 1am the night before – getting everything ready. I know there is no way the books and name tags would have looked this good if Cristina hadn’t been here to help me [do most of the work]. Thank you so much, Cristina!!!



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One of my goals for the retreat was for each attendee to begin keeping her own notebooks (commonplace book, Book of Centuries, and nature notebook at least). Thus, I thought a personalized commonplace book would be the perfect conference gift.


By the way, I didn’t make mine gold because I wanted mine to be different. I started with mine for practice and the gold ink was extremely difficult to write with on this particular paper, so I switched for the others. I used the gold on the name tags too, but if I did it again, I’d use black because the gold was too fussy. IMG_2749

A couple of moms arrived late and we took longer than I anticipated on the garden tour, so the nature painting was a bit rushed. I had everything set up beforehand, but I think I should have given one hour for the painting part of the day.

A couple of families stayed for dinner (wood-fired pizza) and we had some really great fellowship.

Today, I was happy to have a quiet day at home, but I was also really sad that the retreat was over. Adele asked me if we could have another retreat in a couple of weeks. I said no, but maybe next year. So, you heard it here first – this was the First (of perhaps many) ANNUAL In a Large Room Retreat.

Finally, here are just some practical things in case others are contemplating doing the same thing.

  • I spent a lot of money on babysitting. I paid one teenager $80 and a second teenager $45 (he only stayed half the day), for a grand total of $125. But we had more little people than adults and I know that most of the attendees would not have been able to attend if we hadn’t had babysitting. Worth it IMHO.
  • I spent $60 on an hour of mentoring with Nancy Kelly. I thought it might be a waste because I didn’t think she would be able to help me much with only a week before the retreat, but she was REALLY helpful!!
  • I paid $53 for the notebooks, plus the time to paint and calligraphy the lettering (I already had all the paint and ink).
  • I paid about $30 for additional watercolor supplies because I knew that most people didn’t already have their own. In fact, I wish I had bought a few more paint sets and waterbrushes because people still had to share.
  • We had kids standing at the long desk in the schooling room and moms and kids crowded around the dining room table (extended with three leaves), but I wish I had set up a folding table in the schooling room to give people a bit more space for nature notebook painting.
  • I wanted to make my own croissants for lunch, but I just didn’t have the time, so those came from the store.

I’ll be posting some notes from the individual talks over the next couple of days for those of you who weren’t able to attend. You can find them all HERE.

Garden & Perone Hive Update 6.10.15 (and Mom’s nature notebook too)

OK, so these next three shots could be connected to give you the big picture, but I don’t know how to do that fancy photo stuff. You’ll have to photoshop it in your mind.


We start with the nitrogen-fixing Autumn Olive on the left of the garage (above) and the Russian Pomegranate in the alcove on the right of the garage. I have comfrey and yarrow in with the pomegranate to feed the fruit tree. The alcove used to have a stacked stone retaining wall, but I didn’t have any more and I wanted it to match the one I added on the right, so I replaced it with brick (leftover from the palette we bought for the herb spiral). It sort of matches the brick stairs (OK, not really, but what can I do?).



And here’s the rest of the front yard (above) with the herb spiral, cherry tree, Adele’s garden, and a front border.

In case you can’t quite picture it, here’s a map I made for my nature notebook:


In the bed in front of the stairs, WAIT a minute – remember when we had boring, overgrown bushes here?


Now we have a stacked brick retaining wall (because our driveway used to get covered with mud after every rain), three blueberry bushes, a plum tree, a fig tree, a raspberry cane, and three tomato plants here – with the slippery elm that I heavily pruned to get more light for my blueberries.


About that border (below). Remember when I was building the herb spiral and my neighbor told me that they were widening the road? So I didn’t want to plant the peach tree along the road if they were going to widen it in a few months. So, based on the plans that he showed me, I planted the tree just inside my best guess of where the new edge of our yard will be. Then I mulched and made a border which ended with the existing crepe myrtle.


I edged the border bed with the stones I removed from the pomegranate alcove wall. Starting on the right, we have a lilac tree, peony, a perennial flower I can’t remember the name of, Flat Wonderful peach tree, another peony, and a few pots (tomatoes, peas, tomatoes), mini pansies (violas?), and then the crepe myrtle.

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This (above) is the whole front yard from the street. I have another grouping of potted veggies right up at the edge next to the street, because it gets the most sun.

Herb spiral: (starting in the middle and traveling clockwise) rosemary, lemongrass, thyme, lemon thyme, pineapple sage, horseradish, cilantro (from seed), oregano, parsley, then lettuces start in to the end, but there’s also basil, Thai basil, lavender, and tarragon.



Above you can see the bean teepee near the mailbox. We have watermelon, summer squash, and butternut squash there too.


And here’s Adele’s garden (above) with a bunch of stuff around in pots (clockwise: tomatoes at 2:00, strawberries, peas, more strawberries, more peas, lettuces, cucumbers, peppers). You can’t really tell in any of these pictures, but I planted nasturtiums in almost all of my veggie containers. They aren’t quite there yet, but the idea is for them to be spilling out with flowers (like the “spiller” in flower containers).



And here are five jasmine vines I planted at the front of our side fence (where there is the most sun).

Now for the backyard:

First an overview from my nature notebook:


Before we get started let’s remember what this backyard looked like for the first year we lived here (and don’t forget that all those vines are poison ivy, OK?).




Lots of activity outside the beehive!


And lots inside too! I’m thinking the light-colored comb is all new!


Below is some ruby bells coral bells I planted behind the beehive.


I planted some perennial shade-tolerant flowers back here along the fence (R to left: bee balm, helebores, bee balm, helebores, and another bee balm). P1060666

These little tiny green things probably don’t look like much to anyone but me,  but I dumped a ton of seed back there and it is just so amazing that it is actually growing!!!

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Above is a pic of the back corner of our property. The existing tree is (I think) a boxelder. I painted it in my nature notebook a few days ago.