Clare Walker Leslie: An Introduction
I have shared about Clare Walker Leslie‘s books before in my post about Nature Journaling, but I thought I would take some time and explore in more detail some of Leslie’s thoughts on nature journaling and connection with nature as well as provide some information about her published works that I so enjoy.
Leslie’s work introduces people of all ages to studying nature and nature journaling. At its core, it is important to see that this act of studying nature is not about becoming an expert artist and producing nature journals that are works of art. Instead, this is about learning how to notice, how to pay attention, how to observe, and how to connect with nature.
Leslie guides children and adults on an adventure. She invites us to step outside and ask questions and open our eyes and hearts the appreciate the natural world. This is never burdensome! Being a naturalist is something anyone can do: simply spend some time outdoors and engage with it using all your senses.
About Clare Walker Leslie’s Books
I wanted to take some time to share about each of Clare Walker Leslie’s books, to give you idea of the scope of focus, that way if you are interested you can think about which one you would like to explore. One of my favorite aspects of Clare Walker Leslie’s approach to teaching is how accessible she makes it — I find that books like The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling can be stunning and detailed, but do not work as well as an entry point into the practice.
***Note: A review copy of Keeping a Nature Journal was provided to me by Storey Publishing and A Year In Nature: A Memoir of Solace was provided to me by Clare Walker Leslie. Reviews and opinions are my own.
Keeping a Nature Journal is an all-around excellent book for beginners as well as experts at nature journaling! Leslie is detailed and encouraging, and reminds us that literally everyone is capable of nature journaling: “You don’t need to know anything about nature, anything about drawing, anyting about writing, anything about what to use or how to draw to start nature journaling. You can be living anywhere–city, suburbs, countryside–and even be indoors…. All you need is the curiosity to say to yourself ‘What is happening out in nature right now, right here, right where I live?‘”
This book does the work of relieving your of any burden you might feel that nature journaling is or should be. Nature journaling is fun and a pleasurable practice, after all! Connecting with nature is an opportunity to slow down and be mindful. It’s also a wonderful way to truly connect with the place you live, recording and noting changes over time.
The book is divided into two main parts: Part 1 is “Getting Started” and takes you through the practical steps of setting up your nature journal and learning some basic practices and procedures. There are lots of example pages taken from the journals of Leslie incorporated throughout the text. In addition, Part 1 includes a detailed Introduction to Drawing section that is excellent for beginners. I find that Leslie’s style is accessible to all. She also encourages you to start with drawing skills and not worry about the use of watercolor and techniques if you are new to the process. Drawing is about observing, paying attention, and using perspective; and, as with any skill, you will get better the more you practice!
Part 2 of the book includes “Journaling Explorations” where Leslie takes you through some guided observations and practices, like learning to draw a flower, how to draw birds and understand their anatomy, or the complex skill of drawing landscapes. This section includes lots of guided examples and an incredible wealth of knowledge!
I’ll end the discussion here with a note from Clare Walker Leslie: “The main points I make when teaching are always to have fun; don’t stress about being a good artist; and realize this is more about seeing what you’re looking at than drawing it well.”
The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families, and Classrooms is an excellent nature guide for kids. This book would work well as a Nature Study curriculum book for homeschool families. Intended for children ages 6-10.
Note that this book includes pages to record observations directly in to the book, but if you have multiple children I recommend downloading the FREE pages from the Storey Publishing website: The Nature Connection Worksheets.
The book guides you month-by-month through a range of nature-based learning activities. It involves teaching children how to observe the natural world. Note that the month-by-month approach does assume the changing seasons and so this would not work as a monthly guide for some areas of residence. For example, January invites you to learn about winter survival (warm-blooded versus cold-blooded adaptations) and snow. In October you will learn about why leaves change color, fungi, and the harvest.
Note that this book is divided into three parts: Part One is How to Be a Naturalist — how to find nature wherever you are. The themes and instructions here are similar to notes found in other of Clare Walker Leslie’s books, but these notes are particularly aimed at elementary-aged children. Children learn very simple and doable methods of observing and recording what they encounter in nature. They are even taught drawing methods. Part Two of the book is all about Learning the Sky — it includes specific lessons on weather, clouds, seasons, daylight, the moon, etc. Part Three includes the Month-by-Month Guide I described above.
A Year In Nature: A Memoir of Solace provides a wonderful in-depth view into the nature journals of Clare Walker Leslie. She selected 122 pages from her own illustrated/hand written journals over a four year period. We see a picture of her journals day by day, month by month, for a full year. This volume is incredibly inspirational. I think, again, this is a wonderful opportunity to see how Leslie teaches from her own experience. The point, of course, is not to replicate exactly what she does; but rather to take the inspiration of a woman documenting what she observes and transform the process in to something of your own on a blank paper. I think you will find encouragement through this book if you are hesitant to begin a nature journal. Incorporated throughout the text is also little bits of wisdom and life which add to the experience. I could even see this as an excellent tourism publicity for the Northeast! It’s beautiful.
Drawn to Nature: Through the Journals of Clare Walker Leslie is a compilation of pieces from Leslie’s actual journals. This is a great book to wander through. “This book is intended to be a companion, giving you permission and encouragement to take five minutes to stop and notice all the nature living right beside you. Breathe out and in, and bring it into your life.” There are wonderful page examples in this book I find personally inspiring: colors of the seasons, “beech nut essay,” local meadow grasses, “the colors out my desk window,” to name a few. I love that this provides a nice example of how to record what you observe, and how pairing text with illustrations might vary depending on what you are recording. It’s a beautiful, inspirational, and charming little book.
The Curious Nature Guide: Explore the Natural Wonders All Around You is a fascinating invitation to explore and connect with the natural world where you are. I would say that this is a great starter guide if the idea of nature journaling at all feels overwhelming to you and committing to the in-depth self-education in Keeping a Nature Journal feels like too much. The Curious Nature Guide is a true guide on how to be curious!! What might you be interested in taking a closer look at? How do you open your senses to the world around you? How might you want to share your experiences with others? This book is really a lovely jumping off point. I would recommend this for anyone who feels like they need a quiet, calm voice to tell them how and why to slow down and connect with nature.
Nature All Year Long is a rich and intriguing picture book for children, which features the changes of the natural world through the seasons. Aimed at children 6-10 years old, Nature All Year Long would serve as a nice companion to a yearly nature study or nature education program, such as The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families, and Classrooms. Again, this highlights seasonal changes in the eastern United States so I understand this will not fit for everyone as a yearly nature study companion. However, it would work well for a biome study if you do not live in this area of the world.
The Art of Field Sketching is a nice highly detailed guide into nature illustration. This volume goes into further depth and provides more examples than provided in the Drawing section of Keeping a Nature Journal. This is great for those who want a bit more drawing instruction but also it provides a more detailed insight into Leslie’s style which I find to be so accessible. She says, “The art of field sketching is the art of learning to observe and draw nature quickly without worrying about the result.” If you think you can’t draw or don’t have the time and wish you did, this is the book for you!
My Favorites For Where to Start
Keeping a Nature Journal is my number one recommendation for where to start if you are interested in Clare Walker Leslie’s teaching style and incorporating nature observations into your routine.
For educators, I highly recommend The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families, and Classrooms for ideas on incorporating nature learning with children.