Art Influenced by Nature: Get Inspired without Leaving Home

I know in some parts of the world it’s still the dead of winter and it will be for some time, but here in Texas, it’s going to be in the 80s today.

The sun will be shining and the birds will be chirping. It’s hard to not think about spring and all of the things that will soon be growing and the creatures that will be making their presence known.

When I was a kid, one of my favourite outdoor activities was to look around and try to imagine the natural world from the perspective of tiny magical creatures who might be living among us, just outside our view.

Maybe a little acorn cap was actually a miniature soup bowl or a teacup for a fairy. Maybe an interesting leaf is really a hat that belongs to a gnome. A cluster of mushrooms could be home to an entire faerie village.

I loved to look at nature in this way and imagine those normal everyday things might actually be evidence of an enchanted microcosm — a world where magic exists.

I’ve always been enamoured with art that features natural elements. My favourite illustrations have flowing grasses, craggy rocks, gnarly trees, or tangles of bramble. They feature interesting plants with leaves of all shapes and sizes.

Maybe it’s because every fairy tale I was read as a child always begins somewhere deep in the forest, but the more I pay attention, the more I find the natural world to be endlessly inspiring.

The other day, my five-year-old son brought me some moss that he had collected outside and I decided to do a study of it in watercolour.

The next time I sat down with my sketchbook, this little moss faerie appeared. This got me thinking about all of the ways that we can let nature inspire our art.

Before COVID-19 we didn’t have to think twice about going out into the world to seek inspiration. Maybe you liked travelling to museums or taking weekend trips to interesting places.

Maybe once sat in busy cafes or shopping malls to watch people and sketch. I used to love sketching at the zoo.

But in the last year, we’ve been much more limited on where we can go and what we can do to seek inspiration for our art. I think we’ve all learned the true meaning of cabin fever.

But what if I told you, you don’t have to leave home. Even if you can only take a walk down the street where you live, there is a whole wide world of inspiration waiting for you right outside your door. You just have to look for it.

Here are some tips for getting outside and letting nature inspire your art.

5 Tips for Letting Nature Inspire Your Art:

1. Take a walk. I would say to leave your phone behind, but you might need it to take a photo here and there! While you’re out, notice the shapes, textures, patterns, forms and colours of natural objects. 

Examine them. Touch them (only if it’s safe to, of course). Maybe collect a sample if it’s appropriate to do so, or take a photo to reference later.

2. Create a reference library. You can make a dedicated Instagram account, a folder in your Photos app on your phone, or a folder on your computer. 

Collect photos of unique flowers or plants with interesting leaf shapes or patterns.

Take photos of textures or intriguing patterns of light, for example, the dappled sunlight on the side of a house as the sun rises, or rays of sunlight streaming through tall grass as the sunsets.

3. Start a journal of nature studies done in whatever medium you prefer. It can be a pencil, watercolour, ink — colour or black and white. 

It doesn’t matter how you do it — it’s only important that you filter what you’ve experienced and find a way to translate your observations onto the page with your artistic voice.

4. Observe natural objects and try to imagine what everyday objects they resemble or how they could be anthropomorphized. Maybe that flower looks like the bell sleeves of a dress. 

Maybe lichens on a tree resemble lace or the leaves of a fern look like a wild hairstyle. Think about how you can incorporate these natural elements into character designs to make unique, magical creatures.

5. Have you ever tried to find a 4-leaf clover? It’s an anomaly because leaves and flower petals tend to grow in odd numbers. 

Mother Nature doesn’t make ugly things — even she knows that if she wants to make a clover that is pleasing to the eye, to follow the rule of 3s. 

You can learn many principles of visual design by looking at nature. Notice how objects in the natural world are designed and make note of them — it’s filled with examples of repetition, interesting shapes, patterns and examples of the golden spiral. 

One of the most useful things I’ve observed from nature is that most organic forms have lines that follow a pleasing rhythm that is very simple, but when applied to your art will make everything look more natural. Go outside and see what you can find!

Kristin Wauson is a children’s book author/illustrator and certified yoga teacher based in Austin, Texas. She’s a wife, mother of boys, a chocolate lab and a dragon (a bearded dragon, that is). When she’s not making picture books, you’ll probably find her fermenting something, baking or cooking up a new recipe. She is represented by Adria Goetz at Martin Literary Management.
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