Artists find inspiration in a variety of things: music, food, memories, and in their surroundings. But nature is unquestionably one of the more popular sources of inspiration for many artists. Whether it’s using found bits in artwork, being inspired by what is seen in nature, or using natural elements to create media to make art, artists continue to show us how nature fits into their art-making processes. See how some of our contributors incorporate nature in mixed-media art, and share some expert ideas, tips, and suggestions.
1. For artist, author, and instructor Nick Neddo, nature is more than a source of inspiration. Neddo looks to nature for art tools and media as well, making everything from paintbrushes and pens, to inks, crayons, and more. In his article “Charcoal Drawing Sticks” May/June 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, he shares how to make your own charcoal sticks, using a backyard fire, an old tin, and narrow sticks from your surroundings. After scraping the bark from the sticks (he includes tips for the best types of wood to use), they are packed tightly in the tin, and the tin is set in a hot fire for at least an hour. Once cool, you have plenty of charcoal sticks for drawing. If you don’t like getting your hands dirty, Nick also provides instructions for hollowing out another stick to create a holder for the charcoal.
2. Rebecca Ruegger creates beautiful stick figures, inspired by her walks in nature with her dogs. Made from a variety of sticks found on these adventures, these whimsical creatures will make you take a second look at how you can include nature in mixed-media art. In her article “Stick Figures” in the September/October 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, Rebecca shares her techniques and tips. She says to look for sticks that have intriguing curves and perhaps knots for joints. Though joining the pieces sometimes requires a little creative thinking, Rebecca suggests filling in holes, divots, or depressions with clay, allowing it to dry, sanding the joins, and then paining them so they match.
3. Mixed-media artists are well known for using all kinds of everyday and found objects for stamping, and Rae Missigman is no exception. In the June 2016 Art Lesson Volume 6: Nature Stamps, Rae uses the ends of branches with paint for mark making in her collages. Done correctly, not only is the shape apparent, but the rings show well, too. Rae says it’s important to “properly prime your organic stamp.” Make the first application of paint heavy, and stamp on scrap paper before stamping on your canvas. It’s also important to use firm pressure, and to hold the stick in place for a few seconds before lifting to ensure a good print. The first stamped impressions will be heavy, but subsequent prints will reveal more of the wood-grain pattern.
4. In the March/April 2014 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, Colleen Ansbaugh shares in her article “Felted Stitched Landscapes” how the shapes and colors on the horizon inspire her small landscape pieces, along with some tips for felting success. To begin, Colleen felts basic fabric shapes to the background, laying the foundation for her landscape. She stresses the importance of using just enough wool roving when felting to secure the pieces to the background without completely obscuring these additions. Alternatively, be sure to do enough felting to adhere the pieces so they don’t fall off. Though felting is usually done front to back, Colleen suggests flipping the piece over and felting from back to front for a different effect.
5. Graham Keegan is another artist who looks to nature for materials. Keegan creates one-of-a-kind fabrics using natural dyes he concocts, some incorporating plants he harvests in his Los Angles neighborhood. Keegan created “A Shibori Flag” in the July/August 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. The star section of the flag was created by accordion folding the fabric, first parallel to the long side, then parallel to the short side, and then tying off each corner with thread, blocking the pigment from those areas. Keegan stressed the importance of applying the dye in thin layers, saying, “You cannot achieve a stable, long-lasting deep shade with a single long dip.” Important to remember!
6. Nature printing is a fun and easy way to create any number of art pieces; Sharon Gross created greeting cards using leaves in the article “Nature Print Greeting Cards” in the September/October 2013 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. Unlike other methods, Sharon suggests applying the paint to the back, or the vein side, of the leaf. She places a paper towel over the leaf before gently rolling over the leaf with a brayer. The paper towel keeps the paint from splattering, resulting in a nice crisp print.
7. Get an in-depth look at capturing nature in mixed-media art in a variety of outdoor locations in Cathy Johnson’s book Artist’s Sketchbook: Exercises and Techniques for Sketching on the Spot. Some of the most beautiful sights we see are things reflected in water. Catching that image in a sketch can be a bit intimidating, but Cathy has some tips for making it more doable. When a reflection occurs in still water, she says to mirror the shape or position of the reflection. If the reflection leans to the right, sketch the image in the same way. Also, it’s important to remember that the image will become less distinct the further it is from the reflected object. In this case, the branch becomes a scribble.
8. Dorit Elisha has another way to create and use natural dyes that involves steaming or cooking plants, leaves, and bark from her own backyard. She reveals all in her article “Eco-Dyed Collage” in the July/August 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. The eco-dye process starts by creating a stack of papers with plant materials arranged between each layer, and then tying and submerging the stack in boiling water that also has plant material in it. This process not only dyes the papers, it also creates prints from the materials between each layer. Dorit added rusty bits to the mix for another punch of color, and used these papers for beautiful earth-toned collages.
9. Deborah Wolff found inspiration seaside for her felted seashell cards, adding texture, line, and definition to her shells with free-motion stitching (See her article “Seaside Inspiration” in the July/August 2013 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine). Once the needle felting is accomplished, for the best results, Deborah suggests steam pressing the shell piece, using the maximum steam option. This also helps to hide the holes created by felting, she says.
10. Deborah Muller let nature inspire her doodle art, and she shares her techniques in the article “Building a Doodle Library” in the Spring 2016 issue of Zen Doodle Workshop magazine. Deborah catalogs her designs by shapes or style, and says you can’t go wrong by starting with basic shapes. Here she started with simple leaf shapes, filling them with a variety of basic doodles for stunning results. Natural shapes are easy to reference and draw. Think about using flower, shell, and tree motifs as the basis for doodles. Deborah’s suggestions for doodling success include drawing out your designs in pencil first, since practicing the basic shapes will help you master them. Later you can forego the pencil. Start in the middle of your design and work outward; this helps balance the design. And, last but not least, remember to accept little bloopers and turn them into your own designs.
Feeling inspired by the beauty of flora and fauna? The resources below from North Light Shop will help you get started on your next nature-inspired project.