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Mother Nature: Artist Supremo

In typical early May weather in North West Ontario, one day it is a balmy +20 and the next day the sleet is shooting in my eyes in a grotesque horizontal direction. But I know that this won’t last forever, although we have been known to have snow in June around here (yup, June). Soon, we will all be chomping at the bit to explore the great outdoors that we northerners know and love. And what this means for me as an artist is that I will be dragging my studio outdoors as much as possible.

So I thought I would dedicate this blog to some of the more memorable artistic activities that my friends and I have either done saddled up to Mama Nature or anticipate doing one day out in the fresh air. I hope that the following ideas give you fodder for your own outdoor creative adventures:

Doing art outside in the sunshine makes Tai feel like a king! 😉 How about that Canada flag he is drawing, eh?

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1. I once made “hairy paper” with my friend Martha. In a process that includes shredding, boiling, blending, scooping, and a lot more action words, it’s one that is best done outside. When the paper dried, Martha and I learned that you shouldn’t use dryer lint to make paper if you own a dog, hence the hairy paper. Since then, I have made paper with many students, and we love to embed natural items into the fibers such as pressed flowers or dried leaves. For a more detailed “how to” guide on how to make your own paper, head over to my resource library. I have put detailed instructions with pictures in there for you.

This paper doesn’t have any hair in it, but it has lots of other natural things. Soooo pretty! You can make some too!

2. I have been known to annihilate pansies by hammering them into paper. Pansies make an excellent imprint on paper when you pound the snot out of them. Just make sure to keep your fingers out of the way. Try it! And try it with different flowers and leaves too to see which ones have the most staining power.

Tai is hammering leaves to see how well they stain onto paper.

In one of many artistic adventures with Tai, we took a hammer to mountain ash berries and leaves to see how much staining power they have.

3. I take a small package of art supplies with me when I travel; my sketch pad, a set of coloured pens, some Sharpie markers, a few pencils, an eraser, and a variety of pencil crayons. I have drawn the Altantic Ocean on the beach of Meat Cove on Cape Breton Island. I have drawn the Altantic from the beaches of Holland a la van Gogh.  I have used the architecture of a chateau in Southern France surrounded by hedges dripping in hot pink hydrangeas as inspiration for a full coloured realistic drawing. I have gesturally sketched the fiercely strong jack pines in the Woodland Caribou Park that seem to defy logic as they pierce through the smallest cracks in the granite. These sketches are better than a photograph because it takes me right back to that moment in time, capturing all of the smells, the brightness of the sun, the breeze off the ocean and the opportunity I had to be truly reflective of the environment I was in.

After sitting on the beach for a preliminary sketch, I finished off this drawing in the comfort of our tent. That Atlantic ocean air is COLD! Even in July!

4. I put out pans of watery paint in an assortment of colours and then rolled large sheets of paper across the ground. Alexander stepped right into the pans, using his feet as brushes for beautifully colourful abstract art. The bath water was pretty interesting looking after that artistic endeavor!

Alexander’s little feet fit perfectly in these trays of non-toxic tempera paint. It was an exploration of colour mixing, texture, pattern, and sound all while basking in the sunlight.

5. Decorate your deck or yard or sunroom with adorned natural or man-made found objects. I once acquired a large taxidermied jackfish at a local auction and gave it a new lot on life. It hangs in my sunroom and always stimulates conversation and intrigue!

I spend a lot of time in this little screened in sunroom, looking up at this big colourful jackfish!

6. Get your doodle on. Doodling is a great way to create without thinking and just letting your surroundings take over for a while. I have doodled with a Sharpie on my husband’s back at the Winnipeg Folk Fest, letting the music summon the lines and shapes that become a part of his skin for a while. Automatic drawing is a fun way to create without feeling like you have to have specific results when the drawing is complete. Simply listen to what is around you, whether it’s the trickle of a stream or a bird singing, or the wind through dried leaves, put a pen in your hands and start drawing whatever comes to mind without lifting your pen. Then look at what you’ve created and see what happens when you let your mind wander. There might be something doodled in those lines that are worth exploring further!

I think this would make for a great tattoo, actually!

7. My buddy Tai and I collected different chunks of rotting and not rotting wood, hollowed reeds and other natural objects that bees like to cozy into and made a bee house for our little friends. Some people make really beautiful bee hotels that have a lot of various “rooms” to nest in. If you hop on over to Pinterest and search “bee hotel” you will be astounded by the lengths people go through in their creative endeavors for bees. It is a beautiful thing. But if you are like Tai and I, you make something that looks a bit more organic but still allows you to check in and see if you’re helping out your friends. Check out more information here about how you can help the bees. Tai’s parents shared a link with me about the research that is occurring at Guelph University to help our little fuzzy pollinators and honey makers. You can check it out here:

Tai is drilling some future bee nests.

8. I have had an abundance of fun collect wild plants from nature, researching them, (like, seriously, research them) and turn them into salves or teas, jellies or other delicious things. Just make sure you really know exactly what you have harvested before doing any ingesting at all! I have recipes for salves and teas in my resource library if you’re interested in making your own. And btw, don’t eat thistles. They’re yucky.

9. Dig up some clay and make some primitive pottery. I actually have really enjoyed exploring this process and even made a 5 part series on YouTube of how you can take mud from your yard and turn it into permanent pottery! No matter how old you are, you’re never too old to play in the mud! I have done this with kids in different age ranges and we had a total blast.

10. Carefully and respectfully harvest found items from nature such as pine cones, cedar boughs, sticks, bark, rocks, and plant life and turn them into a beautiful nature mobile that blows in the wind outside your window, or inside your window for that matter. Use the textural quality of the items to make embossed art or prints. Or better yet, keep the objects in nature, but just re-arrange them a little bit into unique art pieces that explore rhythm and balance. Take a photograph and then allow the items to remain where they are and let nature take its course again. Check out the gorgeous photography by Jill Bliss that uses fungi as eye candy.

Tai and I were inspired by the shapes and textures of vegetables and leaves to create some printed designs. We used non-toxic paint so the veggies could be washed and put in the composter afterwords. Worm food!

Whatever the case, you don’t need a plan to create outdoors. You don’t need a whole lot of supplies. You don’t need to first find something to do on Pinterest. You just need to sit down, soak in the rays, let your senses take over for a while, and trust that Mother Nature will give you some excellent guidance as to what your artistic endeavor is going to be for that moment in time. You won’t be disappointed; only if you forget to put on sunblock. Don’t forget the sunblock.

Every moment outside is an opportunity to be creative.

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