A trip to the art supply store or website is something most of us enjoy. We’re not just stocking up, but entertaining possibilities, wondering what a new color of paint or kind of brush or sculptural tool could bring to our work. Exploring new materials is part of what we do as artists. But there’s also a world of art materials and processes available at no cost, outside in nature. What can be done with sticks, dirt, rocks, feathers, bones, and other bits of nature? Today we’ll toss around some ideas for using natural objects as art materials and tools, and forces of nature as part of the art process.
Many artists enjoy collecting natural objects for their beauty and unique aspects but also for specific purposes in the studios. Using materials from the natural world opens up many possibilities for mark-making, textural effects, and for using processes such as allowing weather to affect a piece by placing it outside or printing from rusted metal.
The impulse to create with natural materials goes back to childhood for many of us when we made snow forts and tiny environments from sticks and rocks, or sealed autumn leaves between sheets of wax paper. The connection to nature we felt then can be extended into our adult practices as an expression of our experiences in the landscape. Many materials produce unique effects that can't be found in commercially available supplies, such as sticks and dried plant stalks for drawing, dried organic material mixed into paint, and unique natural dyes. Sometimes the personal meaning of a work is enhanced by the origin of the material such as sand from a particular beach that the artist visited.
Artists also develop inventive ways of interacting with natural forces as part of their practices. The British artist Andy Goldsworthy uses both objects from nature and its processes to create ephemeral sculptures of ice, earth, and fallen leaves, which he then documents in stunning photographs. Other artists bury drawings or paintings in the ground to let the earth color and erode them or set them in the rain to wash them out. Irish artist Nuala Clarke created an installation piece using bits of cloth that washed up on the beach that were beautifully weathered and worn, titled The Mariner's Laundry.
Expanding our creative vision to what nature and its processes can bring to our work is exciting and a way to bring your own experience of nature and natural processes and forces to your work.
Artists mentioned in this episoide: Andy Goldsworthy, Nuala Clarke, Anthony Crammen painting with fire: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IxwQ0itTCpM
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