Natural Inspiration

In learning about permaculture in a class I took, a principle that I found intriguing was that of designing systems based on patterns that exist in nature. I haven’t applied these concepts to any attempts to cultivate plants, but I am finding the concept coming back to mind as I create my In an Open Hand deck card illustrations. In essence, I am experimenting with a more abstract form of art that is still rooted in nature.

I succeeded in drawing a pine branch that I found aesthetically-pleasing, but, as soon as I attempted to draw an entire tree, I found myself completely out of my depth and managed to pencil only a very abnormally-shaped and odd Christmas tree. I have plans to take a colored-pencil class next summer which will hopefully help me improve my skills, but, after my trip to the art museum, I started contemplating the idea of capturing nature on a more abstract level. What I’m currently trying out is outlining a natural shape, such as a pine tree, and then filling it in with more abstract forms such as wavy lines. What I’m making looks a bit like a cartoon but at least approaches something that isn’t repulsive to me.

PHysical Patterns

What I love about turning to nature for ideas is that there are many from which to choose. Below are a list of websites that list possibilities for designs based on nature:

A few commonalities among the website suggestions include waves, spirals and web formations. As far as I understand it, permaculture focuses on physical design to benefit both humans and the ecosystem and is not concerned with aesthetics as a core value. However, I like the idea of tapping into the components of the natural system as a source of creativity, rather than limiting myself to a literal (and highly imperfect) representation of what I take in through my senses. To the extent that you spend time outdoors and/or in nature, how do you translate what you see into your creative passions? In terms of artistic creations, where on the spectrum of literal to abstract do you find yourself falling? Why?

Visiting a Local Art Museum (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I’ve had a bit more downtime recently and have started on a series of day trips filled with coffee-shops, local eateries and art! I really enjoyed my travels today and learned a bit about my art preferences. As a result, I feel renewed inspiration to simply let myself create rather than to worry about the end product.

I started the day at a library inside which there was a small coffee nook. I purchased some tea and read a book sitting on a comfy chair in front of ceiling-high windows. With my PTSD symptoms being as extreme as they are right now, I decided to wear my Bluetooth earbuds so that I could listen to music and minimize my auditory stimuli. No one got in my space except for a small child who was trying to hide from their sibling, who soon trotted past pushing a stroller much taller than they were. This interaction made me smile and I formed a positive impression of the place as a whole.

I next went to the art museum at which, for the majority of the time, I was the only visitor. The admission cost was high compared to the size of the museum. I was at first disappointed as the regular collection held mostly modern art which was filled with awkward, pointy breasts. I know that is a weird focal point but I swear half the pieces contained this, even though they were by assorted artists. Almost every single piece focused on the human figure in a distorted form; I felt uncomfortable rather than inspired. I know the point of art is to cause an emotional reaction, but I’m in a place where feeling soothed rather than challenged is what I need.

I was delighted, however, when I entered a small gallery displaying the work of local artists. Almost all of it contained nature scenes and I had to resist the temptation to spend hundreds of dollars on a piece, as most of them were for sale. I found it so ironic that the local, lesser-known artists were the ones I enjoyed so much. There was an oil painting of water and sky that I think was my favorite.

I only noticed one piece in colored pencil in the entire place. It was in the local artist gallery section. It reminded me of a painting I’d seen before, with geometric shapes and colors. I enjoyed the symmetry, however, when I inspected it closely, it made me feel better about my own colored pencil work as the areas in primary colors weren’t even filled in so that the tooth of the paper was covered.

I felt more confident in my pull to create art after the trip. Several pieces throughout the building reinforced to me the notion that the aesthetic appeal of art is in the eye of the beholder, in that, simply by creating a piece, art is happening. I’m also contemplating for the first time the relationship between my feelings of attraction and repulsion, and how they might interplay with my artistic interests. I am someone who is disgusted and repulsed more easily than most people and who finds beauty in nature rather than in the human form. To create something that, deliberate or not, I view as grotesque, quite honestly has never occurred to me before. I want pleasure not pain from my art, but, after viewing the local collection, I’ve come to see that my goal may not be shared by everyone. What do you want from the art you encounter? What are your goals when you create? On which spectrums besides disgust-beauty might art operate?

A colored pencil drawing of a pine branch with green needles. The branch is drawn from the upper left to the bottom right of the paper.

Needle by Needle

I finally drew something I don’t hate! I created this pine branch using my Faber-Castell colored pencils on Strathmore 400 Series Colored Pencil paper. In addition to two types of green pencils, I used yellow to highlight and blue to shade. All the pencils I used are in the 12 pack starter version of the Faber-Castell (I cannot emphasize enough how helpful it was to limit how many pencils I’m trying to incorporate).

In terms of technique, I first started by looking at a pine tree and realized the needles covered the branch as well. I sketched in the brown wooden part of the branch lightly first. I used green at first to line each branch at an angle with both shades of green. Next, I drew with yellow on the ends I wanted to highlight, and blue closer to the branches on the underside and where they met. Finally, I covered the wooden part in a cross-hatch motion nearly parallel to it with both shades again.

In terms of improvements needed, my color balance is messed up because I added the smaller areas of needles after the first few branches and they got too much blue, and because I rotated the final drawing in my photograph. I have to work on where and how to photograph my drawings as the overall color is too dark as well but I was too lazy to go outside in 20 degree F weather to try there. Finally, I have to consider how to make the branch appear more 3-D–I think the needles are alright for this but the branch itself looks rather flat because of the angle I used on the parts that split off.

I started my colored pencil drawings attempting to draw an entire tree and it did not go well. I think I have to break stimuli into their components in order to be able to have any chance of creating a visual representation I find palatable. Observing what I am trying to draw in person proved very useful so that is something I will be continuing. If you like to draw, what do you find useful in drawing natural objects? To what extent do you focus on realism? What serves as your inspiration?