Module Two: Nature - the greatest muse

Ellie Beck delicate mushrooms in a row.jpeg

Finding inspiration in nature

Have you ever heard of shinrin yoku? It's the Japanese meditation of simply being in the forest, sometimes called "forest bathing". I don't need scientific studies to tell me that walking in nature is good for my mental and physical health, but there has been lots of research done about it if anyone needed that sort of proof! Our fast modern society spends too much time in concrete forests wearing shoes, and not enough time in real forests touching the ground. (Go google shinrin yoku if you want to read more, I'll wait here). 

I am lucky to live surrounded by forest, where every day we walk outside with barefeet and walk under trees, with birds calling, and fresh breeze drifting through our home. If you don't have this luxury then please plan some time for some forest walking this week. 

As well as being good for your health, I find being surrounded by forest, the beach, nature to be inspiring for my creative self. And I know I'm not alone. Many artists find direct inspiration using nature in their work (I'm thinking about Andy Goldsworthy and what about the movie set of 'Where the Wild Things Are'). Ephemeral art is a thing of beauty that makes you take notice of the environment in a different way. But there's other ways you can capture the inspiration of nature in your creative practice.

Let's go for a walk. Take your camera, notebook & pen, and perhaps a collecting basket*.....

*depending on what forest or park you visit, please take note that it's illegal to remove native flora from national parks, and some native plants are protected, which means even roadside foraging might be out of the question. Choose only windfall items, or remember the mantra of take no more than 10%. For those of you curious, I pick my mushrooms from my garden when there's lots of one type and I take just a small few, rather than stripping a whole grove, and I return them to the garden when I've finished photographing or drawing them. At certain perfect conditions our garden is bursting with different 'shrooms.

Remember your breathing from module one, and then let's open our ears and open our eyes, and begin our walk. This is about noticing what's around you. The big things and the small things. The often overlooked can be as beautiful as the obvious. Take photos of colours, shapes, patterns that catch your eye. Sit and write or draw what you see, feel, hear. This is a lovely activity with children as well - read below for a special way to *hopefully* keep them quieter.

Nature is perhaps one of my biggest inspirations in my creative practice, in many different ways.

I find a direct inspiration from being surrounded by forest, birds, trees, green and lush freshness. It invigorates me, and uplifts me. I only need to step outside my kitchen door to find some stillness and a burst of creative-juice. I keep telling myself that green and brown aren't "my colours" but then I look around me and that's what I'm surrounded by. I feel like I need to embrace that a little bit more. (read below about Instagram and the colours of your feed).

Drawing and sketching my nature finds, weaving from visuals of the landscapes, dyeing the direct colours or leafy shapes of the forest, catching the essence of what Mother Nature means to me is part of my story. How I'm connected in my environment, how I fit into it, what my journey and map looks like, what my personal landscape feels like, the heartbeat of my nature.


Journaling ideas: 
remember to breathe

What's your story and connection with nature? 
Does your journey feel earthy, beachy, fire-ish, airy?
What's your favourite memory of being outside? How could you show this in a painting, drawing, weaving, stitch-work, piece of clay, fabric, paper, photograph?
How does Mother Earth show up in your work?
Is nature your muse? Or something else?
What is your greatest creative muse?

Ellie Beck eco printed art journal quote.JPG

life, a love letter

And in that moment, 
the stillness
Between the silence of thought.


This is my eco-dyed hand stitched journal. Made using gathered leaves, beautiful watercolour paper and a botanically dyed felt cover. I really enjoyed making this using nature as inspiration, while also giving me a space to collect my little words (poems?). Botanical dye is just one way that nature can be a direct inspiration for your creative practice - transferring the colour from the leaves and flowers directly to cloth or paper. You'll be making your own journal in week two.

This art journal also has the added joy of giving me nature-make marks to work back into, to have a direct collaboration with. I like the idea that the leaves and I are telling a story together.

Ellie Beck eucalyptus leaves green and red.jpeg

Things to take notice of

+ the way the light streams through the trees
+ the aroma of the forest
+ a fallen leaf that looks like a watercolour painting
+ the yellowish tip on the edge of a new budlet
+ these red tinged green leaves
+ a tiniest little mushroom hiding in the root of a tree
+ peeling bark - does it remind you of paper on an old book
+ how many leaves can you find - more than all the stars in the sky, I always think
+ wildflowers in bloom
+ ants crawling along a branch
+ a stone, a twig, a stick
+ the tallest tree
+ did you find a feather?
+ lines, shapes, colours, patterns - can you draw them, paint them, stitch them


Inspiration & Work below: (top) bracken fern & pen line work, mushrooms & watercolour, basket weaving using willow, wild mushrooms & crochet mushrooms,
(bottom) seedpods & botanically dyed threads and weaving (from the "Conversations with Motherhood" series), weaving ("If we Lived on Jupiter") and moon (moon photo shot by my son Ari).

Bring your treasures home and see what you can create...

I find that photographing, drawing and painting pieces I pull from the forest, bring home from the beach, gather from a roadside walk shows me a different way of looking at my own creative practice. My loom weaving, botanical dye & hand stitchwork are my primary artistic creative outlets, as well as photography and writing. But I often think that what I do best is curate my collections.... move them about, make little displays, ponder them, photograph them, enjoy & appreciate them. A pile of perfectly formed beach rocks makes me insanely contented. Or a bundle of weather-worn sticks tied up with a piece of my naturally dyed cloth. Or a bunch of dried leaves hanging from my bedroom wall. 

Curating nature and gathered treasures such as this are one of the best ways to tap into your creative-ness. Because it's not permanent there's less pressure for it to be "good enough". It doesn't cost expensive art supplies or offend anyone (probably not, at any rate). It's a perfectly beautiful way to begin a day before you delve deeper into your own art / creative practice. 

Something that I love doing, when I'm feeling a little restless and need to settle my mind, is to create simple mandalas, flatlays, styled scenes with my nature treasures. Some of these I have already in my collection, others I go out and gather. Beginning with a nature walk / forage is a beautiful way to slow and calm my mind. It helps me focus somewhat, and gives me a mini project that I can do in limited time or space. 

If you're anything at all like me, as a creative, you possibly have MANY MANY projects on the go at once. Or your mind is in a bustle trying to work out which projects to focus on, which ones to give your attention to directly. Leaf or petal play is a great way to meditate for a few minutes (without the actual mediation, that often doesn't work for me in those times). Flowers are beautiful to work with, of course of course, but I think it's great to use leaves, sticks, berries, seedpods as well. The dried and decayed, the knobbly bumpy sticks, the curled up leaf, the half cracked seedpod. 

Focussing on items that aren't always necessarily innately beautiful guides your mind and eye to see the beauty in everything. Flowers are big on Instagram, but I highly encourage you to steer away from those obvious flatlay images, and try for something "YOU". Close your eyes, turn off the distractions of Pinterest, Instagram, blogs, etc and listen to the pieces in your hand. Move them about, go with the flow of what evolves. Don't edit yourself. Take photos as you go, only if you want.  

Ellie Beck Petalplum leaf mandala ombre colour change.jpeg

Project: create a mandala


*I realise that this isn't necessarily a 'mandala' shape, but it's just a name rather than worrying about being exact. I hope you know what I mean.

Choose one natural material - leaves of one type, beach sticks, pebbles & rocks, berries or seedpods. See what you can create with a small selection of treasures. 

Limit yourself to time, materials, space. Or give yourself a basket of 'things' and pick randomly. See what evolves with what's to hand in your immediate vicinity, without over-thinking it. 

Working with what you have is handy for learning to use minimal arts supplies. Making do and making things work simply with what's right there is a great practice to get your mind working in new ways. 

I often find that from one material - ie these leaves to the left that I gathered along my driveway - I create something I would never have created if I'd had access to many types of leaves. 

I noticed the colour changes, the subtle shades and different hues. I had to look closely at each leaf to see where they sat in regards to the other leaves..... is this pink or red, is this one redish pink or pinkish red? Does this dark patch go this way, or turn it around and it goes another way. 

By giving yourself a project like this you're looking at colour, design, composition without even realising it. You're not overthinking it, you're simply letting the leaves tell their story through your hands. 




Instagram feed and my colours

Strangely I keep aiming for certain colour themes in my Instagram feed, but when I look at analytics that break down the colours of my pictures, browns and pink-brown hues with greens seem to dominate. Much more than the indigo blues that I think are "my colour".

I use an app called Plann for my Instagram posting, which has great analytics as well as a super easy to use drag & drop format for organising my photos and planning what I'll post when. It's a great way for me to write my captions when I have time to think clearly about what I want to say, so that I'm ready to post at the right time (for my audience, engagement, etc), without having to take photos, write captions etc etc in rush. 

There's also a site where you can put your Insta name and it shows your whole colour palette, if you're curious check out ColorKuler. (that's what the box of colours is below - my current Insta feed).

While this course is not about Instagram, or pleasing an audience --- eeekkkkk it's about the total opposite of pleasing an audience --- using something like this shows me what I'm naturally drawn to, what my environment actually is, rather than what I think it is. It reminds me to look at my work without my preconceived notions about it. To view what I create (and photos on Instagram are creation) from a visual rather than emotional thought-process. To see it how others see it, which is different than the sometimes too close viewpoint we each take of our work. 

Styling with Nature:

These images above are part of my creative meditation, as well as part of my styling work. In order to 'show off' my work in a highly visual world, I've learnt (mostly because of Instagram) that styling and how we present our work affects the way people view it. The mandala, flatlay, styling project above is a great way to get your mind working in this manner. 

If you're inspired by nature in your arts / creative practice then using natural props will talk back to your inspiration, and guide your viewers to see your work how you see it. If you're looking to showcase your work through social media, such as Instagram and Pinterest, then the innate beauty of using natural items can be a great way to tap into the current appeal of foliage, floral faffery, and botanically inspired images. I'll share a video of me styling some shots on our Sunday session, this weekend.

I will go further into Instagram and social media later, because it's a fantastic way to put your work out there into the world and learn to over-come your fears of being rejected. I'll talk about what to share and how to share it, as well (even more importantly I think) how to not become too emotionally attached to the results you receive (ie likes and follows). 

Learning to share your work, and your story, as an artist (or insert whatever word you call yourself) helps to clarify what your story is. The more comfortable I become with talking about my work, the more I respect myself as an artist. It's that thought that you can't expect others to love you, if you don't love yourself. So - if you want to be an artist, start calling yourself an artist (even if only on your Instagram bio). Small steps like that actually have powerful outcomes. 

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Children in nature:

Taking children with you on a nature walk is beautiful - it gets them off devices and breathing deeply, it shows them the possibilities that sadly our future generations seem to be loosing through this technological world.

But often it can mean your own quiet walk is 'disrupted', and becomes a different sort of nature walk. 

Here's a few ideas for being outside with children:
+ give them a treasure hunt list - things to find, but not bring home. Can they draw or photograph what's on the list.
+ remind them to look but not touch (depending on their age) - some mushrooms are poisonous, some ants can bite, etc
+ bring down the magic door of silence before you enter the forest - this is a special circle where everyone pulls closed a door, like zipping your lips, and silence begins. You can hear more, experience more when everyone's quieter.
+ go slowly, hold their hand and experience the joy of exploring with children. They really do notice things that we don't.