Spring always makes me excited to spend more time outside, and the early flowers in Austin have been calling out for me to stop and appreciate their beauty. I was reading Sara Roizen’s lovely Art Therapy Spot blog the other day and was inspired by her posts about creating mindful art outdoors and with natural materials. So, I decided to spend some time creating nature-inspired art.
It was nice to wander around the yard and garden with my toddler and gather some rocks, leaves, flowers, and sticks to use for inspiration. When he went down for his nap, and later as I had breaks throughout the week, I took the time to work on my art. I enjoyed the quiet time to make art and tried to focus on being mindful and present as I worked.
I also decided to do nature-inspired art with some art therapy groups this week. For the hospital-based groups, I brought in a collection of natural objects and invited the group to choose a few to inspire their art. For my teen group in my private practice, we took a few minutes to wander around the office courtyard and each group member collected some leaves, sticks, and stones from the landscaping.
I showed the groups a few samples, but kept the directive open-ended, inviting everyone to create a piece of art inspired by nature and the natural objects. Clients were encouraged to practice mindfulness as they worked by focusing on the present moment and the art, setting aside worries about the past or future, and cultivating an attitude of non-judgmental acceptance of their work.
If you’d like to try create some of your own nature-inspired art at home or with art therapy clients, here are a few ideas. I’ve also created some videos about the ideas and techniques, so look for those at the bottom of the post.
Natural items – leaves, sticks, stones, flowers, bark, snail shells, acorns, etc.
Pencil and eraser (I’ve been enjoying my new Pentel Hi-Polymer erasers)
Black marker or pens (I used a black Prisma color marker)
Watercolors (For great color, I love Pelikan Opaque Color Watercolors)
Traced Leaf Mandala
Choose one of your natural items and trace (or draw) on the page. Trace it several more times, overlapping as you go. I traced my fig leaf within a circle to create a mandala, but you could do this on any size or shape of paper. Go back over your lines with a black marker if you want them to stand out more. Fill in the areas with different colors. I chose colored pencil, but you could also use markers, crayons, chalk, paint, etc. This would be a really great art activity for someone who is hesitant about their art-making skills or wants to expand out of their comfort zone if they’ve been doing coloring books. (Demo video at the end of the post.)
Create a watercolor mandala
Trace or draw your natural item inside of a circle to begin a mandala. Fill in the rest of the circle to develop your art piece. I used markers and watercolor in this mandala, keeping it simple to highlight the natural beauty of the leaf and the beautiful colors of the paint.
Do a leaf rubbing
Do a rubbing of your materials and develop a picture from them. This is something that most of us did as a child and likely haven’t done in many years. There can be something very rejuvenating about engaging in art that reconnects us with the wonder and fun of childhood. We still have several red oak leaves floating around our yard from the past fall, so I used a few of those in my art piece. I added a quote that inspires me: “Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is beauty.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Incorporate the natural object into an art piece
Glue down your natural items and then draw or paint around them to create a work of art. I didn’t do one like this recently, but a few people did in the groups.
Trace overlapping objects and fill in with patterns
Trace a leaf multiple times or trace several object overlapping on the page. Fill in the different areas with patterns and designs. This is similar to filling in designs on a Zentangle. You can color the patterns in; I chose to leave mine black and white.
Here are the videos I created about nature-inspired art ideas and how to create the traced leaf mandala.
Let me know in the comments if you try any of these ideas or if you have other favorite ways to make nature-inspired art.
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Carolyn Mehlomakulu, LMFT-S, ATR is an art therapist in Austin, Texas who works with children, teens, and families. For more information about individual therapy, teen and child counseling, family therapy, teen group therapy, and art therapy services, please visit: www.therapywithcarolyn.com.
This blog is not intended to diagnose or treat any mental health conditions. All directives, interventions, and ideas should be used by qualified individuals within the appropriate bounds of their education, training, and scope of practice. Information presented in this blog does not replace professional training in child and family therapy, art therapy, or play therapy.
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Kay Trotter says
Thanks for these Natured Inspired Art-Therapy activities. I especially like the watercolor mandala. "Blessings all around us"
Carolyn Mehlomakulu says
Hi Kay, thanks for reading and glad you liked the ideas. I'd love to hear how it goes if you try any of them.
Sheila L Kalkbrenner says
I love these ideas! I am working on building a small “Green Studio” space off of my regular studio where Survivors and I will be able to make Living Sculptures and do more nature inspired Creative Wellness art. I am hoping to use activities like the ones you posted here as transition activities to introduce that concept. Thanks so much for posting and sharing these. Your method helps me better identify how to make my own lessons more concise.
~Wishing you a low pain day!
Charla Lucibello says
I loved this. I plan on using this in my middle school groups this week. I do have a question. You presented a multitude of ideas on how to accomplish the art, such as a mandala, a water coloring, utilizing the object within a drawing, Etc. Do you typically present options to your group or allow them to discover their method? I am concerned my middle schoolers will feel overwhelmed, neither do I want to oversimplify the activity by limiting their imaginations. Thank you!
Carolyn Mehlomakulu says
I have done it both ways with a group. There are times that I present one option and encourage everyone to try it. At other times I have left it open ended with a prompt like “Create a piece of art inspired by or incorporating these nature items.” I have done a short mindful nature walk and then the open-ended prompt with a small high school group and it went well.