Gifts from nature: creative inspiration and free art supplies

Now is the perfect time of year to spend time outdoors, and if you need an excuse to do so, gathering ideas and art supplies is a great one. It’s fun to keep your eyes open for treasures when you are on a hike, weeding your garden or just strolling through the neighborhood.

I have always been a gatherer ... bringing home “souvenirs” from summer vacations that I could use in my projects. In fact, I usually take a travel art kit containing supplies that I might use to create art on the fly if I become so inspired. My kids grew up thinking that art-making was an essential part of any family vacation.

Note: If you choose to gather natural materials, be sure to do so responsibly. Make sure you have permission; collect only materials that are not rare or special in some way; don’t take too much or damage remaining growth.

Since I started working at the Lawrence Public Library a few months ago, I’ve been having a great time exploring our collection in depth — especially my favorite nonfiction section, the 700s. Most particularly, the 745s and 746s. We have a nicely balanced selection of arts and crafts books — including quite a few really good resources for gathering and using natural materials. Here are a few of my favorites:

"Nature Inspired: Mixed-Media Techniques for Gathering, Sketching, Painting, Journaling, and Assemblage" by Tracie Lyn Huskamp I particularly enjoy this book because it covers the gathering and use of natural objects as well as techniques for sketching and painting elements from nature. It even includes a nice small section on flower-pounding. (If you haven't tried flower-pounding, let me tell you that it's really fun and easy to do.) The early part of the book provides detailed instructions for a variety of techniques and for preserving and using natural materials; the later part of the book focuses on specific projects.

"The Organic Artist" by Nick Neddo A fascinating book! The author shows how to create pens, paint brushes, and inkwells as well as natural charcoals, inks and paints — all from things found in the great outdoors. One aspect that I especially enjoyed was the author’s sharing of his philosophy for using materials from the natural world. He encourages us to be thoughtful about our needs and to be mindful of where and how we gather our natural supplies.

"Wild Color: The Complete Guide to Making and Using Natural Dyes" by Jenny Dean The library has a good selection of books about making and using natural dyes, and I would suggest you browse them all if this is an interest for you. I chose this one to include here because it is a terrific basic resource. The introduction includes some fascinating historical information about all types of dyeing. Then, the author takes you step-by-step through the entire dyeing process with several variations. There is also a detailed section devoted to plants, complete with color swatches showing the variations that can be achieved with different parts of each plant, using varied mordants and dyeing processes.

"Natural Processes in Textile Art: From Rust-Dyeing to Found Objects" by Alice Fox This book is so wonderful I had to buy a copy for my personal library. The author has a lovely way of looking at the world and the detritus that could become art. I love the diverse techniques that are covered in detail including rust-dyeing, eco-dyeing, leaf-printing, and stitching of all kinds of natural materials and found objects. This is a beautiful book to simply leaf through and get ideas, but if you want to learn any of the techniques, you will find all the information you need to be successful.

"Gifts From the Herb Garden" by Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead Chock-full of beautiful photos, this is a lovely book. The focus is on cultivated flowers and herbs, but you could apply many of the ideas to wild native plants as well. This book teaches good techniques for collecting and drying herbs and flowers, and it includes recipes and instructions for making wreaths, sachets, potpourri, and personal care products. After spending some time with this book, I’ve decided to plant more flowers and herbs this year so I can use them in new ways.

I enjoy these types of books because they encourage me to look at my surroundings through a slightly different lens and with a mind open to all sorts of possibilities. I hope you'll find a book that inspires you to create something new — or to take a walk on the wild side!

— Jill Mickel is an information services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.

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