Inspired by nature: how to bring nature into your art

It may be obvious by now that I love nature. I love everything about it, from breathing in the smell of spring to taking three hour walks across-country, watching wildlife in my garden to picking blackberries in autumn, for me nature is inspiring. It fuels my art. And I love nature for more than that - my walks keep me sane (literally, see Losing Eden by Lucy Jones for all the scientific evidence that we need the wild for our mental and physical health), the sound of birds makes me smile inanely, and more recently, the first spring flowers (that I can finally recognise and name after a lifetime of living in a city - lesser celandine, snowdrop, wood anemone . . .) have had me squealing in excitement (not an exaggeration, just ask my husband). There is something about it that is so totally magical, that can instil a sense of Wonder (oh yes, wonder with a capital W, so important is wonder for learning and preservation of nature that we were taught strategies for instilling it as teachers) unlike anything else. I'm always aiming to capture a little bit of that magic and put it in my art, and on top of that, I'm looking to preserve it by making Howell Illustration as sustainable as possible.


A digital painting from The Bird Book by Nicola Howell Hawley
A digital painting from The Bird Book by Nicola Howell Hawley

I don't really know how successful I'm being.

But one tip I have for you: if you want nature to inspire what you are doing, then you must get out into it. Make time to breathe it in. Put your mobile away and walk. And one other thing I ask: if you are going to use nature to inspire you, then please do your best to preserve it also.

It's one of the reasons I agreed to work on The Bird Book, a pocket guide book to birds coming in May, it's the reason all of my packaging is zero waste, why my studio and home is set up for green energy and carbon offset, why I donate 5% of my profits to charities working to preserve the wild and bring equality to it. It's why I make art.


Recently I've been feeling like I'm approaching that sense of wonder a little more. One of my goals for the forthcoming years is to get more work into galleries. As part of that I have created drawings of things that have fallen from trees: a bunch of curled leaves still attached to a branch and fallen just so, a group of fallen, snapped twigs with brightly coloured fungus and lichen growing off it, in stark contrast to the darker, rain-soaked bark and ground. And finally, just the other day, a clay model of one of these branches, which I'm really looking forward to painting when it dries. Another tip then, to bring nature into your art:

look again, look for the small everyday things that you might pass by, and try to appreciate what they are: nature at its best; cyclical in a way that humans are not, patient, making life out of death. Fungus on a twig. Find the thing you find wondrous, then explore the thing

a pen and ink drawing of dotwork leaves by Nicola Howell Hawley of Howell Illustration
A drawing of autumn leaves by Nicola Howell Hawley

Another, smaller tip I could give you is: find ways of recording nature that work for you. Controversially, I don't keep a sketch book, and I'm only now realising that I don't necessarily have to. There is a lot of pressure on an artist to keep a sketch book, and I have absolutely no doubt that it can help some people a lot. But I have never taken well to it. It is just, not for me. I have to force myself to do it. So, the way I work is to take photographs, I gather images on Pinterest, I sketch rough ideas on my ipad and then delete them or go over them with neater, more fully realised ideas on different layers. Apart from anything else it saves paper. But, my point is, all my life I have heard that I must keep a sketch book, and I still hear it, even from people I admire and follow and it makes me feel like some part of me is lacking, that I am not an artist. So I am here to tell you: do whatever the hell you want. Keep a sketchbook, don't keep a sketchbook, buy an iPad, keep all your inspiration on Pinterest, or better yet, go out and experience it without recording it and keep that memory and wonder in your head. Then,

Bring how nature makes you feel into your work
A pen and ink drawing with gouache paint of fungus on a branch by Nicola Howell Hawley
A drawing of fungus and lichen on a fallen branch by Nicola Howell Hawley

Do it your way - and don't be afraid to explore without a sketchbook.


Thanks for reading!


Nx

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