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Nature is endlessly inspirational. Historically, artists have made many artworks based on an investigation and observation of nature. Interestingly, it’s not just artists who are captivated by it. There is a reason why landscapes and botanical illustrations are so popular—just look at Bob Ross! Many of us have come across site-specific work, like Andy Goldsworthy and Nils-Udo. But have you tried going one step further by involving nature directly in your artmaking? Using materials you or your students have found in nature can teach them about the local fauna and the connection between science and art. It can also increase their awareness of being a good steward to the environment, which taps into the SEL competency of Responsible Decision-Making.
Even if you are doing this in the middle of the school year and your classroom routines are strong, reviewing expectations around art materials doesn’t hurt. With a lesson focused on nature, it is a wonderful opportunity to teach students the respectful harvesting of supplies.
With all of these reminders, it may leave you and your students curious as to what is left to actually use! Don’t worry; there are plenty of items in nature that can be turned into fabulous artwork. Below are some suggestions of items to look for. However, you may have to adapt your list for your climate and surroundings.
Create a cyanotype print to demonstrate strength in the principles of design. Challenge your artists to compose an interesting composition with their gathered materials. As cyanotypes limit your color palette to only shades of blue, students must rely on their compositional skills to create something eye-catching. Make a mental note that preparing for this lesson can be time-consuming. If you are too busy to prepare your own cyanotype paper and your budget allows, you can purchase preprepared cyanotype paper. If your students have access to a darkroom, teach developing techniques by making a nature photogram instead!
For more information on cyanotypes and other photography processes that do not involve cameras or darkrooms, click on this article.
Try a monoprint with found materials. This can be done as practice for a block printing project or as a project in itself. Challenge students to create a series of monoprints that use the found materials. Students can experiment with endless combinations of layering flat, natural items and paint on their printing plates. This project allows students to practice responsible printmaking practices, like charging their brayer and mixing colors, while also flexing their problem-solving abilities.
There are many options for students to make their own collage materials. A simple start would be for students to use their found nature items directly in a collage, such as tearing up a giant leaf and gluing it down to create a new shape in the final artwork.
Here are some additional suggestions:
Teach students how to make texture stamps out of clay. Give each student three to five chunks of clay about the size of a golf ball. Go on a nature walk and have students collect textures by creating impressions with the clay. Once these stamps are bisque-fired, challenge students to use them in their next project.
Painting is already a magical experience for many students. Make it even more memorable by having your students mix their own pigments and paints!
Here are three ideas to introduce DIY paint recipes into your art room:
Are you looking for even more resources and lesson plans? Check out the Creating With Nature FLEX Collection!
Making art using supplies directly from nature builds a connection between your students and the environment around them. This connection grows student knowledge of the world and fosters a sense of responsibility and ownership. By bringing parts of nature physically into artmaking, you encourage students to look past their immediate setting to actively investigate the outside world. As we move into warmer temps, we hope you give some of these innovative nature ideas a try!
Check out these resources for more inspiration on nature and artmaking:
How do you use nature in a unique way in your art room?
What idea will you try with your students this spring?
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.