Nature is a great way for any artist to get inspired – just think of all the remarkable artists throughout history who have used nature as a starting point for their most famous works. To capture the full beauty of nature, though, it's important to change the way you look at your surroundings. You have to stop looking at only the physical object and allow your feelings and imagination to guide you.
When you see an object like a tree or flower, or feel the sensation of the wind, try capturing how it makes you feel. What you’ll find is that subtle differences in light can create very different feelings and emotions about even the most basic objects.
For example, one of the greatest Impressionist painters – Claude Monet – created his famous “haystacks” series to prove exactly this point. What Monet showed in an evolving series of 25 paintings was that differences in light according to time of day or season, or changes in the weather, could produce a very different type of painting. The simple haystack is now one of the iconic images of the Impressionist era.
The ability to observe these subtle differences of nature – to give yourself over to nature completely – is one of the reasons why nearly every painting workshop or art class includes work with still life paintings – you know, the bowls of fruit that even the grand masters have painted.
With every new still life painting, you’ll start to recognize variations of texture and light, and learn how paint and your canvas can capture all of those variations. You’ll also learn to recognize how relatively simple shapes are actually comprised of minor imperfections and blemishes – and it’s often those blemishes that tell the greatest story for viewers.
When the abstract artist Floy Ealy Edjole painted "The Light," she used black and blue paint to create an illusion of night, while the brush strokes of white became her interpretation of the wind. You can literally feel the swirls of white paint on the canvas, the trees swaying in the breeze, and even the sensation of physical structures like houses and lampposts bending – but not breaking.
As Edjole points out about this painting, “The wind represents direction to ‘The Light’ that my mom expressed often, so this is my impression of her vision. The trees not bending symbolize my strength, resilience and the ability to withstand a great loss... I'm not easily broken."
Everyone should look at nature as a way to draw inner strength and embrace the beauty of everyday life. You’ll start by simply capturing the outer essence of an object – the way it looks, the way it’s shaped. Then, as you become more confident in your painting style, you can begin to explore how the object makes you feel, or how the interplay of light can change your perceptions or impressions of that object.
Finally, you’ll be able to “abstract” those feelings, emotions and insights in a way that the object may actually begin to look very different to you from how most people view it. That’s when you know that you’ve captured not just the outer beauty of nature, but also its inner beauty. So what surrounds you?