How to Savor Nature Through Art

One of the best ways I have found to train myself to observe nature is to make a chronical of what I see through writing, photograph, and art. Winter is a good time to practice on houseplants, pets, and whatever you see out of your window. You may gravitate more to writing or visual arts. The nice thing about writing is you can use it to develop your all your senses. I gravitate to writing but enjoy visual arts as well.

I did a study of an orchid through writing, photography, and watercolor. I will use it as an example of how I observe nature through art.

Write about it.

Your writing can be practical or creative. A garden or nature journal is a good way to keep a record of what is or isn’t working for you. A poem is a good way to observe the color, form, and the emotions evoked.

If you go for creative writing, don’t get hung up on form. You don’t have to turn it in to your English teacher. I invite you to post what you write in the comments, but I promise I won’t grade it unless you ask me to.

What are some descriptive words you can use? Can you think of a metaphor? What are some poetic devices you can use?

Here is my orchid poem:

Winged flower flying
Glides over green
On slender stalk.

Roots reaching:
Skyward, Downward

Dance of delight.

My poem doesn’t follow any set structure. I made use of alliteration, metaphor, parallel structure of opposites, and short staccato lines. I didn’t try to fit it into any poetic mold, other than I wanted the lines short. The point was the orchid, not the poem.

The poem and my favorite of the photos with a little help from Photoshop. Unless you want to add a poem to your image, you can get beautiful photos with your phone without any photo editing.

Photograph It

You might not have a camera, but you probably have a phone. Most phones today have good cameras. I developed a love of photography playing with the camera on my phone. I have an expensive camera now, but my phone started me on that path.

Pick a subject for your study or just go outside and look for interesting subjects. If your subject is a houseplant, take pictures in different light and with different backgrounds. Arrange it with other objects. (If your subject is a cat, watch for the way it arranges itself with other objects.) Try different angles. Lie on the floor. Set the plant on the floor. Try different things till you come up with something you really like.

Don’t worry if most of your pictures aren’t that great. I took 34 pictures of the orchid and only liked about 5. The point was the orchid, not the photography.

Draw It or Paint It

I had an amazing art teacher in high school who taught us, among other things, that if you can see, you can draw. The biggest part of learning how to draw is learning how to see. And I believe she was correct. Seeing teaches you to draw and drawing teaches you to see. When you practice drawing you will be better both at the seeing and the drawing.

One way to warm yourself up to really seeing an object is to do a blind contour drawing. Look at the object and draw the outline without looking at your paper. Seriously. No peeking allowed. Don’t expect a masterpiece, but you might be pleasantly surprised. I often find the results strangely appealing. The best thing about the exercise is it gets you to focus on seeing rather than on producing a product.

Beautiful isn’t it? Contour drawings also cure you of the idea that every time you put a pencil to the paper you need to produce something awesome.

Now choose a medium and create your work of art. Water color is my favorite medium, so that’s what I did. If you don’t hoard art supplies like I do, just use what you have. Use a pen and printer paper if that’s all you have. Just enjoy.

It doesn’t need to be a masterpiece. I actually like my photo of the painting better than the painting itself.

Your Turn

Pick and activity. Give yourself at least 15 minutes to observe and create.

What did you do? Were you happy with the results?

Sewing, Photography, Botanical Embroidery? What Is Your Kind of Creative Genius?

One of the main reasons I wanted to start a blog was to encourage other people to explore and develop their own creativity as I explore and develop mine. Everyone is gifted in a unique way. We often know what some of our gifts are but not others. I believe we all have hidden talents. I believe that we get funny ideas about what we can and can’t do that just don’t match reality. If you tell yourself you can’t paint, you won’t paint. You probably aren’t good at painting because you never gave yourself permission to try. If you don’t like painting, fine. But if you ever had the thought, “I wish I could paint like that!” Give it a try. Take a class. Watch YouTube videos. Your first paintings might disappoint you, but if you enjoy it, keep trying. You will get better with practice. But even if you get very good, you might never “paint like that.” You have your kind of creative genius; it never will be the next guy’s creative genius.

How do you find and develop yours? It is important to give yourself space to develop, nurture the things you genuinely enjoy, and learn when to let go of activities.

Give yourself room to develop.

I find that I sabotage my own creativity in two ways. I don’t give myself time to develop, or I don’t give myself mental permission to develop.

  1. There is never enough time to do everything. There is always something to do. Right now my house is a mess. I could convince myself that the most important thing for me to do right now is take out the compost, clean the bathroom, and clear the jumble of clothing off my bedroom floor. I could easily convince myself I really shouldn’t be writing right now. In order to make time to write, the other things have to wait. It takes a conscious effort to give myself permission to write.
  2. The other way we don’t give ourselves permission to be creative is that we get it in our heads that creativity is some rare gift that only a few people have. Maybe you were told you’d never be good at something, or maybe you just decided that on your own. Maybe you really won’t ever be great at something. If you enjoy it, why not develop it anyway?

Where do you thrive?

  1. Some people enjoy one thing and specialize in that one thing. Maybe it’s music. Maybe it’s painting. Maybe they enjoy both but specialize in one and dabble in the other. That’s great. These folks enrich the world with their mastery.
  2. Then there are the all-purpose creative people. I’m in that category. Name something creative, and I’ve probably tried or thought about trying it for at least 10 seconds. And I get pretty good at things. I’ve developed all five senses through conscious observation and practical exercise. I am an observer before I am a creator. I am fairly good at a lot of things but haven’t specialized enough to be truly great. And that’s great. People like me enrich the world by singing in church and community choirs, bringing tasty meals to potlucks, knitting people sweaters, and creating eclectic blogs.
  3. Then there are people whose talent is for things not generally considered creative. Maybe home organizing is your true art. Then there is city planning, engineering, coding, running a department store… These are arts. They are necessary. And they really are creative. Sewer systems are not glamorous, but the lack of them is even less so. Aren’t you glad someone thought of them and figured out how to bring them to the world? If that’s your form of creative genius, you are fantastic!

Learn how to let go of the things that aren’t right for you.

  1. You can’t do everything. I’m still trying to learn this. I genuinely enjoy trying different things, so it can be hard for me to let go. In some ways, the Internet made it easier for me to give some things up. I’m constantly bombarded with ads for crafts, and Pinterest has more ideas for me every day. It’s overwhelming. My sanity requires me to say, “This is fun to look at, but I’m never going to do it.” Then there are the things that I enjoyed in the past that I never get around to anymore. These are harder to let go of. But there just isn’t time for everything. Life has different seasons. I find the greatest happiness in living in harmony with the season of today.
  2.  You won’t enjoy everything. I don’t like quilting; it’s easy for me to let go of. I never got into scrapbooking either, but I tried to talk myself into it because someone gave me a handmade book that was for scrapbooking. It took me years to say, “I’m never going to do this.” I used the book for a sketch book instead. Don’t let other people’s ideas of what you might like or how you should use your talents make you feel like you should be doing something that just isn’t right for you. You are the steward of your own talents.

What is your kind of creative genius?

I’m always going to challenge you to do something at the end of each blogpost. And I do really hope you will try some of the things I recommend. But I’d rather inspire you to find your creative niche than to have you follow my footsteps. If I suggest drawing, and you take up botanical embroidery instead, fantastic!

Your task for today is to think about where your creative genius lies. Do you fit in one of the three categories I mentioned? Do you feel it lies in an area that I didn’t mention? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Is there something you’d like to try or try again? Find a way to make it happen. I’d like to hear about that in the comments too.

The Refreshing Silence of Winter

Today I invite you to drink deeply of the golden silence of winter. Think of a snowy night when the traffic is minimal, and folks are at home where it’s warm. Snow muffles what little sound there is. The silence invites you. Step outside and breath in the cold, quiet air. Let your self be revived if only for a moment.

Maybe your conditions are not as I described them. Maybe your winter is gray and rainy. Maybe you are reading this as you procrastinate from a task with a looming deadline, sirens are going down the street, and your teenager is blasting the kind of music you hate. Never mind all that. If you procrastinate a few more minutes, it isn’t going to make much difference. You might even find yourself revived enough to finish the task at hand. Your teenager won’t die if you ask them to turn down the volume. (They might think they are dying and act like they are dying, but it won’t actually be fatal. Maybe they need an invitation into reviving silence too.)

One way or another, step away from the noise even if you can only do it in your mind.

Speaking of your mind—when you step into silence, your mind can sometimes become very noisy. A thousand thoughts may crowd into your head. Stepping into silence, ironically can be like stepping into a noisy party in your head. A few dozen thoughts can suddenly start trying to talk over the background music. We never heard them when our attention was turned outward, but now they see their opportunity to get our attention, and they all start to yell.

Ask them to be still for a moment. It is important to try to keep them at bay and give silence its place. Like whitespace on a page that makes it possible to read the written word, silence is the background that makes our thoughts intelligible. The silence will let them be heard when the time is right, but that is a subject for another day. Today we are making space for the silence.

Silence is like the winter rain and snow that refresh the earth so that life can spring up again when the season changes. If the plants spring up too soon, they are killed or set back by the frost. Let yourself be refreshed by the silence before you let your thoughts spring up.

When the winter rains and snows come, don’t curse them. Bless them: They are inviting you into blessed, refreshing silence.

Taking Inventory in the Root Cellar and in Life: Is It Time to Make a Pie?

I found a moldy squash in my closet a few days ago. There’s nothing unusual about that; it happens to me all the time. I practice the ancient art of live storage of vegetables. In the days before refrigerators, people grew vegetables that would keep in a cold cellar or attic. If the proper handling and storage conditions are maintained, a nice variety of vegetables will keep well into the winter. I’ve had squash keep into the spring. The thing is: with live storage, you can’t just tuck your fruits and veggies away and forget about them. Some things will go bad. You have to go through the produce in storage from time to time, make use of the things that are likely to go bad soon, and dispose of things that have gone bad. One rotten apple really will spoil the whole barrel.

It’s not a big loss if you catch it in time. The rotten apple or squash goes to the compost heap, returns to the soil to nourish growth in a future year. It may come back as a flower, or tomato, or weeds. It will probably also come back as a squash. Some of my healthiest plants are volunteers that come up from seeds in the compost heap. If you neglect the things in storage, however, you very quickly will end up with a mushy rotting mess. That too will go to the compost and come back in time, but you will lose a lot of your harvest in the short term.

That rotting squash got me thinking: Life is a lot like keeping produce in live storage. Our minds and our hearts are like attics and root cellars. We store a lot of things in them. We have to have some care as to what we are putting in storage and how we handle it when we put it in. Not everything deserves a place in our minds and hearts. We should have some care what we read, listen to, or watch and who we hang around with. And even if we take care about having the right things in our hearts and mind, we still have to clear things out from time to time. We store up dreams, ideas, things we want to try. We make bucket lists. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, I think it’s healthy.

But the problem is we tend to hold onto things until they get moldy. They were good when we put them in, but they can stay there past their time. If we keep on hanging on to them after that, they ooze out onto the other plans and dreams and make those go off too.

Is it time to go through the things that you have stored away in yourself? Are there apples that are starting to get wrinkled? Maybe you should a pie with them before they go off. Do you have a squishy squash that needs to go to the compost? Don’t let it make your prize pumpkin go bad.

I’ve found that letting go of dreams or ideas when it’s time is a remarkably good way of making my mind a fertile ground for new intellectual, creative, and spiritual growth. Sometimes a dream gets reworked into something else. Sometimes a fragment appears in a new setting. Sometimes letting go of one thing make time and space for a new and better thing.

The art of finding the proper time is essential both for live storage and for a fully lived life. Your vegetables, dreams, ideas, and plans may have all been sound when you stored them away. But maybe you left them there a little too long. You missed the optimal time. Nevermind. Let it go. If you compost it, it will still enrich your soil. Maybe you stored away a little too much. You could have given a little of that squash to the neighbors. Maybe your idea was there to inspire others, but you kept it for yourself, and it went off. Nevermind. Let it go. If you compost it, it will enrich your soil. Maybe it was only there to enrich the soil in the first place. The important thing is to let it go without fretting. Fretting is just another way of keeping the rotting squash in storage. It’s time to let go.

Or maybe you have an idea that is still sound and will keep until a new season of your life. Don’t be afraid to keep it in storage while you attend to the things that need done today. The time will come when the other ideas are spent. Then you can bring it out and make use of it. If it gets moldy. You know what to do with it. Who knows what seeds it carries to spring up from the ground and bear new fruit.

What is still sound and ready to use today? Is it time to make and enjoy a pie? Is it time to roast some root vegetables? Better do that before the time has past.

Your challenge for today is to take 5 or 10 minutes to ask yourself: Do you have in your life that you need to take to the compost heap? Are there things that you need to make something of now before the ingredients go off? Are there things that your spending time on that you could keep in storage a little bit longer? Write it down or tell someone. And take the appropriate actions.

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