Letting Nature Cultivate an Artistic Soul

By Kala Barba-Court 2021-11-01 19:56:33

Let nature inspire you.

Nature is embedded into our minds at an early age. Ask a child to draw something, and often you’ll get the usual suspects: a tree, green fields, flowers, a house, family, the sun. These are elements we consider essential from a young age, something we forget as our social circles widen and priorities shift. American biologist David George Haskell, whose work revolves around scientific, literary and contemplative studies of the natural world, says, “Nature is not something outside ourselves. It’s not a wilderness somewhere beyond our homes. Nature isn’t an alien or an ‘other’. We are Nature.”

A few months after graduating from university, my hard-earned fine arts degree felt undeserved. I found myself devoid of any artistic motivation or ideas, and nothing seemed to shake me out of my artistic rut. On a whim, I joined some friends who volunteered as art teachers on a month-long outreach program. The setting: a small, remote island without electricity; nothing but sea, sky, and mountains as far as the eye could see. The city girl in me had balked at the idea of an entire month trapped in a Wi-Fi-less island, but I needed the escape. Little did I know that this experience would bring me back to myself.



These island kids, whose idea of fun involved hours of splashing in rivers and climbing trees instead of going on YouTube, produced artworks filled with flora and fauna, mountain gods and forest spirits, grassy knolls and orange sunsets. They drew what they knew, and their enthusiasm to put them down on paper was infectious. When the program ended, I left the island recharged, filled once more with purpose and inspiration. 

With Covid-19 travel limitations, exposing our children to the restorative powers of nature may seem like a daunting task, but it can be done. With a bit of imagination and effort, we can inspire and awaken our children’s- and hopefully our own - creativity. 



Make it a habit to visit museums and exhibitions

This may seem like a given, but it’s easy to put off a trip to a museum or art gallery during hectic weekends of playdates and extracurricular activities. Dedicate half a day to an exhibit when you can, and be open to any artistic offering, whether or not it’s something up your alley. You don’t always have to agree with what’s in front of you but forming an opinion about an artwork is a great way to kickstart your child’s artistic journey.


Connect with your surroundings

Whether you live in Puxi or Pudong, there’s a lot of ground, literally and figuratively, to cover in Shanghai. Leisurely strolls down the plane tree-lined old Xuhui district, bike rides along Huangpu riverside or afternoon meanderings through Century Park can work wonders for the mind and body. Let these connections with nature serve as inspirations for your child’s next artwork.



Create and nurture an artistic environment

Be ready for that flash of inspiration by keeping a box of art supplies handy. It doesn’t need be expensive: some paint, paper, scissors, glue and a handful of old magazines for collages make for a great starter kit. For parents of toddlers, bring home fallen leaves or flowers from park strolls to integrate into artworks. For older kids, let them snap photographs of landscapes or sunsets to recreate on paper later, or ask them to reinterpret that holiday you had by the beach using only magazine cut-outs. 

Encourage and explore different avenues of creative output by signing them up to workshops according to their interests and inclinations, whether it’s photography, a digital media course, a pottery workshop, or a good old painting class. As Kurt Vonnegut said, “To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.”


Organize nature-centric holidays

When you finally do get to plan a holiday, you’ll find that there’s no shortage of nature-centric options around China. From mountain home stays in Moganshan to sustainable eco-resorts in Guilin, reveling in nature for a few days can do wonders for the mind and soul. Put away the gadgets and use this time to connect with nature and with each other. 


Start a long-term art project

While this can be anything that catches your fancy, I’ve found that dedicating an entire sketchbook to a singular theme, be it trees you pass by on the way home, views of the landscape from different windows, or a flower vase with its ever-changing bouquets, is an amazing long-term art project that improves one’s technique by documenting a repetitive idea. It’s also serves as a diary of sorts, a map of your creative evolution.