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Nature and Art: Incorporating Objects from Nature into Art Therapy

by Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC

From prehistoric cave paintings to the modern-day art world, humans have always found ways to use nature as a source of inspiration. It has been suggested that spending time around nature may also have therapeutic benefits. Researchers have found that spending time in nature appears to reduce stress levels and improve psychological well-being. When we combine nature in art therapy, we experience an alternative and powerful way of improving our mental health.

To be in connection with nature is to experience a culmination of sounds, smells, textures, and colors existing in a harmonious balance. When we intentionally pay attention to and absorb what we experience in nature, we are building a greater connection to the larger world around us and inducing a natural state of calm. Being in nature allows us to expand our understanding of meaning and purpose as we become reminded of and experience our interconnectedness to the plants, animals, soil, debris, rocks, and other natural elements.

A past blog post on the American Art Therapy Association’s website discussed ways in which we can deepen our connections to the natural world, and in turn enhance our state of well-being, through what is known as ‘eco-art therapy’. It was explained that nature can itself be the setting, the inspiration and the tools used to facilitate the creative process. It was also emphasized that our way of engaging with nature can have significant benefits. It was suggested that we spend time in nature without distraction, practice grounding techniques by sitting on the ground and planting our feet on the ground while noticing and observing, and incorporate sensory awareness techniques to enhance the calming and relaxing benefits of being in the natural elements.

Nature objects in art therapy are used in a variety of ways to help clients experience and realize the therapeutic effects of nature. Nature objects may be used to facilitate self-exploration. For instance, clients may make a collage or assemblage using found tree branches, flower petals, leaves, and rocks to help them understand how they are feeling or expand upon their intention to remain present and engaged in the current moment. Clients may paint a picture or journal using leaves, flowers, crystals, and other natural objects as an avenue to explore feelings, emotions, memories, and the meanings behind these experiences.

In addition, nature objects may be used to facilitate self-reflection and gratitude. For instance, clients may choose to create and design a pot and then plant seeds. One can then use it as a way to focus attention on helping a life physically grow as well as metaphorically attending to a part of them that is growing. There are numerous ways to collaborate with nature, which is found or discovered.

Here are some examples of ways you can incorporate nature objects into your art therapy:

  • Begin by selecting nature objects that you like and that you feel comfortable with

  • Paint using nature objects- try using pine needles, twigs, leaves and rocks as your paint brush or stamp

  • Create a nature collage or assemblage using found materials, leaves, flowers, and other natural elements-the composition of your collage may be influenced by shapes, colors, textures, and even smells.

  • Draw a picture or journal using nature objects as inspiration

  • Create a nature rubbing or frottage using leaves and other objects placed under thin paper and then colored over with a pencil or piece of charcoal

  • Create a plant, bird, or insect using found materials.

  • Use a camera to capture images of nature and use that photo to create your own image.

  • Create a landscape or garden using nature objects.

  • Create a nature-inspired object, such as a terrarium or a bird feeder.

  • Write a nature-inspired story or poem.

In addition to collaborating with nature through direct contact with nature objects, we can also create art that encourages connection to nature. Art that incorporates nature in its composition can also bring about a sense of calm and be used as a way to observe and experience nature. Nature allows us to combine mindfulness, creative play, learning, discovery and problem solving together as a way to influence a healthier state of mind and well-being and promote calm.

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