Archive for the ‘Art & Nature’ Category

The Wilderness Project – children in the natural world

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Photo Copyright by Heather McKay Bowes

Photographer Heather McKay Bowes describes herself as “an explorer, a wild one at heart, a spinner of stories, a dreamer.” She uses her photography to tell stories, and is embarking on a new project that explores and celebrates the connection between children and nature.

Photo Copyright by Heather McKay Bowes

The Wilderness Project is a journey through the wild places in our world, the forests, rivers, mountains and beaches. Heather will photograph children in these natural settings, and the same children will photograph their own view of these wild places. It’s a project designed to bring children and nature together.

As she says on her Kickstarter page, “The children will be asked to either write, tell, or sketch some of their discoveries made while photographing and this will be shared alongside their prints in a printed journal of their own.” Heather will also “connect with families whose children may need art and nature to express, communicate or heal themselves.” The entire journey will be documented and shared to inspired others.

The first phase of the project will focus on the New England wilderness, and will last a full year to experience all four seasons. She has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund her project. You can visit the website to learn more.

Photo Copyright by Heather McKay Bowes

Photo Copyright by Heather McKay Bowes

Photo Copyright by Heather McKay Bowes

 All photos in this post © by Heather McKay Bowes

 

A Celebration of Flight

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

A Celebration of Flight

Last week I had the pleasure of seeing a performance of A Celebration of Flight by IBEX Puppetry, directed by Heather Henson. Featuring a blend of puppetry, movement and music, it was an inspiring spectacle that beautifully depicted the natural world through the life-cycle of a crane.

The performance followed the young bird as it hatched from an egg, discovered the world, and learned to fly, while meeting various other creatures along the way (fish, dragonflies, turtles, birds.) The ending featured a gigantic white crane that flew majestically across the stage. A thundering percussive soundtrack and soaring vocal performance added to the magic.

The setting for this visual and musical feast was an outdoor amphitheater on the gorgeous campus of Swarthmore College, as part of the Puppeteers of America national festival. Surrounded by towering trees and lush greenery, with the audience seated on the ground, the connection with nature was even more profound. I even saw a real hawk soaring high overhead, as though joining in the spectacle.

At various points in the performance, children in the audience were invited to participate by waving their own paper birds and fish in the air. At the end they were all invited down to the stage to join the performance in a joyous finale that brought tears to my eyes. It was a celebration like no other – a true blending of art and nature, reaching towards a deeper understanding of both.

A Celebration of Flight

Majestic crane puppet flies over the audience

A Celebration of Flight

A Celebration of Flight

Photographs don’t do justice to the puppets, because their movement was what made them so magical. Below is a video trailer of the show performed indoors, which will give you a better sense of the overall production.

Learn more about IBEX Puppetry at their website or Facebook page.

Exploring the animal kingdom through music

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Predator-Prey

Composers draw inspiration from everything around them, and many great songs have sprung from nature. Musicians Dak and Adam are taking their inspiration one step further, by recording a whole concept album inspired by the animal kingdom. Predator/Prey was inspired by the unusual names for groups of animals, and features song titles like “A Knot of Snakes” and “A Gang of Elk.” Here’s how the group describes their work:

Each of the 14 songs is completely inspired by the ecology and behavior of a particular species of Canadian wildlife and is written entirely from the perspective of the animal, both musically and lyrically.  Drawing inspiration from an incredibly diverse range of influences, the album pushes genre boundaries while retaining cohesion in true concept-album form.

Dak is a PhD student at the University of Toronto studying Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and sees this album as a way to engage and educate people about the North American wilderness. He is currently living in the Canadian Arctic working on fisheries research.

The album has taken 2.5 years to write and record, and they launched a crowdfunding campaign to help finish it. It’s great to see how nature inspires different artists in different media. Check out the video below to learn more, or visit the project website to hear samples.

Predator/Prey group shot

Predator/Prey recording session

Here is the group’s official website.

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A floating forest on the freeway

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Urban Air, by sculptur Stephen Glassman

Usually when an art and nature intersect, the work of art depicts or recreates the natural world, and is displayed indoors far from its subject. Sculptor Stephen Glassman uses the natural world to create art in public places, bringing art, audience and nature together for a shared experience. He designs giant sculptures using bamboo and inspired by natural forms, inserting nature into urban settings in ways that are surprising and dramatic. You can see some of his amazing works here and here.

Now he is embarking on a project to convert billboards into living bamboo gardens. Urban Air is the name of this new venture, and he has started a Kickstarter campaign to produce the first prototype in Los Angeles. He will also produce a system kit so that other unused billboards can be likewise transformed into floating gardens around the country.

Watch the video to learn more about this amazing project, or visit the official site.

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The fantastical world of Benjamin Lacombe

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

L’Herbier des FéesNature stirs the imaginations of writers and artists. Benjamin Lacombe is a young artist from France whose work recalls that of Arthur Rackham and Brian Froud, but also dips into a spooky surrealism that is often unnerving and always compelling.

The images below are from his book L’Herbier des Fées, or The Herbarium of the Fairies, written in collaboration with Sebastien Perez (available in several languages, though not yet in English). It tells the story of a fictional Russian botanist who ventures into a strange forest searching for the secrets of immortality. The book is designed as a collection of his sketches, letters and photos, all meticulously illustrated by Lacombe. The influence of Leonardo Da Vinci is evident, from the brown ink studies to the chiaroscuro and classic poses of the characters. There is also an interactive version of the book, which you can see in the video below.

The pages of this book — and many of Lacombe’s books — overflow with imaginative creatures that often blur the lines between flora and fauna, between living and artificial. Some of the pages include die-cuts and transparent overlays to give added dimension to his mysterious world. His beautiful flowers and fairies often seem like they could devour us, even as we are fascinated by them. It is an amazing and unique vision that explores our fear of the natural world as much as our fascination with it.

L’Herbier des Fées

Artwork © by Benjamin Lacombe

L’Herbier des Fées

Artwork © by Benjamin Lacombe

L’Herbier des Fées

Artwork © by Benjamin Lacombe

L’Herbier des Fées

Artwork © by Benjamin Lacombe

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Here is a video trailer for the book and iPad app:

Here is a video about the making of the interactive book:

Here is another video about the making of the interactive book:

Here is his official blog with even more amazing artwork.

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Drawing the natural world

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Tablet and insect

A few weeks ago I attended a NESCBWI workshop on drawing animals, which took place at the Edna Lawrence Nature Lab at the Rhode Island School of Design. The lab is an amazing place, a huge room filled with preserved animals, insects, fish, fossils, seeds, stones — a virtual survey of the natural world. For this particular event there were also several live animals brought in, including a huge tortoise, a ferret, and a parrot.

Most of the afternoon was spent drawing, and people wandered freely about, drawing whichever animals interested them. The entire room, with its ceiling-high glass cabinets and boxes of specimens, had the feeling of a 19th Century naturalist’s study, and one could imagine Darwin walking through the door at any moment.

Animal at the nature labAs an artist who loves animals, I found the preserved animals unnerving and fascinating at the same time. You feel a mixture of awe, curiosity, sympathy, and connection with the once-living creatures, you wonder where they came from, what kind of life they led. There is a long history of artists drawing deceased animals, from Leonardo to Audubon. You can observe an amazing amount of detail from such close observation, though the drawback is that the drawing often ends up as lifeless as its subject.

The whole day was very inspiring, and seeing so much of the natural world crammed into one room really makes you think about how much is alive all around us, and how everything is connected. Hopefully these kind of creatures will remain alive and healthy in the wild, so that nature centers like this don’t become the only places to find them.

Here are some of my photos and sketches from the day. Thanks to Christina Rodriguez for organizing such a great workshop!

insect drawings by John Lechner

stick insect drawing by John Lechner

insect drawings by John Lechner

tortoise drawing by John Lechner

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Nature Lab at RISD

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Parrot in the Nature Lab

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Ocean creatures

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Ocean creatures

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Butterfly collection

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Butterfly

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Longhorn Beetle

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Stick Insect

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Giant Tortoise

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Finally, here’s a short video taken at the end of the day – exercise time!

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Hymn to the Earth: the evocative photographs of Ron Rosenstock

Friday, February 24th, 2012
Morning Mist by Ron Rosenstock

"Morning Mist" © by Ron Rosenstock

Black and white photography allows us to see the world in a different way. By removing all color, it highlights other qualities of the world around us – texture, contrast, composition. It simplifies and abstracts what we see, revealing the world in its pure form.

The images on this page are by renowned landscape photographer Ron Rosenstock, who currently has an exhibit at the Worcester Art Museum. Here is an excerpt from a review in The Boston Globe by Mark Feeney:

The effect Rosenstock strives for in these pictures, mostly taken in rural Ireland but also in places as diverse (and beautiful) as Italy and Maine, Morocco and New Zealand, is of a higher, purer reality. You could almost describe it as a kind of unreality, given that exaltation and ineffability are forms of reality so rare as hardly to qualify as real. That Rosenstock achieves his aim so often is as much a tribute to the depth of emotion he brings to his work as it is to exacting technique.

The exhibit runs through March 18th, and I highly recommend it. You can see a lot more of Ron’s work at his website.

Landscape by Ron Rosenstock

Photo © by Ron Rosenstock

Noon Shadows by Ron Rosenstock

"Noon Shadows" © by Ron Rosenstock

Photo by Ron Rosenstock

Photo © by Ron Rosenstock

Monks Robes, Abbey of Sant' Antimo by Ron Rosenstock

"Monks Robes, Abbey of Sant' Antimo" © by Ron Rosenstock

Stone Circle at Sheeffry, County Mayo, by Ron Rosenstock

"Stone Circle at Sheeffry, County Mayo" © by Ron Rosenstock

The Witness Tree Project – art inspired by nature

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

The Witness Tree Project (photo)

A Witness Tree is a very old tree that has “witnessed” great events in history. There are such trees all over the world, which are treasured by those who know them. One example is a honeylocust tree in Gettysburg, which is the only tree still standing that was there when Abraham Lincoln dedicated the battlefield cemetery in 1863. Witness trees are living links to the past, yet they don’t last forever, and it’s always sad when we lose one to storms or disease.

Ancient pecan tree being taken down

Ancient pecan tree at the Hampton National Historic Site

In 2009, two professors at the Rhode Island School of Design, in collaboration with the Hampton National Historic Site, created what would become the Witness Tree Project, now in its third year. Professors Dale Broholm (Furniture) and Daniel Cavicchi (History) and the National Parks Service designed a program where students study and produce artworks from witness trees that have recently fallen. It is interdisciplinary learning at its best, as students study the history and culture surrounding the tree, and use that to inform their work.

As their website explains: “In addition to classroom study, the Project variously involves field trips, guest lectures, exhibitions of students’ objects, and other events that highlight the significance of material culture, landscape, and design in learning about American history.”

The first tree used in the program was a pecan tree that had lived for over 150 years at the Hampton National Historic Site, a former plantation near Baltimore (see photo above). In 2010, they worked with trees from both the George Washington Birthplace National Monument and Sagamore Hill (the homestead of Theodore Roosevelt). This year, students are working with an historic Elm from the Olmsted site.

Below are just a few of the pieces created by students from 2010, and you can see many more amazing pieces here. Artwork from the current year’s project will be posted to their website later this year.

by Athena Lo

Athena Lo

Elish Warlop

Elish Warlop

Ben Kicic

Ben Kicic

Clara Zavani

Clara Zavani

Brett Dunnam

Brett Dunnam

Christopher Gent

Christopher Gent

Brendan Kiem

Brendan Kiem

Desmond Delanty

Desmond Delanty

Yu-Chuan Liu

Yu-Chuan Liu

Ming Yi-Wong

Ming Yi-Wong

Additional reading: Students Collaborate with National Park Service (article).

The Winter’s Wind – a poem by Keats

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

As the new year begins, I present for you a poem by John Keats, inspired by a cold winter’s wind but encompassing so much more.

The image I’ve chosen to accompany the poem is a famous one by Casper David Friedrich called “The Wanderer Above the Mists”, painted around 1817. Obviously the artist is captivated by the misty mountains, but then why place a person in the very center of the image, blocking our view? And we can’t see his face, we can only wonder at who he is and what he is thinking. It’s this kind of mystery, along with the expert composition and technique, that make the painting great. There’s a bigger idea at work here, a puzzle that the viewer must unravel.

The poem is also open to interpretation, but I won’t even try to analyze it. I’ll let the poet speak for himself.

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O thou whose face hath felt the Winter’s wind,
Whose eye has seen the snow-clouds hung in mist,
And the black elm tops ‘mong the freezing stars!
To thee the spring will be a harvest time.
O thou whose only book has been the light
Of supreme darkness, which thou feddest on
Night after night, when Phœbus was away!
To thee the spring shall be a triple morn.
O fret not after knowledge. I have none,
And yet my song comes native with the warmth.
O fret not after knowledge! I have none.
And yet the evening listens. He who saddens
At thought of idleness cannot be idle,
And he’s awake who thinks himself asleep.

– John Keats (1795-1821)

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Arthur Rackham’s Midsummer Night’s Dream

Friday, November 12th, 2010

TreeNovember always puts me in the mind for Arthur Rackham, one of my favorite illustrators. I especially love how he draws trees, which are like living, breathing creatures with personalities all their own.

With a limited palette and spare lines, his paintings are full of raw emotion, and he finds beauty in the most gnarled and thorny landscapes. His palette was mostly due to the limited color printing process at the time, though you can tell he’s right at home with it, and can channel a thousand subtleties in its limited range.

These illustrations are all from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. For a tale so entwined with nature and magical creatures, Rackham is the perfect fit. Notice how the characters and backgrounds are seamlessly blended together, so that the landscape becomes a character in itself. When not illustrating, Rackham did a lot of sketching landscapes outdoors, and it shows in his work. I encourage you to find books with his illustrations, to see all the amazing detail.

Also see my post from last year about Arthur Rackham’s amazing trees.

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A Midsummer Night's Dream by Arthur Rackham

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A Midsummer Night's Dream by Arthur Rackham

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A Midsummer Night's Dream by Arthur Rackham

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A Midsummer Night's Dream by Arthur Rackham

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A Midsummer Night's Dream by Arthur Rackham

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