Premier Automne – First Autumn

Premier Automne, directed by Carlos De Carvalho and Aude Danset

Premier Automne, directed by Carlos De Carvalho and Aude Danset

Premier Automne is a brilliantly animated short film directed by Carlos De Carvalho and Aude Danset, produced by Je Regarde. It is stunningly beautiful, and explores nature both visually and thematically. But I don’t want to summarize the story if you haven’t seen it yet, because the discovery and mystery of each moment is what makes it so compelling.

Watch for yourself, and then I will share some thoughts below. (Watch on Vimeo for a larger picture, it’s worth it.)

There are so many ways to look at this film. As a simple human drama, it’s the story of two people eternally set apart from each other by the laws of nature. And yet they are both lonely, are both drawn to one other. Both inhabit a world completely foreign to the other, and frightening as well, even as it seems perfectly natural to them.

There is an overtone of death throughout the film, echoed in the darkness that surrounds their world, and yet there is also life below the surface, waiting to spring forth. In most stories, the protagonists manage to overcome their problem in the end, but this film is much more open-ended.

Life and death, summer and winter, boy and girl. There is a lot to think about here. How do you interpret this film?

For those of you who like to go behind the scenes, here is a link to the production blog, and here is a video about the making of the film.

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Exploring the animal kingdom through music


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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Drawing the natural world

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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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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The untended garden

Vincent Van Gogh, "Landscape With Olive Trees"

What exactly is an untended garden?  The phrase often has a negative connotation, like Shakespeare’s “unweeded garden” overrun with foul things. We tend to think of nature as something that needs taming, otherwise it will take over and devour us.

But today in our shrinking world, it’s more important for us to understand and get along with the flora and fauna around us, for we’re all in this together – we need each other, whether we like it or not. If they die, we die, it’s as simple as that.

The mission of this blog is to explore how artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers and designers explore nature in their work. And I don’t mean simply how artists depict the beauty of nature, but how they plumb the depths and seek out its essence.

To draw something is to understand it better. Same with writing. I hope by highlighting artists with interesting and unique perspectives on nature, I can bring readers closer to the world around them, and inspire more artists to do the same. The world is an untended garden, but we must tend it carefully lest we kill it in the process.

Music inspired by nature

Brazilian composer Jarbas Agnelli was reading the newspaper one day, and saw a photo of birds on electrical wires. Inspired by the similarity to musical notes, he cut out the photo and began composing a song based on the positions of the birds. He recorded the song and sent it to the photographer, who loved it. Soon there was a newspaper article about it, and the song became a worldwide sensation. Below is a music video he made of the song, using the photograph.

Birds on the Wires from Jarbas Agnelli on Vimeo.

Also, here is a link to a TED talk where the composer talks about the composition and performs it live. He says the lesson he learned from all this is that it is “possible to see poetry anywhere, depending on the way we look at things.” He’s absolutely right.

Thanks to Jessica Morrison and Ian MacKenzie for pointing me to this great video.

Spring is just around the corner


As a gardener and nature-lover, spring is my favorite season. But I’m in no hurry to shake off winter just yet. True, it’s got snow, and ice, and freezing temperatures (at least up north), and everything seems dead and bare. But it also provides a nice break, a time for thinking and looking inward.

In many ways, I find it the most inspiring season of all because of its minimalism. It doesn’t overwhelm the senses with color, it’s not splashy or teeming with distractions. In the winter, a twisting tree branch or a peach sunset can be a small masterpiece. A single red cardinal is like a miracle.

And knowing that nature is only sleeping, that life is still there hidden beneath the bark and under the ground ready to sprout again, can give you a feeling of hope that anything is possible, that any difficulty or situation can be overcome.

So while I’ll be happy when spring arrives, I will still savor the end of winter while I can. For I know that it’s only a temporary situation, and spring is just around the corner.

A New Year in the Untended Garden


It has been exactly three months since I started this blog, and I want to thank all my readers for their feedback and support. I have lots of ideas for the new year, and here’s just a peek at what’s coming up.

January will be “snow month” at The Untended Garden — all the posts will involve snow and winter.  Snow has always inspired art and writing, not just for its visual beauty, but how it changes the way we see nature, making everything seem new. It has also been used as a metaphor in countless ways, as something that both hides and reveals, that protects and threatens.

Another theme that I will delve into next year is the ocean, which is a huge part of our planet (two thirds of it!) and also has inspired writers and artists for centuries.

I will also feature a wide variety of media, including novels, poetry, picture books, drawings, paintings and films that deal with nature. I hope you can join the conversation, as we continue on our voyage of discovery!

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