Arts & Crafts / Be Creative!

Drawing & Painting: Nature as Inspiration

Sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico, Surfside Beach, TX

There’s a really good reason artists regularly turn to nature for inspiration: it’s the Original Canvas, the one-stop-shop for every conceivable colors and shape. But well beyond what the eyes can behold, every sense is touched by a good day in nature. We hear the mosquito by our ear, the dry leaves underfoot, the bird in the tree. We smell salt from the sea or freshly cut hay. We taste the blackberries on the side of the road. We feel the sand between our toes, the sun on our skin. A lifetime spent rendering nature could not possibly be wasted.

And yet, few have ever described me as a nature girl/earth mother type. As a kid, I could relate to whichever Gabor sister it was who starred on Green Acres. I’ll take Manhattan, please, with that penthouse overlooking a park, thank you very much. My family had a cabin in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland for a few years when I was a kid of scouting age, and I hated every second we spent there. Everything about nature creeped me out.

So it’s a pleasant surprise to discover I’ve taken a shine to nature as I’ve aged. I’m good with that.

Seashell lamps? Not for me. Seriously.

I do, however, still twitch violently when I see the great outdoors trudged indoors for what I believe are hideous purposes. I will never be the girl who thinks a mantle is the appropriate parking spot for the head of a 12-point buck. I will never believe that snakes make good pets. And I will never, ever make a lamp out of seashells.

At least, I think I won’t.


I vacationed last week in Surfside Beach, TX which sits along a stretch of coastline that’s just crazy with seashells. It’s insane how many lovely shells wash up on the shoreline with every high tide. I brought a hundred shells home with me the first time I visited in 2010, and I easily tripled that this year. Here’s the haul from last week’s beach combing:

The week’s haul — gorgeous variety!

Just look at that color! Look at that variety! Click on that picture to see it fill your screen, and then imagine the creative possibilities! 

Yes, clearly I’m a complete sucker for a pretty shell, especially one I’ve found myself. But my love affair with crustaceans and their homes makes it easy for me to tackle several badge tasks that involve drawing and painting–tasks that call for scouts to explore different ways to draw and paint. Here are the results.

First, I pulled out a few brand new charcoal pencils. I loved to draw in charcoal as a teen, but I haven’t touched it for about 35 years. It was so calming, I’m kicking myself for ever having put it down. Observe three shells:

Effort #1. The shell’s coloring and striations made it fairly straightforward.

Effort #2. Didn’t quite get the curve of the shell right…

Effort #3. Definitely the toughest shell of all!

That third one, the oyster shell, was particularly tricky, so I stuck with it as my model for two other experiments. I went for a pastel version, and let me go on the record: this is a really hard medium to work in! I must’ve smudged out four earlier versions before ending up with this one:

This took some time before I felt satisfied with the direction. Wish I’d worked more on the light at the top of the shell…

For the final effort, I started with a trace of the shell. It’s not that I actually wanted to trace the shell, it’s that a badge task actually required it. So here’s the traced shell, on a canvas that’s gotten a simple wash using an Aqua Stic:

Had to start this one with a trace of the shell. Couldn’t wait to paint over it.

Once the wash was dry, I started to paint:

Here’s the final version, in acrylic.

Look you guys, I’ve never been the visual artist in the family, but I have to tell you that this was an incredibly peaceful, satisfying way to spend several hours. I was really surprised at the pleasure it brought me, and a little weirded out by it, too. After all, I’m not the girl who brings the great outdoors indoors, right?

Next post: more painting from Surfside Beach, TX!


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