In an extract from her stunning new book, ‘The Nature of Creativity: A mindful approach to making Art & Craft’, artist and embroiderer Jane E. Hall shares with us her love of wildflowers, and how nature is the constant source of inspiration for her many creative projects.
In my artistic practice, I may gaze upon a single flower for hours, possibly even days. Mindfully, I consider its petals, stamens, calyces and leaves. Mentally, and creatively, I notice how the flower head joins the stem, then perhaps how the sepals or tepals form a whorl at the base of the flower. I contemplate the flower’s colour, tone, weight and texture. All in all, I delight in what I see and define what I can achieve creatively.
In my work, these flower studies often become an integral part of a larger whole. For example, a stem of lady’s smock, one of my (many) favourite wild flowers, creates the context for an orange-tip butterfly study, the flower being the butterfly’s larval food plant.
So too, on occasion, a flower or plant may be presented as a work of art in itself. I often choose to honour nature just as I see it in the wild, by way of direct observation; for example a bluebell or snowdrop considered botanically, with their moonshine bulbs and earthy rootlets attached. Each study represents the practice of contemplation and creativity that somehow looses me from the shackles of time and professional expectation. More often than not, I feel delighted and surprised when, with the twist of a thread or a snip of my scissors, a flower stem is finally accomplished. It feels as if I am more conduit than creator. Meditation in practice? Possibly.
Often, my creative pursuit of floral beauty is more playful. Although in years I am officially grown up (or possibly even growing old), I still make daisy chains. I still make patterns from flowers and leaves, just as I did when I was five or six, although doubtless with a little more dexterity. More recently, I am delighted to have discovered the recognized art form of nature mandalas, somehow affording me higher authority to play!
I urge you to venture out to play, too. On a sunny day, seek a flower, whether in the wilds or in tamer spaces such as a garden or park. Consider its intrinsic beauty. Look attentively; be present in the moment, mindfully.
If the plant flowers profusely, you might pick a single bloom to study further. Again, mindfully, recognize its qualities, but now think about how you might translate them to create a flower rooted in artistry. A sketch, painting or careful flower pressing can hold a beautiful moment indefinitely, triggering memory and guiding creative meditation in the future. And of course, whatever the weather and wherever the green, open space may be, there are nearly always enough daisies to be found to thread into a chain.
To meander mindfully through a wildflower meadow, visit a bluebell wood in spring or picnic among daisies making dainty garlands are a few of my favourite things. To gaze attentively upon a flower can doubtless be considered meditation, which (according to its simplest dictionary definition) is the act of giving your attention to only one thing, as a way of becoming calm and relaxed. For me, this meditative process translates seamlessly into mindful creative practice.
There are perhaps as many playful ways to engage creatively with nature as there are species of wild flower in the world. With a creative, playful mindset, step out into the natural world if you can. You do not have to become an intrepid explorer; such explorations can even begin by tuning into a documentary or turning the pages of a natural-history book.
I long to visit faraway places and study rare orchids or watch bowerbirds at work, but not travelling there physically doesn’t mean I can’t go there in a creatively curious, imaginative sense. I can travel by ‘magical televisual portal!’ I can see and sense such wonders in richly illustrated books, and my imagination can bridge any gaps. I feel fortunate to live in the British countryside; believe me, it is a jungle out there. When I do travel, top of my agenda is to take a stroll in the nearest public gardens or nature park or, better still, out into the wide beyond – beyond the city walls, off the major road network, where nature (I hope) still thrives.
Many reading this will have access to green spaces, garden space or at the very least a windowsill or planter. Do look carefully; you may be surprised at the wonders you discover growing and even thriving under your nose. I once followed a tiny banded snail as it cavorted about my desk, leaving silvery trails, before returning to sleep in a posy of wild flowers. I enjoyed its company for several days before releasing it – slightly reluctantly, I must admit – back into the wild.
Thankfully, there are lively and engaging conservation trusts and groups established across the globe. They form a whole world of support to guide and encourage you in exploring the natural world close to you. One such initiative in Britain and Ireland is Wildflower Hour, with the purpose of flooding the internet with wild flowers for an hour every Sunday evening. I love to imagine it seeding the virtual world with flowers. How beautiful that must be, with thousands of wild flowers being broadcast across the ether, via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, every Sunday since it started in August 2015. I delight all the more in the love of wild flowers and nature that these posts represent. I both joined the tide and surf the wave. It is glorious!
The premise is simple: seek out wild flowers throughout the week and record what you find using camera, notebook, sketchbook or memory. Wherever you are in the world, it is as possible as it is positive to find time for wild flowers in this way. It benefits both the natural world, by way of your acknowledgement and appreciation, and you. ‘Wild-flower delight’ is a real feeling, I promise. When I discover the flowers of something rare or unusual, I have been known to jump for joy and squeal with delight.
In our wildlife garden last year I counted 125 different wild-flower species thriving on a single summer’s day. And when wild flowers thrive, so do I.
Extract – with thanks – from The Nature of Creativity: A Mindful Approach to Making Art & Craft by Jane E. Hall (£25 Merrell Publishers)
Image of Jane E. Hall courtesy of Neil Hall-McLean, copyright.
All other images courtesy of Jane E. Hall, copyright.