Using nature as inspiration

Learning to see how harmony in color is freely given to us in nature is one of the most exciting and inspirational studies an artist can add to their tool box. I often drive through the rural areas of Utah and practice seeing the natural colors and how they relate. At first it can be distracting to drive and concentrate on seeing these relationships so if it's your first time to start this practice a nature walk is more ideal. Start with the big picture and see how the world is made up of big swaths of color. The sky can be a cloudless blue or dotted with white clouds. A somber grey, or saturated with morning or evening gradations of yellows and oranges. If their are mountains in your view observe their shapes and mass rather than the details of gorges and cliffs. Notice the color of the mountain shapes as a mass against the sky. Is it blue, purple, orange or a range of browns or golds? Nature presents us with harmony in colors which can be used in our art if we practice and learn to see what's right before our eyes. Note the colors in a journal or notebook.

 Photograph by David Shield http://www.unframedworld.com/guests-interviews/how-nature-photographer-david-shield-plans-his-shoots/

Photograph by David Shield http://www.unframedworld.com/guests-interviews/how-nature-photographer-david-shield-plans-his-shoots/

The image above contains both saturated color (i.e. brilliant gold and intense blue) as well as muted neutrals in shades of gray, brows and green. In the practice of seeing what nature presents us its a good idea to note if you are attracted to the scene and why? Amazingly, the human eye is drawn to the brilliant colors because more light is reflected by bright colors and often results in excessive stimulation of the eyes. Nature balances this physics of light and optics with muted, relaxing and restful colors in the neutrals of the earth. If we apply this natural occurrence in nature within our art we can learn to draw attention to some areas with bright colors but provide neutrals to balance the scene and provide a harmony the human mind enjoys. 

If the scene you are observing has a horizon where the sky meets a low hill or vast fields and meadows, notice the difference between the horizon lines sky and earth. 

 Vibrant blue sky against a brilliant golden field on a very low horizon line. 

Vibrant blue sky against a brilliant golden field on a very low horizon line. 

In the image above the horizon line sits low and the color is a dark blue slowly gradating to a lighter blue and muted grays down to the dark green along the break between the sky and earth which is a brilliant golden yellow. These three colors: blue, green and yellow are harmonious and therefore create a feeling of order and accord. The color relationships and combination relate because blue and yellow mixed create green. Nature can show us harmonious relationships that we can then use in our art practice. I played with this idea in the practice piece below and you might want to try this too. After you're practice of observing colors in nature try applying what you saw on paper. I used acrylic paint and applied the theory of brilliant colors with more neutrals so the eye is draw to the bright colors but is not overwhelmed and can find a neutral color to land on therefore creating a harmonic response. 

 Using harmonious colors.

Using harmonious colors.

Color found in the plumange of birds and the wings of butterflies are meant for survival usually as a way to hide or blend into the surrounding environment. Butterflies and colorful bird plumage are great inspiration for both color and pattern.

Butterflies bright wings against the muted green background and fuchsia pink flowers is a stunning combination.

Whether its in photography or some other form of art we recognize an attractive image when we see it. Each of us are different and will have different impulses to the image above but the healthy eye doesn't lie about what it can see. Color is one form of sensory input that your brain uses to interpret important elements of your surroundings. The nervous system requires sensory input, so much so that lack of sensory input, such as solitary confinement, is a form of punishment. Color addresses one of the basic neurological needs for stimulation, according to Color Matters. (http://www.colorcom.com/research/why-color-matters).

I practiced some color from nature in the piece below using harmony with neutrals as wells as brilliant, bright colors. Try practicing this in your own art. Using paper and watercolor lay down swaths of muted colors as seen in the butterfly image above. Start with pale greens and blues and allow the two to blend on the paper. Reserve areas to lay down brilliant pinks and gold, red and yellow.  Now using a fine tipped watercolor brush outline shapes with more saturated and darker colors to define areas. You can also use fine tipped markers such as Copic, Sharpie, or even inexpensive washable markers blend nicely with watercolor. Experiment with shapes and continue practicing seeing what nature gives us.  If we learn to see and practice observing how harmony of color is balanced so beautifully in our world we will shift our view and begin to observe this gift from nature even when we are driving through the country.