Creative inspiration from nature

Nature provides the most stunning inspiration for artists and designers across many creative disciplines. Since re-kindling my passion for drawing when I moved to the Wiltshire countryside two years ago, I’ve been increasingly aware of the wonder of nature.  In my weekly art classes, we are given the freedom to explore that which interests us most, and for me, that’s drawing flowers and plants.  In fact, when I was around fifteen and studying for my GCSE in art, flowers featured a lot in my work.

Sitting in an art class, taking in the delicacy of a rose or poppy, drawing the tiny details, you can sometimes witness the flower opening further, blooming in front of your eyes.  There are so many intricate patterns and shapes to study and I never tire of beginning a new study of a flower.

I got married last year, and I knew straight away that I wanted an Alex Monroe wedding ring.  Alex is the jewellery designer of bumble bee necklace fame, and I’ve visited his boutique in London Bridge a couple of times (and met the man himself – a truly talented gent!).

His jewellery is exquisite – all the intricate details in each piece painstakingly observed.  There are bumblebee necklaces, bluebell drop earrings, fritillary flower necklaces, daisy wreath rings, tiny swallow earrings…the list goes on and the choice is endless.   Alex has worked with the RSPB, Buckingham Palace and the V&A to name but a few.

Alex talks about how he “grew up in the countryside, in the wilds of Suffolk in a big old house surrounded by nature…living a life of adventure in rivers and forests, roaming freely in nature’s playground” in his beautiful book ‘Two Turtle Doves – A Memoir of Making Things.  I’d highly recommend this for anyone interested in the inspiration and processes behind Alex’s work.  Also, take a look at this short video on Alex’s website which talks further about his inspiration.

From an interview with Mollie Makes Alex describes his creative process, “I’m always sketching and drawing, I’ll usually have about 25 ideas on the go.  Sometimes I’ll find I’m particularly keen on something and start researching it in more detail – for example, if it’s a tropical design I’ll go to Kew Gardens and do lots of sketching. I’ll then take my drawings back to the studio with me and work them up into more of a specific design.  Then I experiment making a few test models and turn them into proper pieces”.

This photo of Alex’s London workshop in London shows some inspirational images and prints on the walls.  I have a large noticeboard in my office at home, and I also put up postcards, photos and anything that inspires me, which helps me to define my own style.  I too am mostly inspired by nature and take a lot of photos so that I can work with these in my drawing and painting.  Botanical drawing is what interests me most, and so I will include images and prints of those artists in that area that inspire me and anything else I can find.

Alex also offers this piece of advice “work out who you are and what your style and vision is.  Compromising yourself to make other people happy is always a disaster”.   Wise words I’d say…and I think surround yourself with what inspires you.  I recently picked up a couple of pheasant feathers I found on the ground, and a large ear of corn which are now displayed in a beautiful piece of pottery that I treasure.  It’s actually an oil burner by Chloe Burke of Whinblossom from her ‘Into the Beguilding Wild’ collection that I use to store my finds in.  Chloe’s inspiration comes from her home in the Undercliff on the Isle of Wight, one of the largest areas of urban landslip in Europe. “Her practice examines her journey from the Undercliffs to the studio. It embodies the coastline, from its vast minerals to the roll of the shoreline and the changing cliff face”.  Again, an example of a talented maker taking inspiration from the wilds of nature.  The photo below is courtesy of the fabulous Jeska & Dean at The Future Kept, where some of Chloe’s work is available from.

Another designer and artist, who’s work I have recently discovered, is Michael Angove who lives locally to me. Michael is a world renowned designer who specialises in pattern and a fine artist.  Michael has worked with Jo Malone, Liberty, Jean Paul Gaultier, Agent Provocateur, Farrow and Ball, Highgrove and Hugo Boss.  He has a Masters from the Royal College of Art and shows his work internationally.

I met Michael last week when I visited his studio, and was absolutely blown away when I first saw his work.  I couldn’t quite work out if his drawings were photographs or not – I felt like I could just pick up the spoons, keys, pins, string, feathers, plants that he draws, right off the paper.  They need to be seen to be believed, so very life-like. Michael is known for his exquisite drawings, using the most finely sharpened colour pencils; each of his works includes a drawing of a dress pin at the edge of the paper.

The above objects are by no means the only subjects of Michael’s work, and I’d recommend visiting his website, his design and drawing Facebook pages to see more and get a glimpse of his studio. One of my favourite pieces is Michael’s ‘The Icon’ bought by Ronnie Wood from the Rolling Stones a few years ago.  In this blog post about the piece, Ronnie looks just as fascinated as I was when I first saw it. All I’ll say is that it is a drawing…read the post to find out more about what it is that was being drawn.

I am fascinated by how Michael achieves the beautiful details in his drawings as the objects on the page seem to just jump out at you.  As I go along my own creative journey I want to work more with shadow when drawing to give flowers and plants, for example, more depth and life.  Today I was studying a pink and purple poppy, and seed heads, and I can see how the use of good quality, well sharpened pencils and shadow is important to capture the details.

Michael is also a specialist in surface pattern, with particular emphasis on finely drawn trompe l’oeil and complex botanical chinoiserie.  Above is Michael’s ‘Orange Blossom’ wallpaper/packaging for Jo Malone’s scents, colognes and lifestyle products. The products use natural ingredients and Michael’s “wallpaper’s ‘ingredients’ are equally natural and every single composition has hidden bugs and insects as much ‘unexpected’ as undiscovered”.

Below is another example of Michael’s work for Jo Malone with his design for their Blackberry and Bay product line.

Every artist has their own very unique and individual process for creating, but I did notice in Michael’s studio various objects collected from nature including beautiful feathers which are often seen in his work.

I’d say keep noticing every day and collect, gather and photograph what you’re drawn to, even if you don’t yet know how that may translate into a creative project.  It’s the inspiration that surrounds you that’s important.

I’d also like to include a couple more jewellery designers in this blog, both of which have designs inspired by nature and who’s work I admire greatly.

Firstly, Erica from Astrid and Rose who is based in Berkshire, creates the most stunning collections including ‘Wildflowers’, ‘Woodland Wonders’ and ‘Celestial’.   Here Erica talks about her inspiration and a little about her process – “one of the processes I fell in love with instantly is the lost wax casting technique, an art form that dates back to ancient times, where a piece is hand carved in jeweller’s wax, and then cast in metal. I make intricate nature inspired charms using this method, working with very fine carving and detailing tools.  I am lucky enough to live surrounded by the beautiful English countryside. The abundance of nature and the seasons inspire me, from pretty wildflowers to woodland creatures, I fill my sketchbook with drawings and ideas before embodying them into delicate pieces of jewellery”.

Also, to round up this post, I’d like to mention Rust Jewellery based in sunny Yarmouth.  Rust is run by talented husband and wife duo Nao and Artemis.  All their jewellery is made using traditional methods and tools including hand engraving, wax carving and stone setting.  British made, and stunning I’d urge you to check out the array of nature inspired pieces they create.

There are many more talented makers who I could talk about, that create from nature, a topic that I love talking about and researching.  So, look out for future posts on the subject introducing you to more British talent!

And, remember…surround yourself with what inspires you, and keep exploring.

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