Most of us are busy in the garden at this time of year, raking up fallen leaves, planting bulbs and cutting the grass for the final time before winter, but have you ever considered making patterns and images from these materials? Outdoor artist James Brunt claims creating art from nature is a meditative process and can have a positive impact on our wellbeing.
Arts Council England confirms natural sights can influence positive psychological states, with the potential to improve people’s wellbeing and aid stress recovery.
In 2012, 48-year-old James came across somebody balancing stones on a beach which became the trigger for him creating patterns and sculptures from natural materials. A special place, James terms Anston Woods — which is two minutes from his family home in Yorkshire — his ‘outdoor studio’ where he can go anytime he wants to produce his creations which can take between two and six hours to make.
A combination of attending art school and his love for the outdoors also lead James to bring art and nature together. ‘It took a long time surprisingly, but it was like the most natural thing in the world,’ he explains.
James admits: ‘I don’t really have favourite creations; I have favourite experiences. It is interesting that other people’s favourite works are often the same as my favourite experiences. I go out purely because that’s where I want to be and that’s what I want to be doing, but it’s very humbling when other people like it. When people tell me how much it soothes them, that’s lovely.’
Further, a study found that spending time in nature can increase our problem-solving ability and creativity by up to 50 per cent.
Autumn is a particularly spectacular time of year to wander outside. ‘It is almost like the environment is providing you with an amazing palette of materials and colour before winter sets in,’ says James, ‘it is the most obvious time for people to be outside and enjoy what the season has given you.’
But do we have to venture far to do this? No, James says we can do this simply within our garden. ‘I have a whole series of works which people would never know are in my garden,’ he explains. ‘It’s about being aware of what’s there. You just have to be brave enough to go and find it. There’s so much to play with whether that’s in your garden or it can be as small as in a window box. There will be natural materials waiting to be found.’
James reaps the mental benefits of connecting with nature. ‘Whether I am on the beach or in the woods, that is when I am my most mentally well. Creating art from nature is a meditative process. I try and keep things really simple, so I haven’t got a head full of decision making. I start a process and then it is just about repetition. At that point, I can just enjoy everything which is going on around me — the robin that’s on the branch behind my shoulder watching what I am doing [for instance],’ he says.
According to James, an interesting balance between being present and not focusing too intently becomes apparent. ‘It is either mindfulness or mindlessness — they are both the same thing really. For me, it is about letting go to the environment and being part of this greater existence which is becoming quite a natural feeling. When I am stuck indoors, I don’t have that connection; I just want to get outside.’
He wants to encourage others to get outdoors and become involved in a ‘meditative process.’
‘You develop a heightened understanding of the natural world. You can empty your mind and just revel in that simple pleasure of being there for that moment with what’s presented in front of you. It is a real grounding experience,’ adds James.
He also co-runs art organisation Responsible Fishing — a collection of school, festival and community-based art projects which work with natural, recycled and up-cycled materials to create artworks — with the aim to give both adults and children space and opportunity to play.
James says: ‘I would encourage people to get outside and do whatever their natural urge is to do, whether that’s a walk, taking a book to read in the middle of the woods or starting to rearrange [objects] and see where it takes you. We are naturally outdoor creatures. Make that connection with the outdoors; it is going to have many benefits for everybody.’
View his work and find out more at jamesbruntartist.co.uk