People sometimes consider themselves as separate from nature. Buildings, roads, and the humans who inhabit them are seen as distinct from the surrounding water, trees and animals. As sculptor, photographer and environmentalist Andy Goldsworthy puts it, “We often forget that we are nature”.
Through art, however, creatives can examine human relationships with the environment, exploring our connections to larger ecological systems and our impact on the earth.
That’s where the environmental art movement comes in
Artists across a range of mediums have embraced the environmental art movement. Emerging in the early 1960s and 1970s, it refers broadly to art forms that engage with and represent the environment. In practice, this can look like:
- Using natural materials such as leaves, flowers, branches, ice, soil, sand, stone or water as the basis of one’s work
- Choosing to situate art in specific places to encourage viewers to “rethink” how they see the world
- Working with organic landscapes and the cycles of flowering, molding and decay
Some of the most prominent environmental artists are featured in this article – think nests formed from twigs and wildflowers, golden wheat fields, and an exposé of consumerist culture.
With our introduction to the environmental art movement complete, let’s look at a few ways of incorporating natural or reused materials into art.
1. Coffee paintingI have to say, this one is near and dear to my heart, as my dad was a seasoned coffee painter. In the morning, he’d enjoy his cup, using the brown hues to make creative designs on coasters and napkins.
I’m happy to report that with just a few coffee grounds, you can be a coffee painter Artists have used reused coffee grinds (repurposing waste, yes!) to create beautiful, intricate paintings.
All you’ll need is some watercolour paper, a flat and round-tipped paintbrush, a pencil and of course, some coffee grinds! You can find step by step instructions and the works of fellow coffee painters right here.
2. “Re-Making” Portraits
Jane Perkins calls herself a “re-maker”. By taking inspiration from found objects, she incorporates them into her art by making colourful portraits. Buttons, beads and other objects are put together to create truly gorgeous pieces.
Check out her collection for yourself:
The Classics – Japanese Bridge after Monet, and Sunflowers after Van Gogh – only this time, they’re made with tiny bits and bobs found by Perkins
Portraits – from Frida Kahlo to Adele, Perkins captures every detail
- Animal Kingdom – the colours in the peacock’s feathers are truly stunning
Jacek Tylicki’s long-running nature series lets mother earth guide the art. Fully reflecting the phrase “letting nature take its course”, Tylicki’s work is premised on exploring pure nature without any human interference.
The method goes like this:
- Step 1: spread out sheets of white paper in grass, among stones, or some other natural setting
- Step 2: Nature “registers its presence”, covering the paper in colours, shapes, forms and tracks
In Tylicki’s words: “Art happens everywhere, all the time. We just have to keep our minds open.”