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5 Art Tools Gifted From Nature

Why would an artist want to make their own tools? Especially when there are so many excellent and varied art materials available to buy? Perhaps artists are just contrary but there's a strong appeal in using things that aren't typical, that create unique marks. Plus, making natural art tools from items found in the wild is fun. It concentrates your attention.

During walks you notice yourself keeping an eye out for suitable candidates. I'm always looking for unusual bits and bobs to encourage experimentation and move my work forward.

You have to avoid stagnation and repetition. Curious children of all ages enjoy the collecting of the raw materials outdoors and later the construction and application.

A pine needle paint brush with charcoal mark making

A pine twig partially stripped of needles and tied with fine string. Once the needles have dried out a bit they are surprisingly robust.

If you dampen the tips in water and dip them into a saucer of powdered charcoal or paint you can make these linear marks that suggest grasses or other plant forms.

A pheasant tail feather making charcoal swirls.

Here a dry feather has been dipped into finely crushed charcoal and dragged across paper to create these lovely swirly shapes. Stiff feathers are best for this technique for example, from pigeon, goose or magpie etc.

A reed pen drawing abstract marks in ink.

Do you have access to wetlands or river banks where reeds grow? You can snap off a couple of slim stems and make your own reed pens. Carefully using a sharp craft knife you just need to angle the end to a fine point.

Get a bottle ink and have fun. You can even make your own ink and I will be writing a post about that in the near future. Vincent van Gogh made a whole series of wonderful reed pen drawings you can easily find on Google.

A stick dipped in ink making a drawing.

If you can't find any reeds don't worry. You can just use a stick or twig, no need to trim. Dip into the ink and off you go. Indian ink is a lovely rich black that goes on smoothly and dries waterproof. Normally sold in good art shops.

A reed pen and some text it has written in ink.

This is just a small selection of tools I've made. I hope it inspires you to have a go. I've saved the weirdest item till last and maybe you won't guess what it is straight away.

A Brussels Sprout stem dried

And these are some marks I made with it.

Abstract organic marks made with printing ink.

The mystery item came from the greengrocer round about Christmas time. Its the dried out stem of some Brussels sprouts. You can still see where the sprouts were attached.

Finally, a couple of quick reed pen sketches made with reeds from the actual place I was drawing - Rodley Nature Reserve on the river Aire near Leeds.

a sketchbook with a reed pen and sepia ink drawing of landscape

A sketchbook and reed pen with an ink drawing of wetland landscape at Rodley.

I used sepia ink which is a rather nice warm dark brown colour.


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