Art and Creativity in the Great Outdoors

Written by Heidi Scovel of Mt. Hope Chronicles.

Summer. There is something delicious about that word, especially for a mother of three young boys after an even-rainier-than-normal Pacific Northwest spring.

Children need to stretch their lungs, their legs, and their imaginations. The great outdoors are calling.

We may be inclined to set down our formal spelling and grammar programs, but summer is a great opportunity to sneak in some of the fun extras we might have trouble finding time to share with our children during a traditional school year.

Time spent outdoors lends itself to creativity and an appreciation for the art of nature. Many famous artists have been inspired by nature, and it is a joy to learn from the masters.

“Keep your love of nature, for that is the true way to understand art more and more.” ~ Vincent Van Gogh

Here are a few ideas to spark a summer study of art and nature.

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1. Pour Over Nature-Inspired Art by the Masters

Picture books are a marvelous way to introduce children (and adults!) to fine art and the lives of artists. Check your library or use these suggestions to get started:

A FARM: Paintings from a Bygone Age contains whimsical watercolor depictions of family farm life by Swedish artist Carl Larsson.

Georgia’s Bones by Jen Bryant tells the story of Georgia O’Keeffe and the inspiration she found in New Mexico for her vivid paintings.

“It is not the language of painters but the language of nature which one should listen to, the feeling for the things themselves, for reality, is more important than the feeling for pictures.” ~Vincent van Gogh

Van Gogh and the Sunflowers by Laurence Anholt is a child-friendly story about Vincent van Gogh and pairs well with Vincent’s Colors, which has paintings and words by van Gogh on each page. (Anholt has several artists books for children that are lovely.)

The Boy Who Drew Birds is a wonderful book about John James Audubon. The dreamy sketches, watercolors, and scrapbook-style illustrations by Melissa Sweet are fabulous.

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Building on Nature: The Life of Antoni Gaudi by Rachel Rodriguez teaches a child through the life of a Spanish artist that architecture can be nature-inspired art, as well.

Edward Hopper: Summer at the Seashore is a perfect book to read on a beach vacation, filled with the artist’s sketches and paintings of the seashore.

Artist in Overalls: The Life of Grant Wood by John Duggleby introduces the reader to the painter of American Gothic. This is a detailed biography with many paintings of rural life in America.

Charlotte in Giverny by Joan MacPhail Knight is a beautiful book with many Impressionist paintings and more fabulous nature journal/scrapbook-style illustrations by Melissa Sweet.

Linnea in Monet’s Garden by Cristina Bjork follows the fictional character Linnea as she visits Monet’s Garden. The book is chock-full of nature photographs, Monet’s paintings, details about the artist’s life, and charming illustrations.

I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.” ~ Claude Monet

Photo by Heidi Scovel

2. Draw, Paint, and Color

“Nothing makes me so happy as to observe nature and to paint what I see.” ~Henri Rousseau

Perhaps your budding artist might enjoy copying the bold, colorful patterns of Georgia O’Keeffe or the nature journal sketches of Audubon. If the artist’s wings need a little assistance getting them off the ground, try one of these coloring books:

Color Your Own Great Flower Paintings
Color Your Own Monet Paintings
Audubon’s Birds of America Coloring Book
Backyard Nature Coloring Book

Photo by Heidi Scovel

If you or your child would like to start a nature journal (or find more inspiration for one already in progress), Keeping a Nature Journal is a gorgeous book of sketches (some color, some black and white), ideas, and instructions.

“Painting from nature is not copying the object; it is realizing one’s sensations.” ~Paul Cezanne

3. Build and Create

Scrapbooks, bulletin boards, and nature tables are excellent ways to encourage art study. I try to have art postcard books on hand to use for projects.

Photo by Heidi Scovel

Nature’s Art Box is a wonderful book full of nature craft ideas and instructions.

Inspired by a book about fairy houses, my niece whipped up this little abode. My favorite part: the nutshell bowls filled with single blackberries.

Photo by Heidi Scovel

4. Go Explore

There may be several places in your area to explore art in nature (and nature in art).

Public gardens are wonderful places to take your sketchbook or painting easel and spend an afternoon. (Or take your camera for future art projects.) Rose gardens. Japanese gardens. Tropical gardens. Check to see if any local public gardens sponsor an Art in the Garden event during the summer.

Search out a sculpture park to see how other forms of art make their homes in nature.

“The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place; from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.” ~Pablo Picasso

Photo by Heidi Scovel

Do you or your child have a favorite nature-inspired artist?

About Heidi

Heidi documents Living Lovely at her blog, Mt. Hope Chronicles. There she celebrates (in words and images) her journey as wife, homeschooling mother of three rambunctious boys, photographer, book collector, and lover of the little things.


  1. What lovely inspiring post full of fabulous resources, thank you!

  2. Great ideas as usual! I love the simplicity of it all, and can’t wait to dig into those books! Thanks Heidi!
    jeana’s latest post: FINALLY- got some stuff done-

  3. What a great list!

    I especially love your suggestions for getting an artists’ wings “off the ground” – that backyard nature coloring book looks especially neat to me 🙂

    Here’s to stretching lungs, legs, and imaginations (I just love that!)
    Kara Fleck’s latest post: Simple Activities to Help Your Child Explore the Natural World

  4. wow some grate idea’s here can’t wait to get out and inspire my children. 😉

  5. I will be referring back to this list often! Thanks for this wonderful round up of resources.

  6. This is an amazing resource. The list of books here is incredible – i will be adding some of these to my amazon wish list!

  7. This is such a great resource! I will be passing this on to my children’s art teacher, my sister! 🙂 I know my kids would just love to make those little fairy houses. They already do this type of project with the things around our house that are not recyclable, but those wooden abodes are adorable! Thanks so much!
    Sofia’s Ideas’s latest post: Reflection in my Eyes

  8. Heidi, This was really good. I’m writing down these titles for our next library trip.

    My kids are huge fairy dwelling builders. It’s practically a whole subject of study around here.

  9. Can I just say again how helpful this post was for me Heidi. I’m back again looking at book titles and feeling very inspired. Thank you so much for putting this together.

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