Why You Should Be Creating in the Outdoors & How to Get Started

by: Andrea Slusarski

Nature doesn’t care if you don’t think you can draw or if you’re a good artist – it calls for you to do it anyways.

From the earliest painters to your modern-day favorite, Instagram artists, the great outdoors have been influencing creativity. And if you think it’s because of the beauty, you need to give Nature a little more credit, it’s not so surface level like that. Instead, Nature  works deeper to influence your psychology to actually help boost your creative thinking!

This happens in part due to changes in brain activity that occur when we experience or view natural scenes. Nature allows our brain’s attention processing to be restored, making room for our creativity and problem-solving to thrive. While the research on creativity and Nature is still being developed, there is no better time than now to start exploring the connections for yourself.

By going out on a hike you’ve already completed the first step of your creative adventure.

So now what?

If you’re new to creating in the outdoors, I recommend starting with watercolors. They are the easiest to throw into your backpack, they dry quickly and the tips in this article are geared towards using that medium of paint. However, if you’re interested in using oils, my plein air painter friend Heidi has a great article on her process here. If you’re not ready to jump right into color, a simple pencil and pen drawing is an excellent way to create while outdoors as well!

What to bring:

Ultra-Light Painter: Sketchbook, Pencil, Pen

Day-Hiker Painter: Watercolor Sketchbook (or watercolor paper taped to a board), Pencil, Pen, Watercolor Set, Water-brushes*

*I recommend water brushes for any outdoor painting. Why?

Leave no trace, people!

These brushes hold the water and are capped, meaning there’s no need to dump a cup of dirty watercolor water when you’re done painting.

I begin my outdoor paintings with a simple pencil sketch. I suggest not spending too much time here – especially with the eraser, but rather, just focus on key areas. I like to find the ridge line of my mountains up against the sky and any larger objects i.e. trees, rocks, tent that I know I want to include in my final painting.

Next, fill in your background (sky) and areas of shadows. For clouds, you leave the paper white! You can also, obviously break all of these rules (and I hope you do) but this is a great place to get started.

Then have some fun filling in the rest of your landscape.

Watercolors are not meant to be blended super smoothly or perfect – if you try to do that, you’re just going to frustrate yourself. Instead, focus more on the fluid placement of your colors filling in your scene. Make small quick brush strokes to show trees or try letting the wet colors mix themselves to create their own textures.

BONUS: A micron pen is great for drawing with or adding details onto your dried painting.

Creating art is very similar to a fun and challenging hike. It’s never only about the endpoint, but more importantly about the adventure you took to get there. So don’t worry about what it’s going to look like in the end, it’s the process of creating that you’ll find you enjoy more. Just remember, like all activities, painting/sketching in the outdoors takes time, practice and a few falls for good measure.

So will you be open to the experience to let those fears of creating go?

If you’re looking for more instruction, I will be leading a few Hike & Paint workshops (free!) this summer that I would love for you to join. You can find more details of these by following me on Instagram @drawingfromnature – I hope to see you there!