I am quick to say that I find inspiration in nature, both for my personal life and in my work. I often hear this from other artists and interior designers, that nature inspires them. But how exactly?
I have a subscription to a design magazine that shows a beautiful landscape photograph each month and then translates it into a room design. It’s a very literal interpretation and in my opinion, not always successful: the red barn becomes a red sofa, the grasslands become a sisal rug, etc. How does one translate the beauty, emotional connection and inspiration found in nature into a living room without taking it literally?
Over the years, I’ve found a few different approaches to apply the beauty I see and emotions I experience in nature into my work. If I don’t do one of these practices, I find the inspiration I feel in the moment is fleeting and I have a hard time recalling what I saw, thought and felt once I get home and open up my laptop.
I like to keep a small sketching journal and watercolor pencils with me when I go out into nature (well, maybe not on trail runs). Sketching whatever I see connects my vision to my hands and helps cement what I am seeing into my brain for later reference. It’s also a great practice to sketch every day to keep those skills sharp for client meetings and construction site visits; no matter how “bad” you think you are at it.
I collect things. Sometimes I sketch or paint them when I get home, oftentimes I simply create a little altar of natural items on the table, hearth, or in a glass jar. It’s fun to rearrange the pieces into different color and texture combinations which can easily translate into interior spaces.
I received a Plein Air easel a few months ago and it’s pretty amazing. It can be folded up and carried by a canvas strap, then put together wherever you find inspiration. I am trying to keep it going, even in the cold months. If you have never painted outside, I highly recommend it! And no, you do not have to be an accomplished artist.
This one is pretty common, but the trick is actually going back and looking at the photos or doing something with them to apply it to your work. Sometimes I’ll take a favorite photo and include it on a Pinterest or InDesign concept board as I’m looking for furniture and decor. I don’t always keep that there when presenting to clients, but it helps me to re-connect to either the color palette, shapes, textures or just the feeling I had outside when I am working.
I am an obsessive journal-er (is that a word?), and have been for years so this is an easy one for me. Carrying a small moleskin journal and felt pen is pretty standard for me. I love stream of consciousness writing about anything and everything that pops into my head, sketching or simply doodling when I stop on a bench mid-hike. Going back to re-read what I jotted down a few days later can reconnect me to the experience of being outside and lead to unexpected design inspiration.
I have been fortunate to live in many places that are intimately connected to nature – all very different landscapes and climates. I grew up in a beach town on the Atlantic and went to college in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I lived in a big city and spent years in the Pacific NW exploring the wild coast, mountains and forests. Then to a small town high in the Rocky Mountains and now a small city in the foothills of Colorado. I can honestly say no one place has been more or less inspirational. I think it’s all about your willingness to accept a place on its own terms, to be a witness to the landscape and changing seasons without your own agenda. It’s amazing where you can find inspiration if you simply stop, look and listen to what the natural world is showing you.