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Creating Abstract Art Inspired by Nature

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Artwork by Keyly, grade 8 - COURTESY OF EMILY JACOBS
  • Courtesy of Emily Jacobs
  • Artwork by Keyly, grade 8

With the return of sunlit evenings, warmer days and sprouting gardens, now is the perfect time for budding artists to celebrate the signs of spring through art. The new season brings about transformation and growth in our natural world — leaves budding, flowers blooming, roots reaching through thawing soil after a cold winter. With those changes comes plenty of visual inspiration.

While still-life drawings of flowers in vases or watercolors of floral tree branches are perfectly lovely ways to capture the beauty of spring, a more abstract style of art known as biomorphism can broaden our minds and our artistic possibilities.

"Deep Sea Lilac" by Michelle, grade 6 - COURTESY OF EMILY JACOBS
  • Courtesy of Emily Jacobs
  • "Deep Sea Lilac" by Michelle, grade 6

Biomorphism — a word composed of Greek roots "bio," meaning "life," and "morph," meaning "form" or "shape" — is characterized by abstract designs that draw inspiration from the lines, shapes, textures and patterns of the natural world. Biomorphic art might integrate organic shapes, such as leaves or petals, or reaching, branching lines that mimic roots.

One of the first and most famous artists to garner international attention for her biomorphic abstract paintings was Georgia O'Keeffe. O'Keeffe walked the line between figurative or representational art and abstraction by creating vivid works depicting close-up images of flowers. The close-cropped, magnified quality of O'Keeffe's paintings abstracts their blossoming subjects.

"Life" by Natalia, grade 6 - COURTESY OF EMILY JACOBS
  • Courtesy of Emily Jacobs
  • "Life" by Natalia, grade 6

A viewer looking at one of O'Keeffe's biomorphic paintings might not know whether they are looking at a detail from the center of a flower or an abstract composition of sweeping lines and swathes of color. As a result, O'Keeffe's flower paintings are at once familiar and ethereal. We see a detail we seem to recognize — petals, a pistol, a stamen — but we also experience these paintings as abstract dreamscapes of color and emotion.

Current artist Yellena James creates similarly biomorphic artwork, painting abstract forms and designs inspired by plant life. Like O'Keeffe's paintings, James' works feel both recognizable and unknown, balancing nature-based imagery with abstract invention.

As you observe the subtle transformations around you this spring — blossoms opening, buds reaching from branches — look closely, and consider channeling that inspiration into biomorphic artworks of your own!

Getting Started

Artwork by Ofira, grade 6 - COURTESY OF EMILY JACOBS
  • Courtesy of Emily Jacobs
  • Artwork by Ofira, grade 6

Possible materials: paper, pencil, colored pencil, markers, oil pastel, gouache or watercolor paint

Step 1:

Observe shapes, lines, textures and patterns in nature!

You might find inspiration in:

  • the veins on a leaf
  • the parts that make up the center of a flower
  • tree roots or branches
  • vines growing along a tree trunk, fence, or building

Pro Tip: Go on a nature walk to look for inspiration! Consider taking photos of interesting details, or gathering your observations in a sketchbook. While it might be tempting to pick up leaves or flowers to take home, respect our environment by leaving no trace.

If getting outside into nature isn't going to work for you, check out the student art examples in this article, or the artwork of Georgia O'Keeffe and Yellena James for inspiration!

Step 2:

Artwork by Jada, grade 8 - COURTESY OF EMILY JACOBS
  • Courtesy of Emily Jacobs
  • Artwork by Jada, grade 8

Draw or paint biomorphic abstract art of your own.

Some ideas:

  • Choose a natural element you find inspiring (like tree roots, of the shape of a leaf) and draw that element over and over, filling up your page or canvas.
  • Look very closely at a flower or leaf (taking close-up or zoomed-in photos might help with this) and fill your page with the shapes, textures and colors you see.
  • Layer different visual elements and textures. For example, use watercolor paint to cover a page with color. Then, paint lines inspired by tree roots branching across the page. Next, paint repeated shapes like petals or leaves that begin at one corner of your paper and meander diagonally across the page to the opposite corner. Layering visual elements will add depth to your artwork.

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