person painting, sitting on picnic table

Painting the picturesque: a guide to art in nature

Today’s blog comes from Megan Callahan, a customer service assistant for Ontario Parks. Her love for nature and educational background in fine arts has created wonderful synchronicity in her parks career.

Oftentimes, when someone thinks of art and Ontario Parks, they think of the Group of Seven.

You know, the group of artists that were inspired by the Canadian landscape and made famous the windswept trees in Killbear Provincial Park or the many landscapes painted in Algonquin Provincial Park?

Your art education may have even dabbled in recreating their art, like mine did in high school!

However, there are SO many artists that visit our beautiful parks to this day, to create masterpieces from their experience in nature.

Art is therapy, and so is nature! What a fantastic combination the two make.

hand holding two paintings
Photocopies of my Grade 9 Group of Seven assignment

Getting started may seem daunting, but it can be as easy as choosing a location, setting up, and painting whatever you’re feeling first.

It can also happen spur of the moment — so carrying your supplies with you can be helpful.

Tools of the trade

First and foremost, we need supplies!

In this instance we’re discussing paint, but don’t be shy to your other media like coloured pencils, collaging, sculpting, and more!

There’s always a new way to explore your creativity.

So, gather your:

  • preferred brushes
  • a pencil and eraser
  • the paint you like to work with
  • a container/dish with water (and a lid!)
  • a palette
  • something to dry your brushes

Don’t forget something to paint on! This can be a canvas, a mixed media sketchbook, or any other material you pack.

You can also bring other tools with you to add texture to your work, like sponges or palette knives.

hand holding paint brushes, canvas placed on forest floor

I prefer to work with watercolours or acrylic paint when I’m in a new place, because these media are familiar to me. They can also be forgiving, allowing for quick fixes.

They are also the easiest to pack away when you are finished.

Depending on how you’re going to get to your destination or where you’re going to end up, being able to compact your things may be essential.

There are so many cool contraptions to carry supplies with you! From fancy cases to innovative watercolour pens (pictured below).

paint pen and pot on canvas

Find what works best for you! You may just put your things in a backpack or tote like me.

Getting started

So, you’ve arrived at your destination and have your supplies. Now what?

A blank canvas is a world of opportunity.

You can start with a light sketch of something you see.

tracing on canvas

That tree in front of you has a funky shape to it! Take a closer look at the bark and draw out the details. Or sketch out how you’re feeling where you are.

Are you calm? Are there lines or shapes, or even colours that express this calmness?

You can even put paint straight to canvas if that’s what you prefer! Sometimes abstract or reactive painting is the most therapeutic.

hand holding painting

And remember: absolutely anything you do is art.

You may tuck your masterpiece away and never look at it again, or even add it to your burn pile, but — you’ve given yourself the opportunity to lean into creativity and express yourself through art, and that’s amazing!

The process

If you aren’t liking what you’re doing, move along!

Start a new painting on a fresh piece of paper or canvas.

Try to shift your subject matter or method.

If you work best with structure, try painting exactly what you see.

Follow the twists and turns of the object you’re inspired by and pull that image out of the canvas.

When you’re painting a landscape, try completing the background first, then move into the foreground. This allows you to add layers and build pigment to make the colours pop!

Or challenge yourself and do the opposite! Details first, background last.

Benefits of painting

Many people choose to hike or paddle through the natural environment for exercise or relaxation.

person painting in view of lake

This time also allows them to be alone with their thoughts and come to terms with how they are feeling.

They may also experience a shift in their mood from the endorphins.

Painting is a fantastic opportunity to do the same, because your focus is on the canvas, and your mind can wander within itself.

Sometimes, we find ourselves thinking about the next item on our to-do list, or what the next day will hold, but it can be beneficial to try to avoid these thoughts, and welcome self-reflection.

Allow yourself to take a few deep breaths while painting, and if you can, isolate yourself from distractions.

For the musically inclined

Sometimes I like to listen to music when I paint!

It can add a whole new layer of emotion or memory recall to the experience, especially when you choose a genre to match your mood.

If you plan to listen to music, please use headphones. Remember, there are many other people who wish to enjoy the solitude of nature as you do.

watercolour painting of lake

Music can be an excellent source of inspiration — so can nature sounds!

Listen closely to the sounds around you.

Are there birds chirping?

Water lapping on the shore?

Children laughing while exploring?

Maybe even leaves rustling?

What do these sounds remind you of? A memory? Certain imagery?

Let your creativity flow onto the canvas!

This painting belongs to no one else but yourself.

This is your opportunity to pull your thoughts out and express yourself with paint better than words ever could!

Spend some time outdoors

Our parks are wonderful places to get inspired!

Pack your brushes with you and paint what you see, hear, and experience.

Your perspective on our natural environment and your own mind may change as you allow yourself to see nature through a whole new lens.

Feeling creative?

Tag us on social media to show us your creations featuring our beautiful provincial parks.

We can’t wait to see what you come up with!