Creativity and nature: weaving the connection

If I think back to my childhood bedroom, I walk in the door and on my dresser to the right are carefully curated piles of seedpods, sticks, leaves and shells. On my book case over on the back wall there are collections of beach stones, river stones and ‘anywhere’ stones. On the walls are long sticks tied together.

Creating these carefully curated collections started when I was a young child and they grew and evolved over time.

The thing is, I assumed everyone saw the world like I did. Nature presenting wonderful shapes, textures and forms which I just had to stop and notice and admire. I can’t remember a time I wasn’t deeply connected to those forms.

Many of those collections were from our camping trips in National Parks. I spent every single school holiday sharing a tent with my sister or family deep in nature. No TV, cooking over the fire, long hikes each day.

Through these experiences, my spiritual connection with the natural world starting forming and for me, that is closely linked to my creativity.

This creativity was developed when my Mum and I would do fun projects together. I guess like most young girls, making pom poms, simple weaving with yarn, tie dyeing, mud painting, screen printing and mushing up roses to make perfume. I loved those projects as I identified with that simple creativity. It was fun.

Sadly, this connection with nature and creativity wasn’t developed or nurtured as something other than fun. I dreamed of going to art classes, but unfortunately, I can’t even draw a good stick figure so that exploration was left as something that was unachievable for me.

Fast forward to my 40s, having established a successful communications company and career as an international speaker and trainer, I desperately needed to reconnect with simple creativity. Feeling completely burnt out by work and life, I needed to connect my hands with my heart through nature.

Having dabbled with pottery and a few weekend basketry workshops, in 2012 I booked into a basketry workshop with Australian native plants with Meri Peach at Sturt Craft and Design Centre Summer School and within hours I realised that this was going to be the start of something I was always destined to do. It just took a long time to get there.

Why basketry?
Like many of those types of things that come into your life, it all most feels like they choose you. Basketry and I found each other. Like many of us, seeking out traditional crafts allows us to reconnect with slower, ancient creative experiences.

Basketry helped evolve the human race. It’s one of the oldest art forms that dates back to our primal roots and hasn’t changed for thousands of years. So ancient is basketry, that the oldest known baskets have been carbon dated to between 10,000 and 12,000 years old, earlier than any established dates for archaeological finds of pottery.

Figuring out how to weave a basket lead to so many changes that sustained and evolved humanity like gathering food, cooking food, holding water, catching fish and shelter.

Early civilisations also used baskets for bartering, which played a key role in the development of trade-based economies. These baskets were woven from the natural materials they had around them such as grasses, vines, trees and roots.

When I visited the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, I stood in front of a basket from the Coastal Salish people that was woven 4,500 years ago. (It had been preserved in an anaerobic environment). Elder, Ed Carriere, recreated a pack basket that demonstrated continuity and change in basketry techniques over those 4,500 years. It included cross warp twining from 1000 years ago, open twining from 2000 years ago, wrap around plaiting from 3000 years old and dual-warp wrapped from 4,500 years ago.

Considering how drastically different our lives are now compared to back then with the impact of technology, the endless Facebook notifications, text messages, urgent appointments and deadlines, I love the idea that when I pick up material to weave, I’m connecting to that ancient creativity and I’m using a technique that evolved 1000’s of years ago.

Twisting, turning and twining natural material also reconnects me to nature. Using basketry and nature based arts rekindles that lost connection between nature and us.

My practice
As I started to develop my practice, it was the connection with nature and creativity that I wanted to deepen, so I made a purposeful decision to use discarded, foraged, found or gifted plants materials. I also avoided synthetic material including glue and plastics.

Very early on I also realised that precise patterns of many of the basket making techniques didn’t appeal to me, it was that simple creativity that I wanted to explore.

To this day, my practice is about pursing creativity that isn’t about perfection, but more about exploration and play. I use my art processes to think in new ways and use creativity to gain new insights and perspectives that use in all aspects of my life.

All of my work is based on connecting my hands with my heart through nature. If you come to any of my workshops, you’ll understand that I teach in this way too. It’s so much more than a technique, it’s connecting to that ancient wisdom and using basketry to uncover our emerging creativity.

My materials
Having made the decision to use only plant material I could find, really limited my options. But constraints can be very beneficial in developing your practice. I live in Sydney along the coast, so the material I can easily find is Bangalow Palm inflorescence (the seed pods from the Palm that fall down when they have dried).

Just as a painter tends to specialise in a technique, I decided to as well and I started random weaving and twining with the inflorescence. Focused on the exploration aspect of my practice, many of these earlier works ended up in the green bin!

With no studio until 2021, I made many of my pieces in my lounge room. While that was overwhelming when I’m was the middle of a solo exhibition, it’s also beneficial as my approach is ‘listening’ to the sculpture. Living with it as I go about my day gives me so many opportunities to understand its story and form.

I may have an idea about what I’m going to create, and then I’ll pick up the material and start the sculpture and often material decides what it wants to become.

The continuation
By placing ourselves in nature, removed from the constant interruptions of the digital life, it allows an expansion of our creative expression and an uncovering of deeper layers of self. Through my sculptures, I’m giving the viewer an opportunity to experience this idea of oneness with nature.

Highlighting a deep connection with the natural world, my work offers up the idea that we should see nature as part of us rather than simply an object that has no meaning or spirit. And to see ourselves in harmony with the natural world around us.

Having really started my practice as a young girl, I believe that both creativity and nature plays an important part in helping us become fully aware of who we are. It inspires us to expand, but also forces us to confront whatever stands in way of that expansion and to find the simplicity of that connection.

After five years of juggling a full time art practice and full time business career, in 2021 I was awarded the Northern Beaches Artist in Residence, and decided to transition to a full time career as an artist with a body of work exploring the impact nature has on hope.