Niobe Shaw, a content writer and digital marketer, joins us for This Creative Life with an article about nature and how it can nurture us and offer creative inspiration.
Whenever I feel bored, tired or have creative block, I like to get outside. It’s something I have come to realise fairly recently, though I’m sure I have felt it subconsciously throughout life. Venturing into nature – or at the very least, to pound the pavements in my village – is where my mind settles down from daily stresses and where I am most calm.
The great outdoors is also where creativity strikes the most. I’m sure it’s no consequence that my best ideas come when my mind is clear enough to produce them. Perhaps you feel that too? I wanted to explore why this was the case and consider how we can use nature to help inspire us creatively.
Art is born of the observation & investigation of nature. – Cicero
So much of creativity and innovation draws upon natural occurrences. As Cicero said, art is so often created by looking carefully at nature. So is science, or should I say scientific innovation?
‘Biomimicry’, defined as ‘the design and production of materials, structures, and systems that are modelled on biological entities and processes’, has led to a whole range of innovations. Velcro came to be after Swiss engineer George de Mestral observed how burdock seeds stuck to his socks and his dog while walking in the mountains, while the shape of Japanese bullet trains is based on kingfishers’ beaks. A quick search of biomimicry will provide countless results on how nature has inspired exciting innovations we now rely upon.
There is so much inspiration each one of us can gather from nature, whether we’re writers, artists, crafters, designers or otherwise. And above all else, even if the act of observing nature isn’t where our ideas come from, getting outdoors and breathing in that fresh air does wonders for the mind.
I love to take my pocket watercolour paints on holiday and create my own little postcards. I don’t profess to be any good at watercolour painting, but the mindful act of sitting quietly and observing a beautiful view is one of my favourite activities. I really should make the time to do it more.
The way many of us live promotes attention fatigue. Social media, notifications, busy cities, bright lights and attempting to do everything on our to-do lists can lead to difficulty concentrating. It’s certainly something I’ve noticed in myself, and I’d assume you probably have too.
Scientists have found that nature can help with this problem by reinvigorating our brains. Neurosurgeons and psychologists have learned that nature relaxes our frontal lobes through something called soft fascination, and the theory here is that nature stimulates our brains just enough to gently engage our attention, without forcing us to focus.
When we’re out on a hike, enjoying a picnic or sitting on a park bench, we’re taking in the sights and sounds, but we don’t need to concentrate on them in the same way we have to focus on work or even ‘relaxing’ hobbies like reading or watching a film. This allows our brain to restore and means we can think things through, come up with fresh ideas, and let creativity flow.
We all experience awe differently & for different reasons.
In 2019, I visited New Zealand. On the first day in our campervan, we drove by Mount Cook National Park in the sunshine, with sky-high peaks above and glacial blue lakes below. I looked out of the window and cried. That night, parked up by Pukaki, I saw more stars than I have ever seen, and I cried again. The sense of awe I felt through seeing such incredibly beautiful, natural vistas that I hadn’t seen before left me somewhere between overwhelm and delirium, in the best possible way.
We all experience awe differently and for different reasons – my mum had a similar reaction when she visited Trinity Library in Dublin, which my teenage self couldn’t understand. That being said, many of us feel a sense of awe around nature. Whether it’s the sheer size of mountains and the incredible views you’re rewarded with when you reach their peak, or the vastness of the sea, which always makes me feel so small and insignificant. Exploring nature can shift your mindset considerably. You might feel inspired by the earth’s greatness, or see things differently than normal, and this helps top up your cup of creative juice.
Five tips for embracing nature
On your next walk, if you’re up high on a hill, consider how small the buildings appear and look at the shapes of the fields. In the local park, watch as the bees buzz from flower to flower. The small act of noticing is enough to calm your mind and allow space for flow.
- Head somewhere new
Taking time to get outside and explore news areas and take in new views – be that a holiday far afield or simply an afternoon walk in a different part of your county – can help to reignite your creative spark.
- Gain new perspectives
Go to the same place but do something different. Since I have lived in Norfolk, I’ve developed a love of sea swimming and paddle boarding. Now, there are times I head to the beach or lakeside for a stroll, and other times I take to the water. This offers multiple perspectives, and this frame of mind is helpful when exploring creative ideas.
- Explore without your phone
I love listening to podcasts on walks, but I’m aware that this is adding more information rather than allowing the benefits of ‘soft fascination’. So I often walk (leaving my phone at home or silent in my pocket) without distraction, allowing me to just be. That white space is a wonderful place for thoughts to flourish.
- Play with nature
Nature gives us resources which we can use. Many people use foliage to create Christmas wreaths, but there’s plenty to be used at other times of year. Gather fallen leaves, petals, pinecones – whatever you can find on the floor – and play around for no reason other than to have fun.
So, next time you feel stuck in a creative rut or are finding life a little too full on, take a break in nature. A half hour walk can do the world of good, though I know a weekend away in a cabin might appeal more! Let’s make the most of nature’s benefits to both our minds and our creative pursuits.
Niobe is a content writer and digital marketer for small businesses that want to grow sustainably. She lives in the beautiful county of Norfolk and is spoiled for choice when it comes to exploring the coast, countryside and local coffee shops.