This blog has moved to my new art/creativity site (Mouse House BLOG). The new blog is also about getting you connected with nature for creative expression, along with my art, workshops, and my personal journey.

Please feel free to explore past posts here, some of which will re-appear for encore showings in Mouse House. Let nature be your muse...

Thank you for visiting Your Nature, and if you like what you read here, be sure to follow my blog at its new home, to continue to receive creative fun and inspiration in your mailbox!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Ancient Artist’s Garden: Beyond Pretty Flowers and Visual Landscapes

Earth painted cat:
The wonderful thing about creativity is that it can be integrated into all parts of your life. For example, I have often commented on the creative outlet gardening offers. The physical release of tending a vegetable or flower garden alone may stimulate creative thought, however the colors, textures, fragrances, and tastes found in well-loved garden landscapes can be easily inspiring as well. But there are other ways a home garden or native landscape can be the perfect blend of art and nature in a more long term and uniquely interactive way.

I know that painting with plants is not a new concept—just ask your kindergartener—but I love the idea of creating a small garden as a nod to our creative spirit. With a little extra effort, you can create an artist’s garden far beyond pretty blossoms and visual landscapes for inspiration! One can find plants and minerals enough to yield traditional pigment, dyes and materials steeped in ancient inspiration that gives a whole new meaning to having a “green thumb.”

You can jump start your artist’s garden by incorporating certain rocks or minerals and transplanting mature plants for some, if not all species, so you can begin experimenting with native pigments and dyes, or making your own brushes, and containers right away! Check your local cultural museum or botanical garden for Native American or other cultural uses known about the plants in your area, particularly in knowing what part was used (seeds, leaves, flowers, fruit, stems, roots) and how they prepared these parts so you can recreate the process.

Proper plant I.D. is a MUST! If you’re not 110% sure—don’t mess with it.

Even though the traditional uses for these “artistic” materials may have been for more ceremonial, utilitarian, or social purposes—or otherwise—creative expression holds. Because it’s part of what I love about our desert, I’ve included a few examples and other sources that can be found in the Colorado desert (Sonoran desert).


White Dalea aka “Cheeto” plant (Parosela emoryi) – crushed flowers used for saffron-yellow stain/dye

Spanish Needle (Palafoxia linearis) - yellow dye

Indigo Bush (Dalea emoryi) – traditionally used as a yellow-brown dye in baskets (steeped branches); blue dye (roots) reportedly used by Levi company as one of the sources for dying their blue jeans during 19th century.

Flower Pollen – in our area, pollen from the Desert Gold Poppy (Eschscholzia glyptosperma) and Little Gold Poppy (Eschscholzia minutiflora) provided a yellow cosmetic and/or stain used by the Cahuilla Indians. Experiment with pollen from any flower, many come off easily, staining whatever it touches.

Cucumber Plant – adhesive/binder; during a pigment making class, we were told the mashed-up spikey fruit of this vine was used as a binder, mixed with minerals to create a long lasting paint for ancient pictographs.

Pine pitch/sap – heated and applied as an adhesive

Nopale/Tuna Fig (Nopalea cochenillifera) - Cactus used as a host for the female cochineal
insect (Dactylopius coccus). A crimson dye, is processed from the body of this insect.

Coyote Melon (Cucurbita palmata) – traditionally used for making small bowls, containers, scoop style spoons, and cermonial rattles. Today, gourd artists regularly use these round gourds.

Carrizo Grass (Arundo donax) – containers, brushes. In a pigment making class we used Carrizo (Giant Reed) stems to make brush handles, by using a tidbit of racoon fur and heated pine pitch to attach the fur to the carrizo stem hollow. We also created cylindrical containers for carrying our pigments utilizing the hollow stem sections and whittling down the membrane at the end of the section a little to fit just inside as a “cap.”

Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia rigens) – locally, this plant along with Juncus spp. were both used for making baskets by the Cahuilla.


Ochre – You might just have this already…if not a nearby source! Used by many Native American groups as body paint, also for burials, and ceremonies. Ochre is among the earliest pigments used by man, an earth pigment from naturally tinted clay containing mineral oxides, used to create reddish tint. Found virtually all over, in many shades.

Carnelian, Citrine, Amber, Garnet, Iolite, Rhodochrosite, Sodalite, Dioptase – these gemstones are used by many to enhance creativity in a variety of ways, from awakening your imagination, increasing your creative energy, to overcoming writer’s block, and stimulating the flow of ideas. Raw chunks of these are beautiful additions to any garden, or place polished stones around in secret places that benefit you.

Image: "Indian Collecting
Cochineal with a Deer Tail"
by José Antonio de Alzate
y Ramírez (1777)
(Wikipedia, Cochineal)
Cochineal (Dactylopius coccus) - depending on how you feel about scale insects and the squishing of them, this may or may not be for you. If you live in the southwest and have noticed a cottony-like substance on your paddle-shaped Opuntia spp. cactus, it’s likely the cochineal insect. Smear some of those cottony fluffs (the female cochineal) and you will discover a beautiful magenta pigment. Use as is (thought not permanent to light if used for watercolor) or used the dried bodies and learn to make a dye with it by following the traditional farm-dying process of this unique source of scarlet dye regularly found in certain drinks, foods and cosmetics as carmine. Learn more about cochineal cultural history, farming and the dying process here.

Try bringing one or two of these elements into your creativity garden. I encourage you to take a quick trip on your computer, to your local botanical gardens, or cultural center to learn about the plant sources readily available in your area to reveal the ancient artist in you!

Integrate the past with the present for a garden of future inspiration by trying an intriguing ancient technique or source...see what blossoms.
 *  *  *  *  *
 Want to learn more? Check out this fantastic resource on Native American pigment and dye processes and tools, "Natural Pigments" by Patsy Harper.

This post was originally published as Awakening Your Ancient “Green Thumb” April 2010 “Your Nature” ezine

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Creativity Break: Crayon Naming

“An enterprising child set up a table at the park, selling crayons for a nickel. I gave her a dollar for Tickle Me Pink.” @WordWhispers

Let your creative nature come out and play, assign a new name for at least 8 of the color crayons you see in the image below. What story, memory or "fantastical" world will your crayon names leap from within your imagination? Alternative: pick 2-3 colors and create a name for each shade of purple or green, or blue, etc. Please feel free to share your names :)

Image: dreamstime.com

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Forces of Nature

Inspired by the forces of nature. A twisting canyon inspires me to transform difficult forces from my life history into wondrous and beautiful creations. Through admiring the geologic features in a weathered, shaped and twisted canyon, we are reminded to embrace the depth of our life experiences and let it flow into our art, our written word--into something beautiful, from our creative soul.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Poem Notes

It is a new moon night. Irresistible.

"I cup the stars, thirsty for their silvery attention—little muses winking at me—I drink in their luminous whispers."

In Liz Lamoreux's inspiring book, "Inner Excavation: Explore Your Self Through Photography, Poetry, and Mixed Media" she shares the idea of poem notes for revealing your poet within. She explains poem notes can be: notes from a poem you hope to write some day, short lines, phrases, the beginning lines of a poem. The idea is to avoid the trap of feeling you must end up with a finished poem. As a "shy poet" myself, I found this exercise to be quite liberating, giving this tender creative outlet I secretly enjoy permission to come through in short, daring bursts and glimpses! In practicing this exercise I've actually ended up with a couple of poems ;)

Now it's your turn.

Share This