When I’m taking a walk in the woods or strolling on the beach, I’m aware of the colors of nature, but also the look and feel of natural texture: glossy leaves, velvety moss, rugged boulders, and spiky grasses. Nathalie Kalbach is a fan of texture too, and she interprets it in the coolest, most unique ways. You’ll find tons of ideas and inspiration in Art Lesson Volume 9: Creating Texture Plates Inspired by Nature, and in her book, Artful Adventures in Mixed Media. Nathalie’s techniques for creating texture will astound you.
In her Art Lesson, Nathalie uses the geysers at Yosemite National Park in California as inspiration for her stunning dimensional piece that incorporates plaster wrap and glass bead gel. One detail she includes in the lesson completely piqued my interest, and I used it as a jumping off point for some mixed-media tags.
Nathalie uses sticks as mark-making tools, then incorporates them, paint and all, into her artwork. This may be repurposing at its finest, but it also reveals her ingenuity and unique vision. One thing I love about our Art Lessons series is that the techniques and artistic styles the artists bring can upend the way you think about creating art. And that’s a good thing. It’s effective to shake things up, see something in a different way, and try out a new idea that might never have popped into your head.
To start my project, I cut some 6″ x 3 ½” tag shapes from 140-lb. cold press watercolor paper. You can use any heavyweight paper for this. I brushed on a coat of white gesso, which is optional; I like that primer coat when working with acrylic paints. If you’re using colored or patterned paper, use clear gesso. While the gesso dried I took a walk and gathered a bunch of fresh and dried leaves, twigs, and small pinecones.
I mixed some unbleached titanium and metallic copper acrylic paints on my palette, then sponged some on the back of a leaf. Try using both sides of leaves to see the different natural texture effects you can get; I usually use the back, since it tends to have more vein definition.
The leaf was carefully placed onto a tag, a sheet of scrap paper went over the leaf, and a brayer was used to press the leaf down (this avoids spreading excess paint on the tag). Using a very thin layer of paint on the leaf gave me the most natural texture. A little trial and error is never a bad idea. You can practice on a scrap sheet to see what effects you like. And don’t throw that scrap sheet out—incorporate it into another piece of artwork. After printing the leaves, I glued a scrap of book text to the tag.
A small branch was used to make more prints, this time with dark green paint to provide a contrast to the pale background.
Wondering what the pinecone would produce, I sponged on a hefty coat of copper metallic paint, then swiped it across the tag. That produced beautiful abstract marks with a hint of shine. In her book, Nathalie writes, “I love taking photos and I am especially intrigued with close-ups of anything that would offer interesting texture. Texture is a very important element in my artwork and often develops from something I have seen in nature.”
Next, I dipped the end of the twig in some turquoise paint, then used it to make marks on the branch, which added more natural texture and depth to the leaves. You’ll see how Nathalie uses this technique in her Art Lesson.
When the paint was dry, I added an organic element to the tag, as Nathalie did on her piece, sewing on a dried, curled leaf with waxed linen thread. I love how using plants as tools produced so much visual texture. I couldn’t have achieved that with anything other than the real thing.
I had so much fun making this tag that I decided to produce a small series. Sticking with a limited color palette and using the plant materials as mark-making tools and embellishments made it easy to create a cohesive collection filled with natural texture. To hide the stitching and give the tags a finished look, I glued book text to the backs, and added ribbon ties.
There’s so much more to discover in Art Lesson 9: Creating Texture Plates Inspired by Nature; and Artful Adventures in Mixed Media. You’ll learn how to create dimension with all kinds of materials, and you’ll learn how to see the world in a new way. Have fun exploring!