Units of Work

The natural environment

Intermediate |

Hay, natural, environment, sculpture, installation, site-specific, sketchbook, visual elements, visual, tactile, environmental, assemblage, nature, photography, expression, issues

Discuss the work of different environmental artists. For example, look out for Andy Goldsworthy, Hamish Fulton, Ian Hamilton-Finlay and Richard Long. Invite the children to make informed judgements about this type of work. Why is it called environmental art? What issues does it present? What does it mean?

Take the children out into the natural environment, focusing their responses through a sensory walk. Encourage them to take time to see, feel, smell, (taste?) listen and touch. Invite the children to record their sensory responses in their sketchbooks using annotated sketches, colour notes and collections. Ask them to focus on the visual and tactile elements as a way of recording and responding to the colours, tones, textures, lines, patterns, spaces, forms and shapes that they see and feel. (Look at the unit 'the visual elements, the formal elements'.) Encourage them to be sensitive to the atmosphere or feeling of a particular place. How would they draw this feeling, what marks and colours would they use? Look at other units that link mark-making and colour with expression, for example, 'abstract painting', 'drawing and expression', 'mark-making' and 'colour, mood and Howard Hodgkin'.

Invite the children to make a collection of natural 'debris' (remind them to be sensitive to the natural environment and follow the 'country code'). Either on site, or back in the classroom, ask the children to rearrange these natural forms and make a statement about an aspect of the natural environment. This may be a formal response, focusing purely on the visual or tactile elements (see reference to visual elements above) or a more political statement about environmental awareness. For the latter it will be important to have a good discussion about how an arrangement of natural materials could be linked to an issue about the environment. For example, children could decide to fracture and break the natural 'debris' and re-form it using manufactured materials such as plastics. More straightforwardly, children might use the natural material to spell out a word that reexpresses their feelings about our impact on the natural world. Encourage them to record their ideas through drawing or using photography, especially if the natural forms, like flowers and grasses, will change and decay in time.

The children may choose to develop their ideas further using a range of media for an extended activity. They may choose to:

design a poster for an environmental charity;
using a viewfinder, take a small part of their assemblage and develop it into a large scale painting;
make a site-specific sculpture in the environment;
create an installation in the classroom which uses the natural environment as the focus.

  • Take the children on a visit to a sculpture trail. Good examples in the UK include Grizedale, the Forest of Dean or the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

  • Look also at photographers who capture the art of nature in their work, for example, Feininger, Blossfeldt and Gleik.

  • See other units that might support the work, for example, 'questions and talk about art' and 'recycling and imaginative environments'.

The natural environment, sketchbooks, a wide range of drawing and painting media, a collection of reproductions of artists' work.