Skip to main content
Learning Guide
Using Natural Materials

Artists such as Dorica Jackson and Walt Thies incorporate natural materials in their creations. Through their work, we can see how important the selection of the right materials can be in the final product. This section explores the use of natural materials in art and encourages you to take advantage of those resources in your own artistic creations.

Click here to see Dorica Jackson and Walt Thies featured in the Inspirations from the Forest exhibition.

Activity: Art Adventure
Pressed Leaf and Flower Art

Start collecting leaves and small flowers when you are going to school, walking your dog, or hiking on a nature trail. Just watch out for poison ivy! Click here to download step-by-step instructions (PDF), provided by Ruth Pestorius, an artist who has worked with pressed flowers for more than twenty years. TIP: If you are not sure what some of these plants look like, search online or refer to a field guide on plants in your region.

Suggested plants and flowers to use for this project:

  • Baby's tears - good for edging around the central image (evergreen indoor plant with tiny round leaves along a tendril)
  • Bottlebrush plant
  • Clover
  • Crepe myrtle blossoms
  • Double spirea
  • Fennel blooms and feathery bits
  • Ferns
  • Forget-me-nots
  • Hydrangeas - cut small blossoms off the big clumps
  • Lantana
  • Larkspur
  • Lavender
  • Queen Anne's lace
  • Red Maple & Japanese Maple leaves
  • Small roses & rose petals
  • Salvia - use whole sprig or break cone blossom apart
  • Thyme
  • Other tree leaves with interesting shapes

Do not use succulents such as impatiens or begonias, because they have too much moisture. For more variety, put your plants in water colored with food dye and let them absorb the color before you press them.

Activity: Writing Project
Writing a Riddle

This riddle dates back to the 15th century. Can you guess what it is about?

"I was alive in the forest.
I was cut by the cruel axe.
In life, I was silent.
In death, I sing sweetly."

It is the life cycle of a lute (a stringed instrument like a guitar). First it was a living tree that was killed when chopped down. But then the wood was used to make an instrument that could play beautiful music.

Choose an item nearby that is made from natural materials, and try to write a riddle as if the object itself is speaking. What would it say about where it came from, how it was treated and processed, and finally what it is now?

Support the Folklife Festival, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, sustainability projects, educational outreach, and more.