Inspiration from Nature: Maple Elemental

Published by Nela Dunato on in Art, Creative process, Inspiration, Sketchbook, Tips for creatives

Many artists on the forums I visited talked about not feeling “inspired” and not knowing what to draw. Yet, I rarely (if ever) have this problem. Are you wondering why?

In a series of posts about inspiration, I reveal how my creative process starts to unfold. In today’s post I give kudos to Mother Nature.

Pay attention to your surroundings

I think this is the key difference between artistic and non-artistic people — artists see interesting things all around us! Shapes, forms, colors and textures that other people just pass by catch our attention. It doesn’t matter if you’re a realist artist, an abstract painter, a fantasy illustrator or a jewelry designer, you can always find something in the real world that can serve as a gateway to an inspired vision within you. (Tweet this quote)

One such detail that caught my attention inspired one of my best digital paintings to date.

It was late August, and I was walking home down my block, barefoot. I was moving to another part of town in a few days, so I took what I knew would probably be the last glimpses of my old neighborhood for a while. It’s really amazing what you allow yourself to see for the first time, even after being in this part of town for over a year.

There was a drought this summer, and the grass was completely dry. Leaves on the trees were getting yellow, brown and red and falling off, and younger trees looked unlikely to survive.

On the pavement in front of me were scattered maple leaves and seeds. I picked them up along the way because picking stuff up from the ground is what I often do — from sticks and pebbles to dead insects and animal skulls. I have a box filled with such treasures.

Be open to merging with existing ideas

You don’t have to start from scratch every time!

I already had sketches for a different kind of elemental from a few days earlier. I knew I would probably make a couple of them (plants, crystals, elements…), but I was still unsure which ones.

Grapevine elemental sketch
Grapevine Elemental sketch I did earlier

As I picked up those leaves and seeds, it became clear to me that the Maple is another candidate for this new series.

Make note of your ideas immediately

After I decided on this painting, I started taking photos of trees that I would use as references.

Maple tree reference photos

At home I sketched a few thumbnails in my sketchbook, so I don’t forget this idea because I wasn’t able to start working on it immediately.

Maple Elemental thumbnail sketches
A rough thumbnail sketch noting the composition I had in mind

Hold your source of inspiration close

All the while I was working on the sketch, study and final painting, the leaves and seeds were on my desk. I used them as reference for shapes, colors and textures, along with the photos on my phone.

Maple elemental sketchbook study with reference leaves and seeds
Final watercolor study in my sketchbook (see larger image), with leaves and seeds I used as reference

I held onto them until they were so dry and brittle that I had to throw them away, so I did when I finished the painting a few days ago. I know it sounds silly, but I was a bit sad to let them go.

In the end, this is the final digital painting that came out (click for a larger view):

Maple Elemental final digital illustration
Maple Elemental, digital painting by Nela Dunato

I hope you enjoyed this post! If you’d like to see more posts from my sketchbooks, check them out here.


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7 responses to “Inspiration from Nature: Maple Elemental”

  1. Lijepo si to napisala, kao i uvijek, večinom.
    Radovi govore o umjetniku možda i više nego bi on htio.
    Čovjeku prosto dođe da ti zavidi .Čemu kvariti idilu?
    Pozdraviti ću te…

  2. Hvala Nevio! :)
    Slažem se, radovi mnogo govore o nama… meni samoj služe kao sredstvo za samopromatranje otkad sam to otkrila, to je područje koje me jako zanima.

  3. I think these are key things every creative person does in their process (in their own way). Staying open and capturing ideas are most important to me . . . because without that I have nothing to work with! I never know where my ideas are going to come from but sometimes I actually try to shut myself down to avoid overload. I’ve gotten good at capturing the ones that might be good, making a “maybe later” list, and letting others float away.

  4. Heh I understand what you mean Cynthia, actually it’s very rare that I get an idea in response to something so I decided to document this process for people who have a hard time getting inspiration. But most of my ideas just come out of the blue and there’s a ton of them… I try to note every good idea down. Yes it can be such an overload sometimes… I’m going to write a post specifically for people with this problem and how I get about solving it, glad to hear there are others like me! :)

  5. Hey Nela! It was a pleasure reading this post of yours as it made me realise that you and I are very similar in our thought process. Like you, I too find inspiration in everything around me and like to incorporate whatever I see in my art. There is so much beauty in our surroundings that we don’t need to go looking for it far and wide. I document whatever catches my attention on my phone in the form of pics and refer back to them when I’m planning my artwork. Only difference is, I work out the composition in my mind and get straight to it on my canvas!

  6. Thank you, Neha :)
    Although places like Instagram and Pinterest are alluring with their millions of images, after all these years I still try to get my inspiration from my physical surroundings.

    Kudos if you act on your inspiration so readily and start painting right away. For me it usually takes months from the day I got the idea to start working on a painting, so I have to use my sketchbooks to save all the ideas I get. Otherwise I would forget them.

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