Lesson Plans Using Objects Found In Nature

Students create works of art using "found objects" such as bark, leaves, sand, and shells.

By Rachel Kauffman


Natural Art Lesson

As a student, artist, and teacher, I find inspiration by using objects found in nature. Wherever I go, I collect such things as seashells, bones, sea glass, feathers, flowers, leaves, rocks, sticks, driftwood, sand, seeds, and pine cones. I use these to create works that remind me of the places they were found, and the cycles of nature. It's wonderful to take a walk, and look at the world around you, exploring pattern, color, and texture.

There are different ways to create a work of art using found objects. You could make a mandala, an art form using circles that is found in every culture. A mandala can be made from a variety of things, including stones or driftwood found on the beach. Afterwards you can leave it for all who pass by to enjoy. Other times it is helpful to collect the objects, and then construct a work of art in the classroom, or studio. This can be done cooperatively, or individually. One should always be sensitive to the environment when foraging for materials, and ask permission if necessary.  

Having students bring in their own "found objects," or collecting some on school grounds, is also  possibility. Photographing natural finds, and then returning them back to nature is another way to do it. Sometimes I bring in one object, such as a skull or a peacock feather, and have students create paintings or drawings that include these items.

I have found that using natural objects is inspiring for my students, and cost effective for our school. Living close to a grove of Eucalyptus trees has given me an unlimited supply of pods, sticks, twigs, and leaves that I have used to create magic wands, pirate flags, god's eyes, tepees, and dream catchers. Close proximity to the beach gives me access to sand, beach rocks, and seaweed from which my students have made sand paintings, painted rocks, designed mobiles, and created a variety of nature collages.  Bark, leaves, flowers, moss, seeds ,acorns  and pine cones have been incorporated into sculptures, wreaths, mandalas, handmade paper, mosaics, and printmaking projects. All of these types of projects have been successful and exciting for my students, and has encouraged them to be aware of the possibility of creating art from found objects in their own neighborhoods.


Natural Art Lesson Plans:

How Does Art Feel: Students examine and discuss textures of natural objects such as bark, sand, or leaves. They create a work of art using these materials.  Then, they create a second work, illustrating the first, using traditional materials such as paint, crayon, or chalk. Students could also do texture prints using the objects, and this lesson could be modified to fit any age group. Bringing in natural objects from home, or going out to find them is enjoyable, and students can learn about texture using these objects to create art. 

Gyotaku Lesson Plan:  Students are introduced to Japanese Gyotaku fish printing and its history. Students take real fish, or anatomically correct plastic fish, to make fish prints. They use seaweed, sponges, or other textured objects to create a backround. Students of all ages enjoy creating fish prints, and teachers could arrange the class in stations to minimize chaos and mess.

Creating Your Own Rock Art: Students study Native American rock art, and create a cooperative art panel using symbols they have learned about. Students could do individual rock art using flat pieces of slate, and painting on to actual rock, or depending on the region, bark, palm fronds or other natural objects. 

Aboriginal Bark Art: Students are introduced to ancient Aboriginal art, and shown several examples. They then create their own dot paintings of animals, or other subjects of interest. This lesson would be more meaningful  if students could actually do their paintings on bark.