Natural Inspiration: The Relationship Between Art, Nature and Wellbeing

I read a fascinating article published in The Guardian a few years ago which reported that artists were heading for the countryside in droves. In the 80s and 90s, being considered a serious artist meant living in a city, specifically London; and if we’re talking even more specifically, somewhere quirky and central like Shoreditch.

Natural Inspiration: The Relationship Between Art, Nature and Wellbeing

For me, though, I’ve long felt that having a connection with the natural world is hugely conducive to the creative process. Although I wouldn’t call myself an artist, I do have to think imaginatively for my work and I find that getting out into the countryside even for a walk - soaking up some daylight, hearing the leaves rustling and bird chirping, breathing in some fresh air - really aids my clarity of mind. Some of my best ideas have popped into my head while I’ve been pacing down a country lane!

And now, finally, it seems I’m in good company. Damien Hirst has a country place in Gloucestershire; Alex James (formerly of Blur) lives in Oxfordshire on a 200 acre cheese farm. Sarah Lucas, once the naughtiest of the ‘90s Young British Artists (or the YBAs, as they were known) has turned to a far more quiet, rural existence in Suffolk - lots of tea and lounging about in her pyjamas in a house once owned by Benjamin Britten.

Clearly there’s the issue of affordable living and studio space in London - creative heavyweights like Hirst, James and Lucas aside, most would-be artists simply cannot afford to live in the capital. As Bedwyr Williams, who has represented Wales at the Venice Biennale, said in The Guardian article about his Caernarfonshire home, “At least if I am skint here, I can look at the mountains.” But there’s also been a more subtle change in attitudes towards rural art. The stereotypes of old ladies and WI handicrafts (I’m a big WI fan, just for the record) is terribly outdated. Suddenly it’s cool to be into nature, and for your art - whether its visual art, music or writing - to be inspired by rural life.

We are afforded with vast amounts of beauty here on our doorstep in The Hills, and when you consider that there are numerous scientific studies pointing to the measurable benefits of a) art and b) nature on our mental health and general wellbeing, it’s not surprising that one of the best ways to boost your mood is to enjoy art in nature or art inspired by nature. In fact, Arts Council England have funded scientific research into this very topic, and a study led by artist Mark Ware recorded participants’ brain activity using an MRI scanner to show that sounds from nature (birdsong, running water, wind etc) decrease the likelihood of deep, troubling thoughts and improve our overall concentration.

Another ongoing study has looked at the impact of visual art on our brains, with stunning canvases of digitally-produced symmetrical patterns inspired by nature displayed in locations such as the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester and Exeter Cathedral. Participants were invited to view the art and then complete some specially-designed tasks, all while their eye-movement was monitored by specialist equipment. Analysis is ongoing, with the intention of using the findings to produce more artwork which deliberately evokes a positive mental state in the viewers. Put simply: art can make you feel better, but art that focuses on the natural world can make you feel even better.

So if I’ve inspired you to get out and get arty, where are the best places to enjoy nature-inspired and outdoor art in the UK? Well, you could do a lot worse than visit the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which celebrated its 40th anniversary of promoting ‘Art Without Walls’ last year. You’ll be wowed by sensuous Henry Moores, can indulge in some Simon Armitage poems written especially to commemorate the park’s birthday and if you’re really quick, you could catch Zak Ove’s 80-sculpture exhibition before it closes on the 3rd June. In the south you could always try the Pride of the Valley Sculpture Park in the Surrey Hills (and even make an artistic purchase - all of the works are for sale) or Scots might want to head for Jupiter just outside Edinburgh for a dose of Gormley and Goldsworthy. The National Botanic Gardens of Wales in Lianarthney is well worth a visit - there are sculptures galore, many of which were commissioned for and inspired by their countryside surroundings.

Of course, if you’re an artist based in the countryside, whatever your discipline, I’d love to hear from you. Check out the photographers, illustrators, designers, thinkers and makers who’ve already joined The Hills to promote their artistic business as one of our Collaborators. I am thrilled to be able to welcome them to our online space and provide them with a platform to share their skills and wares. Are you an artist in the Hills, or art afficionado with a penchent for nature? I would love to know!

 
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Janet Hill

I’m Janet, and I live at the foot of the beautiful Welsh Hills with my children Mary, 21, and Mark, 18. We share our four-acre plot with our six dogs, six cats, four hens, an assortment of wild ducks and all the other wonderful wildlife that visits our garden.

A Valentines Love Letter to The Countryside

Our beautiful countryside, how do we love thee? Let us count the ways…

Just like love, our beloved countryside is patient with those that ramble along the pathways, exploring the endless horizons. It does not judge when we take a wrong turn, need to consult the map or simply walk with no place to go. It soaks up our laughter, tears and shouts with no complaints; simply waiting, holding those memories for us to return to next time.

With a view to take your breath away around every corner, love is also full of surprises. With every season brings a new wonder, changes that spring up with joyous abandon, and yet like love, we return time after time. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act embodies our delirious romanticism by enabling us, on those rare work-free days, to release the urban shackles and breathe in the fresh air, reinvigorating souls and refreshing minds with calm beauty.

Just like love, our relationship with our rural landscapes takes many forms. Viewed from a window, pounded by hooves and feet, looked down on from great heights of air and rock, and explored from mountain to sea; there's no right or wrong way of enjoying our darling countryside. It's here that no matter how muddy, breathless or lost one gets, there is only one measure of exactly who loves the hills more- the size of your smile.


“What is it about the English countryside---why is the beauty so much more than visual? Why does it touch one so?” ― Dodie Smith; I Capture the Castle

Just like love, the countryside is a constant source of inspiration. Take our renowned writers and artists for example, whose muse of moorland and vast hills created classics such as Wuthering Heights or All Creatures Great and Small and paintings by Constable and Turner. Only in the countryside, can one sit in a warm and cosy pub, while looking at the rolling hills, reading Pride and Prejudice and feel completely at home. Local artists can be found tucked away in galleries and workshops across the land. Languishing in the peace and quiet of our rural communities, they enable the nature on their doorstep to spill on to pages, canvas and into other medium, to be loved and shared once more.

Want to profess your love affair with the hills this Valentines Day? Invest in the gorgeous businesses, people and organisations who care and create the culture and atmosphere we love so well. If you are already married to the rural lifestyle, you will know of the community bred out of such a love. Feel the pull of the local shop, school or cafe and hear stories passed down by generations, knowing that just like you - the people are deeply in love with their lifestyle and invested in caring for it for years to come. I encourage you not to flirt with the idea of the country, but to jump in with both feet, embrace your feelings and get ready for a long term coupling to take hold. It is rare that anyone who has courted the countryside has ever received a broken heart, so what are you waiting for?

 
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Janet Hill

I’m Janet, and I live at the foot of the beautiful Welsh Hills with my children Mary, 21, and Mark, 18. We share our four-acre plot with our six dogs, six cats, four hens, an assortment of wild ducks and all the other wonderful wildlife that visits our garden.

Weekends Away in the UK - Why Go Anywhere Else?

I remember when the humble staycation was the option for holidaymakers too adventure-adverse to go abroad - or it was seen as a cheap and cheerful way for families to get some time out without blowing the budget.

In recent years, however, the tide has most certainly turned. The typical Brit choosing to holiday at home has changed, as has the type of holiday experience they’re looking for - it’s less ‘two weeks in a B&B in Skegness’ and more ‘luxurious self-catering with hot tub’ or ‘country house hotel with spa and golf course.’

Weekends Away in the UK - Why Go Anywhere Else?

It seems that TV shows like Game of Thrones, Poldark and The Crown have reminded us that there are plenty of jaw-dropping landscapes, cultural sites and history on our own doorstep, and with the weaker pound and the convenience factor also adding persuasive power, it’s no surprise that 54% of Brits enjoyed a staycation in 2017.

Staycation temptation is nothing new here at The Hills, however - I’ve long been a fan of discovering more of what makes Great Britain truly great. There’s so much of these fair British Isles that is still unknown to me and that I want to discover. When enjoying some down time from day-to-day life, there’s nothing I love more than finding the artisans and creatives hidden away in the community. As you know I am passionate about supporting rural industries, and that goes for those on my doorstep as well as creative industries further afield. From artisanal Scottish tartan, to Cornish pottery and Welsh blankets - there is something beautiful to be found in every corner of our gorgeous country! Of course, I still love a trip abroad, but when there’s so much here in the UK for us to enjoy it would seem rude to give Britain a wide berth. So how can you make your staycation just that little bit more - well, special? That’s easy - consult The Hills’ Directory, and choose from our wonderful variety of crafters to visit, and ways to explore.

For the economically-minded, there are numerous affordable choices available - camping perhaps the most obvious option. But banish all ideas of soggy canvas and naff 70s fabrics: camping kit has evolved thanks to the likes of Hills members Journeyman Handcraft.Think stylish and practical leather pouches, patches, bags and tools - it’s almost enough to convert a trilesalectinophobic (that’s a person scared of camping equipment - ha!).

But who said there had to be a tent involved? Have a look at Snowdonia Classic Campers and take your camping holiday up a gear with a different, distinctly retro feel. All of their campers are painstakingly restored and modernised, so you won’t be roughing it - far from it, in fact.

Chances are, if you’re contemplating any kind of camping you’re probably an outdoorsy type, so how about enlisting the help of some pros to get the most from your outdoor adventure? Two Blondes Walking are a formidable duo: Mountain Training England qualified and experienced walk leaders who love organising guided walks and teaching course participants about wild camping. Pop over the their website and prepare to be awed.

And talking about learning new skills, how about cresting the waves? As adults we don’t often give much thought to learning a new skill or trying out a hobby but we’re desperate to sign our children up to every class and holiday camp - why should little ones have all the fun? Surf Snowdonia is a fab organisation and offer half day and full day suitable for all ages and abilities.

Too many choices? Make Denbighshire Tourism your next port of call - they have two centres in Rhyll and Llangollen and can help you with all manner of decisions, from accommodation options to activities to please every demographic.

Do you have any staycations planned for 2019? We’d love to hear about them - and to encourage you to support local and countryside-based businesses in your pursuit of the perfect break, of course!

 
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Janet Hill

I’m Janet, and I live at the foot of the beautiful Welsh Hills with my children Mary, 21, and Mark, 18. We share our four-acre plot with our six dogs, six cats, four hens, an assortment of wild ducks and all the other wonderful wildlife that visits our garden.

Loving our Hills Community

A couple of weeks ago, we published an article commending the countryside for being a prime place to live. Amongst our top 5 reasons? The wonderful community spirit in such gorgeous rural locations.

Loving our Hills Community

We know well that when living in the countryside there’s a good chance your nearest neighbour won’t be directly next door, and you may not even be able to spot their home at all. According to national statistics, there are less than 50 people per square kilometre in districts such as Cumbria, Northumberland, North Yorkshire and Somerset, whereas in areas of London, for example, there are more than 15,000 people crammed into the same 1km!

So what does this mean for our local communities?

Our rural groups may be smaller and less busy than the city ones, but this means that they often come with a close-knit, genuine, caring interest in looking after the local community and providing mutual support for those living in the area. Integral to this, is the amount of support we are able to give one another; sharing news, promoting small businesses and encouraging local enterprises.

Here at The Hills, we are moving towards our first birthday and I am thrilled to see our own community steadily growing. My aim has always been to help small businesses to reach a larger community and to share my finds with my followers, and so feel incredibly lucky to be able to meet fantastic artists and creatives and bring their stories and wares to our little space on the internet.

This year I am not making many resolutions, but one that I will stand by is to offer our community more opportunities to purchase the quality products made by some of the best rural businesses. By bringing you our brand new shop, I am excited to be able to introduce you to more artisan creators. I will be handpicking gorgeous items that are ethically made and handcrafted with love and collaborating with selected brands that share our passion for rural communities. I hope the website will be your cosy country space on the internet, where we share crafts and products that we’d love to have in our homes too!

By welcoming our very favourite creatives to share their items in our store, I will provide them with a platform which feels as strongly about small business support as they do, and promote their businesses to all those who I know share this notion with me. 2019 is our year to further our involvement with rural communities and assist our valuable local makers and artisans, first stop - The Hills Shop!

So today I would love to know - what products would you like to see in our shop? Which industry would you like to know more about? Which products would you recommend we investigate?

Your ideas are important to me. Leave me a comment below, or tag us in posts on both Facebook and Instagram!

 
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Janet Hill

I’m Janet, and I live at the foot of the beautiful Welsh Hills with my children Mary, 21, and Mark, 18. We share our four-acre plot with our six dogs, six cats (plus a cheeky regular overnight visitor!), four hens, an assortment of wild ducks and all the other wonderful wildlife that visits our garden.

Birdwatching for Beginners - Get ready for the Big Garden Birdwatch 2019!

If rumours are to be believed, it is no longer the reclusive middle-aged pastime, no, millennials are now flocking to … birdwatching!

Birdwatching for Beginners - Get ready for the Big Garden Birdwatch 2019!

Just like meditation, journalling and rambling, birdwatching brings a new mindfulness to our busy lives, and one can be completely entranced; drawn into and absorbed by the beauty of nature and the flocks’ social dynamics. Indeed, an article by the Telegraph states that ‘It’s meditation in the sense that it’s immersive and therapeutic, but birdwatching can also be more visceral than any theatre. There is death, love and beauty: the horror of the migratory impulse which lures incomprehensibly fragile little birds over perilously stormy seas; the joy when a pair reunites after months apart; the mystery of starling murmurations, in which thousands of the birds, densely-packed, ripple through the air like iron filings manipulated by an unseen magnet.’

Whilst it’s recommended that a novice birdwatcher uses a guidebook or app to look up birds and their songs, and visit a local RSPB reserve to be gifted with a plethora of feathered friends, this weekend - the 26-28 January - marks the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, a great excuse to watch your garden birds.

With over half a million people now regularly taking part, coupled with almost 40 years worth of data, the Big Garden Birdwatch allows the RSPB to monitor trends and understand how birds are doing. Although as a nation we've lost more than half our house sparrows and some three-quarters of our starlings - it isn't all doom and gloom. Since Birdwatch began blue tit numbers have risen by 20 per cent and the woodpigeon population has increased by a whopping 800 per cent. By testing your bird spotting skills and submitting your findings this weekend, it gives scientists valuable information about our local bird populations, and what we can do to help.

Our top tips for starting your foray into twitcherdom this weekend?

  1. Choose a good place to watch from. Which window gives you the best view? Make sure it's comfy and you have the essentials within easy reach - a nice, hot drink and your favourite biscuits - and somewhere to jot down what you see.

  2. Relax and watch the birds for an hour. Count the maximum number of each species you see at any one time. For example, if you see a group of three house sparrows together and later another two, and after that another one, the number to submit is three. That way, it’s less likely you’ll double-count the same birds.

  3. Head over to the Big Garden Birdwatch page and submit what you’ve seen.

So who can you keep an eye out for in your garden or outdoor space?

  • A colourful mix of blue, yellow, white and green makes the blue tit one of our most attractive and most recognisable garden visitors, while its less colourful relative - the coal tit - has a distinctive grey back, black cap, and white patch at the back of its neck.

  • Everyone knows the house sparrow, but its numbers have dropped alarmingly. They're still common garden visitors in many areas, though. Males have a black chin and 'bib'; females are dressed in more subtle shades of brown.

  • You may be able to spot a chaffinch hopping on the ground, looking for seeds. Male chaffinches have a subtle pink breast, while females are more brown. They both have distinctive black and white flashes on their wings.

  • It’s likely that you will hear the collared dove before you see it, with its comforting ‘coo-coo-coo-coo’ call. A pale, pinky-brown grey colour, with a distinctive black neck collar, They have deep red eyes and reddish feet, and are responsible for repetitive cooing songs and those twiggy nests on your satellite dish.

  • The woodpigeon, however, is now the UK's largest and commonest pigeon, and is largely grey with a white neck patch and white wing patches, clearly visible in flight. Woodpigeons also have beautiful pinkish and turquoise hints to their plumage.

  • You may spot the classic blackbird and also their smaller friend the starling. Smaller than blackbirds, with a short tail, pointy head and wings, starlings look black at a distance but when seen closer they are very glossy with a sheen of purples and greens. In winter they're covered in pale spots - which gives them their name.

Ensure you have a mixture of foods out to tempt your new feathered friends into the garden, remember that whilst some birds like chaffinches are not so keen on using bird feeders and generally prefer to shuffle around on the ground, picking up seeds that other birds have dropped; others like blackbirds eat a variety of foods, from earthworms to fruits like apples and berries. Visit the RSPB website to explore more of the perfect menu for your birdwatching weekend!

I would love to know, how will you #BigGardenBirdWatch? Do you have plans to register onlineand gather much valued data, or are you planning to venture further afield to your nearest hide?

 
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Janet Hill

I’m Janet, and I live at the foot of the beautiful Welsh Hills with my children Mary, 21, and Mark, 18. We share our four-acre plot with our six dogs, six cats, four hens, an assortment of wild ducks and all the other wonderful wildlife that visits our garden.