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 The stereotypes of old ladies and WI handicrafts (I’m a big WI fan, just for the record) is terribly outdated.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.

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.

Veganuary in the Countryside

We have written about veganism in mainstream media here on The Hills before, and many of you told us on social media that you were interested in the idea of trying to go plant-based, but struggled to find the inspiration, time or ideas. Well, if you hadn’t noticed, Veganuary is here and it is ALL about inspiring people to try vegan!

Veganuary in the Countryside

Veganuary is a charity inspiring people to try vegan for January and throughout the rest of the year, and so far over 250,000 people have downloaded their free cookbook to try their recipes. The charity says ‘There are so many reasons people decide to try vegan. For most, a love of animals is the catalyst. Some people want to feel better about themselves and the impact they make on the world. Others would like to set themselves a challenge, and many combine Veganuary with their ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ and see trying vegan as the healthiest start to the year.’

Research shows that health is now the second biggest driver towards people opting to try a vegan lifestyle, and more and more people are ditching animal products in order to combat specific health problems such as high cholesterol and diabetes. For others, they say they have more general improvements in energy and vitality, and exclaim they’ve ‘never felt better’. Approximately 30% of the UK population have high blood pressure and studies show that vegetarians, and vegans in particular, have lower blood pressure than meat eaters! Additional cholesterol levels, a high risk factor for coronary heart disease, is still one of the biggest killers in the west, and by adopting a vegan diet cholesterol levels are lower in vegans than in the standard population. The British Dietetic Association even confirms: ‘well-planned vegan diets can support healthy living in people of all ages’.

As stories of successful vegan athletes and sports stars are on the increase, there seems no time like the present to give it a go. Take rural football team Forest Green Rovers, for example, the (almost) 100% vegan football club. The team has just been promoted for the first time in their 128 year existence and for club’s owner Dale Vince, a eco-warrior millionaire who made his fortune by selling renewable electricity to the national grid, the move towards a completely vegan ground in 2015 couldn’t have been better! Since 2011, when the team initially banned red meat, it was clear their talents were improving on and off the pitch as their Qpie - a Quorn and leek pie made with soya milk bechamel – just won a podium spot at this year’s British Pie awards!


But it's not just health benefits that have us ditching the builder’s tea - going vegan is the ‘single biggest way’ we can reduce our environmental impact, according to Oxford University researchers.They say that eating a plant-based diet can cut our greenhouse gas emissions, reduce pollution and water usage, prevent deforestation and save wild animals from extinction worldwide. A huge amount of land is needed to graze animals and to grow the grain to feed them. In order to create enough farmland to cater for the global meat demand, ancient forests and other precious natural habitats are razed to the ground, and predictions show that if we keep cutting them down at the current rate, the world’s rain forests will be gone in one hundred years. To put it into perspective - we are currently losing 18.7 million acres of forests every year, equivalent to 27 of Forest Green Rovers’ beloved football pitches every minute!

We have mentioned the impacts of veganism on our local farming industry before, and as the The Vegan Society suggested - modern agriculture is suffering in its current form, and so a move to more agricultural farming is an indication that the growth of veganism is simply sparking ‘the beginning of a new future of farming’.

Unfortunately, there exists some media scaremongering and subsequent public misconceptions which can cause people to worry about going vegan, and so I would encourage you to do your own research about whether a decrease in animal products will work for you and your lifestyle. I recommend this myth archive as a great place to start!

For me, a move towards a sustainable environment, rural farming industry and all round healthier lifestyle is a difficult set of positives to ignore, and so this January I am pledging to cut down on my animal products, and explore the wonderful world of plant based recipes. I am hoping to get out there and discover some local growers and am especially looking forwards to finding some ‘pick your own’ plots to get stuck in!

As veganism is gaining more and more mainstream popularity, we have seen the likes of Marks and Spencer and even Gregg’s add plant-based fare to their shelves this month, and I am excited about discovering these new options, as well as fabulous new independent vegan cafés like  The Jaunty Goat who are opening their first completely animal-free vegan café! Of course, you don’t have to go out to try some vegan options - hunt out some vegan recipes and get started in your own kitchen!

Are you trying Veganuary this month? Or maybe just a general move towards less meat? Please come and share your views and experiences with us in the comments or over on our Facebook page!

 
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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.

Dry January - Why Missing Out is About Enjoying More

We’re a week into the new year, and many of us are attempting to uphold resolutions to eat healthier, use less plastic, save more money… etc. For me, the act of resolution-making is an act of becoming more mindful when it comes to making decisions, and noticing the patterns that have become habits over the previous year.

Dry January - Why Missing Out is About Enjoying More - the Hills countryside blog

Each year millions of us participate in new year charity campaigns or make a personal resolution to lay off the tipples for a month at the start of the year, with an estimated 4.2 million people planning to take part in Dry January, a campaign set up by Alcohol Change UK, this month.

At first, you might feel you are ‘missing out’ - after a festive period of excess, when we have been used to eating, drinking and sleeping much more that we usually would, sudden abstinence can come as a shock. But let’s reframe this, if ‘wine o’clock’ has become a habit rather than a treat, taking a month off really can bring a plethora of health benefits. Participants regularly report better sleep patterns, healthier, brighter looking skin, higher energy levels and less snacking. The combination leading to steady weight loss and a better sense of wellbeing.

Come February, although it is lovely to pour that first drink for a month, you are noticeably more aware of your actions. They say it takes 21 days to make or break a habit so going ‘cold turkey’ for a solid 21 days, the act of concentrating on NOT doing the activity, means that when we do decide to relax our self-restraint, it becomes a conscious act and one which we savour, enjoy and appreciate.

Research suggests that this month off can result in longer term changes in drinking behaviours, and Dr Mehta’s says “at six to eight months after Dry January, the proportion of participants drinking at harmful levels decreased by about 50%. It may be that participating in Dry January allows individuals to ‘reset’ their relationship with alcohol.” Additionally, Ian Hamilton, Lecturer in Addiction at the University of York states that “overall, Dry January is a good initiative as it prompts people to think about not just how much they drink but what their individual relationship with alcohol is. For example, if you often drink to relax, it might get people to think about alternative ways to relax rather than relying on alcohol.”

Taking Dry January as inspiration, how can we apply this month of restraint to create better habits and mindfulness towards our countryside?

Maybe you can commit to buying only plastic-free veg for one month, or source your meat from the local butcher, taking along your own containers. Can you vow to walk to work via the scenic route every day, or visit a local independent coffee shop each weekend instead of your regular chain? It’s not a matter of giving things up forever - just like Dry January, we don’t intend to never drink again! We are simply embracing a period of habit forming activities, to create more mindful patterns.

By promising to break a habit, we are also committing to creating a new one. One which will ultimately enrich our lives through healthy living, ecological benefits on local industry and community.

I would love to know - what are your resolutions this month, are you making or breaking a habit?

 
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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.