They say inspiration is all around us, and that’s never truer than when we’re surrounded by nature. My love of painting botanicals started as a way to paint what was closest to hand. I was often sitting in my living room and gazing out of the window into the garden, with a blank sheet of paper in front of me.
I loved the process of painting watercolours, watching the pigments move and blend on their own like some magical potions on the paper. But I often struggled to find the right inspiration, and found myself hesitating over an empty page. What did I want to paint? What did I want to say with my work?
Frustrated, I started taking myself off on long walks around my home in rural England. It’s not far to the river Avon, which has a path along its banks that runs through farms, fields and woodland. It began as a way to clear my mind, but as the winter turned to spring, I noticed the world changing around me. New life was emerging, stretching tentatively into the cool air.
With each journey, I came home with interesting leaves tucked into a coat pocket and sprigs of hedgerow flowers with delicate shapes. And I grabbed my paints and paper as soon as I got through the door, ready to create the likeness of my finds before they wilted and curled up into themselves.
It became a question of immediacy – capturing life itself as it faded and changed before my eyes. There was no time to think or question, or doubt myself. I wanted to make the most of that moment before it was gone.
That’s ultimately what artists are doing – seizing a fleeting moment and rendering it on a page, permanent and forever. It’s like capturing a memory. And nature was the perfect source of inspiration for that – ever-changing in its relentless march through the seasons.
My creative explorations led me all around the countryside where I live, seeing it anew through the eyes of an artist. And I found that while I liked the satisfying patterns – the Fibonacci sequence in a curled-up fern, the perfectly symmetrical leaves on a branch – what really caught my eye was the wonky and the random. The small runt of the pack, lingering underneath the large leaves of its more successful neighbours.
Like many creatives, I’d describe myself as a perfectionist. And if you think that sounds positive, I promise you, it isn’t! It’s a crippling trait that means that good is never good enough. It’s placing yourself under the kind of pressure that pushes down and keeps you small and scared. It’s not even starting, because you already know it won’t be right.
And those weird, misshapen plants really appealed to me. They say you should ‘bloom where you are planted’ and that’s exactly what nature does. Plants don’t care if they’re not perfect – they just reach up for the sunlight on instinct, growing every day. They’re not comparing themselves to their neighbours.
I decided to be like those plants and just focus on my own growth. Just show up each day and create something, even if it’s weird, wonky and smaller than I’d hoped. And slowly but surely, I felt my creativity unfurl alongside nature.
If you want to find your inspiration from the natural world too, here’s my system. Put on your comfiest boots or trainers, and take yourself off to a path or wood nearby. Don’t choose some grand beauty spot – we’re after everyday nature. Walk along and look at the ground and hedgerows, searching for shapes and patterns that catch your eye. Is it interesting leaf shapes or thin stems supporting heavy flowers? Grab what you can pick and keep it somewhere cool – a coat pocket or handbag.
Take it home, spread it out on the table and start capturing what you can see. Focus on the shapes and lines, rather than the details. Limit yourself to a simple colour palette and stay in the moment! When it’s all wilted, add it to the compost so it can nourish more plants in their growth.
All Images Are © Emily Wassell
Guest Artist Bio
Emily Wassell is a watercolour artist and teacher based in the UK. She fell in love with the magic of watercolour while looking for a creative outlet, away from her corporate job. After developing a specialism in botanical and floral works, she began trying to capture elements of the English countryside with watercolours, inks and cyanotype prints. She offers classes and workshops to teach other aspiring artists to explore the natural world through creativity.
Blog / Website: Emily Wassell Art