Let Nature Art Bring the Outdoors In

By Claire Larrabee > Back to Blog

Art that invokes the outdoors, or nature art, may seem like an odd topic for the middle of our long New England winter. Snow, ice, frigid temperatures – the outdoors isn’t very alluring right now. But I think paintings that depict nature are exactly the right antidote to being cooped up inside. A therapeutic dose of sunny skies, shimmering green leaves and bonny spring flowers is just what we need to chase away the winter doldrums.

Nature art is a great way to lift our spirits and remind us that better days are coming. I’ve been checking out Paradise City artists who specialize in depicting nature and here is a trio of my faves.

Summer Breezes All Year Long

Artist Stephen Ray loves painting what he calls “the old grey ancients,” the solitary old barns that dot the Connecticut landscape. His painting philosophy is quite simple. “Barns, sky, and grass, that’s what I paint,” he explains.

The Pulaski barn captures Stephen Ray’s love of the “old grey ancients” in the Connecticut countryside.

Stephen’s paintings are so finely detailed and realistic, you might think they are photographs. He starts with New England skies, which in his world are always the most brilliant summer blue. He lays down multiple layers of acrylic paint until a Masonite board has an almost glass-like surface. He then switches gears to recreate each knothole and weathered surface of the barn and each blade of grass on the hillside. I find the results quite irresistible: I want to lie down in the waving grass and feel the warm breeze gently wafting overhead.

Stephen Ray found “Coventry Barn” not far from Hartford, Connecticut.


Feathered Friends for the Living Room

New Hampshire artist Ira Frost really brings the outdoors in with his beautiful bird carvings. Ira prides himself on capturing what he considers to be the “essence” of each bird. It’s a painstaking process to bring that personality to life in wood.

Ira Frost lets us bring cardinals, owls, and hummingbirds into our homes.

Ira starts with an original drawing of the bird and then transfers the design onto tupelo wood. He carves all the details, burns feather texture onto the birds, and uses acrylic paints to recreate the bird’s true coloring. What makes it feel like you are living with a real, live bird is Ira’s finishing touch. He mounts the sculpture on a piece of driftwood in a setting that mimics where the bird might be seen in the wild, complete with leaves, grass, flowers, and even insects crafted from a variety of materials such as wood or brass.

Lacy Leaves and Frothy Waves Captured in Clay

For a completely different take on nature art, take a look at Rick Epstein’s clay paintings. Rick started his artistic life making clay vessels, but wanted a way to better reflect his love of nature in his work. For Rick “walking in the woods, climbing a mountain, watching the ocean surf, or sitting by a still lake are all transcendent experiences for me.”

Rick uses two different techniques to draw viewers into his clay landscapes. First, he uses the ancient method of bas relief in which paper clay and plaster are sculpted on a metal armature mounted to wood frames and then painted. As the materials are lighter than fired clay, bas relief lets Rick work large, creating stunning, 3-D images of woods, sky, and water.

Rick Epstein uses bas relief to build up an image on a base of metal and wood, enabling him to create large, 3-D paintings.

Rick also uses traditional fired clay to “paint.” He sculpts individual slabs of clay into a piece of a landscape. Fired, mounted as a group and then painted in acrylics, the assembled painting invites you to walk down a woodland path or stroll the warm sands of a nearby beach.

Rick Epstein sculpts and fires each clay square, then assembles and paints them to create highly textured landscapes.

Bring the Outdoors In at the March Paradise City Arts Festival

Stephen Ray, Ira Frost, and Rick Epstein will be at the upcoming Paradise City Arts Festival, March 23-25 at the Royal Plaza Trade Center, Marlborough, Mass. There will be many skilled artists working in all sorts of media who bring fresh perspectives of nature art to the show. Click here for more information on the show, including hours, location, admission and exhibitors. Hope to see you there!