Over the course of the summer an arts residency at Moorehall Healthcare (Ardee, County Louth) has developed an art studio devoted to exploring the interiors of plants (through microscopic images) and the magnified shapes of wildflower seeds and various root systems. Residents from Moorehall Retirement Village and Moorehall Lodge have explored these shapes through drawing, creative writing, photography, crochet, printing, sewing and paper mache. The title of the project was inspired by a book written by Rob Kesseler and Wolfgang Stuppy of The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew entitled Seeds: Time Capsules of Life. Seeds combine the past, present and future; they are inter-generational and sophisticated. Each seed is a vessel,  a life force waiting for the right conditions within which to flourish.  These themes can be applied to the creation of an arts and health studio, whereby participants can produce artworks which grow as a collective ecology of connections which influence each other.


The studio offered participants an opportunity to work  with a variety of art materials, and to display their work as a collection of different ideas and perspectives. The botanical nature of the studio was intended to interact with the planting of three new garden areas located within Moorehall Retirement Village. These three gardens composed of wildflowers, herbs, cottage garden flowers, soft fruits and vegetables were created in conjunction with 4th Class students at Scoil Mhuire na Trocaire to mark the European Year of Active Ageing and Intergenerational Solidarity (2012).

Within the studio participants shared poetry, music, a selection of herbal tonics and discussed the artworks of artists who work with ecological themes, such as Katie Holten, Herman de Vries, Richard Long and Chris Drury.

Drawing with Words was a series of visual poetry workshops for families held within Ardee Library, County Louth. The poetry workshops used collage, text, and word pictures to introduce children to the imagery of poetry. The workshops continued many of the Landmarks: Nature, Art, Schools themes, namely working with nature poetry, land art, and natural materials.

Selecting lines of poetry as the starting point for art, can deepen a child’s understanding of language as a springboard for their imagination.

Equally generating descriptive word lists with children, can ignite an interest in language as a collection of experiences.

The children made artist books, bookmarks, and sculpted paper into undulating landscapes of words and drawing. They also hid greeting cards containing poetry throughout the library, with the hope that they would be found by library patrons. The children added a positive message to each greeting card, so that whoever found the card might be cheered by its gift of goodwill.

Poetry passages were suspended throughout the room for children to ‘find’. Nature photography was also introduced for the purposes of collage, and to inspire lines and shapes within the children’s artworks. Families were encouraged to work together and to embark upon their own poetic wanderings using art, words, and photography during the course of Autumn walks.


Week 12 -18 New Participants, St. Finian’s National School, 20 New Participants Monastery National School

Total Individual Children Participants: 247

Total Participation of Children: 447 (Some school classes have returned 2-3 times)

“Pamela had the children in the palm of her hand. As soon as we walked into the “studio” there was so much inspiration, so many things catching the eye. The central display was extremely expressive, I thought at first that it might be distracting when Pamela was talking, but she used the pictures very effectively. The children had to search for samples of artist’s work and show them to others. All the activities were simple yet exciting and interesting. She orchestrated the children to develop their work offering suggestions yet encouraging their own creativity. An enjoyable experience for all the children and an inspiring lesson for me as a teacher (St. Finian’s National School Principal) 

A recent article in Heritage Outlook: The Magazine of the Heritage Council of Ireland  (Summer, 2011) called Running Free: The Importance of Children Enjoying the Outdoors” by Isabell Smyth discusses the effects of children’s participation within nature. She stresses the importance of “mucking about,” as an opportunity for children to explore the wonder of the world in which they are part. Mucking about outdoors, is not about built playgrounds, it is rather a free exploration of landscape and nature. The materials of the natural world – the earth, stones, sticks, trees, flowers, and water – that engage a child’s senses also inspire a child’s creativity.  It can be argued that these natural elements are an entry into the world of land artists, the simplicity of observation, collecting, and building are inherent within nature play and art.

Within the Landmarks project, mucking about with mud, creating prints from trees, stones, pine cones and leaves and working with charcoal (gathered from abandoned campfires) layer textures within children’s artwork. Children are encouraged to work instinctively in the ‘rough.’ The importance of engaging a sense of freedom, and working physically with natural materials, brings feeling and sensation to children’s art.

To the right a photo showing a ‘wood cut’ print, which inspired the printmaking from wood, stones, leaves, etc. with children in Landmarks. There is also a photo of the Malone Room, Ardee Library the ‘studio’ for Landmarks.


Week 11 – 18 New Participants

Total Individual Children Participating: 209

Total Participation of Children: 409 (Some school classes have returned 2-3 times)

“A wonderful, magical experience in a back-to-nature environment. The children enjoyed a hands-on experience, and it was a great opportunity for creative and artistic expression. I loved the bird song! A chance to see and experience the wonder and beauty of art in nature and the natural environment.  The resources and materials were fantastic. Thanks so much, more please!” St. Finian’s National School (Dillonstown), Teacher (3rd/4th Class).

The advantage of children working in a studio setting is the freedom to explore layers of instinctive marks (made with pencils, pastels, charcoal, and paint) that in essence compose a child’s own language of expression. Many drawings, words, and painted textures can be applied to sculpted paper books, so that a child creates their own landscape of identity.

Each child has a distinctive approach to their artworks and creative writing. Collecting words and impressions from natural materials, while also drawing inspiration from artists who work with nature fuels imagination. Engaging with nature, “supports a child’s sense of self, allowing children to recognise their independence alongside an interdependence and connectedness with their ecological worlds” (Play Naturally: A Review of Children’s Natural Play by Stuart Lester and Martin Maudsley, included in the Children and Nature website http://www.childreandnature.org under Research and Publications).

Experimentation within a studio environment is an invitation for children to follow their own path of discovery. The artwork is never really finished, always a “work-in-progress,” a journey in the making. “Among the many relationships that define the human condition, the individual’s connection to the environment is primary…We singular creatures… aspire to leave our mark, inscribing our observations and gestures within the landscape, attempting to translate and transgress the space within which we find ourselves (J. Kastner and B. Wallis Land and Envrionmental Art).

For children inscribing their lives within both art and nature reflects who they are within the greater canvas of the world-at-large. An empathic kinship with nature offers sensory, perceptual, and emotional opportunities for communication. For children this can be a vital source of expression, a declaration in their own artistic language.

A Collection of Words from the Landmarks Studio:

Wool wrapped up in a basket

Sticks with seaweed too

Stones and rocks all piled up as one

Shields of sticks and branches

A vase of flowers

Wide open pinecones

(Written by a student of St. Finian’s National School (Dillonstown), 3rd/4th class)

The photos show small folded paper books, suspended bundles of wool, three-dimensional willow shapes, drawings and collages displayed within the Malone Room of the Ardee Library, County Louth.


Week 10 – 25 New Participants

Total Individual Children Participating: 191

Total Participation Rate: 391 (Some school classes have returned 2-3 times)

“The kids really enjoyed the day. The presentation was excellent and language used was very child friendly, which made it very easy for the children to access what can be difficult concepts for even adults to grasp. Very enjoyable” Collon National School, Teacher (3rd Class)

The website Nature-Art-Education (www.naturearteducation.org) is a collection of resources for artists interested in working with natural materials, landscape and atmospheric conditions. The website has emerged from the projects and writings of artists, academics, philosophers, and community activists interested in arts based environmental education. The website was developed by artists based in Aalto University, School of Art and Design, Helsinki.

One of the articles included in this website is called  “An Artist’s Way of Knowing” by Peter London. Peter London has written a book called Drawing Closer to Nature, which examines how nature can be a source of artistic practice, and a means of re-making our personal and collective experiences. He believes it is vital that everyone has primary encounters with nature, in order to cultivate enhanced experiences of intuition. Intuition is an artist’s way of knowing, and it is essential to making art that evokes personal experience.

Experimenting with natural materials is an opportunity for children to be alone with themselves amidst classroom activity. This time apart from structured learning can offer a short pause in which a child can rejuvenate focus. The advantage of a nature based classroom environment is to signal the necessary of inward retreat. A child can be stimulated by the re-making of a classroom, through collections of natural objects, writings, sculptures, photographs and indoor shelters or dens which engage the senses and offer a place for reflection.

The idea of a classroom also being an art studio suggests the importance of process and discovery within art making. The preciousness of a studio is to “inhabit a tiny microclimate, a wee ecosystem in which I am the main determinant.” (Peter London).

The Landmarks studio, located within the Ardee Library, is an opportunity for children to develop their own insight, perspective and to make a small habitat for themselves. A studio allows children to create a flow of artworks that carry their own insights and ways of being into the world. Artists “see the possibility of the new,” art is an activity of making and for children this activity can “act out in the manifest world, their singular experiences, intuitions, and reveries” (Peter London).

The photos were taken from a Landmarks workshop with Collon National School 3rd Class students.


Week 9 – 21 New Participants,   17  Repeat Participants

Total Landmark Participants: 166

Location: Ardee Library

Participant Feedback:

“The children really enjoyed visiting each art station and working with the different art materials. It was lovely to see the children so engrossed with their work. They seemed really excited at having the opportunity to use materials for art that they might not get to use at school.  They particularly loved the ink stampers and drawing work, using beautiful photos as inspiration. Excellently explained and a fun experience” Monastery National School Ardee, Teacher (2nd Class)

“The important part of the project was the link with the classroom, bringing the artworks back into the classroom offered continuity. It meant that we could create our own environment. The project was structured, but free, focussed and yet we could make it our own” Ardee Educate Together National School, Teacher (5/6th Class)

The featured artist this week was Chris Drury, known for his stone and branch shelters, cairns with fire, and collections of natural materials, which he calls bundles.

In his book, Silent Spaces, Drury describes the protectiveness offered by his huts or shelters made within remote wild areas around the world.

Within a classroom a small shelter can be a place to ‘be apart’, to go inside one’s self for a moment, before re-entering classroom activity.

“I like the way that  a shelter has an interior as well as an exterior. They feel different but are connected. I like the way this interior space draws you inside yourself, enclosing, protecting, just as mountains pull you outside yourself, pushing mind and body beyond their usual confines” (Chris Drury, Silent Spaces, p. 20). A shelter has a presence, both in nature, and also indoors. The fact that it can be entered into, embraces or surrounds a child unto themselves. Within the Ardee Library, a willow shelter resides within the corner of the art room. A quiet ending to a period of creative work can be achieved by asking each child to enter the shelter for a few moments to be by themselves. The rest of the class ‘holds’ the silence for their classmate, as they enter the shelter.

Drury also collects simple natural objects to create bundles, which become symbolic, representing a particular place, season, and habitat. A bundle, writes Drury, is like a souvenir, “they are talismans of time and place, made simply at a campsite, or alternatively made at a later date as an act of remembering. A stick is a forest, a stone is a mountain”  (Chris Drury, Silent Spaces, p. 58). Children can easily make their own bundles from sticks, moss, pinecones and sheep’s wool.

Students can also re-create the ‘fire’ of Drury’s artworks by using clay, sticks and candles. Each Landmark’s session begins and ends around a candle campfire situated in the middle of the art room. The campfire is a gathering place, a resting place within a landscape, and a stopover within a long journey. Drury creates fires within stone cairns in remote mountain areas, along cliffs, or by falling water. They mark “moments of exhilaration” along long walks, or the contrasts between stone, water, time, light, and sky. The campfire is also evoked in the art sessions through the use of charcoal, literally burnt wood taken from old campfires situated in local forest parks. The children work with the black wood in their paper books.

The photos featured are artworks from students of Monastery National School, Ardee Educate Together and Scoil Mhuire na Trocaire.


Week 8 – 17 New Participants

Total Landmark Participants: 145

Location: Ardee Library

Participant Feedback:

“Very well organised, and the children really enjoyed such simple projects with wonderful results. Parents got involved and there was great bonding. Thank you, let’s hope this type of project keeps up” Preschool Teacher, Ballapousta Preschool

Lisa Lipsett a Canadian artist and environmental educator, has developed a method of painting in communion with nature that depicts the interior or feelings of natural objects. The instinct to paint spontaneously is inherent within young children. Rather than an illustrative representation of the outside features of what they see, they can easily enter into a spirit of communication to the inside of nature through paint and drawing materials. By making contact with art materials through touch, a young child’s art is both sensory and instinctive.  

Lisa’s website http://www.creativebynature.org outlines a system for connecting with both the natural world and our sense of place within it. In essence generating an empathy for the environment, and allowing it to resonate through our art and ultimately our identity.

Watching preschool children working with their own natures through a path of art materials, is a way for parents to also be in contact with their own creativity. Creative experimentation is an instinctive way of communication, it can be expressed through art making as a rapid flow of unpredictability. By trying out different kinds of lines, textures, and colours, a child also explores space, thoughts, feelings and language. Rather than a pre-determined outcome, the art is in essence a sensory experience, a way of connecting to the world around them.

These examples of artworks were made by preschool children of Ballapousta Preschool, County Louth. They worked their way through an art studio of clay, mud, photographs, watercolour paint, and drawing materials accompanied by their parents who helped them along the way.


Week 7 –  20 Repeat Participants, 16 New Participants

Total Landmark Participants: 128

Location: Ardee Library 

Participant Feedback:

“Each stone on the ground has it’s own identity and can be seen in different views just like every human being. Using mud is lots of fun, and feels nice on my fingers. Looking at nature closely, we can see lots of amazing shapes and sculptures, something we might not notice at a quick glance” Ardee Educate Together National School, Teacher, (5/6th Class)

“The variety of mediums for the children were brilliant. The children enjoyed the experience of being at one with nature. It was a very stimulating and fun experience for the children. I would like to use more nature in the classroom. I loved the bird sounds” Tir na Nog Montessori Playschool Teacher, Dunleer

“A wonderful relaxing fun time workshop. Pamela has set up a truly inspiring room with loads of exciting pictures and pieces of art. Loads of paints, pastels, and objects of fun to experiment with. My daughter and myself have enjoyed the class and will definitely be coming back” Parent, Saturday Family Workshop

“A really enjoyable and stimulating time spent with lots of natural materials and working them into art. The most enjoyable piece is that there was no right or wrong way of doing the art or of using any of the materials. It was lovely to have free expressiveness through art” Parent, Saturday Family Workshop

The themes for this week’s artwork were three dimensional nature collage and wood and nature prints.

The natural collages pictured here were made by students of Ardee Educate Together National School. They were inspired by the artwork of Andy Goldsworthy, a land artist who works within natural landscapes assembling natural elements into sculptural forms. Andy Goldsworthy photographs his site-specific sculptures before they float away, melt, decay, or fall to the ground. “Movement, change, light, growth, and decay are the life-blood of nature, the energies I try to tap through my work. When I work with a leaf, rock, stick, it is not just material in itself, it is an opening into the processes of life within and around it” (Andy Goldsworthy quoted in Balance: Art and Nature by John K. Grande).

Wood and nature prints were explored within a Saturday Family Workshop at the Ardee Library. Copper and bronze paint was applied to blocks of chopped wood, pine cones, stones, and oak leaves to produce abstract impressions upon paper. These prints captured textures and the surfaces of natural objects in an experimental way.

Nature Classroom

March 20, 2011


Week 6 – 46 Repeat Participants, 1 New Participant

Total Landmark Participants: 112

Location: Ardee Library and Scoil Mhuire na Trocaire National School, County Louth


“The children had a great use of natural materials. They became familiar with how flexible willow branches are and every child used a willow branch to create a ‘crown’ for their heads. The sheep’s wool was a great material for the girls to work with!”

“Over the past four weeks we have been working with various natural materials, creating the most fantastic art! We have brought the outdoors inside our classroom! This experience has been brilliant for the girls as it has most certainly enabled them to become more open and expressive with nature” Scoil Mhuire na Trocaire, Teacher (4/5th Class)

Thirty-one students of Scoil Mhuire na Trocaire National School participated in four Landmarks workshops. They created an installation of nature based artworks for their classroom.

When asked about the project, the students offered the following responses:

“Our classroom feels like a forest”

“The art from nature creates a nice atmosphere in the classroom”

“I like to feel nature around me, while I work”

“Sometimes I am distracted by the art, because I like to look at it”

“It makes me feel more awake, warm and cosy”

“I feel more relaxed with nature around me”

“I like the scent of the pine, it makes my mind clearer”

“I feels like I can be outside, even when I’m inside”

“It makes me more relaxed and I think differently”

The students also created a word list describing their experience after their final workshop in the Ardee Library:

“Happy, cheerful, free, joyful, creative, excited, warm, cool, relaxed, calm, an adventure”

The photos are the hands of students working with willow, a wool crown and artist books by students of Scoil Mhuire na Trocaire.

Word Pictures

March 12, 2011


Week 5 – 28 Repeat Participants

Total Landmark Participants: 111

Location: Ardee Library, County Louth


“Walking art worked beautifully with the girls. Using mud enabled the children to easily create pathways throughout their art books! The Word Art also allowed the children to pinpoint exactly what they were thinking” Scoil Mhuire na Trocaire National School (Ardee, County Louth), Teacher (4/5th Class)

Word pictures are a collection of individual words which create an image both in our mind and on paper. Within the Landmarks project, children are asked to write down what they see within pictures of landscapes, magnified photographs of plants, and the characteristics of natural objects. They follow an indoor path studying these photographs and observing a variety of natural objects, writing down words as they go along. Spelling and punctuation are not important in this exercise, so that the words create a meandering path across the page. Everyone’s perspective about what they see is different. The words are a list of observations. A class can be divided into groups, and each group of children can combine their list of words to create a collaborative piece of writing.

The following words were written by students from 4/5th Class Scoil Mhuire na Trocaire, Ardee.

“Moss, purple seed, flowers growing, pinecones, bog, earth, daffodils, a ring of stone, trees, soil, mud, wind”

“Nature, ice, hut, fog”

“Adventure, mud, moss, grass, flowers”

“Twig, grass, smoke, tree”

“Pinecone, soil, green moss”

“Moss, wind, leaves, rocks”

“Earth and wind”

“Clouds, stones, trees, den, tree house”

“Wind to wind, who is me?”

The photographs on this page are books made by students from Collon National School, Ardee Educate Together and Scoil Mhuire na Trocaire.