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Creating art outside is something I’ve done almost all of my life, but I spent so much time thinking inside the box… quite literally. Art always seemed like an indoor activity, especially great for those cold, gloomy days. My world was shattered when I first stumbled upon the Yosemite Art Program and saw how committed they were to getting people outside to create!

Two people smiling and chatting while creating art in nature.

Instructor Nikki Frumkin gives encouraging feedback during an art program in Yosemite.

And now, working with the program and continuing this mission, I am so inspired. The more you create, the more obsessed with it you become. But you also run into road blocks with it and that can be hard to navigate!

Below are a few tips to help you pursue creating art outside:

(1) Create with a friend.

It can be really challenging to make the time to stop and create when you’re on an outdoor adventure, whether it be a hiking, backpacking, or camping trip. Asking a friend if they want to create with you can help ensure you set aside the time you need to be creating art outside while enjoying nature.

(2) Make a list of what you’ll need. 

The most disappointing roadblock to creating art outside is not having all of your essential supplies! To prevent that, make a list of the tools and materials you’ll need and pull them out in preparation of your creative outing. It can be helpful to try packing your tools and gear the night before so that you’re not trying to remember everything you need as you’re simultaneously trying to run out the door the next day!

(3) Practice LNT.
Creating outside means keepings nature clean by carefully pouring used paint water into a container to take home.

Director of Yosemite Conservancy’s Art Program, Lora Spielman-Dell Isola, modeling how to Leave No Trace while creating outside.

Is there any part of your medium that can impact the environment? This is always a great question to ask because it gives you a chance to think about how to minimize your impact. If you’re using watercolors, bring your water in a watertight jar, pack it out, and dump your dirty paint water at home! If you’re cutting paper or sharpening a pencil, bring a small baggie to avoid leaving any micro trash.

(4) Dialogue with your inner critic.

Whether you intentionally pack your inner critic, they always manage to invite themselves and often get LOUD during your creative process! They are the generally unwelcome guest that can single handedly stop the creative process with their negativity. Sometimes when I notice that my inner critic is roadblocking my creativity, I try to dialogue with it: What is holding me back? What is the fear? Should I close the sketchbook and stop?

Woman creating art outside, curled up in a beanie and puffy drawing El Capitan at the last light of day.

Artist Rachel Fisher sketches El Capitan’s alpenglow.

Oftentimes, the biggest fear is that I won’t capture the landscape before me as perfectly and accurately as how I see it. It can be helpful to sometimes write down the fears you feel in the creative process and then give yourself permission to be imperfect! Instead of tying ourselves to the idea that we must paint or sketch things exactly how we see them, try giving yourself the artistic license to just create with no expectation of the outcome. And most importantly, have fun with it!

(5) Seek out creative communities!

This can take so many different shapes and forms. Maybe you have a group of friends who share creative interests and excited each other with new ideas! Maybe there is a creative group on social media that shares art ideas and prompts to help fuel your imagination. If you’re planning a trip to Yosemite this year, check out our schedule for all our art class offerings! Whether you have a few minutes, a few hours, or a few days, we have plenty of different artistic opportunities awaiting you.

A group of students watch as Janet models creating art outside with her watercolors.

Three-day nature journaling workshop with artist Janet Takahashi (May 2019).