August 25, 2023
By: Ramier Villarama

Branching Out: Drawing with Non-Traditional Art Materials

Branching Out: Drawing with Non-Traditional Art Materials - Photo

Drawing with unconventional materials is an art form that harks back to ancient times and even we most likely did it unknowingly as children. Do you remember picking up a stick on the beach and drawing on the wet sand? We are so familiar with the traditional players that we often take for granted the many different mark-making tools that exist around us, such as in nature.

In late July, I had the opportunity to plan and facilitate an art event for the Youth Environmental Activists (YEA!), a network for Minnesota-based youth. For the activity, I knew I wanted the students to go outside, find some natural materials, and then draw with them; it is something I enjoyed doing when my drawing professor made my peers and I do it on our first day of class. 

When thinking about the connection between this activity and climate change, I thought about climate art. 

Climate art, also known as eco-art or environmental art, is a powerful form of artistic expression that aims to raise awareness about climate change and its impact on the planet. 

Through various mediums, climate artists address pressing environmental issues, advocate for sustainability, and encourage audiences to take action to protect the Earth. This activity, specifically, prompts the artist to find materials that are readily available to them, rather than be wasteful or excessive.

After explaining all of this to the students, I had them go outside together to get some air and to find any materials that they wanted to try drawing with. It was amazing to see them smile and giggle as they picked up items that they don’t normally pick up on a regular basis. From short sticks to long sticks, leaves, and even littered trash, the students were ready to draw.

The first part of the activity was to partner up and draw self-portraits of each other using a stick and ink. The students were fearful at first, but I told them to relax and just have fun. As you don’t have as much control over the stick as you would a pencil, I wanted them to eyeball the shapes, estimate angles, and create organic illustrations that are not meant to be perfect. The irregular textures and lines produced by the sticks lend a rustic and raw quality to the artwork, infusing it with a sense of natural charm.

The second part of the activity was to draw with the materials in response to the question, “What does climate change mean to you?” Drawing with unconventional materials challenged the students to think outside the box, unleashing their creativity and encouraging a deeper connection with the materials they use. By embracing this unconventional avenue, they were able to have a fresh perspective and unlock unexpected artistic potential, which to me was so inspiring. Seeing these students smile made me smile. I smiled so much that my cheeks started to hurt.

“The art doesn’t have to be beautiful to support communication,” Stéphanie Heckman mentioned during the Talk Climate Gathering panel

Going outside to scavenge for unconventional materials and repurposing them into something beautiful allows us to collectively engage with nature through an artistic lens. By blending creativity and activism, we can spark conversations and inspire positive change in the face of the global climate crisis. This is why I love doing art and love sharing what I have learned from others, especially to the younger generations.

Ramier Villarama

Ramier Villarama (he/him) was born in the Philippines, but moved to New Jersey with his family at a young age. He is a current rising third-year student at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN. In addition to being a part of the Men’s Swimming and Diving team, he is a double major in Environmental Studies and Studio Art, with a minor in Asian Studies and a concentration in Food, Agriculture, and Society. He has been recently learning more about his Filipino culture and his relationship with nature, and has been connecting both with his art and the work that he creates.