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Highly Commended in the International Category of the 2015 BBC Wildlife Blogger Awards

Arty-Farty Nature

If you could learn to play a musical instrument, which would you choose? Or, if you could choose one talent, which would it be? These are questions that sometimes come up in our family conversations over dinner.

When it comes to musical instruments, I’ve long wished I could play the violin. When I listen to classical music, like Albinoni, or soundtracks like that of the movie Schindler’s List, it seems to me the violin is the most eloquent, the most potent at extracting the last ounce of anguish or ecstasy from a piece of music. A violin speaks, and has, on several occasions, brought me to tears.

As for talents, writing would be my first choice and is the one I’m trying to cultivate, if such a thing is possible. My life’s goal is to touch the hearts and minds of people with my nature writing, as some authors have likewise moved and inspired me.

But I often feel a need to be visually creative, to shape nature-themed art with my hands. Nature photography is one outlet I have found deeply satisfying, and I always take my camera with me when we go on camping trips or excursions into the countryside. Still, it’s not something I can do every day; there just aren’t enough worthy subjects close to home. Plus, I’m not really using my hands with photography. It’s the camera and my eye doing most of the work.

Dawn in Africa. Photo: Jessica Groenendijk, Words from the Wild

When I was in my twenties, my mother introduced me to beading - making jewellery with semi precious stones and silver findings. It’s something we still indulge in to this day and when one visits the other, we invariably pour over each other’s latest collections. But there’s only so many bracelets or pairs of earrings one can make for oneself or for family, and there’s no great skill involved. It’s not art either.

Homemade jewellery. Photo: Jessica Groenendijk, Words from the Wild

In 1996, I toyed briefly with chalks, and though I liked my attempts, I was conscious they were amateurish and stiff:

Next, I tried decoupage, the process of decorating trays and plates and cake stands with paper or serviette cut-outs. Here’s a small box I made, with a crackle paint finish; I rubbed old gold paste into the cracks to imitate the effect of ageing:

With the western craze for vintage and shabby chic came an intense phase of painting and distressing (some would argue destroying?) picture frames and small items of furniture…

Shabby chic. Photo: Jessica Groenendijk, Words from the Wild

This was followed by a tentative foray into stencilling:

More recently I discovered fabrics. I began to collect bits and pieces of silk and lace, as well as old shirts and skirts, and I covered boxes and pin boards with pretty prints:

My most ambitious project is a kind of textile collage, inspired by one my aunt made as a gift for my parents. I have never been particularly interested in sewing or making my own clothes and was half convinced I’d make a mess of this. It took me several weeks to complete, working only in the afternoons. As usual, I got carried away, with both the design as well as my materials. These included an old napkin for the vase; lace, glass beads, crochet doilies, and mother-of-pearl buttons for the flowers; and silver thread, gold gauze, and embroidered cut-outs for the leaves and stems. All sewn onto a silk background. I was aiming for pale and interesting and understated, like my aunt’s, but in the end it became pink and pastelly and rather too fussy. Still, it’s not the mess I had envisaged and I feel encouraged to try again, this time around an ocean theme (a coral reef perhaps?).

Textile collage. Photo: Jessica Groenendijk, Words from the Wild

One day I hope to have the opportunity to throw a clay pot or two, and to experiment with different textures and glazes. The problem with pottery, I think, is that it’s costly and requires specialist equipment.

All this ‘arty-farty’ stuff is leading up to what I really wish I had a talent for (other than writing) and that is freehand drawing. I’d love to be able to bring an owl or sea gull to life with a few bold lines in pencil, or to illustrate a note in my journal with a quick sketch of whatever it is I’m contemplating. I am in awe of people who can draw. Plus, it’s something you can do anytime, anywhere, with the bare minimum of resources.

The same is true for writing, come to think of it. Perhaps I should just content myself with improving my writing.

How about you, what would you like to have a talent for?

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