Nature Art

Liv Niklasson created this piece of land art in early April and it was still intact in mid-May when she checked up on it! What art can you make with the natural materials around you? (Photo by Siobhan Niklasson)

This week on Take It Outside, learn how local artists have been inspired by the natural world around them, and spend some time making nature art yourself.

This week, we’re also celebrating Los Alamos ScienceFest virtually! See what PEEC has in store for this virtual festival.

Summer Nature Challenge:

Participate in our Summer Nature Challenge! Every week, participants who complete the challenge can earn a sticker. If you finish all nine weeks, you’ll earn a bonus sticker! Find our archive containing all of our past Take It Outside activities here.

Download the challenge sheet here to print out and complete at home. At the end of the challenge, you can either bring it to the nature center or mail it to us at 2600 Canyon Rd, Los Alamos, NM 87544.

If you don’t have a printer or prefer to work online, you can tell us about your experiences in the Google Form below or email your stories and pictures to

Blog Post:

Patricia Galagan reflects on photographing our forests with her husband Philip Metcalf in the aftermath of the Las Conchas fire. Their book, Fire Ghosts, was published in late 2019 and features their photography portfolios from this project. Learn more about what they learned from this process in this week’s blog post.

Outdoor Challenges:

We’re posting three outdoor challenges today that you can enjoy throughout the week!

Tell us about your experiences with one, two, or all three of them! You can do this in the Google Form below, by writing or drawing about them on our summer challenge sheet, or by sending an email to


Challenge #1 – Land Art:

Go outside and spend some time getting a feel for the area, then gather natural materials that speak to you. Use them to create land art, ideally using the materials in the area where you found them. If you like, take a picture of your artwork, and share it with us! Leave the art for others to discover, and to break down naturally over time.

See some additional tips here.


Challenge #2 – Wildlife Photography:

A male Calliope Hummingbird photographed at a hummingbird feeder. They are the smallest birds in the United States! (Photo by Aditya Viswanathan)

This challenge is from Aditya Viswanathan, a rising sixth-grader from Los Alamos and wildlife photographer.

July is a great time to learn wildlife photography as the hummingbirds are coming to Los Alamos in large quantities. Here are a few activities that you can try to get started or fine-tune your skills. If you have a hummingbird feeder, you can wait for a while and see which hummingbirds come and try to photograph them. Hummingbirds like to visit feeders and you’re more likely to see them at one rather than on a flower. If you don’t have a feeder, try making a simple one from recycled materials! Make sure to get the camera crosshairs on the hummingbird, or else the photo will be blurry. Phones work okay, but cameras (especially ones with zoom lenses) are better if you have one. It will take a bit of practice and patience, but if you stick with it, you should have some very good photos.

If you are ready for a bigger challenge, research which flowers different hummingbirds like. Hint: hummingbirds like red, tubular flowers. If you don’t have any of them, other flowers work too. Wait at a flower of your choice for about half an hour and see if any hummingbirds come. Photographing them at a flower will create a more natural-looking picture. Butterflies and bees may come too, which are also good photo targets.

Another advanced challenge that you can do is try to freeze a hummingbird’s wing while in flight. To do this, adjust the shutter speed in the menus. I recommend 1/1000 seconds for the shutter speed. Please note that some cameras don’t have this feature. I hope you find these activities fun and helpful. Send a picture you snap to or post it on social media and tag @peecnature!

Challenge #3 – Nature Sketching:

Practice nature sketching this week by drawing the details of different leaves! (Photo by Terry Foxx)

This challenge comes from Teralene Foxx, co-author and illustrator of Plants of the Jemez Mountains, which can be ordered from PEEC’s online shop.

Sketching is a good way of learning and remembering the different shapes and sizes you observe in nature. Wander around your backyard or go on a hike and collect five leaves from five different plants (make sure to stay away from shiny, 3-leaved poison ivy!). Note what plant the leaf comes from: a flower, a shrub, or a tree. Are the leaves positioned opposite each other or do they alternate along the stem? Write down what you see. Look at the top of the leaf and the underside and see any differences.

With a paper and pencil, lay the leaf on the paper and trace around the outside of the leaf. Now you have the outside dimensions of the leaf. Observe the leaf carefully and draw anything you see about the leaf and put the detail into your drawing (e.g. the edge of the leaf, the veins, the color, hairs, texture). Ask yourself: Is the top of the leaf the same color as the bottom of the leaf? Record this information. If you have colored pencils or crayons, you might want to color the leaf. If you have a ruler, you might want to measure the different sizes of leaves and make a note. 

After you practice shapes and sizes of leaves, try drawing a leaf without tracing the outside of the leaf. You will be amazed at the different shapes and sizes of leaves!


Want to Learn More?

Share Your Experience:

Tell us about your outdoor experiences! We’d love to see your photos, too. Please send them to or share them on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside. If you’d like this to count for the Summer Nature Challenge, be sure to include your name and email address.

Creating Nature-Inspired Art

Speckle Seed by Elena J. Perez. Mixed paper and acrylic

By Elena J. Perez

I feel lucky that I live in a place that makes it so easy to get out and appreciate our natural environment! I notice nature around me from the time I wake up to the sound of doves outside my window, to the weather, and to the deer always lurking in my backyard.

When I go out in the morning to feed the birds and scare the lurking deer, I appreciate the delicate apricot blossoms, the patterned ice in the bird bath, and the bark on our ancient fruit tree. Our apricot tree is so amazing. It is more than 70 years old. I love that it is both smooth and textured. It has yellowish-greenish lichen that must be older than me! The arborist who trimmed it for us gave us his professional opinion of: “I can’t believe this thing still fruits.”

Take a closer look at the details of a pinecone next time you are outside. (Photo by Elena J. Perez)

I take a morning walk with my family around the neighborhood. Aaaah, the New Mexico sky! Clouds are the ever-changing visual art canvas! Should we have our own Cloud Appreciation Society?

We kick a pinecone down the street. The growth patterns in a pinecone are almost always a sequence of Fibonacci numbers. My daughter and I have enjoyed looking for different pinecones on our walks. Next time you kick a pinecone or notice a strange one, pick it up and look at the pattern.

I am a seed appreciator. I took an outdoor landscape painting class when I was a student at UNM. We hiked all over New Mexico. All over. So many of my classmates painted these huge landscapes. I would come home from our hikes with these tiny seeds, pieces of the landscape that I had collected and put in my pockets, and then when I put them on paper, the seeds ended up much different in scale. They ended up taking up the whole paper. My art teacher was like, “What are you doing?! Keep doing it!”

Philadelphia Seed Red by Elena J. Perez. Acrylic on paper.

Little seeds I picked up sometimes became intertwined with imagined new seeds. For this piece, I started out by making the shape of the seed with paint. I scraped the paint away to make the shape I wanted, and it started looking good. It reminds me of something in nature, but it’s impossible; a memory.

Sometimes I just start with materials and a familiar shape. With the piece below, I thought I was going to make seed pods, and just ended up with a very bird-like shape.

Bird Eye by Elena J. Perez. Paper and clear acrylic.

Have you ever passed by the Lantern Seed Tree (also known as the Golden Rain Tree)? We have them in our neighborhood. The pods shiver in the wind and you can hear the seeds rattling around in the lovely thin skin. I represented that transparency through a collage.

Philadelphia Seed by Elena J. Perez. Mixed paper and acrylic.
A pod from a Lantern Seed Tree. (Photo by Elena J. Perez)

I’ve ended up exploring seeds a lot in my art, experimenting with the shapes, and moving from paint over collage, to just collage. And it really all started because seeds were something I could bring home with me from my walks.

Sometimes, and these might be those times, you have to entertain yourself. If you need a little help, nature is always presenting a show! Use your senses to enjoy the sounds, views, and tactile offerings from nature. What in nature inspires you?

Nature-Inspired Recycled Art

We now have a Whimsical Birds art exhibit hanging in our classroom. The colorful birds were made by students from Mrs. Lee and Mrs. Mann’s fourth grade classes at Chamisa Elementary. The children used recycled materials and their imaginations to create these colorful birds.

Our classroom is reserved for student artwork. If you would like to have your students’ artwork displayed in our classroom, please email us.