Representing the creative future

Naturecore: Six creatives that turn natural objects into art

Exploring the increasing trend of incorporating natural materials in art and fashion through the work of 6 creatives

Isn’t it amusing to see how children get truly fascinated and hyped by the simplest things in life? Yet, gradually, as we all have, they become accustomed to the small wonders the world has to offer. One thing, though, never seems to grow old and will always and forever remain soothing to the eye: that’s the natural world, with the colours of its sunsets, its blooming flowers emerging in spring and summer, its insects that look weird and graceful all at once. There comes a time when everyone needs a dose of nature, one that can be fulfilled by, say, hitting the park, watching a David Attenborough’s doc, or stopping bustling just for a sec to water plants. Love of nature is universally shared, and it always will.

We’ve spoken to six creatives who grew up being moved by their natural surroundings — whether that be by the falling snow, the fresh food they helped their parents cook, the small miracles that occur during the changes of seasons, etc — to the point where it stuck with them and can be seen in their work today, as grown-ups. By doing so, they all seem to agree about one thing: Mother Nature’s gifts are works of art, possibly the greatest. And yes, they must be protected at all costs.

Colette Stubbings

Canadian artist Colette Stubbings has been dedicating her Instagram to share the armour-like gloves she creates with real flower petals and leaves.

Where did your enthusiasm for flowers spring from, and how did you first start making armour-like handpieces with them?

Growing up in Vancouver, Canada, I’ve always preferred spending my time outside and developed an affinity for insects and flowers since I was small. Flowers have a high emotional impact and are natural mood elevators, they come in so many unique colours and forms that lend themselves to making natural, beautifully delicate art pieces. And so, in the summer of 2017, I was in my dad’s garden and the petals from some of his roses had fallen. I was collecting them and started to wrap them around the tips of my fingers, for whatever reason. I liked how it felt and covering my whole hand just seemed like a natural progression. I’ve been focusing on handpieces simply because they are the easiest and most comfortable body part to work with, technically speaking. That said, I would like to experiment with other body parts in the future.

“When I first started working with plants, I was struggling with my art practice and hadn’t made much work in a very long time.” – Colette Stubbings

Where do you source your flowers from, and what’s your creative process like?

Well, I use flowers from many different sources. In seasons where I’ve been unable to collect my own petals, I’ve picked apart bouquets that were gifted to me and cut flowers from supermarkets or flower shops as well. Sometimes florists or photographers will donate scraps and leftovers from their photoshoot sets to me. My creative process usually involves separating and organising each flower part, then binding a design as I go. Once I lay out all the colours I’m working with, then I figure out the pattern. I wrap each petal to my arm or hand with thread and secure knots to hold rows into place. As for the detailing, such as the pom poms, the frills, etc., it’s usually dependent on a character that will come to mind after having already secured the base pattern.

“Working so closely with plants has really prompted me to see details of our natural world in a very different light.” – Colette Stubbings

Where do you see your place in the art scene? What kind of message do you want to convey with your work? As for my place in the arts, it isn’t something I think too hard about. When I first started working with plants, I was struggling with my art practice and hadn’t made much work in a very long time. Creating these gloves, for me, was a personal and therapeutic process, and I viewed it as being very separate from any other traditional art practices I was ever involved in. Over the last few years, the activity has developed into an artistic exploration, but in many ways, it’s still so new to me. I’m mostly happy that technology has made these pieces accessible to so many people and not so concerned with where I fit into any scene. Working so closely with plants has really prompted me to see details of our natural world in a very different light. Quite literally, in fact. Until I went out at night and filmed while it was raining, I was unaware of just how magical and scintillating everything looks and feels when you take a flash photo in the dark. And so I would be more than happy if viewing a photo or watching a video of mine sparked an interest in someone to go outside and reconnect with or look closer at the natural elements of their own environment.

Sojin Oh

Sought after for her ethereal manicures that nods to water drops, lava flows, seaweed and shells, and other such natural elements, Seoul-born California-based nail artist Sojin Oh’s work soon got the attention of the creative community, with some of her clients being Rosalía to Lil Nas X, Kim Kardashian and Shygirl.

What is your relationship to the natural world, and how does it inform your work?

My relationship with nature is an innate part of me that I can trace from childhood. It’s as if there’s a void in my spirit when I’m not actively connecting to it. While the sublime aesthetic forms, colours, and patterns found in nature can’t truly be synthesised, I do let them guide my eye and my hand, and its poignant emotionality draws me to attempt to recreate this beauty.

“To me, foraging comes not only as a source of inspiration but as a resource to find new materials.” – Sojin Oh

How do you go about replicating things found in nature with your manicures, such as water drops we’re often seeing in your work? Tell us more about your process.

I first sketch in my mind, and then determine what can possibly be done with the materials I’ve got on hand. By coming up with a few prototypes, then I’ll have a better idea of what I’m going to be doing and will figure out what looks most realistic. The water drops, for one thing, have been replicated by nail artists from Asia since the early 90s, but I wanted to make some that would look hyper-realistic. I’ve basically applied clear builder gel over and over until it looked just like a drop of water. One replica that was particularly challenging was the nails that imitate an active lava flow. It was challenging to try and capture that glowing, flowing bright igneous orange in a kinetic state. But I came to realise that sometimes, instead of trying to sculpt the materials I work in a very specific way, it’s better to let gravity take over and control the shapes and forms, which, very often, ends up looking more organic. At times, I’ve also taken a more literal approach by using all kinds of wild things, such as bees, butterflies, moths, seashells, preserved sea animals and oyster shells. To me, foraging comes not only as a source of inspiration but as a resource to find new materials.

“I hope my work encourages more to actively take part in preservation. The corporatised, capitalist system in America makes it difficult to be eco-friendly. ” – Sojin Oh

You’ve worked with quite a few big names. When did the creative community start reaching out to you? Which are some of the favourite projects you’ve done, and how did you handle them?

People really started catching up with my work about a year in. This past year’s Met Gala was an insane but rewarding undertaking, everything was super last minute. I had to design and fabricate in about an hour for each of my three clients, which were Lil Nas X, Hunter Schafer, and Grimes. It was amazing to collaborate with two of my favourite transfeminine artists, Grace Wardlaw and Evangeline Adalioryn, on Hunter’s look.

What message or emotion are you trying to convey with your work?

I hope to evoke openness, awareness, and mindfulness especially in relation to our endangered, beautiful planet. I hope my work encourages more to actively take part in preservation. The corporatised, capitalist system in America makes it difficult to be eco-friendly. That is the biggest battle, but hopefully, we can take steps to be more aware every day.

Lina Sun Park

In her recently released book A Spell Too Far which she co-published with the photographic artist and her partner David Brandon Geeting, the New York-based multidisciplinary artist Lina Sun Park explored the mundanity of the stay-at-home lifestyle and turned it into something of a fantasy, one filled with butterfly-shaped apple wedges, miniature table sets created with fruits and veggies, etc.

Quite often, your work seems somehow related to nature. If you’re not creating miniature sculptures out of food, you’re mimicking flowers, butterflies, and other things found in nature with everyday household objects like toilet paper or even pie dough. What is it that draws you to the natural world?

I enjoy replicating flowers from any material. Each form the flower might appear as in my work is an ode to the mythical nature of everything they symbolise. The natural world will always hold my attention, it is a source of inspiration that is infinite, and sometimes far more interesting than fiction. The lifespan of a butterfly is only a few weeks. There is something so sad yet so beautiful about that. Every time I see a butterfly it is a nice moment. As a city dweller, I don’t see them as much as I’d like and hardly do I ever witness them in the variety that Mother Nature has to offer. There is something so satisfying about making a little object of something you admire, a little ephemeral fruit butterfly with a fleeting presence.

“Simple, ordinary materials that become something else entirely, are presented in a new world with their own story, past, present, and future.” – Lina Sun Park

You’ve recently launched a book with your partner David Brandon Geeting. What’s it about?

A Spell Too Far is the world beyond a magic spell gone wrong. Something in the spell has been recited with one or two words off. Things are a little peculiar, like that of an odd dream. There are familiar characters, but not quite. Simple, ordinary materials that become something else entirely, are presented in a new world with their own story, past, present, and future. As artists, you only have so much control until your art takes on a life of its own.

How was the working dynamic between you two on this project?

Dave is a quick worker and jumps into things intuitively. Whereas I take my time and am quite inclined to focus on little details. It was a synergistic mix of energies to bring to the table, as we were able to push each other out of our comfort zones. Many of the photos started as a loose skeleton, which were then thoroughly realised in the actual shooting process. Each photo is a conversation between both of our sensibilities and art-making processes, both physically and verbally.

“Creating with food has been a natural progression from so many elements of my childhood. ” – Lina Sun Park

What’s your relationship with food, and when did you start playing and creating with it?

My parents operated Japanese sushi restaurants my whole childhood. I would spend much of my time in the restaurant, leafing through these shiny, large paged books or calendars of beautifully plated sushi with elaborate garnishes and unusual colour and texture pairings. That really informed my young and current mind in so many ways, especially in terms of the presentation of food and the different forms it can take. My sister and I would always help my mom make food as children too, things like making dumplings from scratch. We would fold the dumpling wrappers into funny shapes and laugh at how they emerged looking once cooked. Creating with food has been a natural progression from so many elements of my childhood.

By creating your own universe, what are you trying to convey?

A feeling of wonder, with an underlying warm, cosy feeling.

Maria Luneva

With a quirkiness to it, Russian artist Maria Luneva’s Instagram merges the worlds of fashion imagery and nature.

Have you always been inspired by the natural world? Can you recall a specific moment when you knew you wanted to do something with things found in nature? How did you first start out?

I’ve sort of always been attracted to nature, but I didn’t really know what to do with these feelings. Seeing the work of the artist Katya Pravda online opened my eyes. I was struck by how she would use plants and her body as creative mediums. And so, one day I came home with a pack of mushrooms I wanted to cook, and as I admired their ribbed caps so much I put them on my ears and took a picture. It was my first time doing that, my first time working with plants, in that case, the mylicieum’s fruiting body, and I haven’t stopped since it gives me what I was looking for; it helps me communicate my admiration for nature, through art.

What’s your creative process usually like? How do you go about reinterpreting the natural world for online consumption?

My creative process always differs. Sometimes, I just twist a flower in my hand, admire it, study it, and in doing so ideas come up in the process. There was this one time I was playing with a nettle and I started twisting it and peeling off its leaves, leaving the corolla of the flower intact on the stem. Then I had this idea of removing half of the crown, so it would imitate teeth once put in front of my mouth. Whereas at other times it’s the idea that comes first, in which case I’ll be looking for a flower to bring it to life. For example, the idea for the pad with a lining of flowers I’ve made came to mind when I thought how nice it would be for pads to have a floral fragrance. The flowers I’ve chosen for that piece were white and pink hyacinths, which actually smelled amazing. Whatever the approach, I’ll then have a long shooting session by myself, with the help of a mirror.

“I am very happy when, through my photos, people get to see nature from new angles, seeing how fascinating it is.” – Maria Luneva

Can you tell us more about the collaborative work you’ve done with jewellery artist Beepy Bella? How did that come about, and how did it go?

Everything happened pretty organically with Bella. One day she reached out to me saying she’d love to cooperate on something. After she shared some jewellery inspiration with me, I went to the forest to pick up mushrooms and berries, and also went to a flower shop and grocery store to get some flowers. It was an interesting experience. We ended up mixing different materials together, from fresh and dried flowers, berries, mushrooms, seeds, pods, and even a household sponge!

What are you hoping to achieve with your work?

I am very happy when, through my photos, people get to see nature from new angles, seeing how fascinating it is. In my works there are many associations with the body, fashion, make-up, everyday things, yet what it really comes down to is nature — that’s the primary focus of my work, and what I want people to turn their attention to.

Gab Bois

On Montreal-based artist Gab Bois’ Instagram, everyday common things are turned into witty fashion images. By taking commissions from a number of brands, she’s recreated for SSENSE Jacquemus’ Le Chiquito handbag in marshmallows and made shorts out of lettuce for Marc Jacobs, to name a few.

Before starting your Instagram account, were you always playing with the things that surround you? When did you really start thinking of reinterpreting common things like food in a new light?

I grew up as an only child, so I constantly was finding ways of filling up my own time and that often took the form of arts and crafts. I always loved putting things together, whether it was making dishes for a made-up restaurant serving flower soup and dirt cake, grass jewellery or a hotel for the neighbourhood’s stray cats. I like to see the work I do today as an extension of those childhood activities, that interest of mine in repurposing things from my everyday life that came so early on and so naturally.

What’s your creative process like? Can you talk us through some of your favourite creations?

It starts with an idea. Sometimes I get them out of the blue, other times I sit down to put them on paper. They often come in the afternoon, or early in the morning when I’m half asleep, almost as part of a dream. After that, I’ll source the materials I need and get to work. The making of the images varies in time and complexity depending on the idea. The “ice cream” cone with a scoop of dirty snow is still one of my favourite photos to this day. This idea came from my childhood self. At the time my favourite dessert was this French Canadian delicacy we call “sucre à la crème”, which is literally just that: brown sugar and cream turned into brownish beige fudgy squares. Dirty snow always reminded me of that mixture, and while I never actually ate the beige snow, I remember picturing myself being surrounded by a world of brown sugar and cream while walking down streets covered with dirty snow.

“Doing commission work is something I really enjoy. I love the challenge of two visions coming together to create a common one.” – Gab Bois

How is it working with brands? Given that your aesthetic is quite unique, do they tend to give you full creative freedom? Can you give us some examples?

Doing commission work is something I really enjoy. I love the challenge of two visions coming together to create a common one. I don’t usually get complete creative freedom, but I find it’s better that way, it makes it more collaborative, and that’s kind of the point in my opinion. A great example of this is my recent commission for the American restaurant chain CAVA. They asked me to come up with ideas surrounding all of the ingredients from one of their signature salad bowls. I was working with six specific ingredients, most of them being vegetables. That was a fun one for me since while having some clear guidelines in terms of subjects, I still had a lot of freedom when it came to the concepts.

“I see my environment, which includes nature, as a subject guide to my work.” – Gab Bois

Even though your work isn’t a commentary solely focused on the natural world, very often you end up working with things found in nature such as food or plants. So I’m curious to hear, what is your relationship to nature? How does the natural world inform your work?

I get inspired by what’s around me, so I tend to work with seasonal subjects. Living in Canada, winters can be rough and I don’t tend to go outside that much. I mostly work with natural elements that are in season, like flowers, leaves, fruits or veggies, which I find makes the images even more relatable to the viewers. So I see my environment, which includes nature, as a subject guide to my work. As far as my own relationship with nature goes, I grew up in the city, where I still live today, so my day-to-day experience with nature is very much an urban version. I live close to a highway, and while nothing about it is usually that visually appealing, when Spring rolls around, every bit of grass underneath it becomes fully covered in dandelions. This is a great example of how nature has a way of giving free makeovers to urban spaces no matter how unplanned it might be. So, every May, there’s a large strip of grass, a few hundred metres long, that becomes fully covered in yellow. Every time I pass by, I always think it looks so comfortable, like a cloud of flowers. Something about the tiny petals, almost like the fuzzy threads of a rug, or even fur, looks so inviting. That sight gave me the idea to make the flower bedding photo. There’s a park I really love near where I live, too. It’s really big and full of wildflower fields, it can almost feel like you left the city when you’re there.

Susan Fang

Central Saint Martins graduate Susan Fang launched her eponymous label in 2017 with which she and her family have been handmaking glass bead accessories and innovative fabrics with a hint of natural romance.

How does the natural world inform your work? Can you give some examples?

Well, I’ve always believed there is no beauty that can surpass nature. It has a fractal quality: the rhythms of nature connect us all. It is invisible to the eye, but it unites us all. Hence why each of our collection’s titles begins with the word “AIR”, the most recent being “AIR-LOVE”. This last season, we developed this technique we call “air-flower” through which my mom and I have been using cut roses and vegetables as stamps to make paintings. We ended up making 50 of them that we then used as prints on tulles or cut into strips which were reshaped into flower-like gatherings. We also layered them in different geometric patterns that mimicked little fireworks or flowers. The idea was that, through brokenness, our self-love can be transformed into something even more beautiful and powerful.

What is your production process, and what place does sustainability have in it? I’ve read somewhere that your mom is pretty involved in your brand… How has she influenced your work?

To this day our collections are still made in-house, and most of what we do is handmade. Yes, I’ve been working with the help of my mom, and my childhood art teacher, too, since the beginning. My mom’s friends have often come to give a hand, and we’ve also been training handcrafting techniques to some middle-aged housewives. By making most of our clothes in-house, we’ve been able to reduce waste and create a thoughtful upcycling system. I think having a close-knit team with familiar people creates a natural flow for creativity and design. For example, when we’re doing our air-embroideries, I just have to ask my mom to take over and she’ll go on and imagine and recreate things from living nature in our garments, such as flying butterflies. She once was a farmer, actually, and thus absolutely loves nature and has a very eco-friendly mindset that influences us all in our daily studio activities.

“From painting to textile and print creations, our whole making process is very organic and in line with nature’s rhythm.” – Susan Fang

Nature, and the people who live in harmony with it, seem to constitute a recurrent theme in your work. In the past, you’ve also met local Tibetans in Yushu and took pictures of them in their natural surroundings. What message are you trying to convey through your storytelling?

From painting to textile and print creations, our whole making process is very organic and in line with nature’s rhythm. Through memorable, beautiful encounters, we’ve always hoped our campaigns would express this. And so, it all began with our first journey to Yushu in China. Without any plans nor models booked, we made a road trip and eventually stopped at a wedding that was held on the grassland where there were children playing around, giggling grandmas, Tibetan nuns on a pilgrimage, and we engaged with the bride that brought us into the mountains at her uncle’s place. We then invited a few of the girls to partake in our photoshoot and they got all excited to dress in our handmade pieces, the kind of fashion they’ve seen before but never really had a chance to try before. There was a purity in these exchanges, and we were moved by their genuine, beautiful smiles and the kindness of their hearts. They may not have much, but in this beautiful nature, and loving family, they seem so happy and content. And this is the message we hope to convey through our campaigns: to appreciate the beauty from within.

“From the core of our brand to our campaigns and shows we are always hinting at the beauty and importance of nature.” – Susan Fang

Can you tell us more about your air-flower process? Have you ever used other things from nature in your work?

I always loved doing prints. In our second collection, I wanted to create optical illusion through weaving and ended up making about 29 unique prints, which were made by laying fresh flowers over chiffon and organza that were then spray-painted over, shifting the flowers after each layer of paint to form a mist of floating flowers. Then for the third collection, we repurposed the leftover printed strips from previous seasons and turned them into embroideries. Through a technique we call “air-embroidery”, we used a large square of transparent white organza and used the strips to embroider loose strands into watercoloured images of either flowers or branches between layers of organza, and then we opened the layers grid to let the fabric fall naturally, abstractedly portraying free-flowing nature. And during Covid, our bags’ chains were reminiscent of olive branches and leaves and stood a symbol of “victory, resilience and luck”, three words which were engraved throughout.

What message or emotion are you trying to convey with your work?

From the core of our brand to our campaigns and shows we are always hinting at the beauty and importance of nature. For example, during the pandemic, we replicated sounds of thunder, rain, and waves, and the lighting was created to resemble a post-rain rainbow. In our most recent show “AIR-LOVE” we created three immense heart-shaped clouds made of water mist that vanished and reappeared every 15 seconds or so. Through this, together with the sunset light streaming in from the glass roof, the wisteria trees, and the garden in the decor, we hoped that people would reconnect with the beauty of nature, one that lies within everyone’s heart.