Connecting People to Nature and Art

Rudolf Steiner’s Nature Sketches as seeds for the future
in Aotearoa New Zealand

Akiaki te ti o tangata
‘To nurture the indescribable light in a person’

Early in 2022, Auckland-based artists and art therapists Susie Gay, Deborah Tait and Dianna Brinsden took hold of a Michaelic initiative to introduce Rudolf Steiner’s Nature Sketches into the wider community. This evolved from shared studio time, working with the Nature Sketches in plant colours, along with discussions and reflections on the challenging circumstances of the times, with frequent references to Spiritual Science, artistic work and Anthroposophical therapeutic approaches.

‘Connecting People to Nature and Art’ is socially engaged artwork events that invite the public to gather in nature environments, at sunrise, sunset and moonrise to observe the changing colour moods and create their own pastel sketch.

No previous art experience is necessary beyond a willingness and a curiosity for the participants to sky-gaze at the changing colours that accompany the beginning and end of each day. The sense-perceptible natural phenomena in sunrise, sunset and moonrise, awaken participants to the interplay of light, darkness, and colour and life-giving forces. In these times of stress and uncertainty, the intention is to guide people to connect with nature and art to support their health and wellbeing to bring into their everyday lives.

The daily cycle of sunrise, sunset and the moon feature strongly in the history of the human evolution and in Māori worldview. The daily cycles of dawn and sunset are called Te Tamanui-te-rā-kā (the burning sun) while the flight of the sun across the sky is described as Te Manu-i-te-rā - the bird of the sun. In Māori mythology they looked up at the sky and saw the sun god, Te Rā, whose journey was slowed by the legendary Māui. At night, they sometimes saw Rona, who had been pulled up from Earth by the Moon. These live among a vast family of celestial bodies, all encompassed within Ranginui.

Working within the Michael-culture Rudolf Steiner states that our comprehension must become much more soul-like, much more connected to spiritual:

“In reality, there takes a soul process from outside towards the inside, which is taken hold of by the deeply subconscious, inner soul process, so that the two processes overlap. … We must learn to feel how our will works through our eyes and how the activity of the senses… brings about the crossing of cosmic thoughts and humanity’s will.”
(The Ancient Yoga Culture and New Yoga Will. The Michael Culture of the Future, Lecture from 30 November 1919, GA 194)

In particular we were informed by Gerald Wagner’s statement: “Colour relationships in which real forces work bring the human soul into a state of breathing, they cause it to reverberate in union with a nature- or soul-process that lives in the colours and at the same time in human beings”. (Individuality of Colour; p 41.)

Prior to observing the actual sunrise, sunset and moonrise a visualisation is offered as to where the light effect could be bodily experienced. Pastels chosen for working with a threefold composition were given to the participants. The method is based on Dr Margarethe Hauschka’s ‘Breathing Exercises’ to lightly build layered background colour mood of three equal parts - middle, above and below - using three colours.

An arts-based question was how a group of lay participants could find a deeper relationship in the context of the plein-air events of sunrise, sunset and moonrise through using the medium of pastels? The essential questions were: what language was needed and also importantly, how comfortable would people feel as they were greeted on arrival? How can one carry a mood which is imbued with expectant wonder? The practical preparation in selecting the main colours to begin both sequences along with the choice of paper and boards were paramount to allow the process to flow. This would provide a space of inner preparedness and help allay any anxiety or expectation on outer performance. A therapeutic approach would allow for this plein-air experience of sunrise, sunset and moonrise to find a way freely to the hearts of those participating. The inner preparation along with practical considerations might also help with inviting in an accompanying angelic presence.

One of the participants voiced that this event had allowed her to reach levels in colour work never previously accomplished. She is a trained art therapist. Another person said that thereafter she saw the sky colour changes differently and was eager to follow up this observation regularly. All groups participating in the events showed they could enter deeply into the experience. Some people managed to work to find the dynamics experienced from working with the two-dimensional surface. Over time people were able to bring about a deeper harmony between above, middle and below as many relaxed into an experience of deeper breathing and warming to live into their work. A peaceful mood arose at the events and the result was one of relaxation and inwardness and people tended to linger afterwards in the felt ‘presence’ experience. All participants managed to find a balanced harmonious surface by the end of the experience. Through awakening to these experiences, one can feel an inner peace or spiritualization that renews and supports health and wellbeing.

This is a continual project and in 2023 extended to include the moonrise. The last Moonrise exploration was on Maundy Thursday and a deep prelude to Good Friday. Susie explains that “the skies were so dark but we found our light within, even when the full moon could not be experienced that eve - people naturally wanted to metamorphose the darkness to inner light arising. Everyone could see colours through the indigo black clouds”.

Susie Gay. Deborah Tait. Dianna Brinsden. (2022) Rudolf Steiner’s Nature Sketches. ‘Connecting People to Nature and Art’. Socially Engaged Art. Film 2 minutes. Videographer and Post Production. Dianna Brinsden and Ryan Mullany. Aotearoa. New Zealand.

Susie Gay

BA, Post Grad. Dip Education (Counselling), Dip. Waldorf Teacher Training, Dip. Ed. Primary Teachers’ training, Certificate of Post-Grad Secondary Teachers’ Re-training, Dip. Painting (Dornach, Switzerland), Dip. Art Therapy (Germany).

I am a citizen of Britain and New Zealand - parents from both sides of the world. I found my own real education outside of school after taking on a quest of experiencing life - culture and language in various countries. I was a student at Emerson College in England, which helped confirm my life directions. I lived in Israel, Italy and Greece, and taught in the USA and New Zealand. I studied painting and art therapy in Switzerland, Germany and Sweden and worked as an Art Therapist in Sweden and in Norway. I tutor teachers and work as an Art therapist and Counsellor in New Zealand. I am passionate about colour, working extensively with plant colours and how this can provide a bridge to listen to our quiet inner voice and strengthen people with life-giving forces for self-development, mental health and everyday life.

Deborah Tait

Dip. Art Therapy (England); Dip Psychosynthesis Counselling (Auckland); Post-Graduate Dip. Health Science - Creative Expressive Therapies, (Auckland).

Born in New Zealand, I trained as a journalist and left to work in the UK and Scotland in 1982. After a further stint as a journalist in London, I took a career detour and trained as an art therapist at Tobias School of Art. I worked in this capacity in a medical practice and at a psychiatric hospital - both in Edinburgh - along with offering numerous adult education courses in expressive art within a therapeutic context. On return to New Zealand in 2000, I trained as a counsellor and worked with clients in private practice. I remain passionate about the application of the arts as an explorative and creative medium for wellbeing – for both self-discovery and reconnection with the world of nature around us.

Dianna Brinsden

BDes (Hons) MFA (Hons)

I am a Waldorf educated New Zealander who has lived and worked as an artist in London, Switzerland and New Zealand. As an interdisciplinary artist, my work includes sculpture, paintings, performance, video and socially engaging art. While in Europe I created commissioned, site-specific, community focused, performance events that encouraged audience participation.

Between 2008 and 2012, I studied painting at the Beppe Assenza Malschule, Anthroposophical Studies in English at the Goetheanum, attended numerous conferences and The Mystery Dramas. I work professionally as an artist and interior designer. Colour is a central theme throughout my work and I create projects that bring joy and connection, to transform the way we live within our community.