Healing in Nature with Marghanita Hughes

Healing in Nature with Marghanita Hughes

Thanks so much, Marghanita, for taking the time to speak with us about your artistic journey!

Where did you grow up and how did this place influence you and your art?

I grew up in Scotland in a small rural village outside of Edinburgh surrounded by wild natural spaces. I was allowed to roam free and the natural world was a place I felt at home, safe, and protected from a very early age. Gaining a sense of connection with these living beings and the surrounding natural environment had a huge influence on my art. 

When did you first get interested in painting and who were your early influences?

I first got interested in painting when I became a mother. I trained as a graphic designer in Edinburgh so my art was mainly focused on graphics. After my third child was born I began writing and illustrating short stories; this was the beginning of my journey as an artist, painting came later when my children were much older and I had time to be Marghanita once again and rediscover myself through my art.

My earliest influencer would have to be my mother. Both my parents were art teachers. My father was the one who installed a deep love and respect for Mother Earth with lots of arts and crafts around the home. But it was my mother who I remember painting at her easel and talking about colors that made her mouth water. As a teenager I would sneak out of school and head to the art galleries in Edinburgh and lose myself in the impressionist art, always drawn to paintings that depicted nature. I loved Miro’s childlike artwork as it appealed to my love of graphics. Later, moving to British Columbia and discovering Emily Carr really influenced the way I paint today. She inspired me to paint what I felt; rather than paint what I saw. 

How would you describe your style of art?

My art style is free-flowing, organic, and spiritual. My art style was very graphic and rigid when I started out, but it changed dramatically when I began to allow Mother Earth’s love, beauty, and energy into my paintings.

My art is all about celebrating our interconnectedness with all life. I still see the world as I did as a child, with a sense of wonder and my art style is a reflection of that.

I paint exclusively outdoors. I do not have an indoor studio, my studio is the forest, ocean, urban park, or a mountain. I believe we are forever evolving and so too is my art. Art is a language and a way of communicating. A language I love and use to document my life experiences; I look at nature, as I did as a child, with a sense of wonder, fascination, and connection. In my art, I wish to celebrate our sacred connection with Mother Earth. 

What is one reason why nature art is so important for everyone but children specifically? 

Nature and art are essential for the developing child. It engages the mind, body, heart, and spirit, which in turn helps the child grow into a whole being. My personal belief is that nature, art, and spirituality are interwoven in us and it is what makes us human. There is a need to understand ourselves and our connection; nature invites us to explore that connection, evoking emotions, thoughts, and ideas that morph into a painting, sculpture, song, poem, or photograph. Every child and adult should have the right to form a loving and lasting relationship with nature and discover what creative experiences they enjoy and wish to continue exploring, helping to nurture their heart and soul. 

What inspired you to create EHNA Soulful Learning?

Every child has the right to play and create, it’s how we learn about ourselves and our environment. As an artist I would often visit schools, providing nature art workshops for both the students and teachers to learn alongside each other. It was during these visits that awakened me to the lack of both nature and art in children’s lives but also in adult's lives too, teachers and parents became my focus. I felt I could reach more and inspire a bigger audience by creating modules that anyone could use, anywhere- indoors and outdoors. 

It focuses on our personal relationship with nature and art. I believe we are all soulful, highly creative beings with an innate need to feel a connection with the natural world. My work has always been to help others rediscover that deep-rooted connection and what better way to do that than through creative exploration. I ran an outdoor classroom for 10 years before creating the online programs. Rediscovering our connection with nature is ultimately rediscovering our connection with ourselves. We have to give children the opportunity and freedom to go outside and explore, and discover the magic Mother Nature has to offer, only then can they understand how precious it is.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. So much of our mental health is impacted by our surroundings and environment. You’ve mentioned that you and your husband have traveled around British Columbia in your van Indigo, how has this experience impacted and benefitted your mental health?

Van life has taught us that less is more and living a more simple life brings more contentment. Every task has to be done slowly and mindfully. The weather plays an important part in how we deal with daily routines including my creative work; you cannot control the weather so you learn to adapt. You learn to work with Mother Nature and it's both humbling and nurturing for the body, mind, heart, and spirit. In the act of slowing down, you are less hurried, outdoors you become more aware of your surrounding, the sounds, smells, shapes, colors, light, and shadow, and all your senses are stimulated, awakened, and developed. 

The van being small, you have to adopt a minimalist lifestyle. Large canvases definitely were problematic and my one-hundred-year-old easel was consigned to the roof rack alongside our solar. Being a traveling artist is challenging but a rewarding journey. In awe of the beauty and magnificence of this sacred land, you cannot help but feel happier, healthier, and inspired to create. I love experimenting with feathers and driftwood, rocks, charcoal, conte, and handmade watercolor and berry paint. Playing with nature and creating art, your worries dissipate, Mentally you become calmer, less reactive to things, grateful, mindful, and aware which ultimately makes you happier, bringing balance and harmony which we need for all over health ad well-being.

It was in our first year of van life that I decided I wished to move to a more sustainable art practice. As an artist, being mindful of the materials I use, I also love to explore and experiment with different canvases such as recycled materials to create art. 

When you’re not on the road exploring, what are the steps that you take to care for your mental health? How has painting and art in general, benefitted your mental health?

I walk a lot even in the city, and go in search of green spaces where I will do breath work and a simple yoga routine most days. Art is as much my therapy as nature time is. In the city I still observe, appreciating the urban nature that is abundant. I can paint anywhere outdoors, urban, or in the wilderness. This led me to create the Urban Nature Art program; helping others to discover the joy and health benefits for themselves.

Art allows me to express my feelings and emotions which is vital for my own mental health. Art grounds me and brings me peace, contentment, gratitude, and a feeling of connection. Like everyone, the last three years have been fraught with stress and uncertainties. Art helped me disappear into my world of love and beauty and helped release the heaviness that clouded many days. When I lost my brother to cancer last year, it was art, especially painting that helped me cope with my grieving and I began to create paintings to heal others and in doing so, help myself.

What is one of the most powerful experiences you’ve had while painting?

I've had many powerful experiences painting, all while in nature. One of the most powerful would have to be when painting Grandmother Tree. I began painting in a small forest, where the trees seemed weak and frail and I had been struggling with part of the painting and headed down to the grove where the ancient ones were. I stood barefoot among the beautiful old growth beings and began hugging each one. I stayed with one for some time and could feel her powerful energy flow through me, literally moving me physically. It was an incredible experience. I returned to my painting and let my paintbrush dance…I felt it wasn’t me painting at all but the spirit painting.

It’s obvious that you have a deep connection with nature and you can see that in your work. What advice do you have for artists who want to grow their connection with nature? Are there simple ways to grow their connection even if they may not have easy access to the outdoors?

When you cannot get into nature you can bring nature to you. Surround yourself with plants, rocks, and pebbles. Sit quietly and play natural sounds, such as the ocean or gentle flowing stream; bird song is one of my favorites. Opening your senses to the natural sounds, smells, and textures of nature helps you focus and experience the joy, beauty, and wonder of nature indoors. It will relax you and ease you into a more flow state for painting.

You don’t have to be in the wild to experience the joys and health benefits of nature. You can feel it anywhere, at any time. Walking barefoot on a carpet of grass at your local park will make you feel grounded and connected. A bird in a supermarket carpark can soothe your soul. A single tree will soften the harsh landscape of concrete and soften your heart simply by standing next to the tree or hugging the tree.

You used Natural Earth Paint supplies in your recent work titled ‘Cedar Spirit’. Can you explain how it felt to paint with Natural Earth Pigments while in nature? What made you choose Natural Earth Paint for this specific piece?

It began with my daughter gifting me an old painting she was unhappy with and asked if I would like the canvas. At first, I felt reluctant to paint over it but I realized it was part of the painting's story unfolding. At this point I did not know what I was going to paint, I only knew that the elements were a big part of its story.

The next day I headed to China Beach. Along the way, a giant cedar whispered to me…I knew I had to revisit and bring along my canvas. I sat with Cedar and let her beautiful soulful energy flow through me and let my pencil dance.  Her soulful face appeared on my canvas, and from there, the strength of her body grew. Her beauty and energy attracted both young and old to her, hugging her with love and gratitude…and there was the story.

I very rarely use pencil and normally would rub it out, however on this occasion, I felt compelled to leave the raw pencil lines as part texture and the organic flow. I chose to use Natural Earth Paint for two reasons, it was going to be the “earth” element in the painting, and it feels the most natural paint to use when outdoors or anywhere for that matter. The rich earthy tones give the paintings a natural, aesthetic look.

It’s always a thrill to use Natural Earth Paint, especially outdoors. You never know quite what you will get when mixing, and that’s part of the fun. I loved how it glided so smoothly onto the canvas. Long free brush strokes, my heart singing and my spirit dancing as I painted, bird song in the background, and the wind whispering Mother Earth's song. 

Watch Marghanita's experience painting Cedar Spirit here

Is there one piece of art that you’ve created that was a profound experience or marked a turning point for you?

My Mycelium Painting was a turning point in my art style and jolted me into committing to my art as a means of helping others and healing with art. This painting was inspired having spent a beautiful morning, sitting barefoot under the canopy of an old-growth tree draped in an elegant coat of vibrant green moss. I could feel the energy rise from underneath the soil, where the mycelium lives interwoven with tree roots. How incredibly beautiful, spiritual, and healing this energy was, and painting this memory in a very different environment was very healing and brought great joy and peace.

Where can our audience see more of your work and support your causes?

My personal website is where I share my artwork and blog posting on art and nature (and van life) and there is a link to my educator site: www.marghanita.com