Richard Shilling on Land Art for Kids

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Land Art for Kids with Leaves and Other Nature Items

Richard Shilling is a land artist based in Northern England who encourages children to get outside to see and create art in nature. He recently published the first of a series of Land Art for Kids books in partnership with Julia Brooklyn.

Join me in learning more about Richard, his art, and his vision for children.

Land Art for Kids


JEAN:  Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you get involved with land art?

RICHARD:  I am a bit of an accidental artist. One day a few years ago I was walking in a wild place near to where I live and discovered an Andy Goldsworthy sculpture in the middle of nowhere. I had no idea what it was, why it was there and what its purpose was and I was really intrigued. I asked around and I was told it was probably made by Andy Goldsworthy. I didn’t
know who he was and so I did some research. I was absolutely amazed at his work! I had heard of land art before and had done a little at school but not for many years. Some part of me was so inspired that I went out one day and started to make my own and it all led from there.

As I explored the world brought to me by Goldsworthy I found it took me over in a completely unexpected way until it became my driving passion and my solace. It has provided me with such a great deal of insight, fun, inspiration and a deep connection to myself and to nature that I now feel driven to try and introduce everyone I can to land art so they can experience those joys just as I have.


JEAN:  Can you talk about the ephemeral nature of land art—how does it influence how you view your art?

RICHARD:  The ephemeral nature of land art really appeals to me. There is a point a sculpture reaches where it is at its most vibrant and it is then that I take the pictures and it is often just before it completely falls apart. There is a tension and vividness revealed through their delicateness. The process is a parallel of life.


Life creates order and beauty from raw materials and then nature returns everything back to dust once again. Just as I seek to learn about natural places, natural materials I also want to learn about the cycles and processes too and the ephemeral nature of land art helps me do that through learning how things degrade and change.

JEAN:  What are you thinking when you’re creating a piece of land art? Can you tell us briefly what the process is for you? And the goal?

RICHARD:  The process involves just wandering somewhere without any pre-conceived ideas. I will see a shapely rock or a beautiful leaf and it will inspire me to make something with it. This is no different from anyone who knows and loves nature.


I am sure many of us share the joy of seeing wonderful colours of Autumn or the light glinting on a stream and feel driven to point it out to the people we are with.  It is this part that is the
most important. The being there, the feeling, the seeing of nature with open eyes and heart. The making of a sculpture just allows you to immerse yourself even deeper in those things. The goal of all my land art is to open my eyes more fully to what is there by setting myself the challenge of creating something from the materials that I find in a particular place. By going through that process I am always amazed at what more I find and see that was hidden from me when I arrived there.

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JEAN:  What is the difference between children’s land art and adult’s land art? Why do you believe it’s important for kids?

RICHARD:  I don’t think there is any difference. As a child I used to run and play in the woods and fields, jump streams and collect tadpoles in a jar and chase butterflies. My land art is the same. Land art for me begins with seeing the world and nature through child’s eyes, I am grateful that it is something I have never lost. Making natural sculptures allows me to indulge a little longer in that child’s world. Whether you are proficient or just dabbling, an adult or a child, making a sculpture or just kicking through fallen leaves, it is all the same to me. It’s all about being outside experiencing all nature has to offer.


JEAN: What made you and Julia write Land Art for Kids – On the Beach and start this project? What is your overall vision for this project?

RICHARD: When I was a kid we all went out and about exploring places, making dens and generally getting up to mischief. These days there is a growing tendency for kids to sit in front of the TV or computer or for parents to fear for their safety and prevent them from getting outside in all weathers and enjoying healthy, natural activity. I believe that both the physical and mental health of this generation are suffering.


Using land art as a way to get kids out in the fresh air exercising, learning about nature, being creative and having fun can bring so many benefits. Fitness both physical and mental, appreciation of the natural world and so on. Our vision is to do our little bit to encourage everyone we can to get outside enjoying themselves through land art.

JEAN:  What tips do you have for parents who would like to introduce this concept to their children and encourage the creation of land art?

RICHARD:  As I said, land art is just an extension of natural outdoor play. My advice would be just to open your eyes when out and about and see what you find. Take a closer look at leaves and pebbles and all the interesting things you might find, inspect their colours and shapes and let those things inspire you to make something. That is exactly how I go about things.


To give you an example:

If I go to to the beach I’ll sit down and look at the pebbles. After a while I might see some pretty red stones, or blue or purple and then I will collect some and make a pattern with them. It’s all about this:

1) Go somewhere and open your eyes
2) Look at what is there and see the colours and shapes and forms
3) Select some materials that appeal to you because of their shape or colour or whatever else
4) Collect as many as you can
5) Make a pattern, swirl, circle, spiral or anything you like with what you have found

This is exactly what a great many of us do naturally, kids and adults alike, and by behaving in this way you get a better connection with nature, more appreciation of the natural world, calmness from the connection, fun, creativity and play too! What’s not to like!



It doesn’t really matter what you create or do, the important part is just getting out there and looking and appreciating what you find. If a ‘how to’ says collect red leaves and there aren’t any then use something else. It’s about feeling the place YOU are in and peeling back the layers of that place, to appreciate it more deeply. That look a child gets in their eyes when they find a crab under a rock – that is what it is all about! If a leaf inspires you to make something then great, but if not, no matter. It is the opening of your eyes, ears and heart, the exploring that is important. But by making land art you get that immersion into the environment for free and all the advantages that go with it.


JEAN: What’s a simple land art project we could all do with our children today in our backyard or neighborhood park?

RICHARD:  Collect 10 (or more) different leaves

1) Explore wherever you are and collect one leaf from each different plant you can find (beware of poison ivy!)
2) Examine each leaf and see the different colours, thicknesses, vein structures and so on
3) Lay your leaves out on the ground or thread them onto sticks to display them

JEAN:  I’d love to hear your thoughts on the importance of documenting your land art through photography. And, do you encourage children to photograph their land art?

  Photography to me is very important and my photographic ability has developed hand in hand with my natural art abilities. The sculptures are captured in a photograph at their
most vital moment. For the most ephemeral works no-one would ever see the results without photography and light is an important element of my artwork.



The last thing I made is a good example, on the day I made it the light wasn’t right for the concept but the day after it was perfect. Even if someone finds a sculpture they wouldn’t necessarily see it as it was intended as the light may have changed or they might be looking from the wrong angle. I try and bring all the elements together – materials, colour, light, time of day etc – and the only way to do that and show people is either for them to be standing behind me or to capture each sculpture in a photo or on film.


An analogy I use for making ephemeral art is it is like paddling a raft down a ravine. As you travel further the river gets thinner and more turbulent and the walls of the ravine close in until there is no way to turn back. Making very fragile sculptures feels the same. Some of them are very fragile and fall apart quite easily and the photo traps it in time.. I find that once a sculpture reaches a certain point I am desperately trying to finish it and hold it together long enough to get the picture whilst the wind and elements are trying to destroy it.


So that vital moment that I try to photo is just that, the culmination of all the work and also the conditions, quality of light and so on. It is more than just a picture of what I have made. I think there are many parallels with life in this approach. Throughout nature order is brought from chaos and then returned back to chaos. Ephemeral art mimics that quite distinctly and reveals to you lots about how things grow and subsequently decay.

Land Art for Kids with Leaves and Other Nature Items

As for kids photographing what they have made then definitely! For all the same reasons I have waffled about above but also for sharing. The other aspect of what I do is share it on Flickr and my blog the same day that I make something. I do that almost without fail. So my process is – go somewhere, explore, get inspired, make something, photograph it at just the right time so that more is brought into the photo and then share my experience (both the photo and the story of what happened) straight away on the internet. I think sharing is very important and would be very pleased if anyone wants to show me what they have made. I have Flickr groups set up for this purpose.


JEAN:  What’s next? Is there another children’s book in the works yet?

RICHARD:  Yes there is. Next we are working on Land Art for Kids – In the Woods and that will be available in the next couple of months, then following that up with ‘Park and Garden‘ and ‘City and Schoolyard‘. Land art can be done absolutely anywhere however urban the place you live. Plants are everywhere and it can be even more fascinating discovering plants that grow in unexpected places amongst the concrete of the inner city.

Land Art with Leaves

JEAN:  Anything else you’d like to add?

RICHARD:  All that I have said above (and more) is on Explanations of the how, why, where and what and dozens of easy how to’s. This and all the the land art we do is done in our spare time so we are trying our best to add more all the while. But if anyone has any suggestions or feedback or would just like to tell us about the fun you have had then we would love to hear about it!

And thanks to Jean for hosting this interview. We are much obliged!

JEAN: Thank you, Richard! I love the combination of art and nature—what wonderful work you do! And I think it’s fantastic that you are sharing your ideas with children.

To order the book, Land Art for Kids—On the Beach, click here.

Land Art for Kids Giveaway


Readers who leave a comment by Friday, January 15th at 12
Midnight EST will be entered into a random drawing for a copy of Land Art for Kids – On the Beach.

Giveaway now closed.

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Land Art for Kids using Nature Items

Richard Shilling on Creating Land Art

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  1. Anne Thrall-Nash says

    Such a great interview. It is so inspiring to watch my son interact with the natural world and make things and I look forward to getting all these books to give us some more ideas.

  2. Heather says

    Great inspiration! It is amazing how one can take things we consider to be very common (like leaves, pebbles, etc.) and create something extraordinary. I love this concept.

  3. says

    This is great… I have never seen anything like it. It would be so neat to just come upon one of his works.
    I can’t wait to try this with my daughter.

  4. Sandi says

    My 3 year old daughter and I looked at the wonderful photos above together. It inspired so much conversation and so much more. Thank you Jean and Richard.

  5. Andrea says

    Beautiful images and creations. My one year old loves handling & holding leaves & dirt & stones… I look forward to the time when we can arrange them together.
    Thank you for sharing,

  6. Kate says

    I’m not naturally artistic or creative, so I have trouble inspiring my kids in these directions. However, I don’t want to hold them back and LOVE ideas like this! Thanks for the inspiration — for me and for them!!

  7. says

    Love this idea and the inspiration we all can take from getting outdoors and working with nature to make art. Since we are close to the beach this book will come in handy in the summer.

  8. says

    I recently discovered for kids and I’m hooked. LandArt is great for families on so many levels.
    Thanks for the giveaway!

  9. Leah says

    What great ideas! We really are only limited by imagination, aren’t we? Thanks for the interview.

  10. Kathie E says

    Wow, amazing sculptures. Thanks for bringing this to my awareness. Now I have an idea of what to do with all the leaves & bits of nature the children pick up.

  11. Monique says

    Wow, that is so cool, and the photos are amazing. I can’t wait to try out some of these ideas.

  12. Jenn W says

    beautiful art and what a fun sounding book. my kids are such collectors and this would be a fun new dimension to add to their experiences of the outdoors…btw, I love your blog and have been reading it for quite some time :)

  13. Maureen says

    Wow – so pretty – it is calming just looking at his pictures. Thanks, Maureen (jnomaxx at hotmail dot com)

  14. Nancy says

  15. Hannah Cousino says

    I had never even thought of land art…it looks like so much fun, for me and my kids. Thanks!

  16. says

    The photos are so inspiring. Makes me want to go outside right now, despite the cold! And I loved “hearing” his british accent as I read the interview! :)

  17. Mary Michaud says

    Would love to see this incorporated into elementary school art programs. Integrated curricula for art, science, and environment are sorely needed.
    Mary Michaud
    Madison, WI

  18. says

    I ran across the idea of land art a few weeks ago and was so inspired. I am excited for spring to arrive so I can take my girls out for some land art creation!

  19. Cara says

    I saw Richard Shilling mentioned on your blog before and was inspired to check out his website–amazing work! Would love to learn more via his book!

  20. Tamrah T. says

    OOOHHHH…AHHHH… I am so drawn to this book already!! Would love a chance to win it!Thanks for sharing it’s beauty.

  21. Barbara says

    I was living in a mountain town before it was destroyed by a earthquake last 6th april. Now I am living in a town by the sea with my two children. This book could provide so much inpiration to be creative, enjoy the outdoors and overcome our sorrow.

  22. Barbara says

    I am always looking for ways to use what I have around the house and yard to create wonderful projects with my son. Thank you for your simple, beautful ideas. What a wonderful way to create!

  23. Kandyce says

    I love, love, love this! My kids and I are big Goldsworthy fans. This is right up our alley! Thanks Jean for another great interview.

  24. Alea says

    Beautiful pictures! We’d love to have the beach book – and I might just buy his “in the woods” since that’s more suited to where we live!

  25. Rachel says

    I love the beauty of coming across such short lived and natural pieces of art as a viewer. Such delightful surprises. I’d love to share this with my child.

  26. [email protected] says

    My son’s school always incorporates art & nature in the class…..I shared your wonderful interview with my son’s teacher today, she said, she is taking out a whole load of rocks she has tucked away…..I love to see everyones creative juices flowing.
    Thanks again for ALWAYS reminding me to keep art, nature and process in my life as well as my sons.

  27. says

    Love all of these images, they are so beautiful. It reminds me of trips to Lake Superior — no phone, TV, etc — just a beach full of rocks. Thanks, as always, for a great interview.

  28. Michele M says

    Thanks for the interview and for covering this book! Very interesting… Can’t wait to check it out.

  29. says

    Thank you for the great interview. This is such a beautiful and inspiring book! I love the idea of art projects with objects from nature and found objects. It seems like a great idea if your child don’t like getting messy with paint or clay.

  30. [email protected] says

    Wow, cool! (In the words of my almost 2 year old!) That’s just about all I can say. Makes me want to head out and get creating and photographing right now…I can’t wait to share it with my kids. Land art…my newest creative outlet?

  31. says

    Thanks so much for posting this interview! The idea is inspiring and the art stunning. I am looking forward to seeing the kids’ books you mentioned–can’t wait till they’re all available!

  32. Barbara Zaborowski says

    Lovely, absolutely lovely. I especially liked the reference to Andy Goldsworthy, so that my students will understand how one artist can inspire another.

  33. Blanca says

    I am very inspired to challenge my children to make such wonderful art! As well, the photography of the art makes it a lasting memory.

  34. Agnes says

    Thank you for introducing us to this book. My 4 yo son made rock sculptures with my MIL last summer; I think he would be very interested in this book!

  35. Maria says

    Oh, I love this! I’m definitely going to be using that website as a resource in all seasons – thank you!

  36. Natasha says

    As I read this post, my 3 year old son’s attention was caught by these stunning images. As a child who adores both art and nature, he was mesmerized. We are both very inspired, thank you Richard and Jean for this!

  37. says

    Lovely post, inspirational.
    We like to do a little landscape art when at the beach and in the forests, connecting with nature.
    Thank you for the opportunity.

  38. Corinne says

    Some really great stuff!!! Unlike anything I have seen before. I love that this is geared for kids. It’s perfect for our nature studies. I’m gonna have to buy his book if I don’t win the raffle. Thanks for the chance!

  39. Chandra says

    I thought this was an interesting idea. I love to be outside, but never really thought to leave art out there- usually I just bring it in and craft with it there!

  40. Carolina says

    Oooh, I am such a fan of Richard Shilling’s work. I had no idea that he had a book coming out for children. My girls and I would love a copy!

  41. says

    Breathless… I can’t wait until tomorrow to show this to the kids and teachers in our child care center. We spend a lot of time outside in the natural world, and we love constructing forts and fairy rings – but this I think will inspire us for months and years to come. Thank you, thank you…

  42. [email protected] says

    inspiring like your blog all the time
    Thank you for sharing

  43. Rebecca says

    Great interview, and his photographs are wonderful. Will look at the outdoor creations made by my little boys quite differently now!

  44. Lindsay R says

    just landed here tonight, and OH MY GOODNESS!!! how did i not know of your blog?!?!? you’re going on my bookmark toolbar, girl!

  45. Samantha says

    This is fantastic! As a mom of three kids who essentially live on the beach all summer I am very excited about this book. Just what I needed to see on this dreary grey day.

  46. Amy says

    I love the idea of getting children out in nature to explore and then to encourage them to create in that environment is even better! Natural elements lead to such beautiful and expressive art! It’s like saying thank you to Mother Nature!

  47. Amy says

    I’ve sat on a beach and tried to do a Goldsworthy-type sculpture and I can testify that it is harder than it looks. I would love to see how Shilling gives kids the tools to start thinking about natural, ephemeral art.

  48. michaela says

    This work is amazing, and I’ve love to share it with my daughter and her preschool classmates.

  49. Sue says

    As soon as I saw the first picture I
    immediately thought of Andy Goldsworthy…
    Love land art. For those of you that live
    in NY, Storm King is an amazing place to
    take your kids to roam among outdoor
    sculpture and some land art. Thanks to
    Richard for sharing his beautiful work!

  50. tina says

    thanks for sharing!!! My kids love art and nature, and what a great idea to make art in unexpected places!

  51. char says

    Wow! Thank you for sharing such an intriguing book, and then an interview, and then a give away!!! I’m looking forward to the woods book, too…

  52. Lindsey says

    How wonderful! Thanks for sharing and for the chance to win. I LOVE doing art with my little ones in a natural setting. What great inspiration!

  53. says

    Totally inspirational post– the photos are amazing, and the projects he shows/talks about are all so different! Thanks for this out-of-the-box interview. =)

  54. sara says

    If I don’t win a copy, I’ll definitely purchase this book! Thank you for the great article and amazing photos!

  55. says

    Thanks for sharing Richard with us here, Jean! We love making “land art” and now we have another awesome example. Thank you! thank you! thank you! As you know, we are moving to beach territory this month and would LOVE to get our hands on a copy of his book. Off to read his blog…
    Thanks again!

  56. miriam sappington says

    Thank you for this wonderful giveaway! The photographs in the post were BEAUTIFUL. I feel inspired to take my 2 and 4 yrs olds outside right now to go create!

  57. says

    One of the things that I appreciate most when outside (with or without my kids) are the terrific colors and textures in nature. I’ve encouraged my children to make impromptu designs with the leaves and rocks we find, but it never occurred to me that “land art” was a term and that others like Goldsworthy would create sculptures for others to encounter. I love the concept and am eager to learn more.

  58. says

    One of the things that I appreciate most when outside (with or without my kids) are the terrific colors and textures in nature. I’ve encouraged my children to make impromptu designs with the leaves and rocks we find, but it never occurred to me that “land art” was a term and that others like Goldsworthy would create sculptures for others to encounter. I love the concept and am eager to learn more.

  59. says

    i’m late, i know, but i have to say Thank You for posting this! i just LOVE it — so inspiring, beautiful, and fun :)

  60. [email protected] says

    Wow!Just breathtaking. Thank you for inspiring me to create land art with my kids and students too!

  61. says

    Richard is one of my favorite artists! I’ve been following his work on Flickr and his blog for years. He’s so inspiring, and our family has done some land art, thanks to him. I’d love to win this. I wish him all the best!

  62. Catherine C. says

    Reading Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. So fascinated at this new way of bringing kids into contact with nature. Thanks!

  63. says

    Found this entry via Pinterest and shared it on my Nature Crafts board. So many wonderful ideas collected together!
    I will linking to this blog entry in the near future as part of my fall tree entry…my readers will love your projects and the interview!