‘I console myself by reconsidering the sunflowers’
Vincent van Gogh, Letter #665
This morning, I unexpectedly found myself with some time to spare, so I spent it drawing a dead bumblebee. The bee had been given to me by my husband, who found it on the road. (Like many insect casualties, it had probably been hit by a car.)
There might have been many more productive ways of spending my time – cleaning the oven (though why start now?), deleting old emails, etc. – but there’s a lot to be said for just spending time looking and drawing; it wakes up the eyes. And the longer I looked at the buff-tailed bumblebee and tried (and failed) to draw it, the more outlandish and wonderful it seemed, from the furry joints of its segmented legs to the brownish sheen of its overlapping wings.
I found myself thinking of Vincent van Gogh’s drawings and how he often pays the same attention to the minutiae of nature – the structure of a bird’s nest, the fold of a moth’s wings – as he does to the countryside’s grandeur. I recently had the good fortune to compile a selection of quotations from Vincent’s letters, paired with many lesser-known sketches and paintings, in a book called The Healing Power of Nature, which is published by September Publishing in collaboration with the Van Gogh Museum. The Van Gogh Museum is committed to preserving the artist’s legacy for future generations, and holds an incredible archive of his work.
As Vincent van Gogh’s letters and sketchbooks illustrate through their emphasis on the importance of nature, his work speaks as urgently to us today as it has ever done. He shows us how, through connecting with the natural world, we can come home to ourselves and begin to find peace.
Certainly, after an hour or so spent simply sitting, looking and drawing, I felt calmer and more focused. I also felt interested in learning more about our bumblebees. When you do give yourself the gift of looking, it becomes hard not to care.
‘If one truly loves nature, one finds beauty everywhere’
Vincent van Gogh, Letter #22