For Paint Brushes And Pigments, One Montpelier Artist Forages In The Woods

Jan 29, 2015

Instead of heading to the art supplies store for materials, Montpelier artist Nick Neddo takes to the woods and forages for feathers, sticks and rocks to make his own.

The materials Neddo forages for in the woods eventually become drawings, paintings and sculptures. “I think I’m a sucker for the scavenger hunt and that mentality,” Neddo says. “I want to start from scratch and I want to go out and learn how to find and make the materials I want to use.”

This piece, titled "Bear and Hummingbird," is ink wash with wild-crafted black walnut ink and bear fur paint brush.
Credit Nick Neddo

Neddo's love of exploring started at an early age in rural Vermont. “My toys were sticks, stones, bones, leaves and things outside. My adventures were in the forests, fields and wetlands, and I remember making little treasure maps as my range expanded with my exploration over the years,” reflects Neddo. He says that making art supplies from the landscape comes from his profession as a wilderness skills instructor, teaching things like primitive technology and survival skills. “It’s my love and respect for the living world and combining that with another lifelong passion of mine, which is making drawings, paintings and sculpture,” he says.

So what does a typical day of foraging for art materials look like? If Neddo wants to make quill pen from a turkey feather, he starts in a place where he’s seen wild turkeys in the landscape. “Or [I] may find a kill site where a predator has made a meal out of a turkey and offered a potential foraging artist a whole plethora of quill pens to work with,” says Neddo. He explains that often it’s really about holding the thing he wants to make passively in his mind as he walks through the woods.

Neddo says that if he wants to make a quill pen from a turkey feather, he starts in a place where he's seen wild turkeys in the landscape.
Credit Nick Neddo

Neddo’s studio is filled with paint brushes made from various animal furs and plant fibers, pens made from reed, bamboo and feathers, crayons made from beeswax, hand-made paper and jars of crushed stones that are pigments. “My studio is kind of a cross between a museum, a storage area and a traditional artist studio,” Neddo says.

This piece, "Sit Spot," is stenciled sugar maple leaves with wild-crafted turkey quill pen and black walnut ink.
Credit Nick Neddo

When he’s not working on his own art, Neddo teaches others to forage for art supplies in the woods. He says, “I devised a summer camp for teenagers. The whole premise of that week in the woods was making and using your own art supplies.”

While traveling, Neddo is constantly on the hunt for unique treasures to turn into art supplies. He explains that there are different natural color spectrums everywhere. “The whole world to me is a playground. Anywhere I can go where I can have some type of interaction with nature is pretty entertaining for me,” Neddo says.  

Neddo's exhibit, Digging For Roots, is currently up through Feb. 26 at the Vermont Art Council’s Spotlight Gallery in Montpelier. He recently published a book, The Organic Artist, and will be part of the Montpelier Art Walk on Friday, Feb. 6, at Bear Pond Books.