13 Crafts to Do in the Open Air and Sunshine
From ice-dyeing and sun printing to marbling painting, there's more than one way to step outside and embrace creativity.
Experts tout the benefits of messy play for children, and there's something to be said for embracing that learn-by-doing mentality as adults, too. After all, arts and crafts of any discipline give us energy, make us happier, help us to relieve stress. And, if you ask us, there's no better art studio than the great outdoors.
Nature is a sensory experience, and there's no reason to go beyond your own backyard to enjoy the sights, sounds, and inspiration that the outdoors have to offer. An afternoon of sunlight will turn the silhouette of leaves, flowers, and botanical objets d'art into frame-worthy prints. A walk in the woods leads to natural dye colors concocted from wild plants picked along the way. A scenic view of the landscape might just inspire your next watercolor painting. Sculpting with terra-cotta clay and small-scale gardening (like kokedama) give a textural feel of the earth. And there's been a sea of change in decorating and crafting with shells and beach finds: Gone are the souvenir-shop bric-a-brac, and in their place are simple, sophisticated pieces. And because all of these projects are foraged from natural materials, they are, in turn, more eco-friendly. Have the kids join in on your summer crafts. They make for beautiful home décor and handmade gifts, and could even be the start of a hobby-turned-business if you have an entrepreneurial spirit.
However you choose to spend your summer, try one of our ideas and head outside into the fresh air. You may be surprised by the surge of creativity that results in your own project.
Surrounded by natural beauty, you can wander the lush woods and rocky beaches in search of little treasures—feathers, pinecones, ribbons of kelp—for making sun prints, a favorite activity. On a sunny day, place your collectibles on a sheet of light-sensitive paper and watch as the light captures their silhouettes—almost like magic. This technique works on fabric, too—try making a pair of pillows for your outdoor lounge area.
Ta-ta for now, tie-dye! Splatter painting is a fun and even easier way to jazz up plain table linens (T-shirts and sneakers, too). All you need is a squeeze bottle, paint, and fabric medium (to thin the contents a bit). Shake it up, then drip, drip, drip, and dry.
If you have an artist's hand, try a paint-by-the-numbers approach. First, trace the outline of your foraged objects—leaves and flowers—in pencil, then fill in the lines with watercolors. The outdoors are a great place to set up your canvas for natural light (as well as clean up any accidental spills).
Vegetables, plants, and fruit all combine to create a brilliant rainbow of dye colors. As textile artist Kiva Motnyk demonstrated, natural dyes are a craft made for the outdoors. If you enjoy the technique enough, consider growing a dye garden. Or, opt for the store bought variety—and experiment with traditional tie-dye, Japanese shibori patterns, or dip-dyeing to an ombré effect. Whether you use homegrown produce or a bottle of Rit dye—roll up your sleeves, and transform anything that needs a pop of color.
This freestyle technique is painterly and colorful—and with no exactness of hand, it's easy for anyone. Simply prepare a tray of liquid, pour the paint mixture into water, and use a wooden stirrer to translate swirls of color to a piece of paper or fabric. We've done this on everything from home décor to stationery.
Booking time at the art studio can be costly. Instead, head outdoors with easy-to-use air dry terra-cotta clay and use your hands to mold one-of-a-kind "pottery"—sun-kissed tableware, pots and planters, bud vases, jewelry stands, and candle holders.
If your outdoor view overlooks the ocean—lucky you—take a stroll on the beach for tumbled sea glass. These smooth broken bits capture a frosted oceanic look—and can be made into jewelry, stepping stones for the garden, or artwork. The one-of-a-kind pieces also lend themselves beautifully to mosaics, such as this bathroom tray.
Kokedama is a Japanese gardening technique that involves wrapping a plant in moss instead of placing it in a pot. The effect? An almost otherworldly elegance. See our tutorial for examples of the best varieties to use, then follow a few easy steps to make your own.
Rock Art Crafting
Kids can even get in on this project. Collect rocks, stones, pebbles in all shapes and sizes—then see what you can make from the assembly. Pictured here, river rocks are decoupaged with family photos (on inkjet-printer-friendly rice paper) to make sweet mementos.
Make lasting memories of summer with shells and coral on wooden pedestals. Sea fans, organisms similar to coral, make for gracefully graphic displays. Glue them and other interesting shells to repurposed pedestals, such as the wooden egg under the sand dollar or the stack of toy wheels holding the corkscrew shell. A basic craft block or ball also does the job nicely. Thanks to watered-down paint, the bases look like weathered driftwood.
Constructing something from wood with your two hands is only limited to the size of your lumber and the scope of your vision. To cut, sand, stain, or screw hardware into a plank of wood—such as this ingenious bathtub tray—take the project outside. It's safer, especially when the air fills with sawdust.
Kitchen tools, berry baskets, carved-out potatoes—these everyday objects can be used to make graphic fabrics and papers in one-of-a-kind prints. The process is easy enough for a summer afternoon, and it requires very few supplies beyond the stuff you already have on hand.
As with any painting project, you'll need to work in a well-ventilated spot. Outside, especially on a pleasant day, is best. Spritz a new color onto home décor, furnishings, stationery, or the potted plant gift bags pictured here. A pro tip: Try to work out of direct sunlight and wait for a day that isn't too windy to prevent dirt and debris from blowing onto the coat as it dries.