How the Natural World Inspires Art

Jessica Perlstein
Monday, 15th February 2016

Jessica Perlstein is the artist behind the front cover to Permaculture magazine issue 87. Here she explains how the natural world inspires her art, from herbal medicine to her trip to Peru.

Jessica Perlstein is a visual arist living in San Francisco, USA. Her love of music and nature inspires her work. We spoke to Jessica to find out more about her inspirations and the 'Fifth Sacred Thing', her artwork used on the front cover of PM87.

What is the inspiration behind your nature-influenced artwork?

I had just graduated art school and felt kind of lost and confused about the direction I was going. I was blocked creatively and searching for something. I really needed to get out of the city and travel solo.

At the time I was very interested in herbal medicine, and using plants to create a balance within myself. During school I worked at a native plant nursery, and so working with plants and nature had become an integrated part of my life. So, when I was looking into places to travel, I was very intrigued by the idea of going to the jungle, so I went to Peru.

While I was there, I stayed with a visionary artist who is also a traditional 'vegetalista', which is a native shamanic herbalist who gains his knowledge and ability to heal through the plants of the region.

These plants are considered great teachers when you work with and listen to them. The jungle itself is also considered a teacher when you immerse yourself in it.

I spent my time there working with specific plants and having a lot of time to reflect, dream and paint. The experience really opened me up to possibilities I didn't realize I could accomplish.

One of the greatest lessons I went home with was learning how to listen to my inner guidance and follow it. This one lesson led me to discover the visionary art community that has inspired my artwork to be where it is today. It gave me direction and a drive to improve my capabilities. Being involved with this community has nurtured my creativity and has expanded my ability to travel, explore and continue doing what I love.

What was the inspiration behind ‘The Fifth Sacred Thing’?

The Fifth Sacred Thing is a novel written by author and activist, Starhawk, about a future eco-utopian society based in San Francisco during a post apocalyptic military age. I created this piece as concept art of the San Francisco environment for a potential film based on the novel. Updates on the film project can be viewed at

When you create art, are you doing so to encourage others to see nature’s beauty, or is it purely for you own enjoyment?

I find that there is nothing more beautiful and inspiring then nature. There is a profound amount of learning and discovery that happens when one observes and works with the natural world, which creates a sense of awe and wonder. There is something so elegant about how nature organizes itself. So I paint what I really enjoy, such as the bright colors of a flower merging together, or the elegant folds of a petal, or the rainbow of colors shining in the reflection of the dew drops.  

When I paint, I want other people to see and experience what I see and experience. I want to invoke that same sense of awe and wonder, and also to inspire others to appreciate and respect nature more, and realize how important our symbiotic relationship with it is. So, I paint for both enjoyment and to inspire others.

And do you feel your art has a place in the world to make changes and encourage people to preserve our natural world? Is that one of the purposes of art?

I think one of the highest purposes of art is to trigger an emotional response which inspires change either within the viewer's self and psyche, or which inspires them to go out and make change in our world.

Art has a strong place as both a political and a spiritual catalyst. We perceive the world through our senses and emotions, and art is like a mirror that can reflect both our inner and outer perceptions. It has the power to tap into those places that give a person a drive and potentially even a sense of purpose. So when I paint, I aim to inspire that drive to protect and work closely with nature, because hopefully the viewer has fallen in love with it like I have. If an artist can trigger the emotion of love within their viewers, that can be a very powerful way to create a ripple effect of inspiration for potential change and the exchanging of ideas.

How do you see the future of our planet? What could / should we be doing to protect and conserve it?

I think the future of our planet could go two ways. We can continue to live as we do in waste and perceived comfort, corporate greed and planned obsolescence, extracting the rest of the finite resources we have in order to continue this global lifestyle, and see how long we last. Or, we can think in terms of renewable resources and put our effort and money into new technologies and lifestyles that regenerate rather than deplete.

We can make an effort to shift our ways to accommodate the fact that the earth is a delicate and balanced ecosystem that needs to remain in balance in order to allow life to continue. We can learn from nature itself and study the ways that life works and regenerates to keep itself going, and create our technologies based on these studies. Nature is complex and we can learn from its complexities in order to evolve towards sustainability.

We are nature and if we can understand ourselves, our collective, our environment and how it all fits together, we will naturally want to make the changes necessary to remain in balance. Ultimately I think it takes a global collective shift in the way we think and live in order to really get to where we need to be, but any kind of smaller everyday individual act can help whether it is lowering the amount of waste created, supporting companies that think sustainably, growing your own food, or donating to and/or volunteering at conservation and permaculture centers.

What does permaculture mean to you?

My understanding of permaculture is that it is a way of perceiving the world as a living entity, and choosing to live a lifestyle in favor of supporting that entity in its natural processes of sustaining itself. It is seeing the macrocosm in the microcosm. One way to look at it, is to imagine the earth as a body. We can all relate to this because we have bodies and understand that how we treat our body shapes its health. We can continue to live in ways that cause disease, or we can take care of ourselves, eat healthy, exercise and cultivate healthy relationships and goals. If you take this idea and apply it to the bigger picture of humanity as a whole, you start to see how our systems could either be a cause or a cure for physical and social disease in the collective and on the planet. I see permaculture as the preventative medicine for the planet and its inhabitants.

Further resources

To learn more about Jessica and her art, visit

For more information about the film, The Fifth Sacred Thing visit

Starhawk's sequel, City of Refuge is now available here:

The Empowerment Manual by Starhawk


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