DIY Still Life Nature Displays | Midwest Living

DIY Still Life Nature Displays

Minnesota photographer and blogger Mary Jo Hoffman created these nature designs exclusively for Midwest Living. Browse her images and get tips for making your own collections.
  • Nature's bounty

    A representative grouping of the animals, vegetables and minerals of a particular place can serve as shorthand for the place itself. "This assemblage could only have come from the Great Lakes region of the U.S.," says Mary Jo Hoffman.

    Each day on her blog Still (, Mary Jo publishes a single bold image gathered from nature. Many come from the wooded Minneapolis acre she shares with her family or from area lake trails.

    Click or tap ahead to see designs Mary Jo created just for Midwest Living, along with tip and thoughts from her about the displays.


  • Egg variations

    "Multiple variations on a single theme can sometimes be more interesting than mere variety," says Mary Jo. Here, the grouping includes chicken eggs, duck eggs, goose eggs, pheasant eggs, quail eggs, robin eggs and cardinal eggs. "The sameness enhances the differences," she says.

  • The colors of winter

    How do you evoke winter without any snow? "Show all the colors of winter that hide in plain sight," says Mary Jo. "Greens. Reds. Browns. Russets. Indigos." 

  • A touch of drama

    "Add drama by selecting one element of an arrangement that doesn’t obviously go with the rest," Mary Jo suggests. Here, a towering group of pheasant tail feathers tops a collection of winter evergreens, cones, and berries.

  • Milkweed wreath

    "Milkweed fluff is supposed to be contained inside the milkweed pod, or else scattered on the wind," says Mary Jo. "But what if it made a wreath before it set off on its long journey?"

  • Raspberry cane rows

    Raspberry canes are unruly and random—except when they encounter the mind of a former engineer turned artist.

  • Pattern play

    Dried and fresh rose petals create a windblown look. "Someone once told me that the best pattern is something carefully crafted, then jostled vigorously," says Mary Jo.

  • Leaf inspiration

    Torn leaves form a naturally red heart. "Yes, this is a heart. No, this is a scattering of leaves," observes Mary Jo. "Does it move you? Does anything else matter?"

  • The heart of things

    Smoketree leaves make an intense multi-hued circle. "The closer you get to the heart of things, the hotter and more uncomfortable you feel," says Mary Jo. "Stay there."

  • Spectrum of color

    The hues of smoketree leaves darken dramatically down the arrangement. "Gradations of color are always interesting," says Mary Jo. "Put it on a spectrum."

  • All about red

    This arrangement also emphasizes the color gradations of smoketree leaves but with a different pattern and feel than the previous two slides.

  • Grow together, go together

    If it grows together, it goes together. "These squash had just turned yellow, green, and orange, as the leaves around them were turning yellow, green, and orange," Mary Jo says. "All different species, meant to be together, because they shared the same climate and the same soil."

  • Stained-glass ferns

    These polypody ferns appear to relinquish their summer color one vein at a time. "They looked like this for several days, and then faded into the russets and browns of fall in Minnesota," Mary Jo says. "Only a daily walking habit allowed me to catch them in this short-lived stained-glass phase."

  • Unity in diversity

    "The quartz in all of these rocks unites them more than their differences divide them. I love the unity in this diversity," Mary Jo says.

  • Color drama

    Two varieties of crabapple and some buckthorn captivate with bold colors. "Color is dramatic on a dark background," says Mary Jo. "Black is also dramatic on a dark background."

  • Lighten up

    Spotted woodpecker feathers inspired this arrangement. "Order in the presence of randomness can sometimes look a little humorless," Mary Jo says. "Come on, white feathers. Lighten up."

  • The beauty of dying

    "These poplar leaves have been caught in extremis," says Mary Jo, "generously sharing with us the beauty of their dying."

    Click or tap the link below to learn more about Mary Jo's tips and techniques. 



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