Loose Parts and Transient Storytelling

Early Childhood Outdoors is keen to share resources that support the mission of “more children thriving outdoors, more often and for longer, benefiting from richer and more meaningful environments offering authentic, rewarding and satisfying experiences”.   We are especially enthusiastic when we can share and promote new materials produced by those who are part of the growing ECO meshwork community.

When a copy of The Visitors, artist and illustrator Clare Thompson’s new wordless picture book, arrived in my post I was immediately entranced – this was my response:

“This is the world my daughter lived in as a child.  Every page speaks straight from the world of childhood: detail and beauty, fantasy and imagination, feelings and care.  This lovely book should become a classic in the wordless picture book genre, and the play that it is sure to motivate will provide a beautiful means of forging a deep connection with the natural world.”

In this week’s blog post, Clare Thompson of Naturally Creative generously shares with us the creative process she employs in working with natural and man-made loose parts, through an open and emergent ‘conversation’ – thanks Clare.

The Making of Junk DNA and The Visitors – Loose Parts and Transient Storytelling

by Clare Thompson

“In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it” – Simon Nicholson, 1971

I work as an Illustrator, Independent Publisher and Product Creator for Naturally Creative Early Years Consultancy, which I run collaboratively with my Mum, Ann Thompson who is an Early Years Consultant and Teacher. I also have a background working within Early Years and we specialise in the development and promotion of outdoor and creative play opportunities.

I started independent publishing label C.P. Thompson Press in 2017 as an outlet for my illustrated book projects. I have always had a fascination with storytelling and wanted to explore the medium of sequential art in a way that would allow me freedom to experiment and find ways to create books that could be thought provoking and different both in their method of creation and the messages they convey.

When developing rough drawings for artwork and illustrations, I often play with arrangements of loose parts and small objects in order to find ideas for compositions and to help me think imaginatively. I find that I can get inspiration for images and stories by allowing myself to experiment with things in the moment that are open-ended, easily changed and moved around. Having also spent long periods of time observing and partnering children in their play, I realised that this natural approach to composition building and story creation is more than just my individual preference; it is innate to all of us from an early age and if facilitated and explored, can unlock untold potential for play and creative development.

I am visually drawn to curious objects with age and authenticity and also to the beauty and variety of loose parts found in nature. My first wordless picturebook, Junk DNA arose from wondering if it was possible to tell a coherent story purely through arranging objects. Junk DNA is a 32 page wordless story. I created it by arranging recycled loose parts including nuts, bolts, old scrap metal items, keys, spanners, spark plugs, light bulbs, watch parts and torn paper. I made the book in this way in order to show how loose parts can be used to great effect in storytelling and how simple techniques can carry complex messages with a little imagination.

The images tell the story of a pile of junk. A few pieces fall from the pile and land in just the right place to create a being; a conscious being with the potential for love, creativity, greed and deception. The wordless nature of the book means that the story is completely open to interpretation by the reader, who can apply meaning based on their own experiences and developmental level. The method used to create the book also means it is a great provocation for loose parts play and since its publication in 2019, the book has inspired many tinkering and transient art sessions!

The storyline of Junk DNA was created through the experimental process of creative play. I started by making and photographing a small number of separate scenes and then wondered how they could link together. The narrative became, in the end, quite complex and ambitious as ideas and layers of meaning were built on top of each other, not always in a linear way as I would go back and add in or replace scenes to improve the flow of the story. The end product is a multi-layered narrative that can be explored by anyone of any age.

I have recently published my second wordless picturebook titled “The Visitors”. Also made by arranging materials, The Visitors seeks to highlight the beauty, intricacy and diversity of just a tiny fraction of the loose parts the natural world has to offer. This time, the narrative takes a slower pace, with each image given a whole page to allow it to be studied and slowly reflected upon. I intended each page of The Visitors to be an “ode to natural materials” and an inspiration for transient art, storytelling and creative play in nature. The story is again open-ended but can be read as a simple metaphor for the value of kindness and care. A creature lying alone in a dark underground cave is revitalised through the attention bestowed upon them by the visitors, fairy-like beings with dried magnolia petal wings and a penchant for collecting wild flowers.

The method used to create the scenes in The Visitors was identical to the process of making transient art now practiced in many early years settings. I began by gathering a large collection of natural materials from beaches, woodlands and my garden. (Remember, the more variables, the greater the opportunities for creativity). I then laid the natural materials out next to each other so I could see all of their varied and unique sizes, shapes, colours, textures and patterns. I placed a wooden picture frame on the table to demarcate an area for my scenes to take place. Then I began to arrange the objects. I had no idea where the story would lead at this point and just let the materials guide me, allowing their individual shapes and properties to suggest to me what they could represent, and the story evolved from there. Just as children trust that play will happen when they go outside; that stories will be told, questions will be asked and time will be well spent, if we give ourselves time, space and materials, our minds will take us on a journey too.

The Visitors, Junk DNA and other Naturally Creative books and resources are available here in our etsy shop

and you can find out more about Naturally Creative Early Years Consultancy here

Or follow us on social media:


Instagram: @naturallycreativeearlyyears

And you can find out about my creative projects and artwork here






4 thoughts on “Loose Parts and Transient Storytelling”

  1. Beautiful and inspiring work! I just love Clare’s ability to see such possibility in all items. Im already looking at everyday objects around me differently. We can unlock this creativity in children.
    Thank you Clare Thompson
    I just ordered 2 books!

  2. I have the Visitors book as well for my staff to use in their classrooms with the children at my child care center. I also got one for my youngest grandchildren. I love all the creativity that is stemmed from it from the children as well as my staff. The giggles I hear from it from videos of my 4 year old granddaughter from my daughter is the best. “This is is you Mimi and this one is me. We’re going down this path to look for the fairy princess”
    I adore Claire’s work and the work her and her mother Ann put into providing beautiful resources for early childhood educators as well as families around the world. Thank you for sharing their work o n your posts.

  3. These are truely amazing books as they develop children’s imagination. They use natural resources to create educational learning .They have used the loose parts theory which Just wonderful and beautiful.

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