Old Year, New Year, Review and Reflections: 2016 and 2017

Last year I wrote an end of year post summarizing many of the projects that I worked on, I want to do something similar again because I haven’t been diligent about documenting my work online. In 2016 I got to try some new things (like illustrating a coloring book and teaching in Savoonga) and I’m excited to share that with you. I also have some ideas for this year that I’m excited to talk about.

Illustration Projects

Since most of last year I was still busy working with the Wrangell Mountains Center I had to orchestrate my time to fit in a few illustration projects on weekends. It was fun and worth it, but now I am happy to be able to take more weekends off and have more flexibility to focus on this kind of work. One project I worked on was illustrating a series of maps for the McCarthy-Kennecott Visitors Guide for Overstory Consulting. I always love drawing maps and it was fun to work in vector format in Illustrator. You can download a copy of the 2016 visitors guide here. A new version will be coming out in the spring 2017.

Two maps from the McCarthy-Kennecott Visitors Guide

I also worked on an adult coloring book for Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. Each of six spreads addresses a theme that is important to the land, like bear ecology, geology, wilderness, or subsistence fishing. I enjoyed this project more than I thought I would, and am thinking about making more coloring books in my future. 

Two spreads from the Lake Clark adult coloring book

I started something else I haven’t done before; illustrating a children’s book. I’m working with a talented group of people to make a pop up book about the arctic. Others are working on the story and the pop ups, so I am just focusing on the illustration, and it is fun to be a part of team. The main character is an arctic fox and the story follows her adventures as she searches for a meal. I wasn’t sure how much I’d like doing character development or drawing the same animal again and again, but it turns out that I like it. I like drawing animals and arctic landscapes, so it has been fun. I’m excited to see how it develops.

Some preliminary sketches for a children's book about an arctic fox

A local bodywork business asked me to work on a mural of a crooked Alaskan spruce tree for their space. They ended up moving across the hall so I got to paint it twice, in two different colors. As when I completed a series of tile murals for a public art project in 2015, it is fun to work with an interior space. Like that project, this one also incorporated a corner.

Murals of Alaskan Black Spruce Trees

As you can maybe tell from my enthusiasm above, I enjoy doing illustration and commissioned work. I’m hoping to do more of this work in the coming years now that I can devote more time to it. I’d also love to do a commission for you! Do you have a photograph of a favorite place? A plant or animal that is meaningful to you or someone that you love? I’d love to talk with you about commissioning an original piece of art to put on your wall or to give as a gift.

Two recent commissions - Nudibranchs of Alaska (left) and a wedding invitation featuring Alaskan wildflowers (right)


More Teaching

Last year I participated in two Artists in Schools Residencies. This program, run by the Alaska State Council on the Arts, brings qualified artists into Alaska’s public schools for two weeks.

In February I went to Kenny Lake, which is a small community in the Copper River Basin. The Kenny Lake School is actually the closest public school to where I live in McCarthy. The school is relatively small and I worked with three combined classes every day (K-2, 3-5, and 6-8). I didn’t realize how unique it is to get to work with every student every day for two weeks, but it was pretty cool for me, and I think they liked it as well. We worked on observational drawing, watercolor painting, and field sketching (yes in February!). Our final project was to put together a magazine on winter ecology, largely based on our observations from the residency.

Kenny Lake Photos: Sketching outside in February. Three spreads from the magazine we created during the residency (click on the pictures to see a larger version).


In May I traveled all the way out to Savoonga, a Siberian Yupik village, on St. Lawrence Island. This was a completely different place than I have ever been to, and I feel very lucky to have gotten to go there. The community and the place are really special. Someone told me that the island is shaped like it was squeezed by the hand of god, and that is kind of how it feels being out in the middle of the Bering Sea. Some days in the fog I couldn’t tell where the land, the sky, and the sea separated. Art is really important in Savoonga since people can make a respectable living as artists, especially making ivory carvings. The students are very talented at drawing their local wildlife. While I was there we worked a lot on drawing from observation and how a science illustrator might approach a subject. We also experimented with lots of different media including charcoal, oil pastel, watercolor, and collage. At the end of the residency we put on an art show to display the work.

Savoonga Photos: The school building on a cloudy day. A variety of student work created during the residency.


I wouldn’t want to teach all the time because it takes a lot of energy, and I take my hat off to all the full-time teachers I have worked with and who educated me. I do really enjoy it when I get in the classroom. I’m hoping to do more teaching in 2017 and will be starting off the year by partnering with the Anchorage School District’s Northern Journeys program next month.


Developing My Fine Art

This is what is driving me right now intellectually. As much as I love illustration and teaching, I think to be a healthy artist I need to work on projects entirely for their own sake. For the past couple of years I’ve been doing and exhibiting both art and illustration and I haven’t set very clear boundaries between them. In 2017 I want to build on some of the groundwork I laid last year, and to truly differentiate my art and illustration practices, and to push my fine art somewhere new.

Last year I started working on a series for a solo show, Portraits of Nature, which will be at the Bear Gallery in Fairbanks in August 2017. This show builds off portraits or close and intimate depictions of natural objects, like my rock portraits. This winter I’ve been enjoying working with a microscope to get up close to small objects that you can’t really see entirely with a naked eye. In making portraits of natural objects I build intimate relationships with them, and hope to portray them in a new light.

Portraits of seeds, nests, and rocks (watercolor, gouache, colored pencil, and pen)


Last fall I started to experiment with a completely new technique of creating prints from my drawings using cyanotypes. This started as part of my artist residency in Joshua Tree National Park, but I’m excited to continue developing the process and working with the imagery from my residency here in Alaska.

Two cyanotype prints of coyotes from Joshua Tree


Finding Balance

Last year at this time I did a lot of thinking about what I wanted and how I want my life to look. I turned 30 in August and realized that if I wanted to be an artist and to make the art that I was dreaming of I needed to devote more time and energy to it. Of course you can always do this later in life, but I realized now was a good time for me. I took some big chunks of time out of my daily routine to do an artist residency in Joshua Tree National Park and to raft the Grand Canyon. The last two months I have been working on my art business, and all that makes me feel so gratified and happy.

It isn’t always easy, and there are plenty of days where I don’t feel like doing the work I’ve set out for myself. I think everyone feels this way to some extent. I also don’t have everything figured out, like how I’m going to piece everything together to make a living. But each day I get to do what I love I feel like is a small victory. Thanks for all of the support along the way.