This year I decided to try to do art and illustration full time. It has been several years since I had this kind of time to focus on my artwork, and even longer since I’ve dedicated half of my creative time to developing my fine art practice. Having that kind of time allows me to think about the direction that I am going, and it brought me back to this story of when I was developing my college thesis. It surprised me even more to find so many parallels between now and then.
I completed a double major in studio art and environmental studies with a focus in conservation biology in 2008, and decided to do my thesis in art. We could choose if we wanted to do a thesis or not and I was really looking forward to having my own studio and basically getting to do whatever I wanted with artwork for an entire year. That seemed like a lot of fun, and sure it was, but I think it was also one of my hardest classes ever.
Views of the installation of my undergraduate thesis in Studio Art
I started out making large oil paintings of abstract landscapes because I thought that is what I was interested in. The results weren’t pleasing to me or anyone else. Then one day a professor came to my studio, noticed a small pen and ink drawing of a feather, and wondered aloud if I was interested in pursuing that farther. At the same time I was taking two classes: Invertebrate biology in which I had to memorize and identify every kind of invertebrate there is (by the way in case you don’t know there are A LOT of invertebrates in the world!); and the Natural History of Vermont, in which I had to memorize and identify every species of vertebrate that can be found in Vermont (that included birds, fish, mammals like all the different voles and shrews, and class of snakes/ frogs). So I was spending a lot of time in the lab looking at jars of Sea Mice and drawers full of stuffed birds. It happens that those things are very visually appealing, and it only seemed natural to start drawing them.
Some of my first "scientific" drawings. From left to right: a feather, Ginko Leaves, Sea Mouse
Since I was a little kid, I have been interested and loved the subjects of science and art, and people told me I should look into being a science illustrator. When they said that the main image that came to mind was the posters of the inner ear in a doctor’s office, and I was pretty sure that is not what I wanted to do. When I started making these somewhat detailed and textured drawings of natural objects I fell in love with the process and the meditation of carefully looking and making marks on paper. Those realizations lead me to actually pursue science illustration as a profession.
That is all a story I’ve told before, but I think there is more of a story there and I’m just now getting back to it. Even though 2008 was well in the time of Facebook, it was a bit before it became mainstream to photograph and post photos of everything you did on the internet. So I don’t have many pictures of my art from that time, and I haven’t really looked back on them since then. It took me a while to track down the photos in this post, and like looking through an old photo album it gave me jolts of memory and recognition. When I read the description I wrote for the final show of my thesis I could not help but gasp. Here it is:
25 April 2008
Overlap: Collecting outside the window
I love this time of year when the days get longer because I can go for walks after dinner as the sun sets. I have been doing this the past few days and I have already found a myriad of bird nests, beaver chews, and feathers. This work is a testimony to collecting from the landscape, which is both scientific and personal for me. A collector begins to identify with their objects; I have begun to relate to taxidermied sparrows for example. There is also something nostalgic about making collections of dead things and projecting new lives onto them. I find myself building nests for these objects and myself. This work is about both my process of collecting and my attempts to create a world from my collections.
There are so many themes in that paragraph that I am still exploring today – surely making collections and observations of my intimate surroundings, but also how we as artists identify with our subjects and the nostalgia of capturing the natural world in art. I forgot that I was thinking about these themes then, and find it poignant that I still am.
Another thing that I find somewhat ironic is that while working on my thesis, I found a comfort zone in drawing with pen and ink on vellum, and then taking those drawings to make silkscreen prints. The main part of my final show was based on installations of those prints:
Another installation of some of my college work. These were silkscreens on paper and glass installed on a window.
Sure a lot of things have changed: I am a much better at drawing; I’ve traveled more places; I’ve come to study and love a whole new place and ecosystem here in the Wrangells; I’m more mature; I have new insights to bring. I don’t doubt for a second that this work has evolved quite a bit, but it was surprising to find so many similarities and that once again I am spending long quiet hours in the evening drawing with pen on vellum.
When I was in college I found it very freeing to make multiples by turning my precious and time-consuming drawings into silkscreens, and once again that is what has drawn me to making cyanotypes. This all still has a ways to go, but hopefully you found the look back as much fun as I did.
Recent drawings on vellum used to make cyanotype prints.