People say that Alaska only has two seasons: winter and summer. However I think of the time from March to May as spring. It is a time marked by the return of light and energy. It doesn’t really look like the spring I grew up with, in more temperate climates, because things don’t really turn green. However things melt, sap flows, buds and flowers appear on trees, birds start singing, and giant mosquitoes appear out of thin air. This week it stopped freezing at night. My front yard is free of snow. So much is changing quickly and I’m trying to stay on top of it: I’ve been noticing the changes, cleaning up the piles of winter, building garden beds, catching up with family and friends before summer madness comes and goes. Meanwhile I checked on my website and wonder how it is that I haven’t posted on this blog since mid-February. Sometimes time just slips away, or flies away. So I decided to write a quick update to fill you in on the happenings at Kristin Illustration since then.
In mid-February I tried to drive to Anchorage to teach a third grade class at Lake Otis Elementary School. The program is through Northern Journeys, which aims to prepare and develop skills that will help teachers become more adept at integrating the arts in their classrooms and teaching in a culturally responsive way. The day I left, it was supposed to warm up and rain for the first time all winter. I thought I’d get up early and beat the rain, but I did not. It was the first time that the McCarthy Road turned me around. After driving through deep snow (getting heavier by the second) and getting across the Lakina River, I came upon a small avalanche that crossed the road. I decided that exceeded my comfort zone for winter driving and turned around. This is part of living in rural, but still road-connected, Alaska; sometimes you just can’t get where you are going.
I rescheduled my workshop and had so much fun with this group of students who love drawing. We made watercolor paintings of feathers and flowers. I wanted to give each person something relatively simple to work from, that they could each observe and hold in their hands. I think having a physical object to work from helped make the lessons successful. I had two afternoons with the class. The first day we focused on value, texture, and working monochromatically. The second day we worked with color. We learned observational drawing and painting and the foundations of science illustration. You can see my lesson plans here (they are linked at the bottom of the page). I’m happy to share and hope someone might make use of them.
Some teaching materials: Step by step drawing a feather; Prepping watercolor palettes for students
Despite the mid-February thaw, this winter was the coldest since Greg and I have lived at the Nizina. I don’t think it was abnormally cold, but it was a proper winter. One of the joys of a proper winter is that the river was frozen most of the time and frozen rivers are highways to places you don’t get to go in the summer. Thus March is the best time to get out and explore our greater backyard. After going to town to teach and finishing a pile of applications due March 1st we enjoyed some adventures.
In mid-March we left Alaska to go visit family on the east coast. Though I love winter it was nice to get away from the cold and to have a change of pace. We spent some time on St. Simons Island in Georgia, which I mention because it has always been an artistically inspiring place for me. I’ve been going there since I was little and I love being surrounded by salt marshes and walking along the beach to find half decayed sea creatures. Being on the beach with a bunch of other people and dogs doesn’t feel like the wilderness, but there is something vast and captivating about the open expanse of the ocean. On the beach with the waves crashing on my ankles I feel like I am at the edge of something unexplainable, kind of like I feel when I walk on the river by my house in the Wrangell-St. Elias.
Scenes from the wild place at the edge of the Atlantic
All those travel plans ended up working out well for me and I got to go from one sunny, artistically-inspiring place to another. I am truly honored that I got to participate in an artist residency with Signal Fire in the Chiricahua Mountains of southern Arizona. I spent a week backpacking with a group of artists. I will write another blog post about this in more detail soon, but for now I want to say that it was inspiring to travel through the wilderness with a group of creative and inquisitive people. Signal Fire does great work and I encourage you to check them out. The Chiricahuas are beautiful and rugged; as sky islands at the elevation of8000 ft, spring was only just starting to appear up high. We traveled along a ridge through a burned forest, and then down Cave Creek, which was warmer and lusher. I didn’t know about desert landscapes where ferns and violets grow next to yuccas and cacti, but now I do. Those mountains were the home of the Chiricahua Apaches and now are federally designated wilderness. Migrants from Mexico travel across that landscape to get to Interstate 10. The place has many human stories and natural history wonders. A week isn’t really enough time to understand much, but it felt good to be there and to get a glimpse.
After all the sunshine it was time to return home to Alaska spring. Break up is part of spring in Alaska, and kind of a season in it’s own right. I’ve always found it to be kind of a frustrating time because it stays light until late, the weather often gets really nice, and you can’t go anywhere or do anything because the whole world is made of slush and mud. It is a paradoxical feeling of being full of energy and lightness with your boots anchored firmly in place (in a puddle). I always enjoy it anyway, watching the birds coming back and the willows blooming. I’ve been cleaning out my studio and setting myself up to start working on some larger pieces. I’ve been catching up on illustrations for a pop up book that I have been working on all winter with some other artists.
Scenes from breakup: Dryas and melting ice patterns; Nizina River opening; Willow pollination; Literally being stuck in the slush.
I know soon it’s going to be summer, and really in the blink of an eye it will start getting darker again. It’s always a bit stressful to need to make the most of this time. I’m going to try hard to be a bit more regular about blogging. I enjoy sharing with you, so please keep checking back.