IN FORESTS & FIELD STUDIES
As climate change and habitat loss accelerate, scientific research indicates the increasing importance of our earth’s trees and forests. Since the mid-1990’s I have felt moved to focus my creative work almost entirely on forests, seeking ways to document and reveal what I can about trees. My lifelong work in field journals has transformed from being source material for studio painting into two series of artist’s books holding pages I make on site in forests: In Forests and Field Studies. I have a painting setup that fits into my backpack or kayak and allows me to work on larger sheets of paper or canvas outdoors. Because I prefer to work in remote places, usually many hours or days from a road, my art supplies must be lightweight and compact enough to be carried over long distances, along with any other food, camping gear and clothing I may need. I often work in rainforests of the Pacific Northwest, where many of the world’s biggest trees grow, so warm waterproof gear is essential, and working beneath a tarp is often necessary. Each project typically begins in a wild forest with layers of watercolor, ink and gouache on paper or canvas. If needed, I finish painting back home in the studio, sometimes adding more layers of other media, but when I work indoors, I miss the forest.
IN TONGASS & CHUGACH NATIONAL FORESTS
In celebration of the International Year of the Forest, I was invited to Southeast Alaska to be artist in residence in the Tongass National Forest for the month of September 2011. It turned out to be the rainiest September on record, in an already very rainy place. I spent nine days alone in a remote cabin on the coast of Kupreanof Island, surrounded by lush rainforest. Each day I worked outdoors, regardless of weather, on pages for my series of artist books, In Forests. When I returned from the cabin to Petersburg, I taught moss, lichen and forest painting workshops for the Tongass Rainforest Festival and the wonderful and amazing students at Rae Stedman Elementary School. The student’s forest work, and mine, were shown at the Ketchikan Museum, in Southeast Alaska, in February 2012.
For the month of June 2012 I am honored and delighted to be the first artist in residence for the Bunnell Street Arts Center in cooperation with the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies in Homer, Alaska. I will be based at the Peterson Bay Field Station on the south side of Kachemak Bay. While there I will have the opportunity to be back at work in one of my favorite habitats: the Sitka spruce-western hemlock temperate rainforest of the Pacific Northwest.
Night Paintings is an ongoing body of work created in forests at night. I usually begin at dusk, sitting on the ground, with my paper laid out on the forest floor or clipped to a board. As night falls, I work with ink and watercolor, often drawing with twigs and sticks dipped into paint and ink. As it gets darker, I sometimes I use a headlamp, pointed off to one side, so my night vision isn’t lost when I look down at my paper. If possible, a campfire gives subtle illumination and warmth, allowing me to sit and work for hours into the chilly night. I like to rub fire ash into the paper as I work and allow it to fall into my wet paint. Eventually, color and detail fade away under these conditions. It is all a bit out of control, deeply influenced by a particular moment in time, the phase of the moon, specific trees, the weather and IPA. When I bring my work back indoors, it usually looks very different than expected—which is one of the delights of this project. I may add a bit of final detail to some of the paintings back in the studio, while others remain unaltered or are cut into pieces and finished in a new format. Either way, most the work happens out there at night, beneath the moon, the stars and the trees.
Cross-Fertilization is an ongoing project with US Forest Service ecologist, Sarah Greene. Our mutual respect and forest curiosity intrigued us to take on a science-art collaboration. We began our project by hiking in a forest familiar to us both on Cascade Head, near Sitka Center for Art and Ecology on the Oregon coast. We articulated the reasons we each choose to work in forests, considered our own smallness compared to the size and longevity of trees, and wondered about art, ecology and what is happening to the earth during our lifespans.
Sarah provided me with access to historical and contemporary Pacific Northwest forest research documents and maps, which I photographed and scanned. I wanted the visual part of our collaboration to embrace both careful and open-ended responsive processes—to mirror the constraints of science and the spontaneity of art. I chose a square grid format to echo the grids Sarah used in her forest research plots. I drew on square sheets of paper in the forest using sticks and twigs dipped in ink and watercolor. I digitally printed research documents and maps over my stick paintings, adhered each to a wood panel, and added more layers of watercolor, ink and gouache. As I worked I considered Sarah’s scientific and personal observations along with my own perceptions. As our project evolved, ten topics emerged as our shared underlying forest themes. The final piece included ten 8 by 8-inch panels, with one topic embodied in each panel.
Sarah is a scientist, and though the mark of her hand is not seen in our collaboration, her unique perceptions as an ecologist have become woven into the way I experience and work in forests. We each believe that cross-fertilization between scientists and artists holds seeds of potential transformation, and of hope. Our collaboration continues.