Galápagos Artist Residency – Part 1 – Teaching, Learning, and Making Art

Gosh, I have a lot to say about this adventure! I’m pretty excited about what I learned and the people I met in the enchanted islands of Galápagos, and my experiences will probably influence everything I do as an artist from here forward.  I will attempt to keep this story to two blog posts, but friends and family will be hearing me recall tidbits from the expeditions for a long time to come. So here I begin with Part 1 – Teaching, Learning, and Making Art. (Don’t miss Part 2 – Experiencing Life Up Close)

From August 19 – September 19 I traveled with Lindblad Expeditions – National Geographic aboard the N.G. Islander in Galápagos as their artist-in-residence. This invitation was a dream come true! An opportunity to get out of the studio for a couple weeks to be immersed in nature is a luxury in the first place, but you can imagine how overwhelmed I was to be offered the chance to visit this ecologically and historically significant place that I’d read about since I was a kid.

My job was to teach the guests about drawing and painting the wildlife we encountered throughout the archipelago — to show them how they can experience these animals and this special place from the artist’s perspective.

gps-workshops-1Throughout the week-long itineraries I offered three on-board workshops:

(1) observing animal subjects in their natural environments and using pencil to render form, light, and shade

(2) working with colored pencils and using warm, cool, and neutral colors to add depth

(3) incorporating watercolor to strengthen values and adjust color relationshipsgps-workshops-2

Each workshop included a PowerPoint presentation of my process, a demonstration, and time for the guests to draw/paint. As an illustrator my goal is to tell a story: What is it about this animal, or this individual that makes it unique? How can I best tell this animal’s story? Those questions were always part of our discussions during the workshops. We worked from my photos, projected on the monitors, and some guests used their own photos.

Drawing wildlife must involve studying and sketching live animals, so of course I demonstrated that as often as I could during our hikes and beach walks. I filled my sketchbooks with gesture drawings and value studies of sea lions, land iguanas, pelicans, boobies, and tortoises. While a few guests brought their sketchbooks ashore, most opted for the immediate gratification of their cameras to capture all the action. (Sketching moving animals takes patience and a lot of practice.) It was fun to have people standing around, watching me draw, asking questions, and I think they learned a lot about how I observe animals and how I see things differently. My sketchbooks were kept on a counter in the lounge, and I encouraged the guests to flip through at any time to see what I’d been up to.

Some of the teaching highlights for me:

After I demonstrated the importance of looking at negative spaces to better understand the shapes and values of the subject, I was so pleased to see the guests doing this themselves, right away. A guest painting a yellow-crowned night heron brought the bird out from the background of lava rocks by painting the darker spaces around the bird, leaving the subject light. Bravo!

One guest, painting a frigate bird noticed the drawing needed some “environment” and sketched in the twigs of its nest. All of a sudden this bird was more alive — it had a behavior and a place!

Someone drawing a red-footed booby depicted the grasping of its webbed red feet on the rock, and remembered to include the claws. This tiny detail is important – and including it helps tell the animal’s story!

Several guests, during various excursions ashore, explained to me how they had begun noticing colors and values more clearly and how they were more aware of an animal’s posture, how it held its head, and moved its legs. Of course, these are the things we observe when drawing wildlife. The more we train ourselves to look for them, then translate them in pencil or paint on paper, the more we see them without even thinking about it. The whole point of having an artist along for the journey was to enhance the guests’ experiences observing these animals up-close and learning about their natural histories.

One afternoon at the end of the second week I sat in the lounge, editing my presentations for the following week. The four children on board, all of different ages, showed up with their art supplies to work on their drawings. They huddled together at one small table, with colored pencils scattered everywhere, and they offered each other thoughtful critiques: the bird’s beak should be a bit longer, you need to add more bright color to its feet, etc. It was awesome! These young people are so excited about experiencing nature. Their passion will allow them to spread the conservation message to their generation and beyond, and I know they will play an active part in protecting wildlife and wild places.

To all the guests on these NG Islander expeditions – thank you for your enthusiasm! Whether we drew and painted together, snorkeled, kayaked, or hiked together, or discussed our adventures over dinner, I enjoyed getting to know each of you and sharing our passion for wildlife and conservation. 

Here is some of the work I made in Galápagos. Workshop demo pieces were rendered in colored pencil and watercolor. The sketchbook pages show quick studies I made on the beach, along the trails, or at the Charles Darwin Research Station (tortoises).