Inspired by Nature: Noticing

3/3/2015: I had a recent conversation with someone who knew of my career as a wetland scientist but was just becoming familiar with my artwork. They made the observation that it’s rare to see someone with a science background interested in art as well, the disciplines being so different. I just couldn’t agree with that statement 1) having several very talented colleagues whose arts range from music, to writing, to painting; and 2) I thought there was more in common between science and art than not, namely the occupation of noticing.I actually get paid to notice. As an ecologist, it’s my job to notice how things work together. I notice what type of physical environment is present, and how that translates into ecosystem functions. I notice what is working and not working in a particular system. I notice the rich diversity and beauty that a healthy ecosystem provides. It’s my job to protect that, and it’s a job worth doing. We aren’t separate from our environment, and taking care of it means taking care of ourselves as well.The work I produce is also a product of noticing. Carving the delicate wing of a chickadee, a subtle frog in the grass, or a heron taking flight means intimately getting to know the shape and character of each creature. 

It’s a different type of noticing, one that involves making something that comes from an internal place of knowing, as well as the external observation. That intimacy also applies to the clay itself: the texture, the tactile experience of throwing and shaping, of monitoring the level of dryness and form. Every piece is its own little science experiment, and believe me, not all of them turn out well. But when they do, it’s magic: noticing is transformed into something more tangible. It’s the alchemical ambition of turning lead into gold. Or more practicably, mud into beauty.In a world full of distractions and ever increasing complexity, it’s a somewhat profound experience to just slow down and notice. Nature has always been a place where I can have that experience. I feel profoundly lucky to be in a career that allows me to use these powers of observation to protect something I love. Art of any kind allows for the same experience. Whether it be the word that perfectly captures a thought or feeling, or a shade of color that perfectly captures a sunset. For me, science and art overlap. I think as a society we are more inclined to protect what we love. It’s no mystery why you might see wetland and nature themes throughout my work. It’s because these things are a part of me now, after years of noticing and protecting. And my hope is that the art I produce will inspire others to also notice (and fall in love with) the magic and beauty of nature.