How to resuscitate your art life in three (not so) easy steps


I have been an visual artist since I could first hold a crayon. When I was a child, my parents created art studios in the basement for my brothers and me. There we would draw for hours, sometimes creating our own illustrated books of our favorite movies. Our family went on two-week road trips every summer, and we would fill the hours on the highway by sketching the scenes that flashed by through the windows.

As I grew up, art continued to play an important role in my life, but it often got lost among my other interests. I went to college to study natural resources and environmental education and eventually became a park interpretive naturalist. I used my artistic skills a lot at work, often illustrating brochures and signs or painting murals. Sometimes, I would make a lot of art in my non-work life. Other times it felt like my interest in hiking, backpacking, snowboarding, and climbing completely consumed my spare time, leaving little opportunity to pick up my pens and paints.

In the past year or so, there has been an artistic stirring in my soul. Where I used to be okay with the on-and-off-again relationship with my art, I now long with all my being to draw and paint on a regular basis. I dream about it constantly.  Maybe it is because as I get older–now in my mid 40s–I realize that I don’t have time to do it all. I have to be strategic and make choices with my time to do the things I love the most. The pulse of art in my life lately has been thready at best, but I don’t want it to be that way. How do I give it some CPR?

Step One: Make art part of my everyday life

I have a full-time non-art job and that isn’t going to change anytime soon. I love my work as a park ranger. It is a career I dreamed about since I was a young girl visiting national parks with my family. I have a big passion for helping others learn about nature and the outdoors so they can become better caretakers of wildlife and wild places.

But that still leaves evenings and weekends for art, right? Not exactly.

Having a healthy body is important to me, so I go to the gym to lift weights or head outdoors for a run after work several evenings a week. After returning home to make and eat dinner, there isn’t a lot of time for art before heading to bed so that I also get adequate sleep.

This means all artistic endeavors get pushed to the weekend along with laundry, errands, catching up on email, spending time with family and friends and, of course, all those outdoor adventures that are the inspiration for my art. Whew! I get tired just typing that list. I would love to hear from other part-time artists about how you manage to juggle it all!

My solution is to make creating art part of my everyday life, not just something to do when I have a huge chunk of time devote to it (though those are always nice too!).

What makes this not so easy is that it impacts time with friends and family. My loved ones are going to have to be patient when traveling with me as I will be carrying my sketchbook everywhere. That means I may stop on our trail run (and mess up Strava times) in order to pull out my journal to sketch the raptor overhead.  I may have to linger on the summit to draw the view even if my hands are freezing. I may have to excuse myself from the belay duty rotation to sneak off to sketch rock formations in the distance. I may even have to say no to invitations for adventures sometimes so I can lock myself in my art studio to finish some pieces instead of heading out on the trail. This leads to feelings of guilt and sadness for missing out on things, but I am trying hard to temper those emotions as my solitary art time is crucial to my well being.


Sometimes it is hard to allow myself a day in camp to paint when the summits of  surrounding peaks are calling. However, lately I have been making it a priority. Here I am painting on the shore of Mystic Island Lake in Colorado.


I am so glad I slowed down and created this painting of Mystic Island Lake.


As dinner cooks, I pull out my sketchbook to paint Mt. Audubon during an overnight ski trip.


Looking at the sketch I created that evening takes me right back to the trip.


I am easily distracted by nature (like this blooming cactus) on my trail runs so it sometimes takes me longer to get from point A to point B. I always carry a tiny sketchbook in my waist pack to record what I see.


I am usually tired and out of breath when I get to elevation high points on my runs. Sketching provides a welcome break and a chance to slow down and observe my surroundings.


I find it hardest to sketch while on climbing trips, as usually I am either actively ascending a route or belaying and there is little time to spare. Whenever Doug and I climb with other people, I try to get away for a bit to journal, as was the case on a recent trip to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Nevada.


Finding little chunks of time for art is a big goal for me. One day I arrived to a doctor appointment 30 minutes early. Instead of surfing Facebook on my phone, I drove to a nearby nature center and sketched squirrels for 15 minutes.

Step Two: Finish a piece that has been sitting undone in my studio for a crazy amount of time

I am embarrassed to share that the last formal piece of art that I worked on–a linoleum block print of American Basin in Colorado– was started in January, 2010. This was shortly before I became severely ill with Ulcerative Colitis and had to have my entire colon removed through permanent ileostomy surgery.

For a year the project sat on my art table, untouched, while I was recovering and focusing on getting my body strong enough to hike and climb again. I was also putting a lot of energy into another blogging project:, to help other active people get through their life-changing surgeries. Once I was healed, adapted to my new colon-less life, and devoting a little less time to that blog, I continued to carve the block for my print here and there. I finally inked it up and ran it through my press last year. My last step in finishing this print is to hand-color it with watercolors. This project has felt like a major roadblock, and I am making it a priority to get the prints painted so I can get on to something new.

What makes this step not so easy is fear. Having a piece sit around for so long seemingly gives it special power and importance. What if I screw it up now after putting all this time and thought into it? I know I need to face that unease and just jump in and get it done. Then I must never let a single project take on that much perceived importance again. I need to get back to a place where I can play through my art and be okay with experimenting and making mistakes so my art can continue to evolve.

Fortunately, even though I haven’t been working on formal pieces in the past eight years, my nature journals have kept my artistic pulse beating.  I love the way my journals help me focus on the present and notice my surroundings. Everything I see and sketch in nature makes me more and more curious about the natural world. I swear I could spend an entire day happily sketching a few square feet of the landscape. My variously sized journals are never far from my side and have become my place to have fun with my pens, paints and words with no fear at all. I wish to bring this same attitude to my more formal artwork.


Ink finally touches the block.


Yay! The prints are through my press and drying.


I finally chose the colors for hand-painting my prints. Now I have to fill in the whole edition.



The longer I sketched this praying mantis, the more curious about it I became.


Big adventures are fun, but so is finding amazing things to draw right in my backyard.


After moving through the landscape quickly on a morning 5K at Cherry Creek State Park in Colorado, I spend the afternoon slowly sauntering through the wetlands recording what I see in my nature journal.

Christmas birds

These drawings were done in the tiniest of my journals:  a 3″ x 4″ book.  I prefer my larger journals so that I can write more text alongside my drawings. However, I carry this small one almost everywhere so I am never left without a place to record the amazing things I see in nature.

Step Three: Follow other outdoor-inspired artists on Instagram

I am old enough to remember when the main way to find out about other artists was to go into art galleries or subscribe to publications like The Artist’s Magazine. However, not that many individuals were featured, and the gallery exhibits or articles were often formal. You couldn’t always get a glimpse into their day-to-day processes or thoughts about creating art.

Enter Instagram. I had an account for several years, but didn’t really use it. Recently I logged on and began digging into the content more deeply. I discovered so many amazing artists who are successfully blending outdoor adventure and art. I may never have found out about these individuals it it weren’t for this social media tool. I have only been following some of these folks for a few weeks, but I am already motivated! If they can make art on climbing and skiing trips and create some studio works, so can I.

What makes this step not so easy is that watching others be so productive with their art can be as discouraging as it can be inspiring. It is hard not to compare my art output to theirs and wonder what I am doing wrong to get so much less done. I am hoping to glean some tips from their stories to incorporate into my own life, while also being realistic with what I can accomplish on a part-time basis.

And one more thing

Just writing this blog post has helped have a resuscitative effect on my artistic endeavors. Writing on a blog that has been sitting inactive for years is intimidating and I have been putting off this post for a while. It feels wonderful to bring my art voice back to life and plan to post more regular updates in the future! It is great to be back!




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