My name is Maria Coryell-Martin and I am an expeditionary artist, based in the Pacific Northwest (follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and visit my website!) I work in the tradition of traveling artists as naturalists and educators. Since 2005, I have focused on painting polar and glaciated regions where I have often collaborated with scientific teams to promote environmental awareness.
“A creative person is never bored,” said my first grade teacher Aki Kurose, a proponent of peace and science. Her words echo in my ears as I’ve kept a sketchbook close at hand since my childhood, whether in school, traveling abroad, or backpacking in the mountains. As I developed an interest in ecology, I found art to be a natural compliment to science.
Drawing drew me into active observation, closely examining my subjects, asking questions, and discovering details I might have otherwise missed. As a side project, and to become a better naturalist, I created a series of bird identification cards–I’ve done about 70 so far.
Expeditions are central to my work. Whenever possible, I collaborate with scientists to gain an understanding of the environment through the lens of science and art. In the field, I sketch with ink and watercolor, and audio, video, and time-lapse photos to build my palette of place, a record of experience, climate, and color. I develop this work into studio paintings for exhibit as well as presentations and workshops for audiences of all ages.
One of my largest projects, Imaging the Arctic, was a three year collaboration with a marine mammal biologist to communicate climate science through art. I joined Dr. Kristin Laidre for one month in northwest Greenland, accompanying her team as they studied narwhals and polar bears. I sketched everything possible, from the landscape, colorful Greenlandic settlements, polar bear research tools, to a 7 foot long narwhal tusk, loaned to me by a local hunter.
In the field, I carry my Art Toolkit with a binder full of 5” x 7” sheets of paper for quick sketches, a portfolio sketch board with 11” x 15” loose sheets, as well as an art board I’ve rigged up for 22” x 30” sheets. My largest art board is made of a flexible plastic (styrene), and I can roll it up into a protective storage tube for my paper. I love ink and watercolor, and carry a mix of refillable and disposable pens depending on the conditions. My favorite Rapidograph pens can be fussy with cold and altitude changes, so I will sometimes use Sharpie Fine pens or Pigma Microns (Learn more about my pens here). I paint with Daniel Smith watercolors, and typically use 14 paints in my palette.
For small sketches, I prefer water brushes (sometimes filled with vodka or gin to lower their freezing temperature), and use paint brushes for larger paintings. I carry a mix of paper in the field, some of which has a light sepia tone. The tan color references the natural history tradition, and I love adding light values (typically snow) with white gouache. Arches Cover paper, as well as the lighter weight Canson Mi-Tientes paper, are my favorite toned papers. I sometimes use Arches 140 lb. watercolor paper in the field, but it dries slowly in the cold, so I prefer it for my studio. (See some of my favorite tips for sketching in the cold on my blog)
Here’s an example of my field work developing into a studio painting. This first sketch is a color study from my explorations of the NW Greenland palette.
The next sketch is a 5” x 7” ink and watercolor with white gouache on Canson Mi-Tientes sand paper.
I was excited about the composition and light, and wanted to paint it as a larger panorama. I like to paint with large washes of color, though, which can be challenging in the cold. As a compromise, I completed a detailed sketch to trace and complete in my studio.
Here’s my final studio painting, Niaqornat Sunrise, 11” x 30” watercolor and gouache. I used my sketches, notes, and reference photos for help with details.
My love for field sketching includes a passion for tinkering with my tools, constantly trying to improve my methods and materials. Over the years my field kit has streamlined into what I call my “Art Toolkit”, a durable, compact kit for ink and watercolor sketching that fits into one zip cover. For the past five years, I’ve offered versions of it for sale, including the Pocket Palette, a business card sized palette featuring 14 removable pans on a magnetic base.
I believe in having art supplies accessible, so you can be ready to sketch anywhere, anytime. I assemble these myself, and it’s a real pleasure to share them with artists around the world. To learn more about the Art Toolkit, Pocket Art Toolkit, and Pocket Palette, please visit my store at art-toolkit.com.
Thank you, Charlie, for the opportunity to share my work with the Doodlewash community!