My name is Maria Coryell-Martin and I am an expeditionary artist, based in the Pacific Northwest. 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!
22 thoughts on “GUEST ARTIST: “Expeditionary Art” by Maria Coryell-Martin”
Maria, your art is beautiful and atmospheric. I like the way you allow so much space for your art and don’t fill it with busy elements but allow the sky and land to be exactly what they are – huge expanses of area imbued with wonder. Lovely.
Thank you! The atmosphere and quiet are part of what attract me to remote regions. The specialized life and elements of the landscape are all the more beautiful to me, and their fragility is evident.
Love that first one.
Your work is fantastic! I have visited your blog and website previously and your travel kit and practice inspired me to create my own, mostly for my urban adventures. But I recently returned from Raja Ampat, Indonesia, where I used the travel palettes from your site – wonderful to have my watercolors so compact and so accessible.
I’m so glad you’re enjoying your Pocket Palettes! Indonesia sounds amazing, someday I may need a nice warm tropical project. 🙂
Beautiful, fascinating – both your art and your life!
P.S. Thanks for the great tips. I live in southern California. I’m filling my water brushes with vodka right now and heading out to the beach . . . probably will leave the sketchbook and paint behind so as not to waste the vodka.
Maria, it is great to read about your work here. Your paintings are beautiful and it’s so nice to see the one that goes from sketch to painting. I am so excited to try out the new palette. I haven’t filled it yet because its so beautiful even without paint but I know I’ll love using it.
Thank you! I hope you enjoy your palette, I’d love to hear your experiences with it. 🙂
Wow, I am absolutely fascinated by your work, Maria. Thank you so much for telling your story. I visited Ice Core Lab recently and never imagined an Artist working in such conditions, glad to see there is room for art in cold places too! Beautiful artwork, very curious to see more.
Hi Anya, you might also enjoy the work of a friend of mine, Anna McKee. She’s collaborated with ice core researchers and has created some beautiful multi-media artworks and installations. http://annamckee.com/
Thank you, Maria, looking at her work right now, beautiful!
great post and paintings! and that featured artwork really, was so rich and incredibly full of depth and feeling… awesome. I loved it, with the greyness that I remember so well growing up in the Pac NW. Wonderful!! cheers, Debi
Lovely to discover you, Maria! Although I can’t see myself sketching in sub-zero conditions, The Worst Journey In The World is one of my favorite books, so your art really strikes a chord. Will follow and explore your site etc. 🌺
Thank you! Edward Wilson joined Scott on his Antarctic expeditions and is one of my inspirations. What a tragic end, though they left a wonderful scientific legacy.
Try the book, it’s marvelous!
I love your paintings and your travel palette is very tempting! Would you tell me how you created the wonderful texture in the concave part of the hillside in your watercolor painting? What paints would you recommend to create this look? Thanks!
Ps jus signed up for your blog too!
Hi Cathy, I love granulating paints for landscape painting- the sediment of the pigments settle on the paper to create wonderful textures. Daniel Smith has a number, including their beautiful Primatek series which are made from ground minerals. My color study shows some of my experiments for the Sunrise painting. I think I settled on the following Daniel Smith paints for this piece: Deep Scarlet, Nickel Yellow Azo, Cadium Yellow Deep, Prussian Blue (with a bit of Lapis), Cobalt Turquoise, and Hematite. In other paintings, I often use a bit of Lunar Earth and French Ultramarine for rock texture. Experiment and have fun!
This is so very interesting!!
A really interesting travel kit, combining expeditions with art. I would love the opportunity to sketch and paint in nature’s white and wild places. Loving the bird identification cards too, 70 is quite a collection!
I really liked your artistic renderings of birds, Maria. So sweet and detailed! Smiles, Robin
What an exciting life you lead! I had to laugh when you mentioned Vodka or Gin in your waterbrush. Kung fu has the ‘drunken’ technique of fighting, now I find out there is a drunken watercolor technique as well, lol.