Ten years ago, while hiking on a family trip to the Grand Canyon, artist Jessica L. Bryant stumbled upon the park’s gallery of work created by past artists-in-residence. “I’d never heard of such a thing and went home very excited to do some research,” Bryant says. “I had loved visiting national parks but always lamented not being able to stay longer and hike farther.”
Today, with 10 artist residencies under her belt, Bryant is a veteran of such programs. She has done everything from help with a bison roundup to ride along for sled dog training. The time she has spent in parks has dramatically changed both her work and her life.
“The way I connect with the landscape changed after my first residency,” says Bryant. “Each perspective offers valuable insight for better understanding the context of a landscape.”
Artist Residencies in U.S. National Parks
Numerous parks in the U.S. have artist-in-residence programs, and each is unique. Some span just a week while others last more than a month. The housing arrangements and stipends vary. Bryant estimates she has spent about 300 days living in national parks in an official capacity—and that’s on top of the countless hours she’s spent as a visitor.
“We’re shaped by what we experience, and my time in our national parks has been beyond remarkable. I’ve had access to people and experiences that few encounter.”
Jessica L. Bryant
Here is a look at five of Bryant’s national park paintings and the stories behind their creation.
1: Grand Teton National Park
“A ranger at Grand Teton National Park, in Wyoming, advised me to take the boat across Jenny Lake and hike the trail for Cascade Canyon,” says Bryant. “The ranger said that most people stop at the falls, but beyond that, the canyon opens to a glorious valley. I followed her advice, and she was right. This painting shows the view just before the valley opens up—the promise of something amazing just around the corner.”
2: Joshua Tree National Park
Lost Horse Valley is a mid-spring scene featuring the Joshua trees in California just after blooming. “I had fun hunting for the right arrangement of trees to create an appealing rhythm in the composition,” says Bryant.
3: Noatak National Preserve, Alaska
“After being flown into the Alaskan wilderness with a ranger, it was a little surreal to see the float plane take off and realize we’d be fully isolated from civilization for eight days,” says Bryant. “The Noatak National Preserve is approximately the size of Massachusetts, and at the time, we two were the only people there. Long Lake was our home base for four days of exploration, during which we watched the tundra turn from summer greens to the fall colors seen in this painting.”
4: Rocky Mountain National Park
“I was on an August hike in blustery, rainy weather,” says Bryant of her experience painting this Colorado lake. “But as I came upon The Loch, the clouds opened and the most glorious light warmed the land.”
5: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
“While in Hawaii, I pulled my car over to capture the sweeping view looking toward the ocean,” says Bryant. “Climbing over an old lava flow, I discovered this spot. A small part of an old road was visible well below the current roadbed. The lava flows had reclaimed what looked like a freshly paved road—a lovely commentary on the power of nature.”
Forging a Deeper Connection with Nature
Bryant’s time in residencies has strengthened her sense of how delicate and important the natural world is to humans and their survival. Nature contains many hidden vulnerabilities that few people know about, let alone see up close. Bryant hopes her deeper explorations into nature and humankind’s relationships with it invite compassion and a greater sense of responsibility.
“To care for wilderness and nature, to preserve or conserve what we can for our futures is to care for ourselves.”
Jessica L. Bryant
Bryant would also love to expand her work at the national parks into an international effort. “I can imagine partnering with scientists or environmental organizations and using my work to promote their missions,” she says. “We must ensure that we have places where we can learn about and understand the natural environment we come from and depend upon.”
This article is an excerpt from our 10-page story in Watercolor Artist, which features Bryant’s work on the cover. Check it out for more from Bryant, including her toolkit and a step-by-step demo.
About the Artist