Paint the Creek

A BioArt Field Trip

Story and Photos by Kelly Ann Sheridan

My high school students and I sat on the ground at the edge of Rainey Creek in Swan Valley, our paintbrushes in hand and watercolor paper in our laps. We didn’t talk much. The students lowered their heads, bit their lips, furrowed their brows, and breathed slowly, staring ahead. “Ahead” didn’t mean the same thing for each of them. They looked where their eyes drew them. That sounds obvious but it isn’t. People make artistic choices based on instinct, especially young artists. They see what is interesting, not what is compositionally pleasing or what is challenging. It might be how the water looks as it surrounds a rock on the edge of the stream. It could be how they feel, in the way that quick brush strokes evoke the same emotion as rushing water. It could be a study of the ridgeline and how the trees interact with the sky.

I sat with about five students painting the creek before us. It was a cool fall day in September 2016. The leaves were still on the trees and the grass was still green. We were at a bend in the river, where the water ran over the shallow creek bed, picking up speed. In front of us, high schoolers waded in the creek, wearing waders and carrying nets, measuring and counting invertebrates they caught, while other students measured the sediment size on the creek bottom. The artists remained present and observant of colors, textures, and light, seemingly oblivious to the noise and splashing. Their phones sat beside them, close to each person but untouched. Behind us, other students completed water tests on the ground. Kneeling over water samples in glasses, they recorded data on their clipboards and watched the timer, waiting for the tests to complete.

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