Art class offers chance to see North Cascades in new way

In the fall and winter, I’ve always thought the Northwest looks like a watercolor painting, with trees vanishing softly into the mist.

I’ve always loved painting, but never really made time to give it a try. Last weekend, I finally got to spend a good, long time trying out watercolor.

Molly Hashimoto, an excellent artist from Seattle, taught the class at North Cascades Institute’s Environmental Learning Center on Diablo Lake.

Earlier this summer, I took a class on mapmaking at the Learning Center. The same weekend, Molly was teaching a watercolor class. I loved seeing what her students created — such beautiful paintings. So I signed up for her fall class.

The class was mostly focused on painting flora and fauna. We painted animal skulls, insects, birds and mammals.

And, of course, we couldn’t ignore the fact that the larches were golden. We took some time to drive up the North Cascades Highway and get a close look at the larches. The weather was a bit iffy and we got plenty of chances to see how trees look in the mist. Molly later showed us techniques for re-creating that effect using watercolors.

We also saw some gorgeous larches and got a nice look at some Clark’s nutcrackers and Steller’s jays.

I was blown away by the art the students created. One of my fellow students, Joanie from Snohomish, painted the stunning beetle above. I’m amazed by how well she captured its iridescent sheen and the details of its leg, feet and antennae.

One of the big benefits of this class was access to all of the specimens that NCI has available. It was really fun to be able to paint a butterfly using an actual butterfly as a model. Many people used taxidermy models of birds and small mammals to create some stunning art at well.

When we got tired of being indoors, we could head outside to paint. I spent a rather lovely hour or so admiring a vine maple, and trying to re-create its reds, greens, golds and oranges. I didn’t really manage it, but I had fun trying.

I enjoyed that creating art gave me a chance to really observe deeply. I’ve always loved bugs, so it was fun to stare at some of the specimens and really try to re-create their brilliant colors.

Art also allows you to create scenes as you see them. When I stare at a hill with tiny patches of brilliant fall color, for example, that fall color pops out like a beacon. My eyes naturally fall on it, even if it’s a tiny part of the landscape. A painting, properly done, can show the scene as you saw it and as you felt it. It’s not reality in the way a photo is, but it’s real, too.

Paint with Molly

If you’d like to take a class with Molly, which I highly recommend, she is teaching a similar class at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle on Nov. 7-8. Learn more here. Molly is an excellent teacher. I loved how she was able to look at a student’s work and offer encouraging, helpful feedback.

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