Guest Post: Artist by Nature

You might find Erin in her studio, sipping coffee, listening to her latest Spotify playlist and cuddling with her dog, Maddy. This may seem like nothing unusual, but Erin is actually scanning her memory. She is putting together photo memories from the places she has recently visited and uses photos to fill in the missing details.
There are several ways we experience a connection with nature. For Erin, that's through art. Each national park she visits makes her feel something. I asked her to explain and share with us what that is.
These are the places I want to remember.

I have spent many of my summers and vacations driving through American landscapes. I was fortunate enough to have parents that saw the value in raising their kids outdoors among the trees with family and friends.

I’ve enjoyed these moments of beauty both in childhood and as an adult.

These memories have given me a ton of inspiration and imagery for my artwork and what I want to say as an artmaker.

I have been able to connect with nature through the memories I have made, and I capture those memories through my paintings.

Although I have not been to all the national parks (that’s a lifelong pursuit), I have been able to go to some. Those experiences have had a huge impact on my art. I had been to a few as a child, but going to Alaska in the summer of 2013 really sparked my idea to paint parks.

One thing led to another and based off of people’s reactions, I felt like painting as many parks as I could. That’s mainly because of the way I have come to notice how national parks and nature, in general, impact people. It is no coincidence that most Americans at some point in their lives go to a national park for a vacation. People crave being outside, experiencing rest and solitude, and making memories with family without the distraction of the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Creating images of these parks that people can take home and have in their spaces helps them access those memories in their everyday life.

I am grateful for an opportunity to play a small role in helping people preserve their connection with the outdoors.

When I go a place, I like taking in the experience and all the imagery through my senses and memory and in the documentation I collect.

I then come home and have all these little glimpses that I can then put to paint.

I also use multiple images as reference material. I don’t typically work with just one photo. That’s usually because there are multiple memories I want to capture for one image. If I’m working on an illustration of a park I haven’t been to yet, I’ll research the park and create one image based off multiple images that I have found in my research.

Glacier Bay National Park

Glacier Bay National Park has no roads and is only accessible by boat or by air travel. We were on a ship that cruised through the water between glaciers. The scenery was absolutely incredible, and the air was crisp and cool. I was really surprised by the color contrasts both on the land and in the water. The water was actually a turquoise green-blue, almost tropical looking. That was a stunning contrast against the different shades of bright blue glaciers and gray blue mountains and glaciers. There were also tons of floating icebergs that popped out of the water, including a sea lion riding on top of a floating iceberg. I think I was also surprised by how large and complex the glaciers were. We even go to experience watching a “calving," which is when a sudden and large chunk of ice breaks off the glacier. When I went to paint Glacier Bay, my focus was to emphasize those bright blues in the glaciers and the green-blue water.

Denali National Park

Another Park I was able to visit in Alaska was Denali National Park, which has the largest mountain peak in North America: Mt. McKinley (or Denali). This remains my favorite park I have ever been to. Denali National Park is a preserved area that has minimal human access to protect the vegetation and wildlife. Sled dogs and rangers even patrol it during the winter months to protect the wildlife from poaching. One day I got to visit a dog sled camp and learn more about their important role in the park’s preservation. We also had the opportunity to take a tour of the Denali landscape through an area that has one road (it’s limited to the public) out to a viewing area of Denali. It was there that I was able to experience the incredible vastness and sacredness of this land. I was able to see a young grizzly bear running through the valley, Dahl sheep, antelope, moose and eagles. The vegetation was not park of how I had pictured Alaska to be. There were many birch trees and short tundra-like pine trees. The mountains had brown and gold hues contrasted against bright green and blue-green foliage. The most incredible part was when we got to get out of the bus and stand on a hill in front of the massive Mt. McKinley, which happened to be viewable that particular day (most days clouds cover it). I will never forget that moment and never forget how small I felt. In the piece I created for this, I wanted to make sure I captured that vastness of the landscape and that Mt. McKinley focal point.

Sequoia National Park

Every year, my extended family takes some kind of camping trip. That particular year, we went to Sequoia National Park. We tent camped, butted up against a river and mini waterfall. Obviously one of the main pictures in my mind from this time here was the massive sequoia tree forest that shaded our campsite. I felt connected to nature, viewing the way the light would stream in through that dark green foliage, experiencing the smell of the giant sequoia trees and hiking trails up to some incredible views. I won’t forget the adrenaline rush of viewing a black bear coming through our campsite and crossing through the riverbed.

Kings Canyon National Park

My cousins and I spent an incredible time climbing up some rock formations and sliding down the natural water slides into pools of water. I can still remember submerging into the freezing fresh water, and then laying on the sun soaked rocks, feeling the warmth against my skin. I can remember the rainbow that was created in the midst of the rocks and water. Those moments and connections were what I wanted to represent when I painted them.

What's next

I'm currently working on paintings for my latest National Park Calendar (edition 3) as well as some other nature themed pieces, which will hopefully be available by early fall in my Etsy shop.

I'm also trying to grow my list of retailers throughout the country that are selling my work in their wonderful little shops. To keep up with what shops I'm selling in or what art festivals I'll be attending this year, follow me on Instagram or check out my website.

To observe the uniqueness of our landscape, encourage adventure, practice thankfulness for its beauty and help preserve the memory of America’s backcountry—while it is still here. Painting is how I preserve these landscapes rich in detail and story.

Follow Erin and her illustrations

Produced by Kathleen Morton.
Edited by Kate
All photos credit to Erin Vaughan.

If you make a purchase using the photo link above, I may receive a small commission at no cost to you. This blog is a self-funded passion project, and working with brands help me keep the blog running and the stories coming. I only partner with brands that I believe in and ones that I have built a relationship with. Mountain Standard is one of them.

If you make a purchase using the photo link above, I may receive a small commission at no cost to you. This blog is a self-funded passion project, and working with brands help me keep the blog running and the stories coming. I only partner with brands that I believe in and ones that I have built a relationship with. Mountain Standard is one of them.