Nature Through the Artist's Eye: Stephanie Peters
Article published in the Fall 2017 Issue of the Maricopa County's Audubon publication, Cactus Wren*dition
"Mixed media artist Stephanie Peters has found inspiration in the natural world since childhood. Growing up on a horse farm outside Baltimore, Maryland gave her the perfect foundation to become a full-time artist inspired by animals. She’s still working on that - somewhere along the way she got distracted by the majestic beauty and destructive forces of natural cataclysms. In her studio in Arizona, she creates mixed media paintings and drawings inspired by recent natural catastrophic events and their role in the ecosystem.
Her relationship with natural disasters began in 2004 after the powerful earthquake and tsunami hit Indonesia. After hearing the news, she wondered how she could help heal those directly affected by the devastation. Over the next ten years, she would witness and experience natural disasters personally, giving her the inspiration to seek answers to her question in a series of abstract paintings that symbolized healing.
Her original series deliberately did not discuss the science of natural disasters; however, she couldn’t ignore the positive and negative impacts disasters have on their environment. Focusing on wildfire, a natural event that is part of the backdrop of her life in Arizona, Peters examined the important role of forest fires in the life cycle of plants and animals. This generated a new series of paintings and drawings that look at the forest both during and after a fire.
Peters acknowledges that disasters, besides being brutal and surreal, can also be breathtaking and astonishing. “When an avalanche falls, or a meteor shoots through the sky, it’s hard not to see beauty,” she says. For that reason, her work reflects the aesthetic dimension of these complex events. Recently, in addition to wildfires, she has also begun to explore the impact of severe weather and volcanoes on the environment.
When she is not chasing a natural disaster, she travels to interesting places seeking experiences that inspire her, like hiking among Desert Bighorn sheep in Zion National Park, or watching flamingos in the Camargue region of France. These experiences inspire her to create intimate portraits of animals in soft pastel, abstract interpretations in her paintings, or illustrations for digital art – on her journey as a wildlife artist."
Kirtland’s Warbler Soft pastel on paper, 8”x12”
This drawing of a Kirtland’s Warbler reflects the life that exists because of wildfires. Also known as Jack Pine Warblers, these little birds are dependent on wildfires to provide the small trees and open areas that meet their rigid habitat requirements for nesting. They were almost forced to extinction when forest fires were suppressed, but now they are on their way to recovery as scientists and wildfire mitigation experts find ways to control burns and live with natural occurring wildfires.
Mount Graham Red Squirrel Soft pastel and charcoal on paper, 9”x12”
The Mount Graham Red Squirrel is native to and only found in higher elevations of southern Arizona’s Pinaleño mountains. Forest fires threaten its habitat, and along with drought and insect infestation, have helped push this squirrel to the edge of extinction.
Slide Fire Sky (Smoke) Acrylic on canvas, 20”x24”
This illustrates the majestic beauty of a smoky sunset near a forest fire. Although wildfires are dangerous and feared, it is hard to ignore their beauty, and not appreciate how they can transform the evening sky. This painting was inspired by the sunsets I saw in Sedona over Coffee Pot Rock, during the 2014 Slide Fire. That fire ended up burning over 20,000 acres in and near Oak Creek Canyon.
I live in the desert. It's hot, dry, and always sunny. It's known for scorpions and prickly cactus. But it's also known for some pretty cool animals and birds...
Lately, I've been taking notice,
by Harry Kemp
The sunlight speaks. And it's voice is a bird:
It glitters half-guessed half seen half-heard
Above the flower bed. Over the lawn ...
A flashing dip and it is gone.
And all it lends to the eye is this --
A sunbeam giving the air a kiss
I remember when I first acknowledged hummingbirds as a kid. I was living in Maryland at the time, and right outside our kitchen window was a big bush filled with flowers. I recall it being this enormous tree, but I was like two feet tall, so everything was big to me. The bush attracted hummingbirds every morning. And I remember sitting at the table in a trance, just watching them fly around the flowers. My mother would share little tidbits about hummingbirds, and I would learn they loved 'sugar' as much as I did, making me a little hummingbird too.
I have since learned that high quantities of sugar is not good for you - so, um, you shouldn't try to be a hummingbird - and a whole bunch of scientific facts about the why, the how, the where, the what and when hummingbirds eat and live. But the excitement I get every time I see a hummingbird is not because of all the science and knowledge on the subject, instead, it's the pure joy I have watching them buzz around, just like I experienced as a kid.
And so with bright yellows and reds,
Hummingbird Magic appeared on the canvas:
This new series, like most collections of paintings I start, is of course, an ongoing work in progress.
Oil Pastels - It's like spreading color with lipstick.
It's like being six again and looking at a box of crayons, oh the possibilities.
I had made for other projects....
The Grand Canyon
- According to the National Park's website.
And of course, I tried some 'en plein aire.'
Sometimes it is what is right in front of you that is the story worth telling.
New Watercolor Prints
So last Saturday, I was doing some gesture painting of Quail, House Sparrows and my favorite this week, the Harris Antelope Squirrel. Now, because the animal moves... and really doesn't stop moving... ever... with watercolor gesture painting, you get blobs of paint that kind of resemble a distorted road-kill version of the really adorable creature you are trying desperately to paint...
And sometimes, you can take those gestures, and with a little digital magic,
turn them into works of art....
I've discovered the
Harris Antelope Squirrel
That doesn't really show it's cuteness...
Or how about...
A good wildlife drawing or painting is usually rendered quite well - but a great or even exceptional wildlife painting, I believe, captures the soul - the personality - the life of the subject. By doing the Harris Antelope Squirrel in three different mediums, I am able to explore different styles, textures, etc. that will help me find my way to share the soul, the personality, and the life of the subject - at least, how I see it or experience it. Most likely, these studies will lead to a larger pastel drawing or even a painting. I know for sure though, this little squirrel gives so much inspiration in it's tiny package, that I'll never stop wanting to draw or paint it!
"To the extent that artists struggle to express beauty in form and color and sound, to the extent that they write about man's struggle with nature or society, or himself, to that extent they strike a responsive chord in all humanity. Today, Sophocles speaks to us from more than 2,000 years. And in our own time, even when political communications have been strained, the Russian people have bought more than 20,000 copies of the works of Jack London, more than 10 million books of Mark Twain, and hundreds and thousands of copies of Hemingway, Steinbeck, Whitman, and Poe; and our own people, through the works of Tolstoy and Dostoievsky and Pasternak have gained an insight into the shared problems of the human heart.
Thus today, as always, art knows no national boundaries.
Genius can speak at any time, and the entire world will hear it and listen. Behind the storm of daily conflict and crisis, the dramatic confrontations, the tumult of political struggle, the poet, the artist, the musician, continues the quiet work of centuries, building bridges of experience between peoples, reminding man of the universality of his feelings and desires and despairs, and reminding him that the forces that unite are deeper than those that divide.
Thus, art and the encouragement of art is political in the most profound sense, not as a weapon in the struggle, but as an instrument of understanding of the futility of struggle between those who share man's faith. Aeschylus and Plato are remembered today long after the triumphs of imperial Athens are gone. Dante outlived the ambitions of 13th century Florence. Goethe stands serenely above the politics of Germany, and I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.
It was Pericles' proudest boast that politically Athens was the school of Hellas. If we can make our country one of the great schools of civilization, then on that achievement will surely rest our claim to the ultimate gratitude of mankind. Moreover, as a great democratic society, we have a special responsibility to the arts, for art is the great democrat calling forth creative genius from every sector of society, disregarding race or religion or wealth or color. The mere accumulation of wealth and power is available to the dictator and the democrat alike. What freedom alone can bring is the liberation of the human mind and spirit which finds its greatest flowering in the free society.
Thus, in our fulfillment of these responsibilities toward the arts lie our unique achievement as a free society."
- President John F Kennedy, Remarks at a Close & Circuit Television Broadcast on Behalf of the National Cultural Center. November 29, 1962
"In the long history of man, countless empires and nations have come and gone. Those which created no lasting works of art are reduced today to short footnotes in history's catalog.
Art is a nation's most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves, and to others, the inner vision which guides us as a Nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish.
We in America have not always been kind to the artists and the scholars who are the creators and the keepers of our vision. Somehow, the scientists always seem to get the penthouse, while the arts and the humanities get the basement.
Last year, for the first time in our history, we passed legislation to start changing that situation. We created the National Council on the Arts.
The talented and the distinguished members of that Council have worked very hard. They have worked creatively. They have dreamed dreams and they have developed ideas.
This new bill, creating the National Foundation for the Arts and the Humanities, gives us the power to turn some of those dreams and ideas into reality.
We would not have that bill but for the hard and the thorough and the dedicated work of some great legislators in both Houses of the Congress. All lovers of art are especially indebted to Congressman Adam Clayton Powell of New York, to Congressman Frank Thompson of New Jersey, to Senator Lister Hill of Alabama, to Senator Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island, to many Members of both the House and Senate who stand with me on this platform today--too many names to mention.
But these men and women have worked long and hard and effectively to give us this bill. And now we have it. Let me tell you what we are going to do with it. Working together with the State and the local governments, and with many private organizations in the arts:
--We will create a National Theater to bring ancient and modern classics of the theater to audiences all over America.
--We will support a National Opera Company and a National Ballet Company.
--We will create an American Film Institute, bringing together leading artists of the film industry, outstanding educators, and young men and women who wish to pursue the 20th century art form as their life's work.
--We will commission new works of music by American composers.
--We will support our symphony orchestras.
--We will bring more great artists to our schools and universities by creating grants for their time in residence.
Well, those are only a small part of the programs that we are ready to begin. They will have an unprecedented effect on the arts and the humanities of our great Nation.
But these actions, and others soon to follow, cannot alone achieve our goals. To produce true and lasting results, our States and our municipalities, our schools and our great private foundations, must join forces with us.
It is in the neighborhoods of each community that a nation's art is born. In countless American towns there live thousands of obscure and unknown talents.
What this bill really does is to bring active support to this great national asset, to make fresher the winds of art in this great land of ours.
The arts and the humanities belong to the people, for it is, after all, the people who create them."
- Lyndon B Johnson,Remarks at the Signing of the Arts and Humanities Bill. September 29, 1965
We can make it so the arts flourish and not just survive.
Participate & Support locally, nationally, and globally.
I've fallen in love... Big black eyes, tan and gray, and somewhere between a prairie dog and a rat... this little creature has entered my heart:
Did you notice how cute he or she is? Here's a better picture...
But, this past week, I went to the Desert Botanical Garden, in Phoenix, and fell in love with them all over again... Because it's spring, and spring is a marvelous time of year.
It's the time of year when we get to see cute, little ground squirrels munching on new leaves as they climb up high into the trees...
They are just so darn cute.
New design - Sea Turtle swimming with school of Raccoon Butterflyfish
– Kahlil Gibran
But sometimes a subject sticks with me for awhile. Sea Turtles seem to be one of those kinds of inspirations that lingers for long periods of time. In addition to their color and form, I just find them so fascinating: How they return to the same beach they were born to lay eggs, despite swimming thousands of miles away... how they can't actually retreat into their shells like land turtles, but still have the same overall shape. And how they have been swimming in the world's oceans for over 100 million years, continuously providing a critical part of the marine ecosystem. There is a beautiful mystery that surrounds them as they glide freely through the water.
So tonight, I created a new graphic inspired by the endangered green sea turtle swimming among a school of raccoon butterflyfish:
The official National Mammal is celebrated today for it's central role in American history, how it shaped the great plains, and continues to play a vital role in Native American's history and spirituality. Did you know that millions of bison used to roam from Alaska to Mexico, coast to coast, before settlers reached America. And then in 1876, almost all were gone due to heavy hunting and mass killings, including where almost a million were killed in 3 years! It was then that organizations like the American Bison Society began to save the bison and protect it. Now over 100 years later, the American Bison not only has it's own day (the first Saturday of November) but it also was recognized as the National Mammal in May 2016. It's been on a long road to recovery, but perhaps people will begin to appreciate and see the spiritual significance of the American Bison.
All these fun facts are inspiring new work - or maybe just encountering some Bison back in September inspired me to start drawing...
Here are some drawings inspired by the American Bison...
New original art magnets
I've been experimenting with new materials and approaches, so these magnets are a glimpse of whats to come... Here they are:
New Clownfish illustration - Pattern & Single
These illustrations were inspired by the false clownfish. Similar to the orange clownfish, the false clownfish has a thinner black line between the orange and white stripes. I just really like the contrast of orange and white...
Check them out at my society6.com shop, if you want to carry around a clownfish or wear a clownfish.
Dark Clouds, Lightning, Hail, Rain, and other stormy weather adjectives..
From tornadoes to thunder storms to clouds dancing over mountains - the colors, mood and music of thunder has started to find its way into some new paintings and drawing. Working with new mediums like graphite powder, and a more limited tinted palette, I'm very excited about the abstract direction these are going. I have a feeling these stormy paintings are the beginning of a few new collections on thunder storms, tornadoes, and hurricanes.
Here is some stormy new work:
Join me October 8th & 9th at Salt River Fields for Uncommon Markets
Here are a few sketches of some of the birds I saw:
New graphic illustration - Lounging Sheep
Landscape watercolor & pastel studies, traveling from Austria to Switzerland.
A week in Munich, Germany is not enough. If you want to see all the attractions and WWII history, don't discover the English Garden. This traveling artist found herself inspired by the little oasis of nature and dozens of geese for a few days before taking a train to Salzburg, and missing out on all of Munich has to offer. Although, we did get to see a couple art museums and met some new friends.