Winter Musing in an Alpine Refuge: Creative residency January 18-30, 2016
By Véronique Robigou – Artist, Geologist, and Natural Science Illustrator.
At the start of the year, I was very fortunate to join the legion of artists, naturalists, and scientists who before me have benefited from the North Cascades’ Institute Creative Residency Program. A retreat as artist-in-residence in the remote, alpine setting of the North Cascades Learning Center! An escape from my city routine with all the comfort of a chalet in the forest, the support of the center staff, and the intellectual stimulation of interacting with graduate students that study environmental education at the center. What an ideal way to start the year!
In winter, the Diablo lake landscape is not as colorful as alpine peaks and meadows blooming in Spring nor as glorious as the golden forests of the Fall but… the dark gray skies, the perfectly still surface of the lake, and the snowy trails are conducive to quiet and creative reflection – a luxury that I rarely have time for in my daily life. I relished long, silent walks through the forests, and along the lakeshore, and many hikes up the snow-covered, mountain trails. The seemingly, dormant nature was amazingly vibrant with mosses and mushrooms thriving in the constant rain. And plants, bushes and trees were nurturing intricate, delicate buds. Buds that my eye had never quite noticed in the same way before. As I explored the area for the first time, I discovered nature in a season during which I usually don’t sketch in “plein air”. Hiking silently through towering Douglas firs, Sitka alders, and Ponderosa pines gave me an opportunity to muse and dream up new projects. Immersed in the subdued colors of winter, my sketches were infused not only by my observations in the natural world but also by the pitter-patter of rain, the raucous call of a solitary raven or the occasional rock fall on the mountain slope. Sounds became elements of my visual musings. Sounds became colors.
When the rain would not take a break, I found refuge in the cozy center’s library to read and do research. Focusing on local, topographic maps, reports about the construction of the hydroelectric dams on the Skagit River, history of the Diablo lake region and natural history guides of the area, I unearthed fascinating ingredients that will feed new artworks. Over the next few months, all this new information, my observations and my impressions will gradually coalesce into new ideas to express with colors on paper and reflecting my time at NCI.
My discussions with the talented staff and students at the center have been some of the brightest moments of my stay. Sharing meals, life experiences and stories, art and science insights, and teaching strategies enriched my reflective time with energy from a youthful and dedicated group of people that enthusiastically share their passion for the environment. The atmosphere that they create and nurture at the center is a priceless addition to any creative endeavor. I also spent time facilitating an “Art of Map” workshop for the graduate students who literally transformed a gloomy, rainy day into “Liquid Sunshine”. Read more at
As much as I thrive in the intensity of traveling afar, I may have found that a local, creative haven at the North Cascades Learning Center. How thrilling to have access to this refuge just a few hours from my studio! I look forward to future explorations at and around the center in all seasons.
Véronique is an artist, natural science illustrator, geologist, and educator at Ocean et Terra Studio in Seattle, WA. Learn more at www.oceanetterrastudio.com