Member Sandy Miller leads Nature Campers in a watercolor demonstration | photo by Carol Roll

One winter, years ago, a friend called Sandy Bricel Miller to see if she wanted to go bird watching in Skagit Valley. Sandy agreed, and they were greeted with the sights and sounds of thousands of birds including geese, raptors, and songbirds. She describes the experience as “discovering a whole hidden world that she had no awareness of” before this visit. Birds and nature have always brought Sandy joy, but she recalls this trip as especially inspiring and informing her future deepened interest in birds. As she began to birdwatch more frequently, she learned about the habitat of different species and began to incorporate birds, nests, and their habitats into her work as an artist.  

Fast forward to today, Sandy’s Red Ochre Art Studio partnered with Birds Connect Seattle’s summer Nature Camp to include four week-long sessions devoted to visual art expression for our campers.  

Nature and birds have always been a wonderful source of inspiration for visual arts – so many colors, patterns, shapes, textures, and sounds. The campers were excited to express their creativity during a week filled with various art media.  

We caught up with a group of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders to see how they enjoyed working with watercolor to create feather and bird compositions. Sandy and our Camp Naturalists guided the group of campers as they learned about different brush strokes, color mixing, and proportions.  

Zina, age 11

Favorite art medium: sewing on a sewing machine

“I like blending in watercolor. Watercolor can produce different textures, so it is good to use to paint birds.  

“I’m inspired by birds because they are so different, but so similar. They might look the same, but because of different feathers and wings one can go so fast, and the other much slower.” 

Eddy, age 9

Favorite art medium: watercolor

“I make a lot of art related to nature. I really like painting the night sky using watercolor because I like the way you get to mix the colors. I get to start with the color that is the closest to the color I want and then mix in another color to get it exactly the way I want.  

“Birds are inspiring because of how amazing they look. And how different each bird is.” 

Emerson, age 12

Favorite art medium: a Cricut machine to draw and cut out a wide variety of shapes

“For the feather stripes I was doing lines of paint. I was practicing by pressing on the brush to try and get the speckles in the feather.  

“I find birds inspiring for art because birds have a lot of color. Obviously, this is just one feather, but there is a lot of variety in color and texture.” 

Ella, age 10

Favorite art medium: all types

“To start with an art piece, I usually look at the photo and do a rough sketch. Then I see if I need to add anything or change it before painting. Blending the watercolors was the fun part of this painting.” 

In addition to individual art projects, Nature Campers worked as a group throughout the week on something they called “Timmy Time”–creating a habitat for a stuffed animal turtle they lovingly named “Timmy. Using scraps of paper and cardboard, they worked together to construct Timmy’s “habitat. They created a modern architecture home complete with a chandelier, patio, and trampoline. Collaborative art projects like this promote imagination, teamwork, compromise, and cooperation. 

Camper sketching birds during a live falconry presentation.

Campers sketching at Hamlin Park on a field trip.

Artistic expression can be beneficial for children as it nurtures their creativity, emotional intelligence, and cognitive development. Engaging in various forms of art such as painting, drawing, music, and storytelling, allows children to explore their passions and imagination and translate their thoughts and feelings into tangible creations. This process not only enhances their fine motor skills but also encourages them to communicate in nonverbal ways. Art provides a safe outlet for children to express complex emotions that might be difficult to articulate verbally. Moreover, artistic activities foster a sense of accomplishment and self-esteem, as children take pride in their creations and see their efforts come to fruition. Sandy likes to encourage children to “focus on the process of observation and creation, rather than the final product.” Indeed, sometimes the best learning moments happen when one lets go of the focus on making “good” art, and instead explores what the brush or pencil can do.  

Special thanks to our Camp Naturalists Olivia and Leo, and Junior Camp Naturalists Joey and Rosemary, who led our campers on their artistic journeys over those four weeks of art-themed Nature Camp. 

Sandy Bricel Miller has been a member of Birds Connect Seattle since 1991. Sandy enjoys birding in the San Juan Islands. Sandy owns Red Ochre Art Studio in Magnuson Park, where she draws inspiration from nature she finds in the park, including the Ospreys that regularly perch outside her studio window. She studied art at the University of Washington, where she pursued a degree in art education, leading to a rich career teaching art to students of all ages.

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