Art for Nature's Sake

My name is Dani, and I’m on a mission to learn about the natural world through the process of making art.

For the past several months I've been working on the Coldwater Collection—a series of watercolor illustrations featuring trout and salmon. This spring the collection launches with three species—the Brook Trout, Lake Trout, and Arctic Grayling. From now until the end of 2017, I'll release a new illustration each month, and hopefully you'll join me for the journey! Not only will it be beautiful, we'll learn about these creatures along the way. But before we jump in, I have a few things to share with you.

For the past several years I've been learning about and illustrating trout and salmon. Many folks have asked me, "why fish?" There are a few answers. One, it might be in my blood. My grandparents were wildlife artists, hunters, and sportsmen who respected nature. My grandfather could take a block of wood and turn it into a lifelike loon or trout. Observing their art work continues to influence the way I look at the world. Two, my paintings are my values. The more wildlife art in my life, the more I'm driven to advocate for quality natural resource management and protect habitat to ensure that wildlife can thrive. Three is simple: I’m a sucker for natural beauty. Go catch a trout, observe its life out of water for just a few seconds before releasing it back into the river. Then feel how alive you are, and how alive the whole river is! 

As I research fish, I find that every species has a story to tell. Some stories are marred by unbeatable hardship, such as that of Michigan’s Grayling—a fish that thrived in rivers like the Au Sable. But by the mid-twentieth century, the logging industry devastated its habitat, and the Grayling was no match for aggressive species that were introduced such as the Brown Trout. Today Grayling no longer exist in Michigan, but in 2016 Michigan's Department of Natural Resources announced a proposal to re-introduce the species to native streams. 

Other stories are hopeful. Sea lamprey, a parasitic fish native to the Atlantic, made its way into the Great Lakes through manmade canals in the 1800s. The lamprey literally sucked the life out of native trout populations that were thriving in the Lake Michigan basin. But in 2016, Jory Jonas of the Charlevoix Fisheries Research Station made an exciting discovery in the basin. About ten miles northeast of Traverse City, a lake that flows into Lake Michigan was protected from the lamprey thanks to the Elk Rapids HydroElectric Dam. While fish sampling on Elk Lake, Jory identified trout that looked unfamiliar, and a DNA test proved the existence of native lake trout.  

The recurring themes in each story are clear. Nature is easily disturbed, but also resilient. To know these stories is to pass them on. And part of my mission as a creative thinker is to keep you in the know so we stay connected to the wildlife around us. 

Thanks for joining me today, and stay tuned for stories of fly fishing the Au Sable and a Father's Day special from an extraordinary woodworker who made an exotic record-setting catch in 1977. All that and more to come!