Thinking about cranes

I’ve been working with a team of artists on a 35-foot-wide mural at the Gustavus Community Center. The artwork is an acknowledgement of the many donors who helped make the place possible, so we were asked to include the symbols for each donor level. These include several local plant and animal species—including sandhill cranes, called dóol in Lingít.

I didn’t grow up around cranes, so they feel extra thrilling to me: the heralds of spring and fall, arriving with their wild musical calls, settling down for a time in the wetlands nearby, and then spiraling upward skein after skein on their way north or south.

I enjoyed those mural cranes so much that I did a tiny version for a commission piece. I started by cutting a crane shape out of illustration board, then adding the details with watercolor pencils, pen, and acrylic:

… then I attached the cutout to a metal disk that was spray-painted with “hammered copper” Rustoleum. I’m very pleased with the finished piece!

Artober memories

This was the third year I’ve done daily drawings in the month of October. This year I used “Artober” prompt lists from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators. I posted most of mine on Instagram—here are some of my favorites.

“Toothed.” It got me thinking, what if all whales were toothed?
And of course Banjo Woman had to make an appearance. This prompt was “sweater.” And the day before had been “wiggly” and “mushroom” — hence her perch.


I’ve been playing with pop-up technology lately, making cards and art out of an abundance of handmade paper scraps that I’ve accumulated. I’m not much of an engineer, but I’m enjoying the challenge of creating little artworks that reveal three-dimensional surprises when opened.

Here’s one from a few months ago; it’s the second in a (hopefully) annual series of holiday gifts for friends. First photo is the closed card, second is as it’s meant to be displayed.

And here’s a book-like one I made this week. Outside cover, then interior.

A big thank-you to my friend, book artist Artemis BonaDea of North Bound Books for introducing me to paste paper and pop-ups, and teaching me techniques!

Spring sighting

A welcome sighting in the cottonwood tree next to the house today: a female varied thrush. She has remained near the house all day, alternating between basking in the sun and gleaning spilled birdseed. It’s still quite chilly, even in the sun, so she was a delightfully puffy little ball to draw.

Varied thrush sketch by K.Hocker

Her warm colors–russet and ochre chest and stripes, soft duff-brown back, and yellow-pink legs–are a delight.

Neighbor Frank

It’s almost the end of bird feeder season here; bears will be out soon and we don’t want to operate a bear feeder. One of the birds we’ll miss watching so closely is the song sparrow we nicknamed Frank. He’s here every day, and spends a lot of time eating and defending his millet seed, so he makes a great sketch model. This is my first attempt to post a live recording of a sketch from the Procreate app.

Song sparrow sketch by K. Hocker

Frank probably won’t go far. We’ll likely be hearing his powerful song from over by the river within the next couple of weeks as he enters nesting mode.

The Lingít name for songbird is ts’ats’ée. When pronounced well, it sounds to me a lot like this species’ song.

Sunrise season

Our house faces pretty much due East. At this latitude, that means the sun rises too far south in the winter to shine in our windows. I miss it! But these days the sunrise point is slightly further north— and its arc is a little higher—every day. The growing light is a wonderful thing.

Meanwhile, we’re enjoying peripheral sunrises. I especially love the time just before the sun comes up, when the cool snow highlights contrast with the warm cloud glow. This is a digital sketch from yesterday.

New art lesson: river rhythms

Every year, a river’s channel shifts as water, waterborne sediment, and freeze/thaw forces erode its banks and deposit sediment in its path. Some rivers, such as ones bedded in rock, shift very slowly, over thousands or millions of years. On the other hand, soft-bedded rivers can shift their beds by several feet a year. 

I’m particularly aware of these fast-shifting “sand-bed” rivers because there’s one visible from my studio window. Wunachích t’aakhéen (the Salmon River) makes its loopy way across the flat sweep of glacial outwash on which the town of Gustavus is built. 

As sand-bed rivers shift, they leave beautiful traces on the landscape. Sometimes those fossil channels are visible in aerial and satellite photos. But because they’re elevationally subtle, fossil channels are often hidden under forests or human development.

Streams and fossil channels on the Kenai Peninsula. Satellite image from Google Maps

LIDAR technology is a way to expose a river’s fossil channels–there are some particularly beautiful examples out there for the Mississippiand the Willamette.

I recently built an art/science lesson around this story of meandering rivers. It starts with basic earth science background: erosion and deposition, river migration. Then students use the art elements of line, shape, and color, and the design principles of emphasis, rhythm, and movement, to create artworks that convey river channel migration over time. Here’s an example:

So far I’ve taught the lesson three times: once to teachers, and twice to 7th grade classes. I’m still working out the details, but I’m getting some positive initial reactions! Teachers: if you’re interested in learning more about this “River Rhythms” art/science lesson, let me know.