Banner Image by Monica Mull
Rosalie Haizlett is a nature and outdoor illustrator who recently finished up an artist residency in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
She says her artist passion lies in “honoring the tiny, overlooked creatures in nature” and when she teaches watercolor workshops (both in her park residency and after) her goal is to give students a chance to slow down and rediscover their childlike curiosity in the forest.
It’s a good practice. After all, being intentional and slowing down has therapeutic benefits as well. For Rosalie, the slow practices of walking outside and painting helped her overcome outdoor-related anxieties, treat chronic migraines, and feel confidence in her career path. A clear head and a pure purpose.
Find out more, in Rosalie’s words:
A quick scroll through my Instagram feed might convey that I am a fearless nature adventure woman and that I have always been this way. But it wasn’t until recently that I overcame my fears and began to deepen my relationship with the outdoors. This growth has given me so much… from physical health to a clear and fulfilling path for my artistic career.
I was a fearful kid in general, but especially in the outdoors. Family swim time in the pristine New Hampshire lake? I’d do it, but I’d scream about leeches every time something touched my leg. On family hikes, I’d ask my mom to walk ahead of me to scare away any snakes in our path. Even all these years later, I still have the occasional nightmare about the climb up Pike’s Peak in our clunky 1994 Suburban that I was sure would lose its brakes on the way down.
I loved nature, but only when it felt safe. Like drawing the birds in our yard and identifying plants native to West Virginia, or taking bike trips and canoe rides where I could experience the outdoors without the evils of nature reaching me. I told my dad once, “I enjoy nature… from a safe distance.”
In 9th grade, something started to change. I suffer from chronic migraines and around that time they became so severe and frequent that I had to be hospitalized for a time. My neurologist suggested that instead of trying to sleep it off every time one came knocking, I should take a walk.
So, I started walking. First I stayed on the paths that wind through our hilly West Virginia farm, and eventually I began straying off and following wherever my curiosity pulled me. Little by little my outdoor-anxiety faded away and I began to spend as much time as possible outside. On these walks I started to really “see” nature. Those details and those outdoor experiences became the basis of many of my watercolor illustrations. I also noticed that the more time I spent in the outdoors instead of inside under fluorescent lights or staring at a screen, the fewer migraines I had.
Fast forward to late last year, I saw an article about Artist-in-Residence programs at national parks across the country. A few months later, I drove from the rolling hills of my West Virginia home into the soft, blue mountains of Tennessee. I had been selected as one of six 2018 Artists-in-Residence at Great Smoky Mountains National Park to live and create in the park for 5 weeks.
Each morning over coffee at the picnic table in my hemlock-shaded backyard, I studied a trail map to plan out my adventure for the day. I spent four to seven hours solo hiking all over the park each day, taking my time to sit and sketch the views, insects, fungi, flowers, and anything else that caught my attention.
I had never solo hiked in unknown forests longer than a couple of hours before this residency began. Honestly, some of my childhood fears came rumbling back in my first few days in the mountains, fueled by frequent sightings of black bears and the occasional timber rattler. But now I felt equipped to handle those fears.
… the more I see and understand these creatures and the rhythms of nature, the less afraid I am.
Being more aware and appreciative of our surroundings is a skill that takes time and practice to develop, just like any other skill. The more time I spend in the woods, the more I am struck by the intricacy of the beasts and birds and beetles that call it home. And the more I see and understand these creatures and the rhythms of nature, the less afraid I am.
After each hike, I’d return to my little woodland home and channel my inspiration from the day into my paintbrush. Some of my favorite things to paint were the crazy fungi that grow in the park, the synchronous fireflies that put on an incredibly rare and magical mating ritual in a small section of the park each June, and other tiny creatures that make the park their home.
I think that one of my callings as an artist is to depict these small creatures and details with a reverence that causes people to pause and consider the value that they hold, maybe for the first time.
I’ve always been an observer. Maybe that comes from being the middle child in a large family or maybe I was just wired this way, but I’ve always been drawn to the stories of places and creatures that are left out of the conversation… the firefly that people might step on because they’re not paying attention or the endangered snail that doesn’t get much appreciation. I think that one of my callings as an artist is to tap into that role and depict these small creatures and details with a reverence that causes people to pause and consider the value that they hold, maybe for the first time.
I put that in practice in the Smokies by leading artistic engagement with park visitors. During the two-week long synchronous firefly display, I wore homemade glow-in-the-dark firefly wings over my NPS volunteer uniform and handed out art activity booklets that I made to families so that kids could learn about the phenomenon in a creative way. I also frequented nature trails with my painting supplies so that visitors could ask me questions about my process and see how art can be found everywhere in nature.
I think that by discovering the beauty in the mundane, we are less likely to wish we were somewhere else and are more apt to be thankful for wherever we are in a particular moment.
I’ve found that many adults take hikes to reach a destination, like the summit of a mountain with a spectacular view. But if we approach the outdoors with that destination-driven mentality, then we miss the amazing natural wonders that are right around us all the time. I think that by discovering the beauty in the mundane, we are less likely to wish we were somewhere else and are more apt to be thankful for wherever we are in a particular moment.
At the end of my five weeks in the mountains, I felt physically stronger than I ever had. Emotionally, I was proud of myself for working through fear and coming out on top. And artistically, I knew that I was on the right path.
In less than two weeks, I will set out on a two-month-long adventure to backpack across Europe with my sister, Clara, and then live with her and create artwork in Amman, Jordan for 6 weeks. She studies Arabic there and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get to know a culture and desert landscape so different from what I’m used to. I’ll be doing lots of travel sketching and sharing the work through Instagram. When I return, my goals are to build up a few more ongoing freelance illustration clients, grow my nature paper goods shop, and continue to travel around giving workshops on nature observation and illustration.
Photos courtesy of Rosalie Haizlett
Rosalie runs a whimsical nature-related illustrated paper goods business and takes on freelance projects related to plant-based food and nature illustration. See more of her artwork on Instagram @rosaliehaizlett and learn about her workshops and other projects at rosaliehaizlett.com.