For the Love of Art, Drawing, and Nature
I’ve been an artist as long as I can remember: I vividly recall being labeled an artist in Kindergarten by my classmates. It’s always been a part of who I am.
My mother was an art teacher, and my father had a degree in agriculture from Michigan State and was always outdoors with me, so I think my love for art and nature came quite naturally. I gravitated towards drawing mostly when I was younger, and I worked really hard on realism, mostly drawing animals. In college, I decided to become a teacher, with degrees in Studio Art and English Education, following in my mother’s footsteps.
I found that I loved teaching middle schoolers—the kids are at a really fun age, able and willing to learn so much but still silly and sweet. I got into watercolors when I had my first son. I no longer had time to haul out my oil paints, but watercolors were so fast and bright and easy to pick up/put down when a baby napped or gave me a few minutes. Can you believe that I actually hated watercolors in school? But it all clicked for me as a young mom. I practiced and played with it, and I loved it! I even began receiving requests for commissions.
I had taught a beginner’s watercolor unit to my 7th graders for years, including teaching them how to draw. I started using birds as our focus in the classroom, with John James Audubon as our art history/naturalist connection, because there’s so much variety and color with birds.
Around that same time, I started getting into birding: we lived in a little starter house in town at the time, but as I put out more feeders and different types of food, I started to delight in the number of birds I could attract to my little backyard! Next, I got multiple feeders, several bird baths, bird books, and nice binoculars…and so my bird addiction began!
One night, I had this crazy idea pop into my head: I should paint all the birds in Michigan and make a book! The muses seem to visit me at odd times when I’m trying to sleep. This is when I get all my most outlandish ideas, so I usually wait until morning to see if my thoughts have any merit. This one stuck with me, but it was overwhelming!
I had no idea where to start or how to do this kind of project. When I found out there were more than 100 native bird species in Michigan, I decided to just paint my favorite 20. Soon my list grew to more than 40. How could I leave off this bird or that one?
I knew I wanted to do a sketchbook-looking book, with notes—kind of in the style of one of my favorite author/illustrators growing up, Rien Poortvliet. And so I started painting!
It took a while; mostly I painted while my littles were down for naps on the weekends. And I was almost embarrassed to share my dream of making a book to anyone because it seemed a bit audacious. But my pile of paintings grew! Ironically, COVID-19 helped because I was home more and able to paint more.
I’ve learned so much during this whole process, from basic bird knowledge to formatting, copyrights, and publishing. With the help of some amazingly talented people at AdventureKEEN, my little pile of paintings and thoughts has been turned into a truly beautiful book!
About the Author: With Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Art Education, Jenny deFouw Geuder is an artist and educator in Michigan who has always loved nature and being outdoors.
Jenny especially loves gardening and hiking. She lives in the country with her husband, two small boys, a dog, five cats, a hedgehog, chickens, and occasionally two ponies.
She spends most of her summers at a rustic log cabin on a lake in northern Michigan, where she hikes, fishes, and enjoys the natural beauty of the area.