The Spirit of a Naturalist Artist

We are lucky to have guest blogger, Nanci Olesen,  share her relationship with nature through art and text. When I first saw Nanci’s work in a Minneapolis Star Tribune article (, I was touched by the intimacy of her sketches and how she was able to connect to nature through art.

I have filled small sketchbooks and journals with my drawing and writing for as long as I can remember.   I am a mom of adult children and a Montessori teacher. Montessori education is rooted in peace, simplicity, independence, and the wonder of the natural world.   I like to pay attention. I like to follow the child. 
Nanci Olesen

The next 4 drawings appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and document the quiet beauty of an everyday nature walk. Beneath each sketch are Nanci’s nature notes from the day.

30 december 18: Mid afternoon, sort of grey. Still cold, but not bitter. Me neither. I met an old friend on the path. We chatted. We found a red hatted woman happily pointing to a pileated woodpecker (red capped of course). We saw chickadees and juncos too. Later, a boy from my old school, Lamont. In a red hat! “Fourth grade is hard!” And me, with my red hat on, just taking it all in. Oh yes, and I fell on the ice… twice!…


31 december 18
4 pm. Greeeeeyyyyyy. Snow’s coming. Ice still freaking us all out. I only slipped two times. Deep in the bird sanctuary is a little streamlet-kind-of pond. Mallards were doing their happy swim and their funny ra-ra-ra-ra sound. That same pileated woodpecker (or so I think) swooped low, making some loud wa-wa-wa-wa… and me, quietly, to all of it: “Woah.” Snow falling at an angle and temperature dropping steadily. The tree trunk seemed to say “Onward into the new year.” The pond responded “Shoooooshh.” “Tzee, tzee,” whispered the fallen branch.

1 january 19
There are two lifeguard chairs at North Beach, Lake Harriet. I like the one on the left. Sunset. Resolutions. Bravery. “Happy New Year,” I say from my perch on the chair, gazing out at the miraculous ice. Surprisingly, the lifeguard chair responds, “Same to you!!”

3 january 19
It’s that blue of dusk… especially in the winter. Glorious! Deep blue– getting inky—but still holding light. The simple magnificence of it all. Oh baby!
The b e a u t y ! Indeed.

I look to the big picture.  I like wilderness travel.  I like theatre and dance and music.  Yellow is my favorite color.  I swim in Lake Harriet. I play the piano late at night.  I have a humorous husband.  I have grown a garden and cooked dinner and hosted parties and raised our children and ridden my bike in the Kingfield neighborhood of Minneapolis for 37 years.
Nanci Olesen

Do you want to see more of Nanci’s work?
Visit her website (
Check out her weekly “visual practice blog” (
And her Instagram (
Share these links on your own social media!

Below I’ve selected some of Nanci’s online work:

Berkeley loves its twinkly lights. And I love it all. New perspectives continue. Reading for real and getting organized. Thank you, Mary Oliver.

Lupine. Loopin’ back to all that is and was, and loping forward to the next of it. There is so much best in us left in us. Gratitude.
#lupinedrawings, #kahlilgibran, #showyourwork, #littledrawings, #nanciolesen

Lake Superior full moon 12 days ago. Time flies as we await the melting ice. Looking for the big picture. This one. The one I see.
#fullmoon,   #carryon,   #watercolorpencils, #showyourwork, #nanciolesen

On that amazing day I saw the full moon over the ocean, I met a Baird’s Trogon, I heard a monkey howl in the darkness, and I trembled through a tremor from an earthquake. #nanciolesen, #coloredpencildrawings, #costaricadrawings, #showyourwork

Nanci drawing, at the top of Devil’s Causeway in the Flat Tops Wilderness in northern Colorado, summer 2018.

Currently I am in a study cycle in Berkeley, CA, working on drawing and writing skills.  I have a grant to work with a mentor at the Berkeley Art Studio on a children’s book that is living in my head.

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1 Response to The Spirit of a Naturalist Artist

  1. Barbara says:

    This is marvelous and inspiring! Way to go, Nanci, and thanks to the Old Naturalist for publishing!

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