Coeur d’Alene watercolor artist Jessica Bryant has been an artist in residence at four national parks, shown her work at the U.S. Botanical Gardens in Washington, D.C., and had a solo exhibit at the Dahl Arts Center in Rapid City, South Dakota.
But Bryant used to hate painting.
“Drawing was my favorite through high school and college,” she said.
She picked up a paintbrush out of happenstance. She had young children at home and her husband, a software engineer, worked long hours. A catalogue of art classes arrived in the mail and she quickly signed up for a weekend class – watercolor painting. She expected to hate it.
“It was a way of getting out of the house,” she said.
She quickly discovered that watercolor was different than she imagined and by her third painting – a view of the Golden Gate Bridge that she painted from a picture she had – she knew she was on to something.
“It just kind of clicked,” she said. “It looked really quite good and felt effortless. I saw the potential of what I could do with it.”
Bryant prefers painting landscapes. She loves being outdoors and she likes to capture the essence of a place, showing how it looks without human impact.
“It gives the viewer a chance to have their own experience,” she said.
She was a finalist in The Artists’ Magazine’s annual art competition and won a national competition among former artists in residence for the Bureau of Land Management. She’s a signature member of the Northwest Watercolor Society and was the artist-in-residence at the Sorensen Magnet School in Coeur d’Alene for two terms. She is currently the Idaho Conservation League artist-in-residence and teaches workshops and classes in the Redbrick Art Studio in Coeur d’Alene.
She and her family frequently visit national parks and they were visiting the Grand Canyon one year when Bryant saw something about the artist-in-residence program and decided to investigate it.
“It seemed like a perfect fit,” she said. “I’d long wanted to take extended trips.”
She spent four artist-in-residence terms totaling 25 weeks in Badlands National Park. She’s also worked in Rocky Mountain National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, the Western Arctic National Parklands and the Owyhee Canyonlands Wilderness Area.
The park provides housing and each artist has to agree to donate a painting to the park and do some sort of public program, whether it’s at a local school or part of a ranger program.
“Outside of that your time is your own,” she said. “For me it’s a lot of hiking.”
Her goal is to get to know a place by hiking all through it. She rarely sits and paints on site, largely because it takes between 60 and 80 hours to create a 22 x 30 painting.
“I take a lot of photographs,” she said. “I don’t always know what I’m going to paint. I end up taking a bunch of photos.”
Sometimes she’ll take a perfect photo that she will recreate in paint. Other times she’ll base a painting on a photograph but adjust the lighting and shadows until the composition feels right. She said it’s important that she keep her landscapes accurate to the location and has often had people tell her they recognize a particular tree or rock that she’s captured in watercolor.
Her favorite national park is Death Valley.
“It has a ton of variety,” she said. “Visually it’s kind of just yummy.”
Death Valley is a lot more than desert, she said. There are jagged peaks, different colored rocks, mountain views and a variety of plants and animals if you know where and when to look. The way the light plays across the landscape is also captivating, she said.
“I get really excited by wide open empty places,” she said. “I like that emptiness.”
Closer to home Bryant has done several paintings of Tubbs Hill, a 120-acre park on the edge of Lake Coeur d’Alene near downtown. She is a board member of the Tubbs Hill Foundation.
“It’s a 10-minute walk from my house,” she said. “It’s awfully convenient. It’s like a little piece of a national park.”
To find out more about Bryant, her works and her upcoming exhibits and classes, find her online in these places: