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This “Giant Octopus” painting in Keyport, designed by Jacquelyn Speare, is part of a storm drain art project in Kitsap County. // Photo: Kitsap County Public Works

Art contests help to carry the clean-water message to people around Puget Sound

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I’m impressed with artists who combine their passion for nature with a message about protecting the environment and how we all have a role to play.

This week, I’d like to share winning artwork from two recent contests. One is a poster competition inspired by the “We are Puget Sound” (Water Ways) book and campaign. The other is a project that involves placing whimsical pictures of sea life on storm drains in Kitsap County.

The “We are Puget Sound” poster contest, which received dozens of entries from King County residents, was sponsored by the King County Library System in collaboration with Braided River (a nonprofit conservation arm of Mountaineers Books) and the Washington Environmental Council. Judging was done by staff members from the three groups.

“We love this collaborative way to express art through peoples’ experiences and connections with places they love,” said Mindy Roberts, WEC Puget Sound Program Director and contributing author of “We Are Puget Sound” in a news release. “Getting folks to explore and enjoy the Puget Sound through their own eyes and hearts is a perfect way to get them engaged.”

See all nine winning posters on the KCLS website.

Kathryn Chong

Kathryn “Elle” Chong, 11, is one of the youngest winners in the “We are Puget Sound” poster contest. She has been attending Sartori Elementary School, a “STEM” school in Renton, and will soon begin in-home-learning sessions at Nelson Middle School.

By artist Katherine “Elle” Chong, a winner in the “We are Puget Sound” poster contest

I was taken by both the design and execution of Elle’s picture, which shows a hand holding a watering can feeding the clouds as they rain down upon Puget Sound, which is shown with some of its iconic features: killer whale along with Seattle’s Space Needle, Pike Place Market and Great Wheel.

“I have been doing art since I could hold a pencil, which was before I was 1 year old,” Elle told me in an email. “I hope to be a graphic designer to draw cartoons, movies or video games and a mechanical engineer like my grandfather.”

The inspiration for her drawing came from watching her mom watering plants and realizing that rain is part of our identity in Western Washington.

Elle used a professional grade of fiber-enhanced (construction) paper and Marabu brand of art crayons — “softer, more-easily-flowing crayons,” she explained, which allowed her to achieve the unusual texture in her piece.

“I was going for a relief effect on the clouds,” she told me. “I slowly made continuous circles around the paper until I was happy how it looked, trying to get it to look light and fluffy. It really gave me a challenge, and it was kind of frustrating at first, but with each draft I saw improvement. And, in the end, it was really fun!”

In addition to her interest in art, Elle is active in a long list sports and other activities. She enjoys music and was introduced to the Suzuki method of violin instruction at the age of 4.

Natalie Johnson

A teenage winner in the “We are Puget Sound” poster contest is Natalie Johnson, 17, of Thomas Jefferson High School in Federal Way.

By artist Natalie Johnson, a winner in the “We are Puget Sound” poster contest

Natalie created her picture of enriched sea and sky in what she calls a layered-art form. “I honestly don’t know what it’s actually called,” she said in an email. “I haven’t seen it displayed anywhere; I just tend to make cartoonish art without much shadowing/highlighting for depth. Once I realized I could do just that without draining ink from my pens, I started to favor this layered-paper style.

“One great thing about cutting paper instead of drawing: no eraser marks or smudges!” she noted. “If the scissors slip, you just recut. The only issue is teeny-tiny paper shreds all over the floor.

“Layered art is also pretty interesting because of the shadows; photographing it is like a whole different artistic process on top of the cutting and pasting.”

Her winning picture is like a collage of some of her earliest memories of Puget Sound, she told me. “The kite, octopus, boat, birds, they’re all little mementos.”

Natalie says she actually prefers film and photography to layered art, and she recently launched a photography business called Punctilious Portraiture. She has offered senior-portrait services to low-income students at her school. Check out the story by Olivia Sullivan in the Federal Way Mirror.

Natalie said she has lined up more than 20 senior photo shoots and is also working on a book featuring portraits of bees. She has signed up for her first film class at Shoreline Community College, having worked on a few short claymation videos and silent films.

Oddly enough, Natalie’s feelings about Puget Sound are rather mixed. “While I appreciate the wonderful people who inhabit the Puget Sound area, and I love the sea, I really don’t like Washington (weather) very much. Its seasons feel so mild and eternally dreary.”

She admits that her feelings may be the result of knowing this place too well. As she explores other parts of the U.S. and the world, she may acquire a new appreciation for this place she first called home.

April Hiller

One of the adult winners in the “We are Puget Sound” contest is April Hiller, a Seattle resident who was born and raised in Western Washington, living in various places around Puget Sound.

By artist April Hiller, a winner in the “We are Puget Sound” poster contest

Her acrylic painting involves a mountain skyline with Puget Sound in hues of blue and green. The picture includes a flying bald eagle, a pod of killer whales and two harbor seals looking in from the lower right corner.

“Some of my fondest memories are of playing on the beach all day, swimming, boating, fishing camping and hiking,” April told me in an email. “Puget Sound is an amazing place to live. Hopefully, we can protect it for future generations.”

April came from a large family of artistic, nature-loving folks, she said. Now a mother of four in her early 50s, she has three grandchildren and another on the way.

Always creative, April said she has tried sewing, writing, making jewelry and doing other crafts. Her love of music includes singing and songwriting. Only recently, however, has she begun to think of herself as an artist.

“A few years ago, I had some health issues, surgery and a slow recovery, unable to work for several months,” she said. “During this time, I was feeling frustrated and bored. I started doing crafts again, watching YouTube for inspiration, following different artists. I made more intricate cards, painted rocks, learned to sew bags, did mixed media art, used spray inks,
acrylic paint, fun papers, stencils, etc.

“Being creative had an amazing effect on me,” she continued. “It lifted my spirits and helped me heal. Over the last couple of years I’ve been painting more with acrylics, mostly making gifts for family.”

One of her first attempts was a painting of Mount Rainier and Puget Sound as seen from Bainbridge Island. She followed with other landscapes before her fiancé challenged her to paint a bird, then colorful fish, “so I continued pushing my way out of my comfort zone …

“I love sitting on my deck, watching the two eagles that frequently fly by and perch on the trees in front of my house,” she said. “Mount Rainier is so beautiful, whether up close walking on the trails or in the distance across the water. It’s always exciting to see orca whales and harbor seals from the beach.

“Looking at photos and watching videos of other artists painting whales, clouds, etc., helped me to combine some of my favorite things into one painting. What an honor that others appreciate my efforts.”

Storm drain paintings

A three-year-long public art project in Kitsap County is designed to help people understand how stormwater on their local streets can affect water quality in the streams and ultimately in Puget Sound.

Storm drain art by Kisha Baggs

This year, whimsical images of sea life will be painted on prominent storm drains in Manchester in South Kitsap, where they can be viewed by people passing by.

“Every brush stroke sends a message,” said Michelle Perdue, Stormwater Program manager for Kitsap County Public Works in a news release. “What goes down the drain connects directly into our natural waterways. Pollutants that go in the drains end up in our waterways and affect water quality, habitat and wildlife.

“The Manchester community is the perfect location for this project, with its walkable streets, enthusiastic community response and direct connection to our natural waterways,” she added.

This year, public aspects of the art contest were reduced because of the pandemic, but more than 600 votes were cast online to select two of the three winners, which will be painted on storm drains in Manchester in South Kitsap.

Two local artists, Kisha Baggs of Bremerton and Sarah Olson of Port Orchard, provided five pictures for the voting. See all five on the webpage for the art project.

Storm drain art by Sarah Olson

The “People’s Choice” awards went to two designs — a family of otters and a Dungeness crab, both by Sarah — while the “County Commissioner’s Choice” was a piece depicting a jellyfish by Kisha.

“There are a lot of people who launch (their boats) at Manchester to go crabbing for Dungeness Crab,” Sarah said, explaining her inspiration for the crab picture. “After doing research on what they looked like alive, I was surprised that they were almost purple. I have mostly only seen them cooked where they are so much redder!”

This is the second of three years of the storm drain art project. Last year, the artwork adorned storm drains in Keyport in North Kitsap. Next year, the project will move to Central Kitsap, tentatively Old Town Silverdale, according to Kym Pleger, stormwater education and outreach coordinator for Kitsap County Public Works.

Kym said the success of the art project has attracted the interest of other communities, including Federal Way and Port Angeles, which may start their own events next year.

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