With her background in both art and science, artist Kimberly Moss specializes in making complex scientific information understandable and relevant for non-scientists. Moss, an assistant professor in the Department of Art & Visual Culture at Iowa State University, will be spending part of her summer living and working in Yellowstone as an Artist-in-Residence. Recently, we spoke with Moss about her plans for her time in Yellowstone, her unique contributions to butterfly conservation, and her advice for aspiring artists.
Yellowstone Forever: What aspects of Yellowstone most interest you as an artist?
Kimberly Moss: Yellowstone is an amazing and dynamic place with so much to offer an artist! The interconnectedness of all of the natural elements in the ecosystem is something that inspires me. I am constantly drawn to the complexity of organisms that inhabit an area and often stop during a hike to crouch down near the ground to discover a “forest within a forest.”
Drawing and painting are a way to untangle, understand, and process the intricacy of form and the myriad of macro and micro functionality—individual parts and smaller systems working together to serve and connect to a larger whole. There are so many levels of beauty within the Yellowstone ecosystem—it’s incredible how they each play a role. And the range of colors on display at Yellowstone isn’t too bad either!
YF: How would you describe the style of art you create?
KM: Since I am trained as a biomedical illustrator, I create a lot of work that emphasizes realism, accuracy, and an instructional focus. However, I also have a background in fine art and enjoy blending scientific illustration with other art styles for less didactic presentations; here I am aiming to strike a balance between a teaching focus and content that is more open to interpretation in order to engage the viewer in science in a different way.
My creative activities also include interactive visualization, biomedical public art, and instructional design. The underlying intent across all of these areas is to motivate positive change, stewardship of the natural world, and to make science meaningful and accessible to a broad audience.
YF: What do you plan to work on while you’re in Yellowstone?
One aspect of the work I plan to do at Yellowstone is to focus on the relationship of the American Apollo butterfly, Parnassius clodius, to the ecosystem. This beautiful butterfly is an alpine species that has a particular link to the timing of snowmelt in the spring and mountain meadow plants in the summer. I’m collaborating with ecologist, Dr. Diane Debinski of Montana State University, so I can document and tell the visual story of her research.
One of the most important aspects of this species is its vulnerability to change in weather patterns—with erratic timing of snowmelt in the spring, it may not be able to colonize key habitat areas. In fact, other Parnassius species across the globe are losing their habitat, such as the Parnassius apollo which is on the red list in Poland. If you spot an American Apollo in Yellowstone, you can report it to e-Butterfly.org.
YF: What advice would you have for someone who is trying their hand at creating art for the first time?
KM: Don’t overthink it and don’t be afraid to try! Start with sketching and make a sketchbook your “everyday carry.” Use drawing as a way of thinking and annotate your sketches with descriptions, the date, the weather, location, colors you see, textures, how you feel, etc.
Avoid being overly critical of your work—instead, just get it down and push ahead. You will improve over time and you will remember more of what it is you’re looking at. Sketching and drawing is a wonderful way to take in your surroundings and really start to “see” or observe natural forms. Stay positive and enjoy it!
Moss will be in Yellowstone from July 28 through August 9, 2018. Learn more about the Artists-in-Residence program and Moss’s schedule here.