Okanogan Students Integrate Plant Biology and Art in Field Journals Residency

by Ashley Lodato

Education Director, Methow Arts

In a unit that combined plant biology with field journalling, sketching, and botanical watercolors, Okanogan 5th graders observed, studied, drew, and painted plants and vegetation native to the Okanogan region.

First, students worked with longtime Okanogan teacher and artist Jim Anderson to design and construct field journals using mat board covers bound with duct tape. After personalizing their field journals with drawings, the students filled their new notebooks with blank cardstock, drawing paper, and watercolor paper in preparation for recording their field notes and sketches.

Methow Valley artist Kim Bondi traveled to Okanogan on three Fridays to work with the students on filling their journals with notes and visual representations of their observations. As spring came to the Okanogan region, students recorded the changes in their journals, noting when plans began to bud, leaf out, and green up.

In studying plants, students learned that leaves can be “entire” (the edges of the leaf are smooth with no teeth on them) or “serrate” (there are teeth along the edge of the leaf). They also learned to differentiate between “simple (one leaf at a time on the stem) or “compound” (a number of leaflets on the stem, usually directly across from each other).

When sketching leaves, students considered the shape and slope of the leaves—such as the heart-shaped aspen leaf or the more triangular cottonwood leaf.

Although the residency didn’t allow enough time to study all the plants in the Okanogan region, it did provide the opportunity for students to closely examine plants like Red Osier Dogwood, Quaking Aspen, Pussy Willow, and Black Cottonwood.

Kim led the students through the process of painting color wheels, which are important tools for artists because they display the relationships between the colors. After painting primary (red, yellow, blue) and then secondary (orange, green, purple) colors, students learned that the ways the colors contrast with each other can be defined as either analogous or complementary. They then painted the range of colors they found in nature, where, of course, all colors originate from.

New vocabulary terms included serrated, palmate, contour, value, contrast, texture.


Methow Arts Alliance’s Artist-in-Residence program serves 3500 students in the Brewster, Bridgeport, Methow Valley, Okanogan, Omak, and Pateros School Districts as well as the Paschal Sherman Indian School on the Colville Reservation.

The residency in Okanogan was supported by Okanogan Kiwanis, Okanogan-Omak Rotary, Greg & Mary  Hamilton, Icicle Fund, the Robert B. McMillen Foundation, the Okanogan School District, the Community Foundation of North Central Washington, and ArtsWA. Thank you!