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Emily Verbeten at Zinn Preserve

Emily Verbeten: Artist in Residence at Zinn Preserve

June 22, 2020  |  Topics: featured artist

The Natural Realm presents Emily Verbeten, who is one of 12 artists participating in a year-long residency program called ARTservancy, a collaboration between Gallery 224 in Port Washington and the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, River Revitalization Foundation, Milwaukee Area Land Conservancy and the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory. The mission of ARTservancy is to promote the visionary work of both the artists and conservationists. Each artist has selected a preserve to spend time in and to engage with.

Artist Statement by Emily Verbeten

My work has evolved a lot over the past five years, in part because I’m still young and learning who I want to be and how I want to express myself through my art. 

"ARTservancy visual journal title page," watercolor and micron pen
“ARTservancy visual journal title page,” watercolor and micron pen

Last year I graduated from Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design with a BFA in Illustration. From the moment I walked through its doors for the first time until the moment I accepted my diploma, I have been constantly changing and discovering what truly excites me about art. My first inklings of my place as a professional artist were in the realm of graphic novels and concept art, but as I learned and grew, that changed significantly. 

Sketchbook studies of Sandhill Cranes, watercolor
Sketchbook studies of Sandhill Cranes, watercolor

By the time I was leaving MIAD, my reputation among my peers was not as a comic artist or character designer, but as a bird-crazed scientific illustrator. I was the resident “science person” among the other illustrators and a self-proclaimed naturalist. If you had told me this would be the path I was going to follow when I started at MIAD, I don’t think I would have believed you.

"Feather topography of a Green-winged Teal," ink on gessoboard, 11"x14"
“Feather topography of a Green-winged Teal,” ink on gessoboard, 11″x14″

Yet I sit here now, reflecting on my work while I watch a chipping sparrow on one of my bird feeders, and I wonder in a dream-like way about its relationship with the other creatures that inhabit my backyard. I listen to its call, wondering if there are other sparrows that can hear it. Perhaps this is the path I was meant for.

Sketchbook study of a Sockeye Salmon, watercolor
Sketchbook study of a Sockeye Salmon, watercolor

My work is about learning the relationships between the things that make our planet beautiful and diverse. My primary method of collecting these things is through journaling and sketching. Most people are visual learners, and I find it extremely helpful to observe and document things visually. Learning, for me, is active, fluid, and full of questions. Many of my sketchbooks from forays out into nature have an equal balance of hasty pencil and watercolor sketches, detailed observational drawings (when the subject isn’t darting around the trees or foraging in the leaf litter), and notes scrawled in the margins. 

"Winter at Zinn Preserve," January 2020 journal entry, watercolor and micron pen
“Winter at Zinn Preserve,” January 2020 journal entry, watercolor and micron pen

Looking back on the things that interested me when I was younger and the things I more recently look to for inspiration, it is no surprise that my work has taken on this extremely investigative format. Some of my well-loved books from childhood were fictional field guides that documented mythical creatures and experiences, or guides to dinosaurs and their identification. I’ve become the real-life version of that…except with actual birds and trees and mushrooms.

"Winter birds of Zinn Preserve," watercolor and micron pen
“Winter birds of Zinn Preserve,” watercolor and micron pen

I seek to document the connections between the diverse forms of life that inhabit Zinn Preserve, and the changes the property goes through as the seasons continue their cycle. It is remarkable how easy it is to miss the myriad changes a few square feet of a forest ecosystem goes through from winter to fall, and I wouldn’t be able to come close to fully encapsulating all of those changes in just one year, but my work with the preserve will encapsulate my unique perspective as I walk down the path through the conifers, through the marsh, and let the preserve teach me as I bridge the worlds of science and art.

Study of a Red-bellied Woodpecker, watercolor, gouache and pen
Study of a Red-bellied Woodpecker, watercolor, gouache and pen

“Hands-on experience at the critical time, not systematic knowledge, is what counts in the making of a naturalist. Better to be an untutored savage for a while, not to know the names or anatomical detail. Better to spend stretches of time just searching and dreaming.”

—Edward O. Wilson


"Death's Head Hawkmoth," digital illustration
“Death’s Head Hawkmoth,” digital illustration
"Dusky Gopher Frog," watercolor, 8.5"x8.5"
“Dusky Gopher Frog,” watercolor, 8.5″x8.5″
"Sandhill Crane and Colt," watercolor and gouache, 18"x20"
“Sandhill Crane and Colt,” watercolor and gouache, 18″x20″
"Gilded," watercolor, gouache and gold leaf on wood, 6"x6"
“Gilded,” watercolor, gouache and gold leaf on wood, 6″x6″
"Pursuit," digital illustration
“Pursuit,” digital illustration
"Protect Our Pollinators: Earth Day," digital painting
“Protect Our Pollinators: Earth Day,” digital painting
"Great Blue Heron," watercolor, 18"x20"
“Great Blue Heron,” watercolor, 18″x20″
"Anatomy of a Strawberry," watercolor and gouache
“Anatomy of a Strawberry,” watercolor and gouache


Emily Verbeten at Zinn Preserve.
Photo by Eddee Daniel

Emily Verbeten is a Wisconsin native who has recently begun her journey as a young professional artist. She received her BFA in Illustration with a minor in Natural Science in May of 2019 from the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design. After leaving MIAD, she started teaching as an Environmental Educator at Aldo Leopold Nature Center in Monona, WI while also beginning her work with the ARTservancy program. In August of 2020 she will be getting married to fellow artist Jacob Salsbury and soon thereafter they will begin their journey as newlyweds when they move to Oregon. You can follow her as she starts this new journey in her life and her artistic career as she documents it on her website and on social media: 




Zinn Preserve is owned and managed by Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, which is also a partner organization to A Wealth of Nature. For more information about Zinn Preserve, click here.

This is the latest in our series of featured artists, which is intended to showcase the work of photographers, artists, writers and other creative individuals in our community whose subjects or themes relate in some broad sense to nature, urban nature, people in nature, etc. To see a list of previously featured artists, click here. The work of the current ARTservancy artists in residence will be exhibited monthly at Gallery 224 beginning in September 2020. To meet the other ARTservancy artists in residence, click here.

All images courtesy of the artist, except as noted. The featured photo at the top of the artist at Zinn Preserve is by Eddee Daniel.