Wet Labs at Magnuson Park

A few months ago, my clients at the U.S.G.S. contacted me for some interpretive signs at Magnuson Park.

The topic was: Wet Labs.









No, not those kind. (Although, with Seattle’s first Dog Swimming Beach, Magnuson Park has plenty of those, too).

The U.S.G.S. runs the Western Fisheries Research Center with state-of-the-art Wet Labs to study fish. The facility is located adjacent to the park, but part of their equipment is inside the park, so they wanted me to create 2 new signs to help visitors understand a bit about their work.

The Center originated more than 70 years ago through the efforts of Dr. Frederick Fish, a visionary scientist who pioneered improved methods of studying Pacific Salmon.

(With a name like that, I hope he had a good sense of humor.)

Here are the signs I wrote, designed and illustrated. They will be installed soon.


This sign will be installed near a new pump station. The USGS figured park visitors would see the pump and wonder what it was, so they took the opportunity to educate them a little about their work at the Center. Seattle’s Magnuson Park was a pre-World War II era Naval Airfield and is now a huge complex of sports fields, tennis courts, trails, beaches, wetlands, and a Dog Swimming Beach.



This sign will be installed near a reconstructed wetland complex which provides rich wildlife habitat. Cleaned and recycled water from the lab helps keep it wet year-round.


If you visit Magnuson Park, watch out for the wet labs! Both kinds.


Wild Home


This week, I’d like to share a special interpretive signage project I recently completed.

Last summer, my clients at the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council near Bend, Oregon, contacted me with a specific request: they wanted an interpretive sign on the topic of stewardship, and they wanted to use student-created artwork and poetry.

I’ve discovered over the years in my business that using student work for an interpretive project—or any design project—requires a special touch. Sometimes, people are surprised to find out such projects often involve more time and can end up costing more in the long run. They are not merely design projects, they are learning experiences as well.

But, if done right, it is most definitely worth it.

In this case, it worked out great. The Watershed Council staff and their partners spent a lot of time working with the students, and they generated spectacular results. It was my job to take their finished work and tie it all together, designing a sign to feature the artwork—adding one illustration of my own for context—and to make the topic complete.

The basic design was done to coordinate with an earlier series of signs I did for the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council. Click on the sign for a larger view.

The basic design was done to coordinate with an earlier series of signs I did for the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council. Click on the sign for a larger view.


To give a background and context for the more imaginative student work, I painted a watercolor of the mountains and the headwaters of Whychus Creek.


Peaks from left to right: Broken Top, South Sister, Middle Sister, North Sister.


The other illustrations were done by high-school and middle school students.I particularly liked the center mandala. If you look at it closely, you will see it is amazingly intricate, with gorgeously designed elements pertaining to the river and the life it supports.



And the salmon! Each one has its own wild design within the contour of the species—truly an artistic expression of the concept of Wild.


Equally compelling were the poems.


“This place is a home,

to the fractured

and the ones who

never had

one of their own.”


-Alaina Todd, Sisters High School.


For me, this poem is deeply affecting. It really says it all—why we so desperately need to preserve the wild places left on earth. The Wild is our home.

Our only home, in so many ways.



If you’re ever in the vicinity of Bend, Oregon or Sisters, Oregon, be sure to visit the Whychus Creek Area and the Three Sisters Wilderness.



Watchable Wildlife and Interpreting Biodiversity

A few years ago, the Bureau of Land Management hired me to design an interpretive sign for Dankworth Ponds, a nature retreat and recreation area in Arizona. I do a lot of these types of projects—helping people understand that recreation in a natural area means making room for other living creatures. It’s a gentle way of saying, “Hey people! Animals live here! Take care of this place!”

I designed, illustrated and wrote the text for this 2 x 3 foot sign.


Sometimes I wonder how these images would look to a person from the distant future.  “Look how many animals there were,” I imagine them saying. “Such biodiversity! Every inch taken up by some different species! What a world it must have been back then!”

It reminds me of the Native American tales of long-ago times when “rivers ran so thick with salmon, you could walk from shore to shore on their backs and not get your feet wet.”

(Of course, those tales are probably true. I’ve seen photos of rivers supporting huge runs of wild salmon in Alaska, and they appear almost solid with fish. It’s an amazing sight.)

But, my interpretive projects are illustrative. It helps people realize that even if they don’t see animals in every nook and cranny of a habitat, those little places are all important in some way, at some time, to some creatures. In a healthy habitat, nature tends to fill in the gaps with life.

Often, what wildlife needs more than anything is time and space in quiet, undisturbed places where they can hunt, rest, feed…whatever.  You can learn from them—wildlife watching takes time and patience. You have to stay still and quiet. If you wait long enough, something will show up. And when it does, back off a little. Give it some space.

Some close-up views:

Bass are an interesting fish. Did you know the males stand guard over their young for weeks, fighting off lurking predators? (You do if you read Hawgs, Toads, and Lunkers!)


Mallards seem to be found anywhere there’s water. They feed by dabbling, or tipping upside down and nibbling plant material growing on the bottom of the pond. There are actually domestic mallards and wild mallards, which interbreed and produce semi-domestic hybrids. At some point, wild mallards will probably be bred out of existence.

It’s fun to watch great blue herons hunting. They stand perfectly still, poised with their necks stretched forward, then, strike! Fish, frog, or snake get stabbed with the bill and gobbled down as quickly as possible. They manipulate the prey to get it to go down headfirst. I guess it’s easier to get a squirming critter down your gullet head first.

Common Ground


We can send robots to Mars. But can we just get along?


During many of my interpretive sign projects I have traveled to project sites to research my topics and meet with my clients. Many of these places are located off the beaten path…close to nature reserves, parks and wilderness areas. It’s one of my favorite things about my business…I get to meet new people and visit spectacular places.

Most of my interpretive work focuses on nature itself—plants, animals, habitat, geology, or geography. But, sometimes there is a call to interpret people, too. The people who live closest to the land have a story that’s worth telling.

A watercolor illustration I did for my Hells Canyon Project, a series of nine interpretive panels. I interviewed several local ranching families and learned fascinating things about their lives and traditions that sometimes went back for generations. Some told stories of driving cattle up and down the steep sides of the canyon every year, others about the long months of isolation while herding sheep high in the mountains.

This is a detail watercolor illustration from my Nevada Wildlife Project, a huge series of interpretive signs I did over several years. I researched a bit about the local ranching history of the Mason Valley, a site that is now a Wildlife Management Area. In the mid-1800s pioneer wagons passed through on their way west, and a hearty few stayed in the valley to raise cattle.


Many times environmentalists and ranchers or farmers have taken opposition to one another. It often shakes out into the classic American urban/rural divide. Today, with things like wolf recovery/management or gun control/rights making such prominent headlines, it seems the divide may be deepening…just when it looked like we might be making progress toward common ground.*

The fact is, we need each other. In order to make progress on big issues like climate change, sustainability, or biodiversity, we need everyone to be on board. We have much more in common than not…mostly the fact that nobody wants a future devoid of wild nature (or wild-ish, at least).

Call me a dreamer, but we’re all in this together…we should be able to find common ground. Like any interpersonal relationship, it starts with simple mutual respect.

It’s not rocket science.


A watercolor illustration I did for my Nevada Wildlife Project showing a few of the many species that inhabit the local grasslands. I used this illustration on a sign located at the Oxbow Nature Center in Reno.


What do you think? Leave a comment in the reply box with your thoughts!


*What common ground am I talking about?

Check out the Nature Conservancy: http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/urgentissues/peopleandconservation/index.htm

Conservation Northwest works with local communities including ranchers, foresters and farmers to advance sustainability and protect wild areas in the northwest: http://www.conservationnw.org/who-we-are/2012-gaining-ground

A group promoting protection of the endangered sage grouse: http://www.sagegrouseinitiative.com/

Okay, that’s only three…there are others. Do you know of any to add to the list?