Meet Kristen Girard, an artist and writer, who came so close to losing her sight, more than once.

She draws from nature through all her senses.

Kristen Girard - Selfie at the Ocean for Ocean in a Drop California, Amazing Water People.

Kristen Girard – Selfie at the Ocean © Kristen Girard at Girard Illustration, for Ocean in a Drop California, Amazing Water People.

Where were you born, and where do you live now?

I was born near the fresh waters of the Great Lakes and currently live near the waters of the mighty Hudson River in Saratoga, NY.

Where are your favourite waters?

The frothing Atlantic ocean waves that crash into the rocky shores of Maine are my favorite waters to visit and enjoy. I am also a big fan of the waters that bubble up into interesting tasting springs in Saratoga Springs, NY. In truth, I love all waters – placid lakes, thoughtfully meandering streams, daredevil waterfalls, and ever changing tidal pools.

Would you please share a favourite water memory or two?

Every time I have ever gone near the shores of Maine! I love the salty smell of the tide. The stiff ocean breeze that tangles my hair (well, I don’t love the tangles but the breeze feels amazing!). I love sinking my toes in the wet sand where the waves come to shore as a delicately lacing froth. It’s fun feeling the sensation of cool water pulling away the sand, gently massaging my toes and creating little hollows.

I love drawing the rocky coastline. As I wander the coast I find the scent of wild roses combined with the ocean to be simply divine. What I love most about the ocean is the peace of the waves coming to shore, their sound soothes my worries like a lullaby, and the ocean’s expanse curving towards the horizon reminds me that there is more to life than to-do lists.

The most important thing we can ever do for ourselves is to simply enjoy being alive – to be fully present in the moment – to for just a few moments to feel – feel the sun warming our skins after a cool dip in the ocean, feel the sand and salt on our arms, our legs – everywhere – and let the wind caress our skin like a hug from Mother Earth.

Mother Humpback Whale Cow and Calf © Kristen Girard at Girard Illustration. Ocean in a Drop California x Blue Mind. Amazing Water People

Mother Humpback Whale Cow and Calf © Kristen Girard at Girard Illustration. Ocean in a Drop California x Blue Mind. Amazing Water People

How do you incorporate nature in your life, and the way you make a living?

Nature is at the center of everything I do in both my personal and professional life as an artist and writer. Nature deeply inspires me, everything I paint or write traces its inspiration to the natural world – and then I allow a fantasy twist to infuse the work because it allows me to better communicate how everything is connected in the web of life. I love to paint all kinds of nature inspired subjects – from painting humpback whales to horses running amid the stars to illustrating the goddesses of creation.

Everything I do is in service to helping create positive impacts that benefit all life on earth (except for ticks, mosquitoes, and horseflies – let’s be real – they are doing just fine!). Without clean air, clean water, and clean food – we don’t have anything except bad health for every living creature on the planet – including humans. I believe that doing everything we can to create safe habitats for animals is incredibly important so that our children’s children have the ability to hear birdsong as they play in the park, can enjoy the peace of green forests, and the awe of seeing a humpback whale breach in a sparkling blue ocean. That includes helping people reconnect with Mother Earth, or discover nature for the first time.

Why do you do what you do?

I don’t like bullies. I don’t like people who seem to feed on the pain of others. And I hate feeling trapped.

I paint and write to speak up for people, animals and plants that cannot speak up for themselves. I create to cultivate hope, inspire dreams, and help people take action to truly make the world a place where all creatures can thrive and live meaningful lives. I bring visions of creation to life to reawaken and grow the good that is within us all.

Humans are capable of so much good – we just have to remember that, and remember that within us all is the power to love, and the ability to be loved.

What happens when you don’t have time for nature?

When I don’t have time for nature, I feel trapped, stifled, and uncreative. My physical and mental health gets harder and harder to maintain. Going outside, enjoying nature reinvigorates me – refreshes my mind, awakens ideas, helps energy flow through my body, and opens my heart to love more fully.

Could you please share a time or experience where you felt lost in the crowd, like a tiny, insignificant drop?

There was a time a couple of years ago when I was completely lost, isolated, and felt so insignificant that I wasn’t sure life was worth fighting for. I had had a series of bad events that just kept coming… one after another, after another, and the one that got me down the most was a terrible injury. I had been working so hard to make my life better – even to the point of applying for and starting graduate school so that I could teach illustration full time – when disaster struck.

I was in the middle of my first semester of graduate school, earning an MFA in illustration when I started seeing bright flashes – almost like fireworks everywhere I looked. As an artist, I take care of my eyes – and this was alarming. My regular eye doctor was out of town, so I had to see someone different. This eye doctor told me nothing was wrong, and at worst, I was probably experiencing something called an “ocular migraine”. I was so busy with grad school, I really couldn’t afford any downtime, but I knew something wasn’t right. I had to head out of town for a few weeks as part of my grad program, but made sure to book an appointment for as soon as I would get back with my regular eye doctor.

By the time I was back in town and headed to the eye doctor’s office a few weeks later, the flashes were happening anytime I titled my head down in the course of drawing, reading, anything at all. It also really hurt to move my eyes in the course of everyday life for any reason – drawing, reading a menu, grocery shopping – any movement at all HURT. In a nutshell, the eye doctor looked at the eye that was hurting the most said, “Oh, my god!” And started calling surgeons to refer me to. He also swore a lot about the other eye doctor letting me walk out of the office and telling me there was nothing to worry about.

When I was a child I had a traumatic eye injury from when a piece of metal flew off an axe hit me in the eye. That’s its own story, but the point here is that the original repairs had failed, and now the scleral buckle that had been keeping my eye together for over two decades had failed, and now was tearing my eye apart as it did – including re-detaching my retina. The surgery was painful, and there was no way to repair most of the damage. The surgeon did what he could, but said there wasn’t much to work with because the original injury had been so bad.

What I was left with was an eye that would be extremely delicate for the rest of my life, with a high probability of losing it all together at any point in time.

I had to stare straight ahead for over three months while my eye healed enough for me to do simple day to day tasks on my own. I couldn’t go outside that whole time for more than a minute. It was a dark time, and the word despair doesn’t really cut it for how I lost felt. I was in graduate school to be a better artist and teacher – and I could loose my eye at anytime… My eye had become a ticking time bomb that could go off at any minute. What was I doing? What was I going to do? Could I still be an artist?

I felt as if I had no purpose.

I felt completely insignificant and adrift at sea with no hope of rescue.

How did you turn that around, and how did you get back to feeling like you were a whole Ocean in a Drop?

It seemed like my art career was going to just stop there.

I couldn’t look through a camera without the kind of pain that would build until there was nothing else I could concentrate on. I couldn’t run or do sit-ups (you would think I would be relieved at not having to do that kind of exercise again – but it is so nice to have the option)! Driving was suddenly very difficult. Having a conversation with more than one person is something I still dread because the way my eye was injured and repaired effected the muscles that move the eye around – so anytime I move my eyes – it hurts more and more.

For a long time all I could see before me was everything I could no longer do.

But as I healed slowly, I noticed there were two things that, with a little cleverness, I could do almost pain free – paint and write. And that is when the tide turned.

I began to focus on what I could do and started consciously setting aside the fear of losing my eye and vision. Yes, the worst can still happen, but it hasn’t happened yet, and though it might happen this afternoon or tomorrow, right now I can still draw or paint, and write. And that’s something to be grateful for.

One of the things that really got under my skin during this time was an absolute loathing for feeling trapped, for being at the mercy of forces beyond my control who were deaf to my pleas for mercy. I had a lot of time to think during those months of staring straight ahead and wishing for a breath of fresh air and hope. It occurred to me that even though I care deeply about Mother Earth, I hadn’t yet done enough to help. I thought about turtles and plastic bags, sharks and finning, rhinos and poachers, big business and needless pollution… I got mad. Then I vowed that I was going to find ways to help as much as I could.

At the heart of my business is the goddess empowerment movement, and what that means is that Girard Illustration is all about cultivating hope – hope for women who have been told their whole lives they are not good enough, hope for women of all ages who want to be scientists who can do the research that will save our planet with renewable energy, eco-farming, clean ocean initiatives, and health care that actually helps people, and hope for animals that they are safe in their habitats and able to thrive. I call this finding your inner goddess – embracing what make you – YOU, and then using your strengths to heal the world.

Mother Eagle and Chick © Kristen Girard at Girard Illustration. Ocean in a Drop California x Blue Mind. Amazing Water People

Mother Eagle and Chick © Kristen Girard at Girard Illustration. Ocean in a Drop California x Blue Mind. Amazing Water People

Is there anything bothering you about the whole eco /green/conservation thing at the moment?

How little is being done. How fast things need to shift in order to do lasting good.

It troubles me greatly that people in the US act as if global warming and climate change is fake news. People are acting as if global warming isn’t something anyone needs to worry about because its not real, and even if it is real, who cares? No one likes winter. This kind of thinking is all too common. And it is so devastatingly short sighted. People are acting as if their actions don’t have any impact, and if they do, it’s their “right” to damage the earth and all her creatures as much as they want. When it comes down to it, people are being incredibly selfish and callous.

Then there is all the big business pseudo science that has cast a shadow over the whole scientific community. Sigh.

And that people cannot seem to figure out recycling verses trash bins. I honestly don’t understand this kind of willful laziness.

IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE THIS WAY.

What do you find is working? And what change do you hope to see in this lifetime?

Social media is helping to spread the word about what is happening around the world, though it is heart-wrenching to see the breadth of devastation humans are causing across the planet. But if we just concentrate on the doom and gloom mood – people who would otherwise have very positive impacts feel hopeless and turn away. I think it’s important to counter the bad news with the good news – that people are working together, and the more we work together, the more hope can bloom and inspire new waves of action.

Much good can be done through education for children and adults from what sustainable farming actually looks like, to why plastic bags need to be banned. Sometimes, even today, people don’t know a lot of basic facts you and I take for granted.

In this lifetime I would love to see all citizens of the world learn how to be independent thinkers, to become people who question the status quo, who actively look for ways to solve problems with simple solutions, and then go out and get the good work done.

I would also very much like to see people stop fighting nature and start working with it. Let’s stop building right on the shore, surrounding lakes with developments or insisting on living in flood plains. Instead let nature do her thing with diverse plants, birds, and fish that naturally love being in buffer zones, filter and clean water while also creating healthy food sources. Mother nature loves creating elegant solutions to complex problems. Let’s help her do it.

Is there anything you would love to tell the you from ten years ago?

Start creating now, go to grad school as soon as possible, learn about building good businesses that help the earth, and tell anyone who doubts you to go climb a tree.

Anything else you would like to add?

There is a lot of unhappiness going on the world – people feeling lost, never feeling satisfied, feeling that life is empty or that they will never be good enough. I think a great deal of that unhappiness – including deep depression and illness is rooted in a lack of nature in our lives.

People have been spending the last couple thousand years separating themselves from nature in every way possible – treating animals, plants – the whole planet as nothing more than a treasure chest to be emptied and spent as soon as possible. This attitude is killing us slowly in so many ways. On an emotional level most people have used misinterpreted religious texts as a way to justify their actions – that animals and plants have no souls – no feelings – no independent thought despite countless evidence to the contrary.

I have seen horses mourn lost friends, I have experienced the compassion a dolphin felt for a sick child, and the daunting intelligence a squirrel displays to get their hearts desire. Why do humans consider themselves more important than every other life form on earth? Why? Because other animals they don’t speak human perfectly? Most animals that have a lot of contact with humans are bilingual – they “speak” their language – and more “human” than you would think. Not too many humans bother to learn to communicate from the animals’ perspective, unfortunately.

If instead, humans round the world started considering themselves the equal of all other creatures on earth, a huge shift for the better would occur because acknowledging that equality brings magic, wonder, mystery, and compassion into the world in a way that spreads peace, awakens curiosity, opens up room for compassion and kindness, and heals in deep ways.

Right now, humanity’s greatest enemy is apathy. Apathy has led us to downward spiraling environmental change that the human race will not survive. The counter is curiosity and independent thinking. We each have so much power to make big and small differences. It is more than time for us all to get curious, to dream big, and to act.

Where can we find out more about your art?

Website: https://girardillustration.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/girardillustration/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/girardillustration/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/girardillustration/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kristen_girard1

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCeW6tir4KrO1mju_kOeHoWw

You can buy original art, beautiful prints, and nature inspired home decor or commission an original artwork at our website www.girardillustration.com

At Girard Illustration a minimum of 22% of our profits go towards funding ocean cleanups, sustaining safe habitats for animals, animal rescue efforts, and funding sound scientific research. We chose 22% as our baseline for supporting green earth blue waters programs because of Earth Day is on April 22. We practice earth day everyday. It is our way of life. We are hoping to inspire others to make earth day every day their way, too.

28 May to 4 September 2018: #100DaysofBlue

Ocean in a Drop California x Blue Mind

Ocean in a Drop : A series of illustrations by Candace Loy, with each water drop shape filled with sea life and the life that water supports, of a country or state (e.g., California). The bigger vision is to use portions of profits from the sale of beautiful and unique merchandise, to contribute to local marine, freshwater education, research and conservation initiatives in the region depicted by the drop.

#BlueMind is a movement started by Dr Wallace J Nichols, who is also a successful turtle conservation researcher. He has done collaborations with many people including neuroscientists, to show the positive effects of being around water, on the brain.

Not only is there an increasing number of organizations supporting people in overcoming PTSD and other debilitating circumstances through water-based therapy like surfing and swimming; his message is to encourage as many people to reconnect and strengthen their bonds with water, and be inspired as a result to take care of waters across our blue planet.

Combining neuroscience, honouring emotions and using it to create more beneficial solutions for our planet and the life she supports. Here are some of his talks on neuroconservation.

Get a free copy of Ocean in a Drop California coloring sheet, share it with your students, colleagues, friends, and family. Be the one to add colour and creativity to their day 🙂

#OceaninaDrop + share your favourite water memory to inspire others, on Instagram and Facebook, and get featured xo