Meet the 2022 Artist in Residence - Nathalie Aall

Nathalie Aall is a scientific illustrator based in Tucson, Arizona. She aims to create works that will increase public awareness of often overlooked animals and encourage conservation efforts in viewers both young and old. To her, the meshing of biology and art is essential in communicating the beauty and importance of the natural world.

To create her pieces, she utilizes a mixed media approach involving a watercolor dry brushing technique alongside graphite to enhance tiny details. With a clean white background, the subject can be clearly identified and appreciated in its natural form. At her art studio in the Sonoran Desert she illustrates native flora and fauna for her art business, Aall Forms of Life. In addition to her artistic endeavors, Nathalie works are a wildlife biologist and Art Director for Conservation non-profit the Biodiversity Group.

Below is a narrative of Nathalie's experience at the refuge in her own words.

During my art residency stay at the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, I had the pleasure of experiencing the Mojave Desert in all its forms and teaching an art workshop to nature enthusiasts. Spending just under a month at the refuge during October 2022, I was able to explore my Mojave Desert surroundings from the Corn Creek Visitor Center. Waking up every morning with nothing but exploration and desert adventures awaiting me was quite peaceful and inspiring.

I spent my first couple weeks exploring the refuge and nearby Mount Charleston to reach higher elevations for a better overview of my proposed residency project. As a scientific illustrator I really wanted to highlight the biodiversity of the Mojave Desert from each of the seven life zones found within the refuge. This project involved identifying the most common and identifiable flora and fauna in each of the life zones. Life zones are defined by their common species of flora and related fauna that call them home. As you gain elevation in the Mojave Desert you can witness the habitats drastically change due to temperature, humidity and weather fluctuations which change the composition of the ecosystem. This encourages a comfortable life for certain species while being too harsh for others to survive.

This project incorporates species that any visitor would likely witness while traversing each life zone. It was fascinating compiling these 7 species lists of approximately 5 flora and fauna for each life zone, as it helped me learn more about the Mojave Desert’s overlooked beauty. My art is often used as a method for me to educate myself as much as the viewer. Each species illustration required initial research to perfectly choose its appropriate life zone and compose it into a pretty, yet educational, illustration. The seven 16x20 inch illustrations were composed with watercolor and finished in graphite with a few gouache highlights on Arches hot press paper. Each plate is lettered and accompanied by a key so that visitors can identify and even quiz themselves on the species found in the refuge.

Since leaving the refuge at the end of October 2022, I have been working on my 7 large scientific illustration plates featuring almost 70 species of flora and fauna. After many months and endless hours of illustrating in my art studio, I am honored to be able to show my residency project fully complete and hanging in the Corn Creek Visitor Center of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did researching and illustrating it!

To follow along with Nathalie’s illustration journey check out her website Aall Forms of Life and on Instagram at @aallformsoflife.

Visitors can view Nathalie's work in the Corn Creek Visitor Center gallery beginning April 8 through the end of July. 
The Joshua tree community is defined by the iconic Joshua tree, several species of cacti, and animals such as the raven, collared lizard, and desert cottontail rabbit.

Story Tags

Biological illustrations
Connecting people with nature
Urban refuge
Visitor services
Wildlife refuges

Recreational Activities