skating through the pandemic: Stephanie Clark

Hi Stephanie! It’s such a pleasure to meet you in real life. You’re the first person I’ve met on Instagram and then brought to a real-life photo shoot. I’m such a fan of your joy and plant exuberance and kindness. First question: tell me about your paintings! I just found out you’re also an artist (in addition to all your other amazing hobbies and career pursuits). How did you get started? Why is painting your favorite medium?

Drawing and painting are things I’ve done for as long as I can remember, but I started using my current style of acrylic painting when I entered high school. I started experimenting with a lot of different mediums around that time, and acrylic paint turned out to be my favorite. I can usually produce some pretty bold, solid colors with it, and I love that it dries quickly. My favorite thing about painting is that it allows me to observe and reproduce colors that may not be immediately obvious when you look at something. There’s a whole rainbow of colors even in items that appear to have only one! 

What experiences have you been able to enjoy because of art?
There are so many treasured experiences that being a part of the West Michigan art community has given me, but my most recent favorites have been doing murals for the city of Grand Rapids this summer, hosting my first in-person art sale during the May 2021 Art Hop (I was sponsored by the lovely Kalamazoo State Theatre), and seeing my work get tattoed. There is truly no feeling like seeing something I drew immortalized on someone’s skin, and several really cool people gave me that joy this year! I am deeply honored that my art is a part of some people’s daily lives.

I‘d love to know about your research projects and experiences.
I started my first round of field research in the summer of 2018 right after my junior year of college. I had recently decided that I wanted to be an Ecologist instead of a Veterinarian, and I knew that spending a summer deep in the woods of rural Michigan would help me figure out if this was the right path.

My research partner and I were studying an invasive plant species called Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) at the gorgeous Pierce Cedar Creek Institute, and since I’d lived my entire life in the city of Grand Rapids, I felt like I was entirely out of my depth at first. I was battling a pretty intense phobia of insects at the time (which is ironic given my current research), so there was definitely an adjustment period. I ended up conquering my fear by learning as much as I could about the insects I frequently encountered, and eventually I became very comfortable with them and the outdoors by the end of that summer.

That’s awesome!

I graduated with my B.S. in Biological Sciences at the end of 2018 and immediately started working for the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) as an Environmental Education intern. This experience allowed me to develop a passion for science communication and sharing my love of plants and insects with different audiences. In the second half of 2019 I began working for both Kellogg Biological Station in Hickory Corners and The Plant Parlor in Grand Rapids. I was able to develop my skills as an entomologist by trapping and identifying ants in the lab while also strengthening my skills as a botanist by memorizing everything I could about the plants I tended.

I’m currently in the second year of my PhD, and my research centers on how butterflies and moths are affected by climate change and human activity. There’s a massive and very concerning insect decline happening worldwide, and I want to do my part to help figure it out. Although plants are not the main focus of my research anymore, I still get to feed my inner botanist by raising thousands of them for my caterpillars to demolish each summer. Since my entire graduate school experience has been during the pandemic, it’s certainly been difficult in some unforeseen ways, but I am forever grateful that I get to study and interact with the organisms I love all the time. 

Absolutely! I imagine that it’s incredibly satisfying to combine so many of your interests and loves in your studies. New topic: what advice can you offer someone wanting to “make peace” with their body and their way of moving?
I started roller skating a few months before entering a very painful time in my life, and it was the only activity that helped me feel anything other than turmoil for a long time. When I was at my worst, skating was the only thing that got a genuine smile out of me due to the sheer joy of what my body could do. Whether its skating or any other type of movement – my best advice is to let it transcend your thoughts and become a form of meditation. Use it as a way to celebrate and check in with your physical body since we live our whole lives in these strange little meat suits. Even if we never make peace with all parts of ourselves, movement can help us make incredible amounts of progress.


What’s your favorite thing about living in Michigan? Your least favorite?

Due to the oddity of my profession, I get to live in the woods and observe some incredibly beautiful wildlife every day. Living in rural Michigan has given me so much insight into who am without the convenience and bustle of a city. My spiritual beliefs are entirely nature-based, so being immersed in the seasonal changes of the woods around me has been insightful and comforting in ways I didn’t know I needed. My least favorite things about Michigan are the cold and the racists.

Ugh, yep, both of those things suck in very different ways. Thank you for your honesty! Last question: where do you draw inspiration? What art, books, music, etc. bring you joy and/or insight?
I draw a lot of inspiration from my dreams and nature. I have had extremely vivid, meaningful, and intense dreams since I was a child, and I’ve found that documenting them over the past year has given me endless fuel for my artistic endeavors. My favorite animals, snakes and crows, are often in my dreams and in my art. When drawing or painting organisms, I almost always reference natural science field guides for anatomy and color. The artists whose work is featured in these books have my undying respect due to how detailed and realistic their craft is required to be. I have several insect, plant, and bird field guides in my personal library and am always looking for more! 

Follow Stephanie’s adventures on Instagram and check out her art here!

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