For Nina Vichayapai, the day begins with an unconventional commute.
Since July 13, Vichayapai has been living on Ben Ure Island, an isolated isle on the eastern side of Deception Pass State Park only accessible by small watercraft. Each morning, Vichayapai kayaks into the park to spend the day hiking, participating in park programs and, most importantly, making art.
Vichayapai’s idyllic day-to-day life is the first of its kind in a Washington state park. As the parks’ first resident artist, she is tracking uncharted territory, and she said the experience so far has been a rewarding one.
Vichayapai grew up in Kirkland and has been an artist all her life. She graduated from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco five years ago and works primarily in textiles, though she also paints.
She began her residency earlier this month and will stay at the park through Aug. 10. Her first few weeks have required some adjustment — and no small sense of adventure — living in such a remote location. The limited cargo capacity of her kayak has restricted what she can bring on and off Ben Ure Island. Bringing groceries back to her cabin and taking art supplies into the park have both posed challenges on her small vessel.
On the second day of her residency, she even took a spill into the water during her commute. Thankfully, the occurrence has not repeated itself, she laughed.
Living on Ben Ure Island has made this Vichayapai’s most unique residency experience, she said. She has been a resident artist at other locations across the Pacific Northwest, though she always had her eye on parks. Many National Parks have artist in residency programs, something Vichayapai has long gravitated toward.
“I’ve always loved that idea of artists being able to come out and live in parks and make art about it,” she said.
When she learned that that type of residency would be replicated for the first time in a Washington state park, “it was like a calling,” she said.
During her time at Deception Pass, Vichayapai will create art that explores the connection visitors, rangers and volunteers have with the park and its resplendent nature. Because watercolor supplies are easy to transport on and off the island in her kayak, she has been making a lot of paintings of things she sees in the park. Some of her works so far include an eagle, a seal, a number of tidal pool critters and the story pole at Rosario Beach, among others. She said she may incorporate the paintings into a hand-sewn textile artwork that she will gift to the park after her residency.
The beauty surrounding Vichayapai has been a source of inspiration to her.
“It’s been very generative, being here and getting to make art,” she said.
She has also gotten the chance to interact with park guests. She wears a vest while out and about in the park so visitors know they can approach her to talk about her program. Vichayapai said folks have been curious about her work, especially children, who love to see what she’s painting. She regularly carries around a book for kids she meets to draw in.
From 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Aug. 9, Vichayapai will host a watercolor lesson featuring a tide pool walk guided by a beach naturalist volunteer. Vichayapai will teach the art of observational painting at the free event.
After Vichayapai’s residency ends, the park will bring in its second artist in residence, photographer Michael Torkildsen, from Aug. 10 to Sept. 9. Park Manager Jason Armstrong said the candidate pool for the residency was just too strong to select only one artist, so the park decided to host two this summer.