A photo of artist Bonny Kendel-Macnab guiding an art-making activity in front of a group of young students, out in nature.

Nature inspires students' art

By: Katie Doke Sawatzky March, 2024

For some students, school does not come easy. This was Artist Bonny Kendel-Macnab’s experience until she found art. Through her recent residency, she demonstrated how beneficial nature-based art can be for students.  

“I struggled in school,” says Kendel-Macnab. “Art is a safe place for those that struggle academically. That's why I'm so passionate about getting art in the school and connecting to those students so they know where they can thrive.”  

From September to October 2023, the students of Turtleford Community School practiced art in nature with Kendel-Macnab, as part of the new SK Arts Artist in Schools - Residency. Her residency was the first in SK Arts’ new approach to the program, launched in spring 2023, which allows artists to work in the school-setting full-time, for up to five months.  

Jody Greenman Barber, program consultant, SK Arts, says the new residency program is more beneficial to the students. “It’s about relationship building and the artist having more of a presence in the school environment.” The previous residency had artists in schools for six-to-12 months, with half their time in the school and half in the studio. The shorter time frames are easier for schools to commit to and give students more exposure to artistic practice.  

Kendel-Macnab, a multimedia artist from Mervin, Sask., worked with each of the school’s K-12 classrooms. Specializing in botanical printing and plein-air painting, she proposed six different art projects for classes to choose from at the beginning of the residency. She then took students outside to gather materials and inspiration, guiding them through each artistic practice.  

One of the skills she demonstrated to the students was her unique way of approaching her art. “They saw that my process is not a finished piece all the time. It’s also studying and observing value and light,” she says. “I wanted to help them appreciate nature more, to realize that it’s a really peaceful and connecting place.”  

Younger grades turned leaves into bookmarks and practiced landscape painting by the Turtle River. Older grades dyed fabric with plants, steamed bundles of leaves in paper to make eco-prints and turned rough blocks of wood into encaustic pieces with found materials, such as nails, dried flowers and beehives. Six of the projects were turned into small murals, which will eventually be hung in the school.  

“They are absolutely stunning,” says Kendel-Macnab. “It was exciting for me to see the students unleash their creativity.”  

Brent Keen, a Grade 5 teacher at Turtleford, says Macnab’s practice of observing and working in nature was not only in line with the school’s land-based curriculum, but that it inspired and brought growth to kids who struggle in the classroom. “It opens students up in unique ways. The conversation that goes on, the engagement, the joy that happens when you get out of the classroom, it was delightful.”  

The ultimate goal of the new residency, Greenman-Barber says, is to see more artists in schools full-time. “Art really supports student confidence and builds self-worth. It could really ignite something in a kid. You don’t know where that impact is going to be.”  

The Artists in Schools Residency program, delivered by SK Arts, receives funding from Sask Lotteries through a partnership between, SK Arts, SaskCulture and the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education.