Art Inspiration from Alaska

Art inspiration from Alaska

To celebrate my 50th birthday (I need to start owning this number), Neil and I took the kiddos on a cruise to Alaska. Just saying those words makes me feel more grateful than ever. It was truly a trip of a lifetime. Of course with any trip, inspiration is everywhere.

We decided to do as much as we could while in Alaska as we all felt that Alaska was unlikely to be in our travel plans any time soon. Once aboard the cruse ship, and after the excitement of being on board with so much food and entertainment, we settled into a routine that included some pretty cool land excursions: salmon fishing in Ketchikan, a helicopter ride and dog-sledding on the Mendenhall Glacier, rock-climbing in Skagway (not me!) and white water rafting in Denali.

And although the excursions were pretty fun, staring out of my balcony at the passing mountains and glaciers was my favorite activity. One morning, after a failed attempt at loading the laundry (don’t ask), I walked out onto a small deck. It was six in the morning and the waters were glassy. Off the side of the ship, I heard a slapping sound. Going over to check it out, not fifty feet from the boat, a humpback whale was slapping her fluke against the water. Her juvenile calf was practicing his breeching–up and down, up and down–about ten times. It was as though time had stopped. Just me and the whales.

My favorite moment.


In Juneau, we took a helicopter ride to the Mendenhall Glacier and went dog-sledding. Yup. Dog-sledding. My daughter was out of her mind with joy. We learned a bit about the Iditarod and about Alaskan Huskies and then after an onboard presentation from Iditarod champion, Libby Riddles, I knew that my So. Cal students were going to experience this amazing race and breed of dogs, too.

Bringing this story back to art, wouldn’t it be cool to have the kids make little huskies out of clay then make a dog sled from popsicle sticks? Can’t wait to experiment on my own to see how this would work.


Traveling from Anchorage to Denali onboard a train may not have been the most efficient form of travel and certainly the grossest (we ran over a moose, for pete’s sake) but it was beautiful. A bright, sunny day afforded us spectacular views of Denali. The mountain is HUGE. Which at first you can’t appreciate because it’s just there but once the clouds roll in and all you see are the foothill mountains, and then the BIG ONE appears above the clouds, you really get a sense of its size. A little perspective goes a long way. And that would make a great lesson too, right?

We didn’t see any bears but we did see moose (and not just smooshed ones) and many bald eagles. The wildlife is so unique that I just can’t wait to do a whole unit on Alaskan animals. The types of salmon and what they look like before and after they spawn is pretty amazing on its own, but add in a few salmon-snatching eagles, and I think the kids would have a lot of fun.


Taking a ten-day trip to Alaska interrupted our hard work on my new art curriculum, but it was worth it. As soon as we got back, the work started again, but in a good way. The smell of my office, the brewing of my own coffee, the way my chair feels, my beautiful Mac computer…all combines into a feeling of incredible contentment.

Neil and I have a wonderful life.

What’s next?

Our launch date for the new art curriculum is still August 1, 2014. Neil is putting the finishing touches on the classroom portal and I’m editing my lesson plans. Can’t wait for the big reveal!

We are heading to our Canadian cottage on August 3 to see our families and to celebrate more milestone birthdays.

Hope you are having an adventure filled summer, too!



What do you think?

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  • Almost Unschoolers

    What a great trip…no wonder you were inspired. The whale experience alone sounds truly amazing.

  • Donna Staten

    What a wonderful trip! Thanks for sharing. I did the Alaska cruise about 10 years ago, but we sure didn’t do those great excursions! Don’t sweat the “50”- been there done that. 🙂

    • Patty Palmer

      Haha! The number is slowly sinking in. Thanks!

  • Rina

    What a fabulous trip. Happy birthday Patty!

    • Patty Palmer

      Thanks Rina!

  • Kristen

    We went to Alaska last year and it was fabulous. We took our 6 year old daughter and did the helicopter ride and dog sledding on the glacier in Skagway. It was the best thing I think we have ever done. Besides being in a helicopter for the first time, it was a new experience for us all! Enjoy the rest of your summer!


  • Patty

    I’m so glad you got to go! You’ve now been to the two places I most want to visit – Prince Edward Island and Alaska. What a wonderful time of memory making for you and your family! I’m just so unbelievably happy for you – and can’t wait to see the art lessons that will come out of all of this. I turned 50 two years ago – and it’s wonderful – trust me!

    I’m enjoying making the projects from Teaching Art 101 – and am pleasantly surprised that I am producing pretty good stuff! My kids will benefit from all I’m learning! Thanks so much!

    • Patty Palmer

      Thanks for the comment. Love your last thought…so glad you are producing some cool stuff! It’s fun, right? And you’re right, 50 isn’t so bad. Been having a lot of fun!

      • pjones0426@aol.com

        It’s actually GREAT because I got a C in 7th grade art and thought I would never be able to draw anything. I’m a young 5’s (transitional) kindergarten classroom teacher who has been assigned K-1 art at my building next year. I’ll still have young 5’s half time, but the thought of teaching art even half day has been a little bit scary. I’m becoming a lot more confident and have even created a few projects – one paper sculpture playground for a mouse and another line design pattern crayon resist. I’m experimenting with all kinds of media – and finding out that art really IS fun! I’m so grateful for you and this blog! I’m bound and determined to give my kids a quality art experience – and have so much to learn! By the way, would you consider doing a video (or pdf lesson) for the Chengdu art project? I know you’re horribly busy, but my firsties would love it.

        • Patty Palmer

          You are in for an exciting ride. Teaching art is just so fun. I’m glad you liked the Chengdu lesson. I considered making PDF but wanted to offer this lesson for free.

  • Trish

    The trip sounded fantastic and something I want to do one day. It’s a long way to Alaska from the land down under! I teach art in an elementary school in Tasmania. Your site is my favourite and I visit it daily. I have used many of your lessons with my students and intend to try many more in the future. A very happy 50th birthday to you and thanks for the inspiration and ideas. Cheers,

    • Patty Palmer

      Thanks Trish!

  • Jenna

    Dear Patty, congratulations, happy birthday, and thank you for the inspiration! We have a bit in common…Canadian family, (cottage is in northern Ontario) two boys and a girl, and I’ll be celebrating my 50th this year too. I appreciate your spirit and energy. It’s so wonderful to see Canadian artists in your curriculum. I am fascinated by the Group of Seven. I am looking forward to your curriculum… I’ve been teaching preschool art for five years now and have had fun with these little bundles of creativity and energy.

    • Patty Palmer

      Very cool, Jenna! I’m glad that you’ve been able to adapt some of my lessons for pre-school. Love that!
      Turning 50 was a bit of a hurdle but I’m realizing I’m in pretty good company. Hope you are enjoying cottage country!
      I leave for PEI in 2 weeks. Can’t wait.

  • Jessica Storey

    Thanks so much for all your art ideas. I teach kindergarten in British Columbia (Canada). We do not have art specialist teachers, so I, as un-artful as they come, have had to learn how to teach art… and I’ve learned to LOVE it. I rely a LOT on art blogs like yours for wonderful, do-able ideas – I did your how-to-draw-a-pig this year (among other projects) with amazing results.

    I also took my family on our first cruise, to Alaska, this July. It IS beautiful, isn’t it? I will watch your site for any Alaskan animals projects — many (eagles, whales etc.) are similar to what we have in BC, and I always like to do projects the children can relate to.

    Thank-you so much for all your shared ideas,

  • laurieannemagee@yahoo.com

    As a homeschooling mom living in Alaska I definitely think you should do a unit on Alaska. We would love it! We live in dogsled country and see our share of moose and bear around here!

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