What the Marsh Knows, by Ellery Akers

All of Nature as It Breathes:
Drawings in Ink

By Ellery Akers

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


I love to sit outside in a camp chair and try to become what I’m looking at. I don’t think of a tree or a river as a “subject” to draw or write about. I don’t want to impose my will on what’s in front of me––I’m going to capture the angle of that branch perfectly; I’m going to get that shadow down just right.

What I want to do instead is listen. When I sit in front of a willow, I try to throw my consciousness inside the tree and draw or write about it from the inside out. I ask: What’s it like to be you? How does it feel to have your roots so close to the stream? How does it feel to have a flycatcher land on a branch? Sometimes I’ll sit for hours before I make a mark on the page.

Across the River and into the Trees: Point Reyes, by Ellery Akers
Across the River and into the Trees: Point Reyes, ink on yupo paper, 11″ x 11.5″.
Image by Ellery Akers

Like everyone, I’m often a bundle of worry and don’t pay attention to the mystery in nature around me. But when I slow down, I can connect with it. Once I was sitting in front of a blackberry plant, excited about the red thorns on its stem—shining in the sun, translucent. I started drawing too soon and ended up with a bad drawing. When I took a deep breath and tried to listen to the thorns, this is what I felt they were saying: We are proud to be protecting the stem. We are proud to be protecting the leaves. Were they really feeling as if they were guardians? I don’t know. All I know is I love the visible world, but as an artist I want to pull the invisible out of the visible, and this method is one way I’ve found to do that.

I haven’t picked up a conventional brush in years. I use a twig, a stick, a length of copper wire, a clump of doll’s hair, a small broom. These odd tools help me gain access to a wild freshness in my work. I love making art by way of subtraction, and many of my drawings are created by dipping a stick in ink and then repeatedly wiping away the ink to create layering and texture.

The images in this feature are from my new book A Door Into the Wild: Poetry and Art, in which I’ve combined my writing and my art for the first time. I often work en plein air and use the same listening practice for both forms.


ARTerrain Gallery by Ellery Akers

Images in this gallery may not be copied or otherwise used without express written consent of the artist. Click image to view in larger size.

About the Artist

Eller Akers
Ellery Akers.
Photo by Barbara Bloom.

Ellery Akers’s artwork has been featured in solo and group exhibitions in museums, galleries, and art centers, including the Anchorage Museum of History and Art in Alaska; the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art in Novato, California; the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Washington; the Coos Art Museum in Coos Bay, Oregon; and the San Diego Museum of Art. She is the recipient of the Watson Cross, Jr. Award from the National Watercolor Society. Her one-person exhibition of art and poetry, Love Letters to California, will be featured at the Museum of Northern California in Chico, California, from November 14, 2024 – January 5, 2025.

Akers is also a writer and the author of A Door Into the Wild: Poetry and Art, winner of the 2024 Blue Light Book Award and available for pre-order now; Swerve: Environmentalism, Feminism, and Resistance, which won an award from BookAuthority for Best Environmentalism Books of All Time; Practicing the Truth, which won an Independent Publisher Book Award and was the 2014 Autumn House Poetry Prize winner; and Knocking on the Earth.

Find more of her work at and and read five poems by Ellery Akers, a finalist in the 8th Annual Contest in Poetry.

All images by Ellery Akers. Header image: What the Marsh Knows, ink on yupo paper, 7” x 9”. is the first online literary journal of place, publishing award-winning literature, art, editorials, and community case studies since 1998.