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Have you ever wanted to meet a Yosemite artist? Every year professional artists from around the country travel to Yosemite National Park to volunteer their expertise to lead Yosemite Conservancy Art Classes. Artists from all stages in their careers, representing various art mediums, camp in Yosemite Valley and teach students from around the world. Through these classes, students learn about the park, improve their skills, and walk away more inspired by Yosemite than ever.

We reached out to two of our instructors to learn a little more about their background and what brought them to Yosemite. Meet the artists Rachel Fisher and Zach Polic.

Rachel Fisher

Artist holding up a sketchbook in nature

Meet the artist Rachel Fisher shown here sharing composition techniques in the field. Photo by Yosemite Conservancy/ Lora Spielman

Had you spent a lot of time in Yosemite before applying to teach Art Classes? Why did you first apply?

The first time I visited Yosemite was when I taught art for the Conservancy in the summer of 2019. That first year, everything from finding painting locations for class to learning how helpful it is to have a bike — it was all new for me and I loved it. Getting to camp in the park while teaching others to paint combines all my passions and I look forward to it every year.

What aspect of your Art Classes surprised you the most? Or what element of the program did you least expect?

Artist's hand holding up sketchbook. The drawing of the mountain and meadow with trees matches the scene.

Rachel Fisher loves to get out after class to find time to sketch in the park. Photo by Rachel Fisher, on instagram at @fishercreates

One of the wonderful and surprising things about teaching art in Yosemite is the diversity of students. Visitors come from all over the world and I’ve taught everyone from a 92 year old grandmother to a 7 year old child who painted primarily in pink. No matter who shows up for class, everyone brings great energy.

Describe how the week went — highs or lows, what work you did for the park, what did you do in your free time?

A typical day volunteering in the park starts with early morning coffee at camp before teaching a half day art class. Class sizes and students’ experience levels vary a lot so every day is different. We start indoors practicing basic watercolor skills before going outdoors to paint landscapes. After class I hike or bike through the Valley, finding new locations to paint until sunset. I love being in the park and want to make the most of every minute. Most days I don’t return to camp until dark and make spaghetti by headlamp before going to bed.

Describe the impact you hope your work will have on the park:

My hope is that by sharing my creative process with people, they leave Yosemite with positive memories. There is a place for everyone to enjoy art and outdoor recreation regardless of their past experience. The more people feel personally connected to a place, the more they’re invested in preserving it for themselves and others, whether it’s Yosemite or a local park.

Zach Polic

Artist in sun hoodie and hat painting by the river

Meet the artist Zach Polic shown here painting near the Merced River. Photo by Yosemite Conservancy/Lora Spielman.

Had you spent a lot of time in Yosemite before applying to teach Art Classes?

I have been working full time and seasonally for both the Yosemite Conservancy and the National Park Service since 2017. My first job in the park was working as a wilderness reservation assistant with the Conservancy. A large part of my job was educating visitors on wilderness ethics, trail conditions, and trip planning as well as running wilderness permit lotteries. One of my favorite parts of the job was “wilderness patrols” where I was able to explore and experience the backcountry of Yosemite.

By spring 2019 I was seeking out new opportunities and volunteered an entire summer with the National Park Service’s wilderness restoration crew. As a restoration worker, I spent the first half of the summer working on a small roving crew focused on backcountry campsite reduction and removal. We worked 4-8 day hitches cleaning up the backcountry and exploring as much of Yosemite’s wilderness as we could.

I spent the second half of the summer working on various trail and meadow restoration projects where we would use hand tools to repair human-caused damage to meadows and other sensitive habitats. Trail restoration projections include the Cathedral Lakes Trail, Elizabeth Lake Trail, Lyell Trail, and the area around Pothole Dome. The work was strenuous but immeasurably rewarding.

Painting of a mountain with trees in the foreground

Detail of a watercolor by Zach Polic.

Why did you apply to teach art classes?

I applied to teach art classes as a way to gain more experience as an art instructor — leading participants in the fundamentals of the medium and guiding a class through the joys of creating en plein air (French for ‘outside,’ commonly used in the art world to describe outdoor painting or drawing).

Did you know going into the program what kind of work you’d be doing?

As a previous participant of the Conservancy’s art classes and workshops I had some knowledge of the work I would be doing as an instructor. I actually got my start with watercolors through these volunteer-led classes! Over the years I practiced the medium and developed the skills to the point where now I’m grateful to pay it forward and instruct others in the practice!

What aspect of your Art Classes surprised you the most? Or what element of the program did you least expect?

Subjectively, time seemed to fly by — both during the classes and throughout the work week. Although I wish I could spend more time in this role, by the end of it I had found the right instructional pace for participants and made the most of my time exploring the beauty of Yosemite Valley.

Describe the impact you hope your work will have on the park.

I hope that by leading instruction on watercolors, participants — independent of skill level — can develop their artistry in capturing the wonders of light as a way to connect with the natural world they’re a part of.

Artist workspace - two pieces of paper colored in painted colors, two hands at work with a brush in one hand.

A detail of Zach’s process. Photo by Yosemite Conservancy/Lora Spielman.

For more information about current classes and retreats, please visit the Conservancy Art Center page.
For more information about volunteering as an art instructor, please visit the Conservancy Volunteer page.