Throughout 2021, I collaborated with Dancing Gnome Brewery and UpstreamPGH to celebrate the freshwater ecology of Western Pennsylvania. Each month, I created a new piece of hand-painted artwork that highlighted an important component of the ecosystem. Then, that artwork became a new beer can for Dancing Gnome and a fine art print, with a portion of proceeds benefiting the work of UpstreamPGH.


January: Watershed

This artwork features a detailed illustrated map of all the rivers & streams of Western Pennsylvania. The map also depicts a rainbow darter, big bluestem grass (a native glass that helps form a healthy riparian buffer), a jewelwing damselfly, and a vignette of the Youghiogheny River.


February: River Otter

Before 1900, river otter populations across North America experienced a 75% decline due to unregulated hunting, habitat destruction, and water pollution. In the 1970s, Pennsylvania and surrounding states began prioritizing river otter conservation. Now, populations are increasing or stable all across Pennsylvania. They can be found in every major river system in the state. Conservation and awareness for the win!


March: Painted Turtle

Painted turtles are the most common turtles in North America. Although their green and dark brown shells allow them to hide easily in the water, they love to bask in the sun (like the turtle in my illustration!) so you might spot one laying on a log or rock on a sunny day. Basking also helps them rid themselves of parasitic leeches. I also included a white water lily, since the turtles like to nibble on them.


April: Blue Crawfish

Did you know that not all crayfish live in streams? The blue crawfish digs complex underground burrows in moist soils near springs and small streams to reach the underlying ground water. The mud “chimneys” that they create during the digging process are a tell-tale sign of a burrowing crayfish colony. Crayfish burrows can be several feet deep and they are a network of multiple tunnels and entrances. The blue crayfish help keep our watershed ecosystems healthy because their burrows also provide safe havens for other animals, including the eastern massasauga rattlesnake, Kirtland's snake, dragonfly and damselfly.


May: Pumpkinseed Sunfish

Despite its tropical-looking appearance, the colorful pumpkinseed sunfish can be found in warm lakes, ponds, and slow-moving creeks throughout Pennsylvania and surrounding states. Their large mouth and associated muscles allow them to crack open the shells of snails, one of their favorite foods. The intricate pattern of the pumpkinseed's scales, which resembles sunlight reflecting on the water, provides camouflage to protect them from predators.


June: Kirtland's Snake

Although the semi-aquatic Kirtland's snake was historically found around Pittsburgh, it hasn't been seen in Pennsylvania since 1965. This is potentially due to the drainage and destruction of marshes, wet prairies, creeks and other wetland habitat. If you think you might have spotted one of these bright-bellied snakes, try to take some clear photos and go to to submit your photos and help document this species.

July: Green Heron

The green heron, commonly spotted throughout Pennsylvania, is a secretive bird that prefers to hide amongst vegetation at the edge of creeks and wetlands. When it's alarmed, it will raise its crest (the crazy-looking hair-do that you see in this illustration!) and flick its tail nervously. I painted this green heron weaving its way through the branches of a weeping willow tree at the edge of a pond.

August: American Beaver

The American beaver is a staple of a healthy watershed. While they were trapped almost to the point of extinction during the height of the fur trade in the 18th and 19th centuries, most of their populations are now stable throughout the country. Beaver dams help to improve water quality by slowing the water that passes through and acting as a natural filter, a benefit to animals and humans.

September: Jeweling Damselfly

This iridescent green damselfly lives near clean rivers and streams. It especially likes riffles, or areas of a stream that are shallow with fast-moving water. You might spot one resting on a rock in a stream or perched on plants near the water, like the damselfly in my painting.

October: Common Merganser

In September, I spotted a mother common merganser and several juveniles floating down a tributary of the Ohio River. Despite sneaking around behind some large trees with my camera so I wouldn't scare them away, they immediately detected my presence and were on high alert while I was observing them. Common mergansers frequent lakes and rivers around Western Pennsylvania. They eat fish and can dive underwater and stay under the surface for up to two minutes.

November: Mudpuppy Salamander

The mudpuppy salamander is a large salamander that can grow up to 1 foot long. They spend their lives hanging out among vegetation at the bottom of lakes, rivers and streams. The salamander mussel (included in this illustration) lays its larvae in the bright crimson feather-like gills of the mudpuppy, living as parasites on the gills until the larvae is large enough to detach and go off on its own. The salamander mussel is currently listed as a threatened species in Pennsylvania and the mudpuppy is currently a Species of Concern. This is due to water pollution and other factors.

December: Water Lily & Northern Leopard Frog

I took the reference photo that I used for the water lilies in this painting at Pittsburgh Botanic Garden last year. When I take nature photos, I have no idea what that spark of inspiration might turn into or when that photo might come in handy. My photo bank grows with every hike I take and I’ve started cataloging each photo by date, location and species so that I’ll eventually have a massive and well-organized reference photo collection to pull from.

January 2022: Riverscape

This can features a scene from McConnell’s Mill State Park in Western PA. I spent a lot of time hiking there during the early days of the pandemic, and this art was inspired by a photo that I snapped on one of those chilly spring hikes.

No matter where you are in the world, you are in a watershed. Our homes, lawns, and streets are all part of a watershed and the choices we make upstream have impacts downstream. Working to maintain and expand green space in your watershed can improve the health of our rivers and streams. Planting trees, harvesting rainwater, picking up litter and planting native plants are just a few ways you can make a positive impact in your watershed. Together we can make our watersheds cleaner and healthier for all who inhabit them.
— Upstream PGH, series partner