Nurse's goal: To artfully collect Kansas subjects

CRESTLINE — Amber Lucian Tyree has a lofty goal for 2011.

Tyree is on a mission to collect or photograph a shrub, grass, tree, berry or other natural subject native to Kansas each day, then produce a sketch or watercolor illustration based on it.

"It may seem odd, because the natural inclination would be to stay inside, but once you get out there," she said after jogging across her family's farm fields to find something that would help her meet her goal. "I'm glad I made the effort."

Later, Tyree settled down at her art table in her cozy farmhouse to create a lasting memory of the beauty she found outdoors: A watercolor illustration of some mysterious red berries she discovered, to be included in a moleskin journal she's creating.

"It's amazing how many interesting things you can find to look at and draw or write about right outside your door," she said. "I guess that's the reason I am doing this. I want to keep a piece of nature."

Tyree was an art major, but decided against it as a career for fear she'd not be able to make a living at it. She did a stint as a Navy reservist and then an officer in the Marine Corps, which gave her plenty of opportunity to travel the U.S.

Now, as a nurse at a birthing center, she has no opportunities at work to be connected to the outdoor world.

So in her off hours, Tyree spends every chance she gets connecting — even if it means just watching out the window and sketching what she sees.

In recent weeks she's collected bits of bittersweet, a clipping of little blue stem, a photograph of lichen — a composite organism, usually growing on a tree, created by a symbiotic relationship of fungus and algae, which to Tyree is quite beautiful.

They've all become illustrations for her Kansas winter journal.

And those mysterious red berries?

"My husband and I did a search through field guides, him using the Kansas Guide to Shrubs and Vines and me on the Internet," Tyree said. "We found they belong to the possumhaw holly. I just love that name."

Tyree has started posting her illustrations on Facebook in an attempt to inspire others to look around at the natural world.

"I do want people to just look outside and realize, we do live in a wonderful area, and there is a lot to see," she said. "Kansas is a nice state, and sometimes I think it's underrated. Until you take a real look, you don't realize that."

She's also passing nature journaling on to her three daughters — Madeline, 15, Bridget, 11, and Kate, 8 — on hiking, camping and geocaching adventures further afield.

"I wanted the kids to remember the journey, the camping, so I had them start their own journals. They have a watercolor kit and watercolor notebooks, and in the beginning I had them dust draw leaves or write about something they liked on the trip," she said. "Now they've graduated into more of painting the pictures, but I don't force it. They have to feel like doing it."