ISLAND LIFE: Tropical Field Studies of Art and Nature in Puerto Rico

Escape to the Caribbean in an ART, BIOLOGY and NATURE immersion experience in Puerto Rico this summer! This is a one-of-a-kind, site-specific program focused on an ART and SCIENCE exploration of the diverse tropical wildlife from rainforest, mountain, beach and coastal environments of Puerto Rico. Through hands-on observation, artistic interpretation, collaboration and various biological and natural history methods, we will learn to utilize the natural habitat as a STUDIO+LAB to explore and make informed art about tropical plants, animals, habitats, and nature.

Program Highlights:

  • ART+SCIENCE instruction that includes: field sketching/drawing/watercolor painting, animal behavior observations, nature photography, species identification, ecological sampling, UV light nocturnal insect and arachnid collecting, visualizing plant and fungal micro-textures and patterns, nature journaling, floral and botanical illustration, Form Studies, BioAbstraction, Environmental-Art, EcoArt and Field BioArt installations.
  • Herpetology, Entomology, Visual Ecology, Ethology, BioAesthetics and various Field Biology, Ecology, and Natural History methods.
  • Daily individual and collaborative artmaking and project- and place-based instruction in the field at various tropical ecosystems and habitats (e.g., rainforest, coastal beach, karstic forest, elfin woodlands, cloud forest, etc.)
  • On-site discusssions about ART+SCIENCE philosophy and integration, communicating science and crits.
  • Hiking excursion to EL Yunque National Rainforest
  • Snorkeling, underwater drawing and coral reef explorations
  • Ocean-front camping, only a short walk away from a pristine sandy beach cove, a coral reef in crystal clear water, and karstic caves and rocky outcrops
  • Travel in various terrain types, including walking and hiking up hillsides, through the rainforest and forest scrub

ISLAND LIFE brings together groups of artists, naturalists, scientists, undergraduate and graduate students, professors, designers, and creative people from a diverse range of backgrounds, interests and experience. 

Read Student Testimonials here.

Dates: August 15-20, 2016
Program Fee: $2200/person (ask about student and group rates)
Registration and Payment Deadline: July 22, 2016

Click here to apply.

Check out DESERT LIFE: Field Studies of Art+Nature in the Southwest, July 2016

Program Fee Includes:

  • One-on-one Art+Science Instruction for all skill levels.
  • All transportation to field sites in Puerto Rico.
  • Pick-up/drop off to and from the San Juan Luiz Munoz Marin Intl. Airport (SJU).
  • 3 meals/day and light snacks.
  • The use of various art supplies and biology equipment (e.g., field easels, nets, critter boxes, microscopes, etc.)

The fee does not include round-trip airfare to Puerto Rico. Contact us for suggested flights.
This is a non-credit program and is not affiliated with any college or university. 
Home universities may consider granting credit to participants for this program experience. Inquire at your university about independent study and/or portfolio review requirements.

Travel to Puerto Rico does not require a passport for U.S. citizens. Spanish language proficiency is not required.
This program is open to a broad range of participants, from students, professionals, faculty, researchers, scientists and artists. You must be 18+ years old to enroll.


We will camp at a private ocean front property that is located only a short walk away from a pristine sandy beach cove, a coral reef in crystal clear water, and karstic caves and rocky outcrops.  Accommodations include a full kitchen, a rear patio with a stunning ocean view and private open grounds.  The property sits just over 100 ft above sea level, exposed to soothing, cool ocean breezes blown by the Trade Winds.

Program Director: Stephanie Dowdy-Nava, M.A.

Stephanie Dowdy-Nava is a passionate artist, arts administrator, art educator, and Co-Founder of ART+BIO Collaborative. She is dedicated to creating diverse educational opportunities that engage communities, promote curiosity, and creatively explore the intersections of science-learning and artmaking.  Stephanie has taught art professionally at Pre-K through Adult levels in public school, private school, and nonprofit settings.  Over the past 13 years, she has traveled extensively throughout Puerto Rico assisting with biological research, observing animal behavior, collecting wildlife for animal communication studies, and creating and finding inspiration for her art. She has a B.A. in Studio Art, Teaching Certification in Art, and an M.A. in Arts Administration. Her artwork incorporates figures, images from nature, and stunning geographic settings as symbols that piece together the story of an ongoing evolution.

Scientist and Mentor: Saúl S. Nava, Ph.D.

Dr. Nava is a biologist, artist, Associate Professor of Biology at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Research Associate in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard University, and co-founder of ART+BIO Collaborative. His research focuses on the ecology and evolution of animal behavior, communication and vision. He conducts field work throughout the Caribbean and Southwest U.S. and has 13+ years of field research experience in Puerto Rico studying lizard behavior and ecology. He is active in and passionate about the integration of art, science, and education to explore novel methods of creativity, collaboration, communication, and inquiry about the natural world.
He’s developed and taught various biology and art courses including Visual Ecology, Biological Form and Function, Biodiversity and Evolution, Animal Sex, Animal Communication, Tropical Ecology, BioArt, BioAesthetics, Natural History and Biological Illustration, and Field BioArt: Research in Nature and Art.

Student Testimonials:

Nia, Harvard University, undergraduate
"ISLAND LIFE is truly one of the most meaningful, beneficial, and memorable programs I have ever participated in. It accomplished something few other programs have even attempted; ISLAND LIFE exposed students to the intersections between art and biology. Even more, the program very effectively demonstrated to students how much understanding the connection between art and biology enhances your knowledge of both. Through ISLAND LIFE, students were able to experience Puerto Rico in a special way, and by the program's end, we were all so amazed by what we had accomplished. It is mind-blowing to comprehend how many different activities we did throughout the program, and the program's end really did sneak up on all of us! Also, I cannot recall another time when I produced as many artworks and pieces of writing in the span of a week as I did during ISLAND LIFE. If you are looking to reach a higher state of productivity and happiness in the arts and sciences, I definitely recommend ISLAND LIFE for you!"

Elisa, Rhode Island School of Art and Design, undergraduate
"No one complained about being tired and dirty at the end of the day, everyone knew that that was the outcome of a good day. I suddenly realized I wasn't going to just experience Puerto Rico, I wasn't just going to learn about plants and other species, and I wasn't just going to make art, and go hiking, and swimming, and snorkling, and kayaking. I wasn't just going to do that. What I was going to experience, is getting to do all those things, all day long with a group of people, who just like me: love traveling, are open to being out of their comfort zone, constantly are trying something new, are curious about plants, and other species, as well as appreciate art, and love to create art themselves, and love to get dirty and physically exhausted. Merging biology and art together meant having biology oriented people meet art oriented people, and collaborating together. Everyone who came were people who were passionate and eager to learn. Loaded up with energy that they were ready to take out for this one week in puerto rico. We worked together to make this trip the unforgettable experience it was."

Joanne, Yale University, undergraduate
"This program introduced me to various habitats of Puerto Rico, which I would not be able to get know without participating in the program. I felt I had a deeper understanding of art, how art was defined and what art could be possibly made, after engaging in all kinds of interesting and inspiring activities. Most importantly, as a person who loves both art and biology, I saw the beauty and prospect of combining the two areas together and I made up my mind to engage more in bio+art and painting."

Michelle, Virginia Commonwealth University, undergraduate
"ISLAND LIFE was an extremely rewarding experience that words and photos cannot recreate. The hands-on nature of each activity is greatly empowering. There is something so meditative in bringing the body into the art practice. Not only was there a nearly-instant physiological change by going to these regions, but the whole trip was very well thought out and organized. There was a lot to learn from each activity. I left Puerto Rico with a lot of new perspectives to consider."

Julia, Harvard University, undergraduate
"The instructors made the trip for me; knowledgeable, ever-positive, encouraging, etc."

"Saul was incredible and I'm sure he turned many students onto wildlife biology (including me, though I do remain premed); he always seemed to know what every critter was and had a insurmountable enthusiasm for the things we caught (or tried to catch). I have a lot of respect for people who have endless amounts of curiosity, and I think Saul definitely showed this quality & instilled it in all of us."

Lily, M.I.T., graduate student
"Island Life was one of the most amazing experience I have had thus far. It was an immersive week spent looking very closely at things around us, exchanging knowledge with each other, and interpreting/representing the world in new ways. After coming back from Puerto Rico, I felt like I had to adjust back to an experience of distance with the world, where I wasn't stopping at every corner to pick something up and stare at in the same way that we did on the island. It was incredibly special, and I will continue to miss be thankful for everyone who came on the trip."

Crystal, Parsons The New School for Design, undergraduate
"The hikes were amazing and the art was everywhere. Inspiration was EVERYWHERE!!!  I never thought to sculpt new bio-forms with flower parts and drawing in nature is difficult for me but focused study on collected items re-energized my drawings constantly. I began writing again - this trip brought me back to one of my first passions with poetics and I took countless photos that will provide the forms, colors and textures to a new body of work on Puerto Rican Identity.”

“Stephanie and Saul have awakened my inner Bio Geek- I went to my Dad’s house the other day- nerd extraordinaire- who has a book for everything and before I could ask him if he had any basic Biology textbooks, there it was, staring at me from his shelf. BIOLOGY: a Self-Teaching Guide. On the train ride home I opened it and just reading the table of contents got me jittery with excitement. I realized that I never had so much excitement for that material before.  It was like gold in my hands.  If that isn't testimony about the value of experiential learning- I don't know what is. It’s been years since I've thought about the fundamentals of  life that are tested to death in knowledge institutions. What you are doing is breathing new life into life knowledge. It's essential. And I am grateful.”

Calder, Boston University graduate
"Whether you're an artist, a biologist, or neither, Island Life nurtures your creative spirit by being in nature. It is a rare and unique opportunity to gain new perspective and is a refreshing break from the classroom atmosphere. Stephanie and Saul are a great team, and it's truly inspiring to be a part of what they created."

Gabriela, Princeton University, undergraduate
"I applied to the ISLAND LIFE program because of my interest in biology with little background in art, and I came out of the program discovering I was more of an artist that I thought. I realized that merely by inhabiting this world we all have the potential to be bio-artists, and ISLAND LIFE gave me the opportunity to connect with such a unique group of individuals with distinct backgrounds and talents. Although the schedule is packed, I enjoyed every second of it. Saul and Stephanie are so passionate about the Art+Bio Collaborative, and it shows when you're out in the field. This experience was life-changing in that it presented me with new perspectives and challenges that have shaped my future plans. Whether you consider yourself a biologist, artist, bio-artist, or are just interested in nature, I highly recommend this once in a lifetime experience; come with an open-mind, a thirst for knowledge, and be prepared for an adventure!"

Ring, Yale University, undergraduate
"I really enjoy making installations in nature with my hands. Those are the moments when I forget how dirty, wet and tired I am, and am really able to feel the passion to create. Working in nature is a fantastic experience because you feel like you have a whole world in front of you from which you can take whatever materials and elements you need and be constantly inspired by them."

Jack, Brandeis University, undergraduate
"For artists and scientists who are looking to expand their horizons -- this program is for you. You will look at your field in a new light and as a result, you will create and hypothesize differently. The people that you share this experience with will make the program so much more meaningful. Open up to them! You will only know them for a week -- you can talk about anything!! Saul and Stephanie are such smart talented people. It's hard to appreciate them while you're there, but they are wonderful resources of which you should take advantage!"

Ella, University of New South Wales, Australia, graduate student
"This trip and experience have changed my life. I have never been given the opportunity to dedicate so much time, space, and emotion toward artmaking. The process of getting my hands into the dirt, sand, and leaves is something I enjoyed – it heightened my connection with nature and reminded me how essentially human it is to need to be outside.  Meeting with other artists inspired and challenged me to try different ways to represent the natural world, and it also opened me up in ways I do not always have the opportunity to do back home. The amount of ground we covered during the trip – cloud forest, dry forest, rainforest, offshore island – were so special and unique in ways that words cannot capture.  I feel that what we have all accomplished, seen, and felt as a group this week, will stay with me for years to come. I will take with me what I’ve learned and carry it over to other aspects of my life – to seek more creative ways to solve problems, communicate ideas, or simply for personal reflection. Thank you for such a meaningful experience. I hope to return to Puerto Rico someday!"

Alison, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, undergraduate
"My experience on this trip was extraordinary. The journey was adventurous, fun and inspirational. Both the students and instructors made the trip exceed my expectations. I loved being immersed in the tropical island life, doing hands on activities and seeing a side of the island most people don't get to discover. I learned a lot about the living environment of the island, practiced my artistic skills and learned a lot about myself. As an artist, connecting with nature and sharing perspectives with everyone on the trip was just what I needed. I returned home with a lot of creative ideas, feeling re-energized and compelled to feed my passion for art, travel and nature."

"Saul really impressed me. He has a tremendous amount of science knowledge and is a great artist. He was able to answer a lot of questions and made everything we learned about interesting. His enthusiasm for art and bio really energized everything we did! I was really happy he took time aside to talk to me about my own art and share his with me as well.

Both Stephanie and Saul inspired me. The two of them are a wonderful team and have accomplished a lot together. I am very thankful to have met them both.”

Ariana, Harvard University, undergraduate
"There was never a dull moment. I felt that you guys were genuinely interested in personalizing and maximizing each student's island experience."

"The ISLAND LIFE program is truly a transformative experience. I can't think of a better reprieve from the daily grind of college classes. For a week you get to immerse yourself in pristine rainforest while donning the cap of a naturalist-explorer. In some respects, this course is the realization of every young biologist's dream; you get to run around all day catching your own specimens! The island does lack large, charismatic mammals, but sometimes it's humbling to just step back and appreciate the microcosms of insects and lizards. It's worth noting that the biology lessons we received were succinct and accessible to students with all sorts of scientific backgrounds."

"With regards to the art side of the program: Don't expect to come away with a masterpiece! Field sketching is a whole different animal. Just view the island as a wealth of natural beauty, and you'll have fun. You don't have to be a very experienced artist to appreciate the pleasures of plein air painting."

"In short, there is nothing stressful about this program; you're in good hands with Stephanie and Saul. You can tell that the Art+Bio Collaborative is their dream, and that they want you to have the most meaningful experience possible. Their thoughtful instruction will remind you why you fell in love with art, biology, or both. And really--there's no better place to have a personal epiphany than in the heart of a vibrant island."

Scott, Harvard University, professional
"I think you've got a great thing going. Really. This is a "retreat" with a purpose --very exciting and obviously great fun for everyone."

"The program met my expectations -- because of the range of adventures in forested and coastal environments (and some cultural ones as well) and the multiple related artistic challenges posed in accordance with each adventure -- and because of the encouragement to take your own approach to each challenge. To say nothing of the impressive expertise of leaders Stephanie and Saúl in related matters biological, artistic, and cultural. Beautifully done."

"I admire Stephanie's attentiveness and vigilance. She offered good challenges for specific projects but left us free to go in our own directions; provided as much instruction and advice as needed; and quietly and discreetly saw to it that students were making progress on various artistic fronts all week.”

Zishi, Yale University, undergraduate
"The nature was sublime, and I felt accomplished after a series of activities in these places, because they were highly productive and were indeed good physical exercises! I experienced Puerto Rico in a special way with the juxtaposition and combination of art and biology. As a person who does art, I posed my work directly in nature and learned a lot about ecology and biology as well. Other people in the camp were all passionate about art and biology, and such passion was really contagious. It was really a catharsis for me to do the art installations, allowing me to escape from the exhausting workload in the college and step back to fully sense nature."

Anastasia, University of Alaska, undergraduate
"Despite my calculating nature, I jumped at this opportunity with no hesitation. I have been looking for programs and experiences to combine my passion for Art and Science and this was the greatest first collaborative experience I could have hoped for. It is not often you get to have an educating experience with the feel of being with a family. The program instructors as well as the fellow students I met made me feel right at home, and instead of being the nerd of the group, I was with a group of nerds. This program came to me at the most opportune moment in my life. I was becoming disillusioned with the hope that I might one day have an interdisciplinary career of Biology and Art, but this program made my dreams seem possible again. You don't have to choose between Art and Science!"