Two inseparable passions have shaped naturalist Kevin Clement's life since his childhood in the mountains of California. "I don't remember a time when I wasn't interested in the natural world or a time when I didn't love to draw," he says. "I don't really distinguish between sitting with my sketchbook and drawing, say, a tree, and studying its life history in a field guide. To me, they're both ways to learn about the tree and try to understand it."
After graduating from college, Kevin decided to work as a scientific illustrator, a career that would force him to live in the decidedly unwild environs of Los Angeles. Before consigning himself to this new life, however, he took a summer job at a lodge in Glacier Bay, Alaska, and wilderness won out over civilization. "Once I saw Alaska, there was just no going back to L.A. If wilderness matters to you, Alaska is the place to be; every place else seems pale and watered down by comparison."
Alaska provided another revelation, and a new profession. "I learned there was a job out there that I had not known existed, one my high-school guidance counselor never told me about—naturalist. And some of these naturalists, besides actually getting paid, got to travel as well."
From his humble beginnings as a deck hand aboard an expedition ship, Kevin worked his way up to his current position as naturalist. Though many naturalists specialize, Kevin prefers a wider approach. "I feel my role is to fill the generalist niche. Every ecosystem has a niche like that, and so does every lecture team. A specialist is something I'll never be; my interests are just too broad. As far as I'm concerned, specialization is for insects."
The act of discovery inherent in adventure travel also holds great appeal for Kevin. "Above all else, I love exploring." One of his favorite expeditions was our Circumnavigation of North America. "It's a bold concept. A journey like this has never been attempted. It promises to reach some of the most inaccessible and intriguing places in the north—just my cup of tea."
A life of exploring wilderness provides Kevin with a limitless supply of artistic subjects, and during expeditions he's continually sketching the people, wildlife, and vistas he encounters. When he's not in the field, "a steady stream of art commissions" keeps him busy. He's also hard at work creating paintings for an upcoming solo show.
Finally, Kevin views his work as more than just a means to earn a paycheck. "With this job, there's a real chance to make a difference. If I do my job right, I can change the way passengers look at the natural world, or give them a new appreciation for some aspect of it. Of course, I seldom get to see those changes, and there's no way to measure the impact I might be having. But what's important is to keep doing good work."