Watercolor of Cyanobacteria in a gray frame

Exploring Cyanobacteria “Harmful Algal Blooms” with Watercolor

Art and environmental issues…

Personally, a lot of environmental issues stress me out, and apparently I’m not alone with these emotions. In fact, an educator named David Sobel coined a term to explain this feeling of hopelessness. “Ecophobia” is used to describe a mindset in which an individual is filled with dread and fear about the future outcomes of the natural world (Sobel, n.d.). At times, the future may seem depressing, so I choose to explore some of the heavy subjects using pretty art.

In this particular project I examine microscopic images of Microcysits, a common type of toxic cyanobacteria that leads to harmful algal blooms. You may have heard of Microcystis through scary news headlines highlighting pets poisoned in affected waterways. As a result of these media stories, many of us know cyanobacteria is a sad and scary subject. But there is much more to learn about harmful algal blooms, the history of cyanobacteria on earth, and the future of our waterways. My approach to using watercolor as way to explore this environmental problem helps me learn more about the issue and understand the role I play. I hope it can do the same for others. So, I encourage you to join me in painting!


For this workshop, I use the following palettes:

While I certainly recommend trying these paint sets, you can also use any other watercolor products to participate in this activity.


Finally, check out this video to learn about cyanobacteria and participate in the art workshop. I hope you find it educational, somewhat hopeful, and definitely relaxing. Happy painting!




Sobel, D. (1999). Beyond ecophobia: Reclaiming the heart in nature education. Orion Society; Second Edition

Soebl, D. (n.d.) Beyond Ecophobia. Simply Parenting. Retrieved from http://www.simplicityparenting.com/Beyond%20Ecophobia.pdf.