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MK MacNaughton Lives In Juneau And Owns Sketch Art Studio, Where She Teaches Oil Paintings, Drawing Techniques And Charcoal Portraits.

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MK MacNaughton Stays Off The Beaten Path, Just Like Those Who Follow The Sign On The Back Of A Korean Restaurant Leading To Sketch Art Studio

Facial Portrait From Sketch Art Studio [Courtesy/MK MacNaughton]

There's a hidden adventure waiting for people in Juneau, Alaska... Away from the popular cruise ship stop's tourist-riddled downtown. All curious visitors have to do is follow the large sign that says “SKETCH” on the back of a Korean restaurant. 

Slightly off the beaten path, the arrow leads to the Sketch Art Studio, where travelers are taken away from the “I Love Alaska”-heavy gift shops and swept into the art scene of Juneau... Curious adventurers come to take a peek into an art studio and leave Juneau with a completely new outlook on not only Alaska, but themselves.

Only reachable by boat or sea plane, scenic Juneau is where a lot of cruise ships make their rounds. One time an older couple and their adult daughter got off the cruise ship to explore Juneau. The terminally ill father had mobility issues, so Sketch Art Studio owner MK MacNaughton picked them up in her car and brought them to Gold Creek, where she taught them charcoal drawing. They then went back to her 40 by 20 foot studio to learn encaustic (hot beeswax) work.

What started as a commercial cruise ship vacation and walk around an overcrowded downtown had turned into an authentic trip to the less-traveled parts of Juneau, led by a Juneau native. It's the kind of experience that many people – not just artists – crave.

“I'm willing to make up what works for folks,” said MacNaughton. “I'm interested in meeting people and offering them something they're excited about.”

While his wife took nature photographs on hikes, a man took oil painting classes at Sketch Art Studio. A woman who worked on a cruise ship started coming to the studio for drawing classes every Tuesday for four months. A couple wandered off a cruise ship and found the studio. They hung out and painted for a bit. She liked their energy and the man's artwork. He event painted her a t-shirt. MacNaughton found out it was retired pro skater Kris Markovich.

She said: “I just have great experiences with people who wander off the cruise ship.” 

Oil Painting Of A Few Birds From Juneau [Courtesy/MK MacNaughton]
Sketch Art Studio Owner MK MacNaughton Doing Her Magic [Courtesy/MK MacNaughton]

While MacNaughton has taught classes (even up to 800 students at a time at schools and museums), her passion is art catering. She will do whatever works for the couple, small group or family. They provide the ideas, the wine... Whatever. And MacNaughton provides the art.

“I don't claim to be an expert,” she said, “but I can teach people confidence. I love working with people who are a little nervous about creating art. Adults tend to be very hard on themselves and their art ability. I can help them relax into the experience and enjoy it. I can help them realize that they do have skills. They just need the experience and practice.”

When people travel to Juneau they don't expect to leave with an oil painting they created while out in the wilderness of Alaska. They don't expect to spend hours in a small studio with a sky light, surrounded by walls full of artwork, learning about the art scene of Juneau.

“There are so many local art shops and galleries here,” said MacNaughton. “One of my favorite shops is called Trickster. It's owned by a brother and sister. They're both young designers, selling local Native American-inspired art. They sell skate boards, clothing, playing cards...”

When asked where she likes to shop, of course MacNaughton doesn't mention any of the usual places downtown. She mentions a post office: “We have the coolest post office in the world... Kindred Post. It's the best places to go for gifts. She has great taste in unusual, funky stuff. It's one of the best. And the place has all kinds of interactive community activities. She supports a lot of local artists. And they're an incredibly efficient post office.”

And in the past few years Juneau has become a great place to find award-winning ethnic food. Of course there's the Korean eatery near Sketch Art Studio, Korea Gardens, which is “really fun and beautiful.” Then there's the Italian place, In Bocca al Lupo and Rookery, MacNaughton's favorite coffee shop, which also serves Alaskan food. It's been written up in the New York Times. And so has Tucker Wilson's, a tiny hamburger cart with some amazing sauce that is set up outside the city's art council building.

“He's open year-round, in rain and snow,” said MacNaughton. “He's out there selling burgers.”

It's no surprise that MacNaughton seems to know all of the more fascinating places to visit around Juneau. Originally from Portland, Oregon, she's been living in Alaska for 30 years now with her two kids. 

Artwork Being Done At Sketch Art Studio [Courtesy/MK MacNaughton]
Child Learning To Draw With Charcoal [Courtesy/MK MacNaughton]
Supplies Used At Sketch Art Studio, Juneau [Courtesy/MK MacNaughton]

After graduating from college with a psychology degree she traveled to India, Australia, Korea... Soon she ran out of money. A friend offered her a summer job selling hotdogs in Juneau. At the time she had no interest in even coming to Alaska. But she fell in love.

“I went to some great plays. I visited coffee shops. I went kayaking, hiking... I never left,” she recalled. “It's the nature around here. It's just beautiful. It's also a vibrant, small community. It's an easy life and everything is close together. I run every morning, trail running up the mountains, just minutes away...”

Recently, MacNaughton started a portrait series, social justice-based pieces in collaboration with the Alaska Institute for Justice. Being involved in the community has been a big deal for her. She is creating large charcoal portraits of immigrants, highlighting their contribution to the community.

"I am also doing a series about aging and dying. I'm working with people of all ages," says MacNaughton. "That's another large portrait project that's in the works."

“For me, creating art enhances the way I look at the world,” she explained. “When you take the time to look at nature or another person... It alters the way you look at the world for the rest of the day. It's also fun. That's the number one reason.”

She's always liked art. Since she was a kid. But it was always secondary to her work and studies. Always. But after teaching art to children and to adults with disabilities and encouraging others for decades, it started to sink in that she was an artist, too, and that she needed to start listening to her own message.

And what better place than Juneau, surrounded by the mountains, the water, a growing art scene...

For tourists looking for a deeper and more authentic Juneau experience, follow the sign that says “SKETCH.” Travel off the beaten path. Take the road less traveled. Discover something new about Alaska and about yourself. 


Olivia Richman

A graduate of East Connecticut State University in Journalism, Olivia has written for Stonebridge Press & Antiques Marketplace among others. She enjoys writing, running and video games.

Baranof Castle State Historic Site

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Baranof Castle State Historic Site is commonly referred to as Castle Hill; it is one of the most historically significant sites in Alaska and is also designated as a National Historic Landmark.


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