In the course of his five-month presidential campaign, Gov. Jay Inslee has barnstormed the country, unveiling ambitious plans to battle climate change that have drawn acclaim from environmentalists while failing to draw the favor of voters in early polls.

He’s also drawn surfing bears, sad bears and a lone rower, either adrift at sea or persevering through choppy waters.

Inslee, a longtime amateur artist, has continued to sketch, paint and doodle on the campaign trail. He’s painted his surroundings, re-imagined himself as a speechifying alligator, given handmade gifts to loyal staffers and turned spilled cough syrup into a pastiche of beer-swilling flamingos.

His team has dubbed these #JayDoodles on Twitter and has been using them to try to raise money for the lagging campaign.

Inslee writes and illustrates children’s books as Christmas presents for his grandkids. He’s selling his latest, “Elvis & the Elves: The Mystery of the Melting Snow,” at his campaign website.

In it, (spoiler alert) a group of elves convert a coal train to electric to save their melting snowman friend.


“We know removing one coal train from the tracks won’t solve the problem,” Inslee writes in an afterword. “It’s going to take a concentrated national mission to overcome this challenge.”

Several times the campaign has offered the chance at an original Inslee painting (via lottery) for any donor who gives $10 or more.

“I’m no art critic,” wrote Erica Slates, Inslee’s deputy finance director, in a recent fundraising pitch. “But the artwork is just fun!”

What do actual art critics think? The Seattle Times reached out to some local critics, who generally praised Inslee’s oeuvre, albeit with the caveat that he’s an enthusiastic amateur.

“Of course you see a love of the earth,” said Chiyo Ishikawa, Seattle Art Museum’s deputy director for art. “It’s interesting that he engages with the places he visits through art. It’s a different experience than taking a photo; you see things more slowly when you’re drawing … There’s a sense of humor, too, and a sincerity in these works that I find touching.”

“His subject matter zeros in on nature: landscapes, seascapes and animals; he renders these subjects with careful attention,” said Gayle Clemans, an art historian and critic who has written for The Seattle Times. “These are visual reminders, perhaps, of what he wants all of us to fight for.”


Here’s a smattering of Inslee’s work, along with thoughts from the critics.

A Miami watercolor


Clemans: “Inslee pulls out some art tricks in this seemingly straightforward watercolor. We hover over a narrowing path, which, along with the diminishing scale of palm trees and buildings, might pull us into the cityscape in the distance. But the large amount of space dedicated to moody sky and dynamically rendered water, with its wedgelike insertion into the composition, keeps us focused on the balance between nature and the man-made environment.”

A self-effacing doodle (on personalized, embossed letterhead).

Inslee gave this quick sketch to Alexandria Villaseñor, a 14-year-old climate activist, who called it “the best piece of art I’ve ever received.”

Karen Cheng, a University of Washington professor of art and design: “It’s not graphically refined, but I thought the Governor’s cartoon was a fine example of the power of visual communication. In one small image, he clearly communicates his point of view on both climate change and feminism — and he shows his sense of humor.”

Adrift? Or calmly persevering?

Ishikawa: “The figure in the boat could represent his campaign: Rowing against the stream!”

Clemans: “This pastel seems to suggest the most ominous prediction for our relationship with the natural world … But, with further inspection, ominous may not be the right word after all. If Inslee had chosen to scale the rowboat much smaller within a larger rampant sea, the effect would have been one of inevitable disaster and despair. Instead, the boat is fairly large, centered, and stable in the composition while the brightly lit rower, with oversized hands, seems capable of navigating the wild waters.”


Skagit Valley tulips


Clemans: “Inslee seems to enjoy rendering perspective, leading the eye deep into the image. Here, he uses the sweeping rows of flowers and strings of clouds, along with a nearly even split between land and sky, to give us a comfortable sense of vastness and beauty.”

Ishikawa: “Landscapes are difficult to get right, capturing the relationship between the elements — his all hold together nicely.”

Bear on the move

Clemans: “Inslee’s kitschy anthropomorphism is intriguing: a gator grasps a podium, flamingos sport sunglasses, a bear rides a surfboard. The attribution of human characteristics or behaviors to animals can demonstrate the empathy of an artist or increase empathy in a viewer.”

A retro skier


Inslee gave this pastel to a staffer (and former ski racer) after her grandfather died.

Clemans: “This might be my favorite of all the pieces I’ve seen. It has a vintage flavor — like a hand-painted poster for a ski vacation ­— with its elaborate typography, naive scale, and old-fashioned ski attire. The textured, mustard yellow sky contrasts with the swirling whites and blues of the snow and the position of the skier and his multi-angled gear generate just a bit of drama. Is he about to crest or slide back down the mountain?”