By Sarah Gianelli EBS Associate Editor

BIG SKY – As Big Sky School District’s only art teacher, Megan Buecking teaches general art to sixth and seventh graders, photography to eighth graders, painting and drawing to ninth graders, ceramics to 10th graders and an elective art course to juniors and seniors.

After three years focusing almost exclusively on her students and expanding her skill set in mediums beyond her expertise in painting and drawing, Buecking is finally ready to turn her attention back to the easel.

That doesn’t mean Buecking will give up teaching—her role nurturing students in their creative exploration is a responsibility that hits home for the 31-year-old.

Growing up in upstate New York, Buecking was a confident child artist whose natural talent was recognized and encouraged by her family and educators. But when Buecking pursued art in college, one of her professors told her she did not have “the creative knack to be a real artist.”

“That really destroyed my confidence for years,” said Buecking, who attributed the comment to the fact that her realistic depictions of animals didn’t contain the conceptual depths and moodiness often ascribed to fine art.

Buecking may still think about the remark, but its sting no longer inhibits her from making art, and the memory guides her own teaching style because she never wants to influence a student in that way.

Working with Big Sky’s middle and high school students seems to have had a healing effect on Buecking—as if helping them overcome insecurities about their talents has helped rebuild her own confidence as an artist.

“Being able to work here has opened up space for me creatively, both literally and figuratively,” said Buecking, who often comes in before the school day begins to paint. “And it really does inspire me seeing the kids get inspired and doing projects with them.”

A lot of Buecking’s paintings begin as an example for her students, which she will often finish later on her own.

“I get a lot of feedback from the students,” Buecking said. “They definitely push me to do my best work—it’s like having 100 little nudgers.”

Buecking moved to Montana in 2009 with no money and no job. She said in the early years she “had to hustle, working like 20 jobs” to make ends meet. That time period didn’t leave much time or space for art. Eventually, she earned a master’s degree in education from Montana State University, always with the intention to become an art teacher.

“When I finally got a job here, it took a lot off my shoulders,” Buecking said.

After dabbling in a variety of mediums, among them felting and belt buckle-making, Buecking has come full circle back to painting and drawing predominately wildlife.

“When something is visceral in you, you find your way back to it,” Buecking said. “You go back to what’s natural.”

Buecking is currently working on a series of birds that includes images of an osprey and kestrel that were used to wrap the bear-proof trash receptacles at the softball fields in Big Sky Community Park.

Bouncing between oils, pen and ink, and watercolor, Buecking typically works from photographs to create realistic depictions of her subject. A touch of the abstract comes through in her backgrounds, which often mimic the topographical maps of the area where that species might be found.

This year, Buecking is setting some firm personal goals relating to her art—a show with fellow artists Liz McCrae and Heather Rapp at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center in March 2018 is providing incentive to finish her bird series. The exhibition will be her first in Montana, and she feels like the stars are aligning in her favor.

“It’s kind of like, if not now, when?”