In September I went camping with a friend who is also an artist. We had long talked about going on an “art trip” where we could just work on projects in a new environment, kind of a self- funded and -organized mini artist retreat. So we packed up some gear and drove to Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod for two nights.
I didn’t have a serious agenda for what I wanted to make, other than that I wanted to try some new things and not pressure myself to come up with some cohesive project for the trip. So I just did what I often do and started doing some drawings from observation.
We had breakfast the first morning at a place called Liz’s Cafe, Anybody’s Bar. We were seated on stools at the bar which gave me a perfect view into the kitchen, through their service window where food was passed out for waitstaff to bring to the tables. I made notes around the border to remember what colors to use when I watercolored it later.
Later I made a detailed drawing of some seaweed when we stopped to sit in the sand and chat. I am often fascinated by seaweed and its shapes but nervous to draw it because it seems too complicated with all its little tendrils and fingers of slimy green. But this time, I had nowhere else to be and just gave myself over to the experience, following the lines with my pencil, observing the subtle shifts in color along its branches.
The next day before we packed up I lay in the tent looking up at its ceiling and found myself drawn to the shapes that made it up. The curve of the zippered door, the arrow-like double layer of fabric where the cords connected. I made a quick drawing with some ink and watercolor, thinking it could maybe be an interesting quilt.
After returning from the camping trip I thought about writing about the experience, how valuable it felt to take time to just experiment. To be outside. To let new ideas percolate in a different environment. But I put it off and put it off and as time passed I saw the trip through a different lens. I started to see those one-off projects take on a life of their own and spin into bigger ideas and series.
I did make the tent drawing into a quilt. For the past few years my partner and I have worked collaboratively on quilts for babies in our circle of friends and family. We don't often follow quilt patterns, preferring to make it up as we go or take inspiration from traditional quilt designs while improvising to create a new design. Our friends Kate and Joe, who love camping, had a baby due in December, so the tent design seemed perfect for them. I began scoping out the linens bins at nearby thrift stores to find colors and textures that matched my memory of the tent. I laid out big paper to figure out how to enlarge and transfer the drawing onto the fabric.
Over the last couple months Whitney hand quilted it and we mailed it off to Wisconsin midway through April.
And the drawing of the kitchen and pass through window from the restaurant spawned a whole series of prints. For a while I’ve been working on a multifaceted body of work reflecting my experience working in food service. Suddenly this quick drawing seemed to have new possibilities. After drawing it, I started seeing other similar windows in restaurants and cafes back home and started imagining a series of images showing these secret views into work spaces. Not secret because they are hidden, but secret because many people don't notice them. We come into a restaurant to eat and drink. We might take in the decor or interesting details but it was only after I started working in a restaurant that I turned my gaze on the details most relevant to the workers- how did they organize their order tickets? Was any of the kitchen visible- what and who was in it? What were they doing to make their lives easier- little piles of pre-wrapped silverware, plates stacked in strategic locations? I went back to the drawing from Provincetown and tried to figure out how to make it more finished. I ultimately decided to redo it as a linocut, and to continue observing other restaurants windows to make a series of linocuts.
I decided it was important that each one include just the view through the window, the frame, and any counter space that was attached. This left me with a dilemma because I had only drawn about half of the window at Liz’s. This led me down a rabbit hole of online review images uploaded by customers. Eventually I had enough information to approximate the rest of the image to my satisfaction! I currently have three prints done in this series and hope to have a few more.
And all because of a camping trip! Sometimes I struggle to see the big picture of what I am doing and where my art practice is going. A random drawing or piece that I feel compelled to make doesn't always make sense with the current projects I’m working on, and the limited amount of time I have can make it feel hard to justify random experiments. But something I've been reflecting on lately is that I can't know the future, and if I trust my creative impulses and follow where they lead, new and exciting things will come.
Now where in the future might that seaweed drawing pop up??