Reflections

It was roughly 11 years ago today that I sat next to the weird guy in Art History class, to save my shy friend the trouble. A few weeks later I took this picture of him. (Well, mainly of the scenery, let’s be real.) (And eight years after that, we tied the knot.)

People would always ask me where that picture was taken, and would be astounded when I told them — along the drainage ditch off one of the very quiet main streets in our very sleepy agrarian college town. This town is not really known for its picturesque pockets, but rather is known for being one of the least desirable places to get your bachelor’s degree in Colorado, of the mainstream choices. (It is also known for being home to a meat packaging plant mentioned in the book “Fast Food Nation”, and one of the places targeted in the ICE raids.)

My memories of that town include these things, but they also include the small-town downtown, with its fine park and pagoda, that would be lit up by lights every December and make a veritable Winter Wonderland to wander in. There was the excellent Mexican food — made by immigrant laborers — at taquerias where English was barely spoken and the telenovelas would be blaring, and the portions were as generous as they were delicious. The enormous cottonwood trees, not just limited to campus but sprinkled throughout the district, which would turn golden in October and filter the sunlight. The majesty of the sparse farmland to the north, where I would drive on lonely roads for hours in the crystalline frost of late autumn, before the ice of winter came in earnest.  

I really don’t think it was JUST because I was falling deeply in love — though doubtless that was part of it. That first picture really epitomizes something we both feel strongly about: that there is something impressive, surprising, magical, or just plain nice looking everywhere, so long as you’re patient enough to look. You don’t have to spend lots of money or time to find it. And it doesn’t have to be that far away.

Most recent picture I took of him. 2015. (Similarity to the first picture is purely coincidental.)
Most recent picture I took of him. 2015. (Similarity to the first picture is purely coincidental.)

Monster Drawing Rally.

On Friday I sat with about 80 other artists and illustrators before a bustling crowd to drew monsters, for the first (but hopefully not only,) Monster Drawing Rally

I have Kate Bingaman-Burt to thank for my inclusion, as she suggested my name to the organizers. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d suggested most of the people on the roster. She’s that most rare of creatures — an extroverted illustrator.

I ended up downtown long before the event started and warmed up by drawing people in the park. And I was glad I did, because by the time I had to sit down in front of the throng of people I was very calm and unconcerned about the whole thing. My job wasn’t to do “good work” or “impress” anybody, it was just to have fun and make monsters. 

It seemed like I ran into almost every single illustrator or designer I know in town was all super fun

Paper and provisional supplies were provided — though most people had brought their own materials (including me). Wet media was allowed so long as it dried (relatively) quickly, so although I warmed up with sharpie line drawings, I switched to paint once I sat down once I saw what good results some of my colleagues were achieving in the first round. 

Once you finished a picture you’d raise your hand, and a volunteer would come by. You would hand them your picture, one of the stickers with your name on it from the long page of stickers provided in your welcome packet. They would whisk both away. Picture into plastic sleeve, sticker onto sleeve, and the product thus readied handed to another volunteer who would clip it to the buying wall. All pictures: $35. No more, no less.

100% of the proceeds were to go to the art museum, which initially gave me pause, as it’s a lot to ask of an artist. (Be the main attraction in a big event (1), perform your work (2) in front of a live audience (3), and bring in revenue for an institution (4) — an institution that I’d imagine has an event budget (5).) However, in addition to the two free drink tickets and a free slice of pizza, the museum gave each of the participants free membership to the museum for a year, which is certainly nothing to be sneezed at. (Indeed, that’s why I worked for free at the Opera, to get free tickets.)

And it really was such fun. There was a boozy camaraderie afterwards, but I had old friends in from out of town and we needed a little camaraderie of our own. I hope they’ll do another one in the future. 

Glasses

Since about April I have rejoined the ranks of full-time glasses-wearers, after fifteen years of religious contact wearing.

To back up: I have lived in corrective lenses since the second grade, and went to contacts as soon as they would let me. Before that I had worn godawful metal 1980s frames that were the crowning jewel at the height of my awkward phase.

Look! We all have the same glasses.  Look! We all have the same glasses.

The switch from these frames (i.e., horrifying bug-eyed goofball,) to contacts (i.e., super-stud,) was, to me, as transformative as cutting my hair to a pixie cut in high school. Finally! I look like ME! I’ll never look back, I thought. I will wear contacts for the rest of my life.

A year or so ago my eyes started to reject my contacts with a suddenness and ferocity that I found astonishing. Before this I could wear my lenses for 14 straight hours without incident. Now I could barely keep them in for three before my eyes would cloud over, tear profusely, itch, and generally be useless to me. A few times it was nearly impossible to GET THE LENSES OFF MY EYEBALLS, which is the stuff of nightmares. Once it happened while I was trying a new brand at the eye doctor’s, and she had to get them out for me. The suction achieved by these lenses — and sound they made as they let go — was a real eye-opener. So to speak.

Added to this, contacts are just an unnecessary periodic expense, especially when you’re hopping around trying different brands and getting special eyedrops from the eye doctor. I took it all as a sign that my eyes no longer wanted to wear contact lenses, and not without a great feeling a defeat and resignation, I acquiesced. Glasses it would be.

The severity of my myopia is presumably inherited from my father, who, when told he had “gone beyond the top drawer” at his eye doctor’s opted to get laser surgery back when it was in its somewhat experimental (and risky). They didn’t set out to completely cure him, they merely wanted to push his vision back down into the realm of correctability. So he wears glasses to this day, but they are but thin whispers of what once was.

I am not currently acquainted with anyone whose vision is worse than mine. (Except for a friend who is blind.) When I purchase frames online I am subject to additional “high prescription” fees which I assume pays the giants who have to use their giant hands and giant muscles to press the lenses down into a thin enough shape so I don’t end up looking like Professor Farnsworth.

This whole thing is a major downer for a person who SEES things for a living, and one of the reasons I was so drawn to contacts — aside for vain aesthetic reasons — was the total correction of the entire field of vision. I use all of it, and I detest having a border of illegibility surrounding my world, as many interesting things in life are seen by chance, at random, out of the corner of one’s eye. I don’t have corners — anything outside of the frame is a colorful blur.

Because glasses are so in vogue — I think American Apparel actually sells empty frames now, which kills me — it is at least fairly easy to order them online, which is great because most of the shops these days exclusively carry the giant 1980s era throwbacks, and I just can’t bring myself to go there just yet. I don’t hang out with anyone regularly from my contacts-only days, so nobody has made a big deal about my quiet shift to Always Glasses. I suppose I just look like yet another bespectacled young person in plaid. Fashionable on accident. When glasses go out of style it will just be me and the actually afflicted, our eyes a refracted mess to the people we’re talking to, our worlds framed in tiny parenthesis of clarity.

Neighbors

I live right around the corner from Scout Books and got to tour their facilities on Wednesday. (Thanks to the good people at AIGA Portland, who arranged everything.)

Our local AIGA chapter is an active one. In addition to their monthly mixers they’ve evidently started doing studio/facility tours. I need to make a point of going to more events because I always have a good time, though I wish there were more illustrators. Most of the folks I meet seem to self-identify as designers and wear complicated blouses. 

Scout Books started as Pinball Publishing, and I used to include them in my who-will-print-my-business-cards calculations back in 2005. They transitioned to focusing on Scout Books somewhere in 2009 and seem to be edging towards becoming a vanity press. The customization of their notebooks can include page content as well as cover variety. 

The notebooks I cram into my pockets endure long hours of hard labor, rubbing against handkerchiefs, weird rocks I find, and God knows what else, and so unless they are made of something truly substantial they really have no use in my battalion. For the longest time I have been using nothing but hardbound moleskine journals, which worked well until a few years ago, when their distribution model changed and subsequently the paper quality went downhill. It is thin and prone to bleeding now, much more than they used to be, and while I love the structure of these notebooks and the little pocket that comes with them, I am unsure of my future with them.

Scout Books are bound in chipboard, which is laughably inadequate for my purposes, but are made of a surprisingly hearty paperstock that is 100% recycled and sourced locally, which is much better than ‘whatever we found in China’. And now I have something like five little notebooks gratis, including one that I rounded the corners off myself. (!) So I guess for a while I will be putting these books to the test. 

And very soon I hope to visit Scout Books again, with a pen and larger paper, to try and capture some of the delightful people and machines working together. 

On or about the San Juan Islands

I drew this picture as a bit of wishful thinking last year, long before we’d ever actually done anything like look for orcas of a rocky coast north of Seattle. Last weekend we finally did just that, and many other classic summer vacation things up in the San Juan islands.

We met up with a group of friends who had already set up camp, and then for the next four days explored the island.

We didn’t manage to see any whales, (I suspect they hang around the Haro Straight more than they venture into the smaller sounds,) but one member of our party did see porpoises playing in the water just off the coast of our tiny pebbly beach. And there was lots of other marine life to admire.

It was a glorious trip. Filled with happy surprises.

( Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was that Hugh made it there and back with no trouble.)

For the journey home, rather than retracing our steps, I cajoled my brother-in-law into helping us drive around the Olympic peninsula, and visit some of the Hoh Rainforest, where we spent not nearly enough time on a trail called the Hall of Mosses.

The thing that struck me most about this trip was how lovely is was to come home. It was probably one of the best trips I’ve had in a long time — very simple, filled with natural wonders, and weather nice enough to sleep under the stars as I did the first night, all moss and deer creeping through the underbrush.

And to sink into a bed after four days on the ground (and six hours propped up against bedding and tents in the hatchback,) was just the crowning jewel of it all. To come back to plumbing and ice cubes and running water.

The best kind of vacation is the sort of vacation that really makes you appreciate what you already have.