Our family loves to gather around a table. Cooking beautiful food and sitting down to enjoy a leisurely meal is one of our favorite ways to spend time together and mark special occasions. We recently hosted a seafood feast, served outdoors in our backyard, in honor of Grandma (my fabulous break-every-mold mother-in-law) who just moved here to Virginia all the way from California. The meal featured grilled shrimp and calamari, homemade aioli, clams with fennel and pomegranate, seasonal salads, a whole grouper baked in rock salt, and of course, some great wines. I wish I could take credit for the cooking, but it was master-minded by two dear friends who are so much like family that they can take over my kitchen as if it were their own! Uncle Rick was another special guest, really the hero of the day, who had driven Grandma (his sister) across the entire country with all her stuff in a Penske moving van, delivering her safely to her new home. There was a lot to celebrate. Having Grandma here to share in our lives is a wonderful new era for our family. Loved ones gathered around a festive table on a beautiful crisp Fall day makes for one great party.
This week’s collage is inspired by our local farmers market. We spent a delightful Saturday morning there browsing the stalls and feasting our eyes on all the different colored tomatoes that are now in season. My father taught me to love tomatoes, and I have great memories of the big juicy specimens we would buy at a roadside stand on the way to our beach house in the summertimes of my childhood. We always enjoyed them simply prepared, just sliced out on a platter with salt, pepper, a sprinkle of fresh herbs and maybe a drizzle of olive oil. My family had such reverence for peak season tomatoes that they could almost be considered the main course, but were usually accompanied by corn on the cob, zucchini and onions, and the fish or crabs that we had caught that day on the Little Choptank River. The taste of a good tomato will always remind me of those happy summer days.
My process for this collage involved some new ideas and inverted techniques. Normally I draw by hand with ink pens on paper, then scan the drawings into my Mac, and manipulate them in Illustrator. I may re-size the drawings, and multiply the images. The drawings are then printed out onto collage papers with an ink jet printer, torn by hand, and collaged onto a panel in combination with acrylic paint and additional hand-drawn pieces. This week I scanned only one drawing (the cluster of cherry tomatoes.) The rest of the tomatoes and the market stalls were all drawn directly into the Mac using my Wacom pen tablet. It is a little odd to say these are not “hand-drawn,” as I drew them with my hand, while holding a pen… the only difference being that the drawing first shows up on a computer screen instead of on a piece of paper. I also colored the tomatoes using the pen tablet and digital tools in Illustrator. The images were then printed out, torn by hand, and collaged onto a panel with acrylic paint. If you looks closely at the market stall drawings, you will see that there are only a few unique drawings. The rest are simply re-sized or reversed versions. When collaged together on the panel and individually colored, you get the impression of a large and varied market scene.
This morning my family enjoyed an outing to the City Market, our local downtown farmers market. It was drizzling and unseasonably cool, but so enjoyable nonetheless. I love wandering down the aisles, browsing the bounty of the Shenandoah Valley. There are free range meats and organic eggs, tempting baked goods, fresh coffee, lemonade, local cheeses, jams and preserves, arts and crafts, and of course a rainbow of flowers, fruits, vegetables, and herbs. We brought home a taste of summer: golden tomatoes, slender Japanese eggplants and round yellow squash. I find creative inspiration in their colors and shapes as well as their anticipated flavors.
Here is a sketch inspired by the Farmers Market that combines both hand-drawn elements and digital images created using the “brushes” in Illustrator. I pulled a color palette from the photograph above to apply color to the sketch. Some motifs were created by hand using traditional materials, then scanned and digitized. Others were created entirely with digital tools. This was a fun experiment for me. Can you tell which parts of the picture where done by hand and which parts were created in Illustrator? Tomorrow I will print out the sketch onto collage paper, tear it apart, and recombine it with other drawings to create a hand-made collage. I love this kind of mash-up, allowing my work to flow through multiple channels.
This week I began integrating imagery from my day job into my artwork. I have had a tendency to keep my job very separate from my studio work, but the spirit of this whole project leans on the idea that embracing all of who you are is a good thing. I work for a great company that sells specialty food, olive oils being one of my favorite categories. It is no accident that I wound up working in the food business. I have always loved to cook and have a long history of endeavors in the food biz, from freelance catering while working on my MFA, to making cheese on a sheep farm, to a stint at Whole Foods, then finally moving up into distribution. Artists need to make a living, and this career has been good to me. It is part of who I am. I work from home now three days a week and have time for my family and my art. There are times when the job seems to take over… like last weekend when I spent 4 days working a trade show instead of making a collage… but I am learning to recognize that my job gives me much more than it takes.
I began with a sketchbook page of olive oil bottles and olive groves. The bottles were drawn mostly from life, while the landscape elements were invented or pulled from memories of my trip to Spain a few years ago. The drawings were scanned, repeated and re-sized in Illustrator, then printed out on collage papers. Next I prepared a panel with earthy landscape colors, going for a Mediterranean atmosphere. Red clay, olive greens, and silvery blue grays.
The collage is a montage of both the olive oils and the landscapes from which they came. I was interested in the various unique shapes of the bottles and tins, as well as the textures and patterns in the landscape elements. I am thinking about using the drawings in a surface design collection for kitchen towels, aprons, napkins, tableware, etc. Here is the final piece followed by details.
I’m back from my business trip to the Fancy Food Show, a trade show held each year for the specialty food industry. The company that I work for distributes beautiful products in a broad range of categories: artisan cheeses, charcuterie, olives and antipasti, chocolate, bread, meat and seafood. One of my very favorite product groups is the olive oils. We feature olive oils from Greece, Spain, Italy, and the south of France, and each has its own unique landscape, culture, and people behind it. One of the best things about the show is the opportunity to meet the producers and hear their stories, in addition to tasting their products. Flavors and images overlap in my mind: some real, some imagined. Having once visited the Arbequina olive groves of northern Spain, my memory of the majestic thousand-year-old trees overlays the warm buttery oil on my tongue. Others are new to me and my imagination takes over as I conjure the silvery leaves sparkling in long rows, soaking up the Mediterranean sun.
In my olive oil doodles, I was very interested in the shapes of the bottles, which are concrete, observable objects. (I couldn’t resist including a few Balsamic Vinegar bottles in the sketch too!) But I was also exploring the story of the landscapes, trees and fruit behind each bottle, stemming from both memory and imagination. One more important point about this post: I am using my art to make friends with my day-job. While it’s true that I do enjoy my work, my day-job has often been cast in my mind as the enemy of art, taking up my precious creative time with the frustrating necessity of earning a paycheck. But in the spirit of My Suburban Life, I am making the choice to stop fighting against what is. Yes, I am still pursuing my dream of one day making a living as an artist and designer, but for now, quitting my job is not a reality. So why not stop complaining about it and appreciate what it gives me? Health Insurance, a good paycheck, relationships with wonderful co-workers and vendors, an education in fascinating artisan foodstuffs, inspiration for both my kitchen and my sketchbook, and a taste of delicious olive oils…