Week 24: Olive Oil Landscape

Olive Oil and Olive Tree drawings ready for collaging

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.

Panel painted as an earthy landscape, ready for collage elements

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.

Olive branch sketches

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.

Olive Oil Landscape, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Olive Oil Landscape

Detail, Olive Oil Landscape

Detail, Olive Oil Landscape

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Business and Pleasure

Olive Oil Doodle

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…

Olive Oil Doodle 2

Business Trip

I’m leaving for a business trip tomorrow morning. I will be attending a trade show with my day-job colleagues, showcasing our company’s products, and will be gone til the middle of next week. My trip will involve non-stop meetings with wholesale customers and prospective buyers, followed by working social events each evening entertaining clients or attending vendor-hosted cocktail parties. This trip will be both fun and exhausting, and unfortunately totally eclipse my usual studio time this weekend.

So what about this week’s collage? I’m up to Week 24 (almost half way there!) and have not yet missed a week. Will I attempt to draw in the margins of my notepad while making product notes, or perhaps do some art in my hotel room? Or will I do a double panel next week with all the doodles when I am back in the studio? The one thing I am sure of is that making myself crazy to get it done is contrary to the spirit of the project. The whole point is to be in the moment, appreciate wherever you are now, and pull inspiration from that reality, rather than fighting against the way things are.  The collages reflect the authentic variable patterns of a creative life…. and, well, sometimes there is just less time than others!  This week was truly a busy one– preparing for the show at work, four evenings of my son’s summer lacrosse clinic, a much anticipated 2 day visit from some dear friends from out-of-town, beginning exercises on a new e-course on surface pattern design, plus other un-planned priorities (a box of gifted perennials that needed planting, and an earnest request from my son, “Mom, will you please play Monopoly with me?”) All artists experience periods when our creative time is curtailed. The goal is to not let those obstacles derail you, but rather to enjoy life and find inventive ways to remain committed, one small step at a time.

This whole dilemma got me thinking about how I will manage a collage when we take our 10 day summer vacation to California in August. We have a pretty busy itinerary visiting friends and family, and hitting the museums and sights in the San Francisco Bay area. Am I going to miss out on family fun and hang back at times during our vacation to work on my collage? No way! There is a time and a place for everything. I will keep my sketchbook with me wherever we go, and then use the drawings to make a multi-panel collage about our trip when I get home!

I haven’t talked much about my day-job yet on the blog…. I work for a specialty food distributor and represent a wide portfolio of fantastic edibles. We sell products to gourmet retail stores, natural food stores, caterers and restaurants. Plenty of inspiration here with artisan cheeses, charcuterie, olive oils, antipasti items and chocolate!  I have a secret mission this year to notice product and packaging design, as well as logos and artwork on labels and signage. I have a scrapbook full of cheese labels that I have been collecting over the 15 years that I have worked in the food biz. There are some wonderful whimsical illustrations to be found in this treasure trove that have definitely influenced my work, plus some excellent graphic design. Here’s a mini collage of a handful of my favorite cheese label graphics.

Favorite Specimens from my Cheese Label Collection