“The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure” - Joseph Campbell
Have you noticed that, when strange little coincidences appear in front of you, it feels like the universe is whispering in your ear? The trick is to be ready to change plans when magic is at the door. In order to collaborate with the muses, one has to be ready to grab a jacket and dash out at a moment's notice.
I’ve learned to say yes when they come knocking. For example, when I left my studio in Nebraska last fall, I didn’t know that I would be painting mostly with gouache over the winter. I originally planned on watercolor. But I pursued gouache because I wanted to do something challenging. Last weekend I stumbled across something that once again shifted the direction of my work. We went to visit a friend who was cutting down trees around an old home site. I found a shed that was overgrown by the trees, accessible only by crawling through the underbrush away from the harsh desert sun. They were to be demolished in the following days. It was shady and cool in the growth by the shack, and in entering this strange little bubble my curiosity was rewarded. I love coming across old forgotten things and gently sifting through them, looking for hints about the lives of previous inhabitants. There was a suitcase full of maps of the western U.S., some of them dating as far back as the mid-40’s. They had been safe inside the shed for decades, and the dry desert air had left them intact.
This brings me back to the coincidences. A month ago I found myself thinking about art forms that speak to what I am doing currently (specifically, traveling). I thought it would be really cool to use old maps as a background for paintings, and thought of the box of old geological survey topo maps back home in my studio. I was bummed out that I didn’t have them with me. So when I opened that suitcase last weekend and saw the maps, I was struck by a sense of serendipity, and felt that little knock on the door. It was my muse again. I wasn’t about to ignore it just because I already had plans for my next project. No, sir. At that point I was still fascinated with jackrabbits and was immersed in painting them. So I painted them on the maps.
And another serendipitous coincidence is that, when I was at the art supply store in Boulder a few months ago I bought exactly what I needed to make this work. I didn’t know exactly why I needed transparent watercolor ground when I picked it up off of the shelf. I was just certain that I did. It’s used to prepare surfaces for water-based medium. Exactly what I needed to prepare these maps to be painted on with gouache.
I finished a few little jackrabbits on pieces of maps. My next projects will also be painted on the maps. It incorporates where I am and what I’m doing right now... not just traveling, but exploring. The vintage western maps create a sense of nostalgia, a possible portal to adventure in a big, exciting world. They speak of potential and what one might find out there. It all comes together in this beautiful kismet-infused creative tangle. I couldn’t make this stuff up even if I wanted to. I love it.
Do you allow happenstance to influence your creative work? Wish that you did? I’d love to hear about your experiences, and how serendipitous events inspire you!
The Adventures of Frida and Kathrine
The ladies are enjoying their desert vacation, and have concluded that clothing is optional. They recently decided to make a movie. Based on the trailer (posted below), I’m not sure how far this project is going to go. But they’re having fun with the process.
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Artist, homesteader, teacher and adventurer. Turning over every literal and figurative rock that I can find, living curiously and creatively outside of the conventions of the common world.
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