Cartographic Stories: Mansfield, Ohio

The places where we grow and learn in our early years of life often have the most fanciful existence as they live on in our memories. I explored the lore behind my own early childhood home in my Northampton post. These are the places that form large parts of our identity as we rapidly absorb all that we discover, and we discover so much when we are our curious, young selves.

This commission is of a small home (which you can't even see) perched on a hill covered in trees in Ohio. A highway flows by adjected to the local reservoir and farms embrace the little mound. It is where my friend, Christina, was born (yes, a home birth) and lived for the first 11 years of her life. From her memories, the hill is covered in dense carpets of vinca (periwinkle), trees, and rock piles.

Christina read a lot of fantasy back then (as I did too at that age!) and so her entire yard felt magical to her. The previous owners had planted patches of bulbs across the property that would sprout and bloom at various times in the spring. There were tiger lilies, daffodils, and snowdrops.

The hill was also covered in treehouses. Makeshift structures that Christina believes are probably crumbled by now but acted as incubation nests for her imagination. In one big white pine tree, she nailed a board to act as a shelf to hold her little Casio keyboard while she wrote songs swaying in the branches.

The dense and ever-growing forest taught Christina to create her own worlds and write her own stories. She plans to hang the painting over her writing desk to remind her to make something good out of life. Create and dream.

My challenge to you:
Remember what place most nurtured you when you were at your most imaginative and creative. Hold that place close in your mind for a little while. Feel free to comment about it too.

More Reading:
Christina's Blog and her recently published poem "Organ Donor" published in Bearings online and an essay in Belt Magazine.

And if you are interested in your own cartographic story painting, see my commission listings

My Cartographic Stories: Lake Tahoe

In 2012, on my life changing road trip (which I seriously need to write about soon), I stopped in Reno, Nevada. Sarah Stevenson was helping support my quest to promote creativity around the country, so we hosted a free art-making evening at Swill here in town. I had never been to Reno and honestly didn't see much of it while I was here that time. But, as many of us Reno citizens do, Sarah made sure that her out-of-town guest saw Lake Tahoe.

I still remember cresting the pass at Mt. Rose (highest year-round pass in the Sierras!) and ceasing all conversation just to look hard at the beauty of the glimmering lake shining bright and oh so blue between the trees. I was driving with my friend Brigitte, but Sarah made sure we all stopped at the big viewpoint to take in the colorful entirety of the lake. Then we went and ate at Jake's, now a favorite summer spot for my husband and I.

The first photo I ever took of Lake Tahoe, July 2012.

The first photo I ever took of Lake Tahoe, July 2012.

Two years later I moved to Reno. It was fairly unexpected to end up here, but it has been the best move possible. I met my husband and Tahoe became the place where we revisit favorite spots and make new memories all the time. I now have dozens of Tahoe stories and I am sure I will write more of them later.

For now, top 3 moments at Tahoe:

30th Birthday. I had just moved to Reno, knew basically no one, started a new job and there met an amazing man I instantly fell in love with. The first night we grabbed a drink together, Bret told me he knew someone who owned a condo on Tahoe that I could use for my birthday party. (BTW, best way to meet new people when you move somewhere new? Throw a party!) Little did I know that his parents owned it. We went up for the weekend and threw an awesome party. I went swimming at midnight in the freezing lake in October. Fun times.

But it doesn't end there. Monday night was my actual birthday that year and Bret reserved a window seat for us at the Lone Eagle Grille. We ate charcuterie outside by the firepit beforehand and paused our meal later to watch the sunset. Definitely one of his finest moments of romanticism and definitely sealed in the significance of the Hyatt compound in our traditions.

Sand Harbor. Lake Tahoe is actually not the easiest waterway to access when you're new to town and don't know where to go. It's easy to stare at from afar, but since the shoreline is mostly privately owned it's tricky to get to the beach. When I first started going to Sand Harbor with my friend Jodi I quickly decided it was my favorite. With a bar on premises that serves a delish pina colada, we always go to "boat launch" beach. It can be overrun with enormous boats blasting loud music, but it is also where the iconic, smooth rocks are found. I can close my eyes any time of year, see the crystal clear water and remember the first time I dove down in between the rocks or jumped off one of the ledges. I constantly find myself arrested by the beauty of Lake Tahoe and getting lost in it, sitting on one of the large rocks, is one of my favorite summertime activities.

Wedding. Last June, Bret and I got married in Tahoe. It was a wonderful weekend with family and friends from near and far. We chose to again center the festivities on his family condo in South Lake. Friday night we had a beautiful catered dinner and time to mingle on the beach. Saturday we took beach photos before dodging hail for our outdoor, mountaintop ceremony. Sunday we had brunch back at the condo again and said some teary goodbyes to our loved ones. It was a whirlwind and a beautiful gathering of all the souls we hold dear.

I've painted Lake Tahoe and various parts of Tahoe almost a dozen times. It is a lake known for its views and its completely iconic shape. Locals and tourists alike wear Tahoe shaped jewelry and sport the Keep Tahoe Blue bumper stickers. Most people, around here at least, can pick out the shape of the lake from an early age.

Tahoe sits trapped between massive mountains, suspended thousands of feet above sea level, deeper than imaginable and colder still. A mystery and a marvel, it has captured the hearts and minds of many painters, myself among them.

If you love Tahoe too, check out the paintings of Lake Tahoe that I have currently available in my shop.

Cartographic Stories: Puget Sound

My friend Evan and her husband, Randy, recently bought a house in Tacoma, Washington. In a lot of ways it was a typical first home story, but in a lot of ways, it wasn't. Being in Tacoma and buying a house was in many ways the re-invention of their marriage.

The move and the purchase came after a year of living apart as Randy's job kept him in New Hampshire and Evan felt pulled to explore the west coast. Evan wrote about their re-commitment to each other in a beautiful post titled there will be no divorce. It is an inspiring story for all those who get that marriage isn't easy. It's also a beautiful story of love and friendship. Once they had made the decision to be together, Tacoma became the place where they really started building their life together.

Fast forward to this year, Evan and Randy collect tiny art (featured here) and commissioned a tiny piece of their new home in the context of the Puget Sound. Tacoma is the port city in the lower right corner, Seattle is peeking down from the upper right, and the lovely Olympic Peninsula begins off to the left. Evan wanted the painting to encompass the whole area because, for them, living in Tacoma isn't about the neighborhood they chose, it's about the whole beautiful setting.

Evan and I have basically the same perspective on manifesting. Manifesting feels a little "woo-woo" and I'm pretty sure most things come from hard work, but I also can't ignore the spiritual-yet-very-real evidence of what positive thinking can do.

I asked Evan for a story about their time living in Tacoma and she told me that their best memory so far was when she manifested a campsite. Camping was not something they did in New Hampshire, but it was an activity they took up when they arrived in the Pacific Northwest. But, as I well know, there are not many reservable campsites out west. Many are first-come, first-served and that can make planning a camping trip difficult. On this particular trip they had secured a reservable campsite a couple hours away, but as they drove to their destination they realized they were actually headed out into the desert where they were going to bake in 100-degree weather. So they turned around. Once home they decided to try their luck on a first come, first served spot on the peninsula. If they couldn't find something they would head back home. As they drove to some of the more remote campgrounds on the peninsula, Evan chanted "I'm manifesting a campsite. There is going to be a campsite." part in jest, part believing. They pulled in and there was an empty campsite. She checked the board and it was actually free and waiting for them.

Those are the memories that solidify our belonging to a place, aren't they? The lighthearted stories. The memories of being with people we love and pursuing life together.

My challenge to you:
Appreciate the little things. Whoever is in your life, love that they are there.

Cartographic Stories: Folsom Lake

Sometimes home is the most obvious place to commemorate. Home is a complex part of our lives, wrapped up in every facet of work, love, and relationships. The homes we create for ourselves support and sustain us. Home is the keeper of the majority of our memories. This commission was done for a family that lives within walking distance of Folsom Lake.

Kellie had taken a class with me at Atelier in Truckee, California. When the tiny art commissions were open, she snatched one up and asked me to capture the proximity of Folsom Lake to the home where they've lived for a couple decades.

Kellie told me that she and her husband bought their house before they had kids precisely to be near Folsom Lake. Growing up in a military family, Kellie never felt like she had a home as a kid, so establishing a home for her family has been a unique and significant experience. They chose Granite Bay area so they could live in suburbia, but have easy access to the wilderness surrounding the lake. Their whole life is now intertwined in this area. Now, with teenagers for kids, they boat on the lake and hike the hills around it. Their location has taught them to appreciate being outside and love the wild, undeveloped areas of the world.

Courtesy of Google Maps

Courtesy of Google Maps

Folsom Lake was a fascinating body of water to capture in part because its water levels change so dramatically over the months and years. Using Google Earth I can go back in time and see how the sands around the water swell and shrink as the seasons change. Kellie and I chose a time of moderate water, so big beaches are visible but the seasonal drought isn't at its peak.

My challenge to you:
Know what your home teaches you. Home has its own magic and way of guiding us to what we need to know and experience. What does your home teach you?

The Art of Darkness (Look Even When It Hurts)

Some stories are grounding. Some stories are uplifting. And some stories are hard to hear for their raw truths, their discomfort, their guttural pain, and their gory details.

Some art is hard to look at for the same reasons. Pain is hard to bear witness to. The work of Anselm Kiefer comes to mind.

I had a difficult weekend.

The physicality of having surgery and living in a recovering body feels just like good art often does: real, raw, and hard to look at. It hurts and is incredibly tangible.

I am finding it difficult to bear witness to my own scars in this moment. Looking at incisions and bruises on my own body leads me to believe I am not seeing my own body at all. I become foreign, alien. Then I feel the pain, remember the anesthesiologist holding my hand, feel my husband's parting kiss on my lips, remember my night of anger, and know it all happened to me. The emotional loss around it feels like a beast moving just below the surface. I have never experienced as much physical pain as I did this past weekend, yet it wasn't my darkest moment either.

Me: half broken. A failed IV attempt. My stomach is a similar color, but I'll spare you.

Me: half broken. A failed IV attempt. My stomach is a similar color, but I'll spare you.

Half Broken, 4x4" oil on panel

Half Broken, 4x4" oil on panel

As always in my life, I am pulled back to the art I see in the earth. In these moments I am finding comfort in the way the earth mimics our human bodies and lives on.

We mine the earth, creating scars and altering the composition. We dig our roads, build our houses, and reroute the water to our liking. We infiltrate and take.

And yet the earth keeps living, healing, and growing.
And yet the earth will take back every area and nook we don't tend.
And yet the patterns we make on the earth are often beautiful from far above.

And so I heal. We all do.

My challenge to you:
Look even when it hurts. When you find a way to tell hard stories they become an art form unto themselves.