Tag Archives: Travel

Follow Me to See Art

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This adventurous kitty is the new mascot for a local public art walking tour for families and children. His nickname is T-CAT, short for Traverse City Art Trek. He will appear on the soon-to-be available map and brochure from the visitor’s center this summer!

The Traverse City Art Trek is a stroller-friendly walking tour that covers just a few city blocks and passes by shops and historic buildings, then crosses over the scenic Boardman River, and loops back to the waterfront. Participants will encounter works by local artists and learn a little bit about the city as well.

Cat wearing a backpack. Carol Parker Mittal

Follow me to find art around my city! 

If you’re not familiar with Traverse City, we are a popular destination, making the Best of lists for beaches, natural beauty, wine, and livability, just to name a few!

It’s been fun working with this all-volunteer committee to make this a reality. It’s my first time doing illustration work for anyone other than myself, and I’m proud to contribute. If the TCAT has a successful launch, we will proceed with plans to expand the tour outside of the downtown area, and include bike paths and other locales in the city.

 

 

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I find myself struggling with my art. I don’t know what to draw. Cats, of course, but I feel as if there should be more to it. Should I expand my subject matter? Create more complex compositions? Work larger? Draw in a series? Switch to acrylic? Build little theatrical scenes? Print and sew more fiber-related works? Work in a series? Develop a narrative? I want to do everything, and so, feeling overwhelmed, do very little.

 

Pencil drawing. Woman on Bench.

I made this drawing during a layover at Chicago’s O’Hare airport when I was traveling over the holiday.

The next two months will be consumed with creating costumes for a local high school production, and teaching adult art workshops. I look forward to do both of these things, but they also distract me from the work of my own art. At the same time, these experiences can also invigorate my personal practice. Maybe there something about the costuming that I want to incorporate into the personal lexicon of my art making? And, I always learn something new by teaching what I already know to others.

What do you do when you don’t know what to do? I’d like to hear how other creatives work through their less productive spells.

Recording Summer

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I was an art teacher for 20 years, so I always considered summer as the time when I could “catch up” on my art making. I couldn’t wait for my schedule to be free so I could start drawing again. Now that I’m working full time as an artist, I draw with more frequency, but I’m still habituated to the arty pull of summer.

I like to record my travels as I am inspired by my surroundings. Sometimes these drawings are quick sketches, with impressions that are grabbed quickly to preserve a memory, color or thought.

Colosseum drawing, Ancona, and gelato

The Colosseum, the coastline of Ancona, and an empty gelato cup from a trip to Italy in 2011 demonstrate on-the-fly sketches I might collect.

Other times, I rework or create new drawings or paintings back in the studio after collecting sketches and photos. These entries are more complete impressions of my surroundings where I incorporate objects, scenes, and details to capture what has seeped in during my visit. Like with the quick sketches, colors, objects, and landmarks dominate the work resulting in a portrait of the place I visited.

St. Francis, Ganesh, and a wildfire

Top: My homage to Georgia O’Keefe after visiting her home and studio in Taos, New Mexico. Bottom: St. Francis and Ganesh were both images I encountered in the mountains of Santa Fe. I was there in 2013 while a large wildfire raged on the mountain.

I rarely leave the house without a means to record the world around me. I wrote a post about what to include in your portable studio, which you can see here.  I find that having a sketchbook is a great alternative to staring at your screen in the airport or on long car rides. The drawings don’t have to be perfect, just a sincere effort at recording your impressions. You don’t have to travel far to find something to put in your sketchbook, either.

Watercolor landscape sketch

The perfect spot to draw. This small beach is just down the street from my house.

After all, as an artist, it is your duty to find the beauty in the seemingly mundane things around you, to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. I’ve drawn things ranging from other travelers to my kitchen serving bowls. I even spent one summer drawing the salt shakers in restaurants in which I was dining. You’d be surprised at the variety!

I hope you are inspired in your own way to record a memory this summer. Happy art, everybody!

Too Many To Count

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Too Many To Count

Panama City is sprawling and modern with amazing architecture, stunning tropical vistas, and a lot of history. Panama City also has an alarmingly high stray animal population. With lazy, unkempt dogs visible in every part of the city, I knew there had to be stray cats, but where?

I’d seen a single, sneaky cat in an alley near a grocery, one under a car near the fish market, and a couple of scrappy cats in the old part of the city. But, it wasn’t until our final night that I found the lair.

Alley cat, cat under car, cat on wall

Grocery, fish market, and apartment dumpster cats in Casco Viejo, Panama City.

We were strolling in the linear park along the Pacific Ocean looking for raspa when I saw a petite, mewing white and calico kitty perched on the seawall, along with at least 20 of her friends! There were feral cats sneaking in the bushes, lurking on the rocks behind the wall, and many just out in the open. They were looking for handouts, endeavoring to be approachable in hopes that someone would toss an edible morsel. Some of the cats were people-friendly and would scruff on someone’s leg or take a pet on the head. Most were dubious, and darted a safe distance away upon being approached.

Cat on the sea

A collection of the sweet, feral cats I bonded with at the marina in Panama City.

I discovered that these cats are part of a managed colony run by kind people at an enormous city marina. When I asked the night guard how many cats he thought lived at the marina, he laughed. Too many to count.

Too many to count. That basically encapsulates the stray population, in general. Too many dogs. Too many cats. A problem that humans created, and are now trying to manage through education and sterilization, while struggling to provide basic food and care for the uncountable.

Watercolor sketch of cats

Drawings in my sketchbook of just a few of the feral cats I met. 

And yet, help comes. Of all of the cats I encountered, I could tell they were being fed, as evidenced by piles dry cat food scattered on the pavement. Almost all had a clipped ear, the sign of having been spayed or neutered. A cat here or there needed serious personal grooming, but mostly they seemed adjusted to their lives in the tropics, resting on a seawall, enjoying the cool ocean breeze.

Garfield, One Popular Gato

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Garfield, One Popular Gato

Before he came to live with us, Garfield was a neighborhood wanderer who enjoyed lounging in the neighbor’s driveways. Originally abandoned, he was left to fend for himself in our suburban South Texas subdivision. Garfield was one popular gato, and everyone on the street knew him. Some would give him treats when he made the evening rounds. Eventually though, Garfield decided he liked our backyard best, and we would find him asleep on a patio chair, ready to take scruffs on the head. It seemed natural the he would join our cat posse when the elderly couple who fed him moved away. After his history of abandonment, and the fact that he had adopted us, it was inconceivable that we would leave Garfield behind when we decided to relocate.

Ginger cat with signs

Left: My Big Orange Friend, Garfield. Right: Some of the signs we plastered around the area in hopes of a call for his return.

The night that Garfield disappeared, we had only been in the new house for a week. We were busy organizing, and unpacking until late. Our best guess is that Garfield wandered out of a door that was not properly closed all of the way. No human noticed he was missing until well after dark. Despite an exhausting and emotional search that lasted for months, we never saw Garfield again.

Collage of Garfield remembrances

Left: Small garden with cat nip located near the Tabby Shack. Center: My skirt complete with Garfield pocket. Right: Memorial lantern launch in remembrance.

This year, at the one-year mark of his disappearance, we made a small cat nip garden next to the Tabby Shack. I sewed a Garfield patch, that I printed, onto a skirt. And, after dark, we launched nine orange and yellow lanterns in honor of Garfield’s nine lives, and the 9 years we spent knowing him– 5 years in our San Antonio neighborhood, and 4 official years with us. I am still sad and sorry. I hope that Garfield is getting lots of love wherever he is. May he turn up in the old neighborhood in San Antonio, begging for treats.

I’ll Never Look At Tourist Art the Same Way Again

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I’ll Never Look At Tourist Art the Same Way Again

If you live in a tourist area, you are familiar with shop windows rife with ubiquitous images of whatever the local icon might be. Where I live, it’s lighthouses, beaches, cherries, sand dunes, a seagull, the quaint main street with it’s charming buildings. “Real” artists often poo-poo the tourist art as not Art (you know, of the capital “A” variety.) I am guilty of this thinking at times, dismissing that 100th lighthouse painting as not interesting enough. 

Tree sculpture at Arte Cruz

Arte Cruz in Volcan, Panama. Awesome artist!

However, I recently met an artist in Panama that changed my thinking of how I view the artists in my own back yard. His name is Jose de la Cruz, and he is a wood carver and proprietor of Arte Cruz. On the day we visited, Cruz not only welcomed us into his shop and showed us around his wood working studio, he also introduced us to his little dogs, and politely tolerated my hacked-up Spanish until he told me I could ask questions in English.

Cruz studied art in Honduras in the early 70’s, then trained in Italy carving marble. Eventually, he settled back in his home town of Volcan, opened his own studio and has been carving every day for the last 38 years! He gathers and dries his own wood that is sourced locally, and works in a variety of ways from sculpture-in-the-round, to bas relief, to elaborate inlaid furniture.

Cruz is part craftsman and part showman. As proof, he carved my name and a few flowers in a piece of red cedar. He used tools he made himself, without pre-drawing or measuring, and carved decisive, confident marks in the wood with a flourish, all the time explaining his process. He made it look SO easy! This demonstration of his skill was impressive, and inspired me as an example of how true practice of craft yields excellence.

Carving CollageYes, technically, he made a cute plaque with my name, for which, he only took a donation, since it was “for demonstration.” And, yes, it’s exactly the kind of thing you might find in a tourist shop. But, here’s where I started to think differently. Why can’t artists also do work that is the bread-and-butter stuff that appeals to travelers, and also make more elaborate, personal pieces? I mean, Jose de la Cruz is a classically trained master craftsman! He didn’t have to take any time with us, and could have had an assistant pawn his work to us in the already well-stocked gallery.

I guess my rambling point is this — I now look differently at the paintings of seagulls and cherries that I see in my own hometown. Good for those artists if their work is inspiring or brings joy to someone. Isn’t that the point of making things anyway? To elicit emotion from others? I love my Panamanian red cedar slab carved with my name and flowers. It has a special place in my studio and represents an amazing day, spent with people I love, made by an artist — in person — in a place I may or may not never visit again. That is true art.

The Journey’s the Destination, Especially in Your Sketchbook

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The Journey’s the Destination, Especially in Your Sketchbook

I used to write in copious detail about the events of my travel day, inserting flowery adjectives, and composing play-by-play explanations. I do not poo-poo that kind of journaling. People write for many of the reasons that artists art. Now, however, I tend to take a more visual approach. Sometimes I pre-divide pages with shapes, not really knowing what content they will hold. On other pages, I respond to a scene, or, just draw things that inspire me on the journey. For the first time on this trip, I included some of the thoughts of my travel companions, and discovered that by doing so, the story became more complete.

Sketchbook Pages from Panama Trip

Left: I designed this page in pen without knowing ahead of time what the squares would contain. Right: Special things I wanted to remember after the trip.

It’s not as hard as you think to make full pages of drawings when you’re traveling. I tend to block a few things in, or throw a few words on a page, and then, when when I’m waiting for a meal, in transit on a plane or in a taxi, or back in the room for the night, I fill in with more drawings or bursts of text. Sometimes, I use photos I took during the day as reference. My travel kit (see this post) allows me a lot of flexibility so that my supplies are easily at hand.  When I get home from vacation, I continue to add color and detail until I have a complete collection of pages from the trip.

Sketchbook Drawings

Left: An unfinished page inspired by molas, fresh avocados and a cat. I’ll paint this in now that I’m home. Upper Right: A quick sketch of the skyline from a photo I’d taken earlier in the day. Lower Left: Memories, impressions from traveling companions, and a description of our hike written on the leaf shapes I’d encountered on the trail.

Don’t Leave Home Without It

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Art supplies

Here is what I’m taking along this trip.

Drawstring Bag

It all fits in here!

I can’t bear to be away from my art supplies when I travel, so I always assemble a portable studio to tote in my carry-on. I try include my favorite tools in the most space-economical way I can. The trickiest part is how to bring watercolor brushes without compromising their tips. Normally, I carry them in an old cosmetic bag, but that can results in bent or scruffy bristle issues. So, this time, I used part of a non-skid mat and some elastic to make a carrier.

Paintbrush holder

Left: I wove a piece of elastic through a piece of non-skid mat. Center: Inserted my brushes. Right: Rolled the bundle, and, presto! my brushes are protected in a lightweight, portable blanket.

Here’s what I put in my art travel kit:

  • Pencils, a sharpener, and an eraser
  • Mechanical pencils of different lead sizes
  • Black pens with permanent ink in different tip sizes
  • A few pens with colored ink
  • Highlighters
  • Scotch Tape
  • Mini-scissors (to get past security)
  • Glue stick
  • Travel watercolor kit
  • A few brushes
  • A trusty sketchbook or journal

Do you have any traveling-with-art tricks or tips?! Please share them with me!