Every Person Has A Story

every_one_has_a_storyLook what Lucy’s 2nd grade class, the Mitchell Elementary School librarians and I created in just one week! When the librarians learned that I am an artist who creates world maps, they asked me if I would be interested in working with the second graders who were doing a unit on recycling, to create a map out of outdated text books. I jumped at the opportunity and suggested we attempt to get it done before Multicultural Night in mid-April (our initial meeting was in mid-March and we had to schedule around spring break). Amazingly, we did it!

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Up-cycled Text Book World Map: The Making Of

Over the course of a week, I visited with Lucy’s class for an hour on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. By Friday I had the finished piece sent off to be framed!

On Monday, the kids, teachers and I tore all our favorite images and words out of about 20 books. These were text books for young elementary readers filled with rich material and beautiful imagery with titles like Don’t Forget to FlySing It to the Sea, and Window to the Sky – not at all what you imagine when you think back to the text books we had in high school.

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Back at home, I went through all the torn images – there was a plethora of subject matter: animals, plants, planets, dinosaurs, landscapes, people. When I make my maps I like to focus on messages of diversity, inclusivity, and unity among humans – acknowledging our differences and celebrating them! Remember that’s why I never include political boundaries. For that reason, I decided it made sense for our final work of art to focus on images of people. The 4-foot piece would hang in the library, be titled Every Person Has a Story, and would be dedicated to the kids’ amazing teacher, Mrs. Kirlin, who is retiring this year.

On Wednesday we spent an hour gluing in the library – some kids worked on words, the others on images. Back at home, I used my big map template to cut out the continents and glued them onto the background. I Modge Podged the whole thing and on Friday we just hung the finished piece up in the library and talked about what we learned.

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What the Kids Learned

• Recycling helps save our planet and up-cycling is a great way to make art!

• You can accomplish SO much when you work as a team. Mrs. Kirlin helped them do the math and we figured out that what they accomplished in 2 hours would have taken me, an artist on her own, 48 hours (or more)!

• There are lots of different people who live on this planet – we may look different, eat different foods, make different music and tell different stories, but we all have the same desires: to feel safe, to be loved and accepted, to learn and to grow.

• When they see the final piece framed and hanging in the library I hope they get a sense of accomplishment and pride from getting to share their hard work with the world. Perhaps there’s a budding artist or two among them who has been left with the inspiration to grow up and make this world a more beautiful place.

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What I Learned

• A paradox: working with children is exhausting and invigorating at the same time.

• There is satisfaction in getting my message of world peace and acceptance across to a group of school children whose minds are open to learning and willing to listen. However much I hope that my art can help towards making positive change in this world, I know that there are grown-ups out there who will never get it.

• I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to give back, in my own special way, to this amazing school that is working so hard to build a strong educational foundation for both my daughters!

• I have said it before and I will say it again, but Sophie and Lucy really do have a love/hate relationship with my art. Sometimes I think they see it as a third child that they have to compete with for my attention. But they also understand the joy of making and being creative and I can tell that there are moments when they feel proud of what I do. It was so AMAZING to include Lucy and her classmates in the process of making this piece. Although, I did put my signature on it (just to make if feel like a piece of Fine Art), the piece isn’t mine at all… it’s theirs.

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Monthly Gratitude Pages

A few years ago, I started the practice of writing a page at the end of every month, listing all the things for which I am grateful. I tried keeping a gratitude journal and writing three things every day before going to bed – but that only lasted about three days. Too much commitment. It turns out once a month is perfect!

I’m not going to share my monthly pages with you in this blog as I imagine that would bore you terribly, but I thought it would be fun to share a sample of one here. I will tell you though… that this is one of my favorite practices because I am always amazed at how positive and energized I feel after doing it. It is especially magical when I force myself to do it when I’m feeling angry, frustrated or depressed. It only takes about 10 minutes and it always manages to change my mood.

This month was easy since I’m so grateful for my new life…

Gratitude Page – July 2017

Monthly gratitude page – YAY! Of course I am grateful for this new life… as an artist, mom and wife. Hiker and photographer too. I am grateful for having less stress personally and for our family. At least for now, rushing doesn’t exist in our lives. I love that. I am grateful for my commitment to my 100 day challenges and for social media being there for accountability, as a commitment device. I am grateful for all the wonderful women with whom I have enjoyed one-on-one time recently: Teka, Brittney, Julie, Lori, Kristin, Wendi, Jessica, Jamie and for all the women in the Athena Project. I am grateful for all the gorgeous hikes that I can literally walk to form my front door. I am grateful for all the fruits and vegetables I can buy in abundance. I was grateful that our trip to the East Coast was successful – the lake in Pennsylvania was beautiful, the Glover family filled with fun, kind, caring and smart people. Despite the heat and humidity of New York City we made great memories. I am grateful for the girls enjoyment of the Golden History Camp and for the quiet home while they are there. I’m grateful that Peanut gets to be home with me all day (instead of in the laundry room). I am grateful for my new camera and laptop. I am grateful for bountiful creative ideas on what my next map is going to be made of. I am grateful that I got the Athena logo to a place where I’m proud of it. I’m grateful for Trevor Noah’s audiobook that was moving, entertaining and educational. I am grateful for Lucy learning to ride a bike! I am grateful for our new neighbors who seem really cool. I am grateful for all the artsy mentors I’ve had over the last few months. I’m not sure I could be any more grateful than I am right now. I forgot to mention that I am grateful I got to see Michelle Obama!

Contemplating the start of 100 Maps & 100 Hikes in 100 Days

I feel a push and pull to clean up the house and be productive or to just relax, be alone, be introspective, meditate. Relish in some peace and quiet.

The girls still need me, want me. Sophie is okay enjoying being back in her room after two weeks away but Lucy’s room is a mess and she’s whining that I should help her clean it up. I have my own art studio that needs cleaning, a mess because I dropped boxes there packed with all the crap from my office at the Zoo. In a week, it will have been a month since I left the Zoo. Crazy. Time to clean up and move on. But I don’t have the motivation. I know Scott is in the basement enjoying time to himself and I know I need that too.

And then I’m also faced with the strangest feeling that I have all the time in the world… ahead of me… without a job to drive to on Monday or a trip to prepare and pack for. Just this open-ended schedule filled with freedom. I’m going to do my best to embrace this feeling but for now it’s just very, very strange. Scarey? Maybe. The only thing I fear is laziness. As long as I create structure for myself that won’t happen.

Also, I need to work hard if I’m going to be successful. And I think what I need to do is define what success is. I’m starting to day dream about this new artsy lifestyle allowing me to travel – either on my own here and there in search of inspiration, as a family which will be limited because of Scott’s vacation time, or just me and the girls. I’m not talking about our world trip plans in a couple years – I’m talking about here and now, and in the next few years leading up to the trip. I want my art to support those dreams… that’s success to me. Right now it can only be dreams because we can’t afford that vagabond lifestyle. I need to be conscientious of our household budget. But if I make maps and if they start selling, one way or another, that could allow travel back in my life. That’s the whole point of this new freedom. I feel thirsty for adventure.

This IS a whole new adventure. I also feel overwhelmed by possibilities and by the open-endedness of it all. I am afraid that it might paralyze me. What a strange feeling.

Right now I deserve the quiet. It took every ounce of patience to spend just 3 days as a family in New York City in the peak of the summer heat and humidity. I am drained. I need to reset and get reenergized.

I know I’m putting a lot on myself but I am also so, so eager to get healthy again. To eat well, get fit, get outdoors, exercise daily. Do it. I know everything will become so much more clear once I do that.

I also wonder about doing the Artist’s Way again for some guidance and structure.

Or starting my 100 days of making 100 maps. Combine that with 100 days of no drinking and 100 hundred days of hiking (or 100 days of 10,000 steps). Hmmm, I just looked up that if I started on July 25, 2017 and did it for 100 days straight that would take me to November 1, 2017 right before my 41st birthday. Talk about a kickstart to this new life as an artist!

Should I do it? I have 3 days to decide. I love the idea of being so disciplined, of using this is as accountability to not be lazy and having complete faith that this 100 days project will lead to something! Something big.

It could work because we don’t have any big plans to go away between now and then. Commitment.

Why I Quit My Dream Job to Become a Professional Artist

A friend told me recently that when she tells others about me she says “Charlotte quit her dream job for her dream job.”

It’s true. Sort of. I just quit my job as a designer, photographer and art director at Denver Zoo to pursue being a professional artist. Am I crazy? Maybe, but hear me out.

The story of how I came to work at the zoo is one of vision, perseverance and serendipity. It’s a long story, a good one, but one for another blog post. Suffice it to say, when I started there, it was the closest I could get to my ultimate dream job. For six years, I was continuously challenged and I grew exponentially as a designer, photographer and leader. I got to work with the most amazing, talented and dedicated people and at any point, I could walk outside my office and be in the awe-inspiring presence of lions, tigers, polar bears, gorillas and hundreds of other species. More importantly, I was working for an organization whose mission lie in engaging guests, inspiring their connections with animals, and motivating them to take conservation actions. We worked towards improving the lives of animals on grounds and throughout the world. Since I was a young girl I loved animals. I felt a deep connection to them and I dreamed of working with them. My job at the zoo felt like a dream come true.

So why did I quit?

First of all, I’m going to put this out there to set the record straight – my ultimate dream job is to travel the world as a wildlife photographer. It never truly was working at a zoo; it isn’t really to be an artist; and being a web/graphic designer for the past 15 years was just a smart career choice and I am good at it. The idea of being an animal photographer is what drove me to the zoo in the first place.

My number one priority in life right now is being in a happy, loving supportive marriage and raising my daughters to give them a good childhood with a secure, solid foundation – something I didn’t have as a child. If I were to pursue my ultimate dream, I imagine I would be getting up and going on faraway adventures for weeks on end, leaving the girls with an absent mom, feeling abandoned – not to mention it taking a toll on my marriage. But, I’m not one to let go of my dreams just because I chose to be a mother. Just the opposite, actually. I want to teach my girls to follow their dreams and the best way to do that is to live by example. Being a zoo photographer, to me, was the closest I could get to being a wildlife photographer while still being able to take my girls to soccer and dance, volunteer at their school every now and then, throw amazing birthday parties, and build a loving mother/daughter bond. I did my best to do those things while I was working at the zoo, but it was not easy. Actually, it was really hard and stressful and that whole mother/daughter bond thing, well, I wasn’t so confident that I was succeeding.

The fact was we were a family with two full-time working parents and at the end of each day, we were exhausted. The kids were exhausted from the school day and then nearly three hours of aftercare in the school cafeteria. My husband and I both had long commutes. He came home drained after 45 minutes in traffic and then having to get dinner ready. I experienced stress having to rush back in time to get the girls to soccer practice on time. There was a lot of tension and one too many bottles of empty white wine in the recycling bin.

That was our day-to-day reality. So yeah, I was setting an example for my daughters to follow your dreams… but at what cost? True, I wasn’t off traveling the world but I also wasn’t being the present, calming, consistent force that I felt a mother should be.

So that was part of it. A big part of it.

And then there was this calling to be an artist and all these signs telling me “it is time.” 

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This graphic illustrates the plethora of influences and inspiration that I experienced pointing me to my calling as an artist.

Some of the primary reasons I left my job to be an artist were:

  • I turned 40.
  • I read Big Magic.
  • The 2016 presidential elections were a wake-up call. I started to understand the deeper meaning behind my world maps and felt the need to share them with the world.
  • I went through 6 months of therapy recalling childhood trauma and came out of it free of anger and resentment.
  • I got Best of Show in the Arts Brookfield Show.
  • I was asked to be on the Board of Directors for Athena Project, an arts organization empowering women.

And… finally… my husband and I spent a lot of time and energy exploring what was possible financially and what was best for our family. I have always been the one in our relationship with lofty, ambitious, career-focused dreams – the over-achiever. Scott is grounded, smart, hard-working and not without his own dreams. His though, have always been based on family and living a good life, here and now. It was hard for him to understand why I would want to leave a job that I loved. He even said, “I don’t know how you can be hash-tagging #ilovemyjob one month and then wanting to quit the next.” So I shared with him everything I have just shared with you here and then he shared with me that ever since he met me and learned that I was creatively driven that he dreamed of some day supporting me as an artist. So now we both get to work towards our dreams.

Here’s to the start of new adventures – to finding success as an artist, to being the best mom and wife I can be, and to sharing this journey with you!

 

First Real Adventures for my Traveling Feet

The girls and I (and my feet – they are like a new character in life) traveled to the Bay Area, California for Spring Break. We visited my close friends from college, Megan and Michael, and their three kids Maya, Walter and Alex.

Our days were filled with fun activities and adventures: beach play by the harbor in Sausalito; a ferry ride past Alcatraz from Sausalito to San Francisco; a visit to the sea lions at Pier 39 and later to the Marine Mammal Center; a walk through Muir woods (Lucy puked on the way from the windy roads); multiple drives over the Golden Gate Bridge; getting creative in Maya’s homeschool art class; and a mini road trip down the coast to the beach and boardwalk of Santa Cruz.

Megan and all five kids were patient with me as I stopped to take photos of my feet whenever there was a idyllic backdrop. My ultimate goal was to get a perfect shot in front of the Golden Gate Bridge because the final product of this art project really is a series of photos in front of iconic locations around the world. But there were lots of other fun opportunities to take photos of my feet. In Muir Woods, I lied down on the ground in order to get the perspective of the tall Red Woods. A woman with a stroller commented as she walked by.

“Cool idea. Wander and wonder, hmm,” she read my feet while I pointed them up towards the sky.

“Thanks, yeah, it’s an art project,” I said, looking up at her from the ground.

“She makes world maps,” Sophie added, “wanderandwonder.org.”

And we all laughed, because it’s obvious the girls already have a love hate relationship with this foot thing. Actually, I think Lucy could care less at this point. She’s 6 and has other things to think about. But Sophie, who’s 9, rolls her eyes and acts annoyed whenever I sit down and take off my shoes but then out of nowhere, totally unprompted here she is promoting what I’m doing with pride to a random stranger.

It will be interesting to see how I get my family on board with this project as we continue traveling. I know Scott is not thrilled with the idea. I know I’m crazy and it may seem ridiculous to others. I know it’s silly. But it’s really fun! And I happen to enjoy the fact that I don’t take myself too seriously. And honestly, I love having an excuse to take off my shoes everywhere I go. Other friends have been supportive and encouraging – our friends Mike and Lori encouraged me to take off my ski boots at the top of a mountain peak at Copper Mountain; Megan offered to stop the minivan whenever I wanted while driving through San Francisco and helped me look for the best views of the bridge. I’m so grateful when people are accepting of my crazy ideas. Artists need that kind of support because the fact is we are constantly battling self-doubt and it makes it twice as difficult to do the thing we want to do when our loved ones aren’t supportive. I guess I should have a heart-to-heart with my family before we travel the world. I understand my girls needing to rebel against everything I do, but it would be nice if I could get acceptance from my husband.

With or without support, this project is happening and I am excited.

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Living a Designer’s Dream

Our new tiger exhibit, The Edge, opened last week! It was a huge project for Denver Zoo with most of it having been planned, designed and constructed internally. My role in the project was designing the brand identity for the exhibit; designing all the signage and graphics; and eventually the advertising campaign to promote the grand opening. I started the process over a year ago… with a few sleepless nights. Note that the middle of the night is my most creative time – always has been, probably always will be. Something about the stillness. First, I was up all night awake with ideas. I had seen plans and renderings for the future exhibit and I knew that it was built to support the care of our tigers. I also knew it was going to look industrial with a lot of metal and mesh. My challenge as a designer would be to have the graphics support and enhance the purpose and theme of the exhibit; to make the interpretive graphics so compelling that people might actually read them; and to bring a certain softness and playfulness to what might otherwise be a stark and cold exhibit. Another sleepless night, I started researching the recent field of Environmental Graphic Design, I got totally and utterly inspired and started designing.

This was a whole new realm for me as a designer. I had spent the last 20 years designing websites, brand identities, printed marketing materials and advertising. Never anything 3-dimensional, tactile, that required fabrication, consideration of outdoor materials and construction. It was an exciting but scary process. With copywriting skills and feedback from our Guest Engagement team; a lot of help from our production artist who had more experience in signage and materials; the expertise of our sign fabrication company; and a year of planning… all my visions came to life.

• A guest viewing deck area surrounded by large panels that feature life size silhouettes of tigers in action with huge action words educating while encouraging young guests to act like a tiger. Tiny holes in the HDPE (huge plastic panels) create the visual effect of a forest of birch trees (representative of where the few remaining Amur tigers live in the wild – Siberia), through which guests can see the shadow of a tiger walking or stalking until it makes it’s way to the huge glass panels and one can get eye to eye with the animal.
• Two life size tigers made of powder-coated aluminum with layered elements for visual interest – one at the main entrance (a sculptural version of the logo I designed for the exhibit) and the other in a jumping stance as part of a sequence in the center of the guest deck.
• Huge letters hanging below a loft/catwalk where tigers walk above guests that read ‘Are you being watched?’
• Other signage with beautiful photos and design elements meant to match the industrial materials used in the construction of the exhibit.
• And the main messaging of the interpretive graphics translated in Spanish, a first for Denver Zoo.

The exhibit opened with a special breakfast event for donors and the media. I was there to photograph the event and observe people interacting with the exhibit. The best moment was when the tiger walked up the catwalk, looked down giving the guests a sense that, indeed, they were being watched and then sprayed everyone below. The guests gasped and put down the plates of pastries and fruit salad that they had been holding. It was entertaining.

I visited the exhibit early on another morning to photograph it without any people around. It was just me and the tigers. They were willing and participatory models for photos of the exhibit and my graphics. They moved in an out of my photos while exploring their new yards. The sun was still low in the sky and reflected beautifully off the metal of the tiger silhouettes. The colors of the graphics were vibrant. In that moment, I was reminded how grateful I am to have the job that I have – being close to animals every day, designing with the purpose of making a difference, and the added bonus of being able to photograph it all.

Later, when the exhibit opened to the public, I got to see kids interacting with the graphics: touching, point, talking, climbing. I had done my job.

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SNL spoofing my job & my live television debut

I got to feel what it feels like to be famous last week, sort of. Saturday Night Live did a spoof on MY job – Denver Zoo photographer. What an honor, even if it could be slightly embarrassing since the joke is that a morning news show makes the mistake of calling it the Denver Zoo pornographer. It was a funny joke, and good thing we can all take a joke – the zoo, my coworkers, the media and myself.

My coworkers and I decided to come in on Monday and do a reenactment, just still shots – it was a blast. The local media picked it up and I got to go on live morning news on Wednesday morning. Later in the day I did a phone interview with The Westword, a local online and print publication. I was ridiculously nervous mostly because I was doing something I’d never done before, being on TV, live TV! I was nervous about not knowing what to anticipate, but under it all was a deeper calm because I was talking about a job that I am truly passionate about. I love taking photos of animals.

With that said, there is so much publicity out there that I don’t really need to write much in this blog post – just share some fun photos and links… enjoy!