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.

04

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.

03

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!

Tattoo, Travel and Photography – on my way to a lifelong art project

It has been about 9 months since I came up with this idea. I can’t remember how it came about but I do remember thinking it would be fun. I also remember thinking, getting a tattoo is kind of permanent and it might be a good idea to sit on it, think about, decide if this is something I really want to do. Someone decided having a life growing inside of you should take about nine months, so my guess is that’s a good amount of time to allow an art project to simmer. And now, it’s time to give birth! Yay, tattoo appointment is this Sunday!

Here’s the tattoo turned art project idea. Best described in photos – see below. I am going to get my wander + wonder logo tattooed on my feet. Then while I spend the next 40 or 50 years traveling around the world, I’m going to take my shoes off everywhere I go and take a picture. As a tourist, you’re going to take photos. It’s just part of your job, but sometimes while you’re doing that, you forget to sit, look deeply, observe with awe the wonder before you. I’m guilty of that. For sure. Not any more. Now, I will be forced to literally sit, get down on the earth, stop and take it all in. Hmm, just had a thought, it’s offensive in some countries to point the bottom of your feet at people – I hope that’s not the case with scenery and sculptures. Oh well, sometimes offending people for your art is inevitable.

Here are some practice photos I did in Photoshop – my feet in Mexico and in the mountains.

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Here are some sketches of future photo compositions. Thanks to the sketchers on the internet from whom I borrowed their work. None of the artwork below is mine.feet_great-wallfeet_pyramidsfeet_statue-of-libertyfeet_taj-mahal

As an aside. I do already have one tattoo that I got on my pinky toe when I was seventeen. It’s a compass/north star which was supposed to represent direction (and travel) as I fledged the nest and flew out into the world.

I love how now, it will act as sort of an asterisk for the words wander + wonder and how together they speak to the way I want to live my life. I want to constantly be wandering, traveling, exploring, and wondering with infinite curiosity about the world, but I also want do so with a sense of direction. Sometimes I find it in myself, other times I am looking for guidance from a higher source — usually that higher source is speaking through me, I just have to be listening. It’s funny how I write as if this all some kind of desire, because really it’s not how I wish to live my life, it actually IS how I live my life. That is something to be proud of. Maybe the permanence of a tattoo will remind me of that.

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Working on My Day Off

I’ve been getting a lot of crap for working all morning… from coworkers since they know this is supposed to be my time off. But I had deadlines and I felt guilty and let’s face it, work is an amazing excuse to procrastinate cleaning my house. And…

My job is like play to me.

How many people can say that?! When I’m not making art and being a mom/wife, I am the Design & Interactive Manager at Denver Zoo (I’m also the official photographer —  I get to photograph baby zoo animals!). I have been working there for 5 1/2 years and was a volunteer there for 2 years before that. I like to to tell people that I love my job as much today as I did on the day I started. Again, how many people can say that?

I could go on and on about all that I love about my job but I’m sure there will be posts on this topic in the future, like maybe when I have new baby zoo animal photos to share!

For today – I will just share with you some of the projects that I got to work on this morning as evidence of why I feel the need to do work even though it’s officially my day off (it’s just so much FUN!):

Signage and advertising for our new tiger exhibit…

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I had to put together our monthly Board Report for the month of December and these were some of the highlights from the section under Public Relations:

baby_zebraWATCH: Baby zebra at Denver Zoo loves the snow

Denver Zoo offers X-ray to help restore 367-year-old painting
We’re even making contributions to the art world – how cool is that?

Last chance to visit Santa at Denver Zoo’s Zoo Lights
Zoo Lights is where we take the girls to take Santa every year. I make it a point to get there before the crowds. This year, we were the first ones there and he spent and extra amount of time talking to the girls — telling them not to fight and telling Sophie that puppies get scared on the sleigh ride so he avoids giving puppies for Christmas.
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And… I worked on our new Zoo Map. You all know by now just how much I love maps.

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It’s 1:30 now and I am officially taking the rest of the day off! To clean my house – ugh. I think I’ll get in the hot tub first. See, now I feel I deserve it. No more guilt.

Creativity Retreat & My Nine Symbols

Last week I had my team over for a little creativity retreat. We had had a couple hours of craft time in the past but this was our first time making a day of it. We had a great time. We went to a Creative Mornings Denver talk (these happen monthly and are free to people in creative fields), then went out to brunch and then came to my house for a quick overview about what I learned in a recent leadership training and then craft time! Brittney tried embroidery for the first time ever and Mandy made a beautiful beaded bracelet.

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I decided to draw my 9 ‘personal symbols’ on little river stones (that I will eventually glue into a little shadow box). It was an idea that I got from listening to the Happier podcast – which is a new one I started listening to by the woman who wrote The Happiness Project, Gretchen Ruben. I am really enjoying the podcast. And loved this idea for your own personal symbols (inspired by the 8 auspicious symbols of Buddhism). Here are what I chose to represent myself:

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Dove in flight with olive branch
I love birds. I have images of them throughout my house. This choice of decor was not a conscious one, it just started happening over the years of decorating my house. To me birds represent freedom and flight. I also love the dove with an olive branch as a symbol of peace. In my youth and in my twenties I was idealistic and dreamt of peace on earth. Now, middle-aged, I understand that that is a far-fetched idea and I recognize that the best I can do is find peace in myself; foster peace in my family; and cherish it in my friendships.

World Map
Well, duh, anyone who knows me knows this is an obvious one. It has been the focus of my art for over a decade and for the decade before that I spent years traveling around the world… visiting or living in all the continents except Antarctica (still on my list). I had traveled to 30 countries before the age of 30 and lived in 7 of them. To me the image of a world map, represented without political boundaries, is a reminder that we are all connected, the world is one. They represent my love of travel as well as my calling to make art, but also humanity and this shared world that we all call home.

Elephant
Symbolizing my love and adoration of animals. I have always loved them since I was a child. My bedroom was a menagerie filled at various times with cats, birds, snakes, turtles, frogs, hamsters, Guinea pigs, mice, gerbils, lizards and fish. In elementary school I thought I wanted to be a vet, in middle school a marine biologist and by college I thought I’d become an animal behaviorist. I veared in a different direction once I decided to honor the artist and designer in me but then came back around, and was able to combine animals and design, when I got my job at Denver Zoo five years ago. I feel that animals have a lot to teach us, especially elephants and other species that have a certain untapped wisdom like wolves, killer whales, great apes and even ravens. Having animals in my life, especially during a not so idyllic childhood, offered me companionship that I didn’t otherwise have. Having pets, even as an adult, has taught me what it feels like to love and to experience unconditional love.

‘W’
I like the idea of using a letter that is an obvious serif typeface to represent graphic design, since that is my profession. But also ‘w’ stands for so many things – wander and wonder (I am happiest when I am following this motto for myself); www (world wide web and my profession as a web designer for the last 20 years); also ‘w’ stands for wife which is a big part of my identity.

Om symbol
This is the one symbol I chose to represent yoga, meditation, and my love of Eastern spiritual ideals. I am not a religious person but I am spiritual and I believe in the power one can find within oneself by finding calm, being centered and focused, using visualization and positive thinking. I believe in the idea of being in the present moment even if I find it to be a constant challenge. Having yoga and meditation in my life help with that. I believe in the connection between mind and body. I believe that we are all connected and that we have a higher purpose during our time on Earth.

Tree
This tree encompasses the idea of nature, growth and creation. Nature is where I feel most spiritually connected to something bigger. Nature is my religion. I grew up on an island and have now settled in the mountains. Through my travels I have experienced extraordinary spectacles of nature – deserts, waterfalls, rainforests, glaciers, rivers and grasslands. No matter what my environment I stand in awe of my surroundings – the vastness and power of the ocean or the strength and presence of mountains. I also love to stop and look down to inspect the minute miracles of nature – buds on trees, wild flowers, tiny insects, nests and broken egg shells. This tree, for me, also represents growth and regrowth. I want to always be growing as a person, to continuously learn and improve. In the same way that a tree cycles through the seasons so do we during the course of our lifetimes. We have ups and downs, valleys and peaks, and when those darker moments present themselves it is important to remember we will come into the light stronger and changed, hopefully more wise and truer to ourselves.

Compass/North Star
This is the one tattoo I have on the pinky toe of my right foot – which in and of itself represents my rebellious side (but not too rebellious). I got it when I was 17 in someone’s basement – in 1994 when tattoos weren’t so mainstream. I gave it a lot of thought before getting it. Even at that age, thanks to my European parents, I had a passion for travel. I came up with this symbol because it was meant to look like a compass – North, East, South, West and like a representation of the North Star both of which meant direction and guidance. As a young person about to enter the world, eager for independence, I felt that direction and guidance would come from trusting my intuition, being true to myself and facing the world ahead with courage. Those ideals have always stuck with me as has my little pinky toe tattoo.

Camera
When did I fall in love with photography? I learned how to develop photos in a darkroom when I was 16, my dad gave me my first SLR camera at 17 and I traveled to East Africa at 18. It was an early introduction to some of the most magnificent wildlife and landscape photography the world had to offer. I fell in love. In college, I took a broad array of art classes but mainly focused on photography – at times spending 10 or 12 hours in the darkroom without even taking a break to eat. Those days I used photography as a form of self-discovery. Years later, I traveled the world taking photos, obsessed with capturing moments and memories. When I eventually settled down in one place, I made a point to work somewhere where photography was part of my profession. At Denver Zoo, I am the Design & Interactive Manager, leading our design team, but I am also the staff photographer. I love the connection I feel with the animals when I am photographing them, following their every movement, waiting for that glint in their eye that tells me there’s a soul in there. By sharing these photos of our animals with our guests through our marketing efforts, my hope is that they too experience that connection and sense of awe. In the future, I’d like to travel and photograph animals around the world in their natural environments. Today, I get to do the next best thing. Which actually works better for our family – my kids would miss me too much if I were constantly up and going on photographic adventures.

Greek symbol for Motherhood
This one was an obvious one it was just hard to know what symbol to use. I found this Greek symbol of motherhood and liked it because when you are a mother, your children are intertwined with you. It is inevitable that they become part of your identity, even if that was hard to accept for me at first. Motherhood is the ultimate symbol of creation. How do you even begin to write about bringing life into this world. I can’t, so I won’t. I will say that my daughters have taught me how to love, how to nurture, how to surrender and have forced me to be a whole lot less selfish. I won’t lie, it was really hard for me to be so needed when they were really little; nurturing didn’t come naturally to me. I was filled with guilt, inadequacy and a small sense of failure. I am grateful that numerous sessions of therapy have helped me come out the other end and now I am proud of the mother that I have become. I am there for my children and I am doing my best, along with my husband, to raise kind, curious and happy daughters.

Bonus to this exercise is that I shared it with Sophie, my 8 year old, and she spent a couple hours the following day trying to define her own personal symbols which included: Energy (being active), Yin Yang, Family, Never Give Up (infinity symbol), Friendship, Chinese symbol for tiger (to symbolize animals), Japanese symbol for water, Japanese symbol for earth, symbol for Bravery. Some of them stood for who she is and things she loves – a few others, I think, she chose just because they seemed ‘cool.’ Here are her drawings:fullsizerender

 

Sky Lanterns

Last week my family went to Lantern Fest, here in Colorado. What an amazing spectacle.  I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. Amazingly, I was able to take a moment to take it all in, amidst taking photos, video and helping my kids and husband actually light our lanterns (which was no easy feat!). I’m always torn between being in the moment (being true to the Buddhist in me) and capturing the moment (being true to the photographer in me). I usually manage to do a little of both.

I do remember being in the moment when I said to Sophie, “Isn’t it beautiful? Isn’t it amazing?”

And she responded by saying, “Yeah Mommy, can you make me one of your maps that looks like this?”

Absolutely.

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And… here is the result. I love it.

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You can view the entire album of the lantern festival on my Flickr account.