The Story : World Map of Tiny Treasures

Remember being a kid and finding a baby blue broken eggshell beneath a tree in your backyard. Remember the story it told of a life growing inside it. The image of a tiny bird pecking its way out, then nestled and squished beside its siblings, mouth agape waiting for a worm from mama bird. Days or weeks later that same baby bird flittering atop a branch, listening to chirps and squawks from both mom and dad encouraging it to fledge. Fly. Be free. Baby bird apprehensive and scared but then doing it, going for it! I was going to call it courage, but really it’s just trust. Trusting that nature knows what is and isn’t possible. Trust in what you are meant to do. Trust in your calling.

You would pick up the eggshell with the utmost care, bring it inside and put it safely on a shelf in your room, where it would be kept company by your collection of rocks, sticks and other tiny treasures.

What’s the story behind a smooth piece of sea glass found washed up on shore or a tiny snail-like fossil? An arrowhead, a geode, a feather, a snake’s skin, a wasp’s nest? Each one filled with beauty and a sense of wonder. 

My kids say I’m no fun. I don’t know how to play. They’re right. As a grown up I don’t love pretending I’m a dragon, I don’t enjoy tickle-fests (all that squealing, ugh) and I leave the fort-building to the kids. But I will argue, that being an artist has allowed me to stay in touch with my inner-child by focusing on the beauty that surrounds me, by being in the present moment, by finding amazement in nature’s treasures.

This project in particular allowed me to connect with my kids because we did it together. We went treasure-hunting. We collected. We filled the ‘Nature Box’ that hung in our kitchen for two, three years. I knew all along I would make a map out of all our findings. I wasn’t sure how but I knew they would all end up immortalized in a work of art.

You know what the craziest thing is? There are pieces in this map that I collected when I was my daughters’ ages – tiny ceramic mice, itty bitty sea shells saved in a vile that I found with my cousin on the beach in France when the tide was low… when I was five years old. There are beads from when I worked with my best friends in a jewelry store as a teenager; sea glass I found with those same friends, growing up on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. And pieces I collected in my 20s when I traveled the world – seashells from Fiji and a little brass Ganesha from India. The fact is, there are hundreds of tiny treasures in this piece and they each have a story.

I thought this work of art was a tribute to wandering, wondering and the joy of collecting. I thought it was an excuse to do something fun with my daughters, even if it isn’t their definition of ‘fun’. I didn’t know it would turn out to be a portrait of my life. Isn’t that the beauty of art – finding the unexpected, telling stories you didn’t know you intended to tell – the big treasure among the tiny ones. 

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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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100Days100Maps : Looking Back

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Why Make 100 World Maps in 100 Days?

• Fear of procrastination/laziness – knowing I need accountability to get things done. (Ala Gretchen Rubin’s 4 tendencies – I am an obliger) and I knew social media could help me with this.

• Fear that freelance opportunities and Athena Project volunteer work would take precedence over making my maps – that’s not why I quit my job. I quit my job to be an artist and I was afraid it would end up on the bottom of my priority list.

• For years my mind was overflowing with map ideas but I just didn’t have the time, suddenly I did and I wanted to hurry up and get those ideas out… to make room for others, maybe better ones.

• I wanted to LET GO. My maps in the past took so much time and were detailed and precise. That was great but I wanted this adventure to allow me to let loose, let go, get messy, experiment.

What I Learned

• It felt really good to produce so much even if I didn’t love every one

• I learned that people have different tastes – some of the maps that I liked least were the ones that others liked most. I always enjoyed the process of making my maps so it’s good to accept that the final product doesn’t really matter – someone might love it. Just do the work and enjoy the process. There is a higher power at work here. It isn’t just about me and my preferences. The artist as a vessel (I’ll have to explore this in a future blog). Once the art is made, it isn’t mine anymore. I make art for others.

• I learned that my favorite maps to make are those that use organic materials. Their shapes generally lend themselves to the shapes of the continents (like flowers, leaves, sticks, rocks and food items). And it made me feel earthy, connected. That’s hard to describe but I loved the feeling. I was channeling my inner Andy Goldsworthy (if you don’t know of him, look him up – what he creates with nature is incredible).

• I was also surprised at how much I enjoyed sitting at the computer and doing digital maps. I never did them before because I spent so many hours in front of the computer when I was working as a web/graphic designer and when I got home I just wanted to use my hands. Now, I was happy to have an excuse to sit and use the software I know so well, with which I feel I can make magic happen.

• I still feel like I have to explore paint. I did some nice watercolors but I have much more to do when it comes to paint. I thought I would paint more but I have a block, a fear… I’m scared it’s going to be bad. I hope now that I will purchase a few canvases and I will paint and no one says I have to show it to anyone. Just keep working it until I feel happy with it. Maybe add in bits of pieces of collage – call it mixed media instead of just paint. That seems more up my alley.

• I did feel good when I made a map that had more of an activist message. Like finding the message that I purposefully don’t add political boundaries in my maps because it’s important to me that I get across that we are humans sharing this planet with cultural differences but a common tie as humans (gotta work on that messaging). Also the rice map about world hunger or the handprint map about peace. There’s an activist in me and since I don’t feel comfortable talking politics, I really could use my art to make statements. I should explore that more. I think I’m stopping myself because of my rebelling against the intellectualism I experienced in college which just annoyed me. But the truth is, last years elections were what motivated me to get my art out there. I felt the world needed my art, not just for the beauty but there are deeper messages there and it’s not just about the fact that travel is fun. It’s about what we learn through travel – to be open-minded, accepting of other cultures, to connect and to be present.

• I will never be at a loss of ideas. I still feel like I have so many more and not enough time. That is a good thing.

• I am eager to spend more time on one map now that I am not doing them daily. I’m excited to focus on quality rather than quantity. Next I want to work on 10-15 maps that I would be happy to hang in my house and that in a year or two I hang as a solo art show.

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!

 

When you’re not prepared to give a speech and you cry while doing it.

I wasn’t crying because I was scared or nervous. I was crying because I was truly moved. Did I really deserve all this attention? All this validation? Less than 2 months ago I made the decision that it was time to share my art with the world beginning by submitting four pieces to the Brookfield Arts Tenant Show in the Republic Plaza building in downtown Denver. Imagine my shock when I saw all four maps hanging front and center as you enter the building from 16th Street Mall (see photos to understand why I was so excited). Just that was enough recognition to last me a lifetime – hundreds if not thousands of people walk through that lobby every day! Winning ‘Best of Show’ was just gravy.

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At the opening reception 15 of my friends and family came to see my art, to see all the other wonderful submissions and ultimately to support me. We rolled in from an earlier after-work-happy-hour just in time for the start of the awards ceremony. We stood through numerous categories and ribbon presentations, honestly, ready for it to be over soon after it started. I admit that I leaned over and told a friend “this is going to be really embarrassing if I don’t win anything” — it wasn’t the most thrilling awards ceremony and I felt guilty that all my friends were having to sit through it, especially since all the free wine and food had run out. Until, of course, I won! And had to give a speech – eek!

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Andra Archer, the curator, had these kind words to say before handing me the microphone, “Creating a series of art that features the same subject while still having each piece stand alone in its uniqueness is the work of a true artist.” She said so much more but it’s all a blur. That statement stood out to me because she had just put to rest my biggest insecurity about my art. “I just make world maps,” my inner critic would say, “what’s so creative about that?” I LOVE making world maps. All I want to do is make world maps. So F-U, inner critic! Andra says that’s the work of a true artist! Seriously, though it was that statement that made me cry. Unfortunately, an artist putting her work out there for the first time, needs that encouragement and validation. At least just a little to keep on going.

“We all want to know what gave you the idea to make these maps?” Andra asked.

[Note: You are about to read the speech I did NOT give. Because I wasn’t prepared to give a speech so instead I cried and rambled on. If I had been prepared, maybe it would have sounded a little bit like this]:

I came up with the idea 12 years ago after I moved to Denver from Australia, soon after having met my husband on a plane. I was a traveler in my 20s and a student. I spent a decade traveling around the world, being ‘irresponsible’ in the eyes of the people back home. When I arrived in Denver, I moved in with Scott, I got my first 9-5 job as a web designer and became very ‘responsible’. I also experienced boredom for the first time – both at work and after work. In the past, as a student I always had a project I was procrastinating on; as a traveler my days were filled with exploring new cities, meeting people, speaking foreign languages, tasting new foods. It felt like I had never before experienced a moment of boredom.

In this new life, I didn’t know what to do with myself when I got home from work every evening. My only options seemed to be going to a restaurant where I would inevitably eat and drink too much or else just sit and watch tv. I could exercise but I was too tired at the end of the day. I was coming to terms with the fact that it was going to be a while before I would travel again. Scott had just returned from a trip around the world when I met him and we were doing a lot of serious talk about marriage and children. It was time to settle down. But what about this boredom I was faced with; what about feeling that I had to stay true to myself, the vagabond who was now homebound? I was worried and Scott probably was too. I had an ex-boyfriend in Italy that told me, while breaking up, that “even if you were chained to the ground, still you would find a way to fly.” It sounds more poetic in Italian. He knew me so well. Maybe I just couldn’t take this new stable life and I’d wake up one day, pack my bags, and walk out the door saying “Sayonara, Scott.” Or “Adios, au revoir, ciao! I’m off to see the world, again.”

That’s when the idea of making art came to me. World maps to be specific. Studying art in college had turned me off from it, but that was because I was making art for other people – as assignments to impress and appease my feminist/gotta-be-controversial art school professors. Then, I was making art for all the wrong reasons. Now, I was truly inspired. I felt this need to create, not just to fill time, but because it was a way for me to fly while simultaneously choosing to settle and stay grounded (or in my ex-boyfriend’s words “chained to the ground”).

I suddenly saw this time at the end of the day as a gift. I could use it to make art. Making world maps would keep me connected to the rest of the world in some weird way, remind me of past travels and allow me to dream of places yet to visit. It would give me strict parameters which as an artist I needed. The empty canvas was way too intimidating. The fear of endless possibilities was paralyzing to me. But, I knew I was making world maps and that had meaning to me. Where my creativity could let loose was with what I chose to fill those world maps – old favorites like collages and doodles, new materials I had never worked with like burlap and rose petals. Travel taught me to have courage, to be continuously curious, to explore and to be open minded. Creating art allowed me to continue down that path and it let me do it in one place – actually, it required that I do it in one place because these maps are huge! Suddenly, settling down didn’t feel so scary.

So, put simply I started making these maps twelves years ago to satisfy the adventurer in me and to feel 100% confident saying yes when Scott asked me to marry him (on a plane, by the way). This is my first time exhibiting my art in 12 years! I’ve given some maps away to friends, done a few commissioned pieces but mostly they’ve just sat flat, piled atop one another, under my bed. The fact is that putting your art out there, putting yourself out there, is super scary. Honestly, I’m not sure what takes more courage committing to one person for the rest of your life or showing your art! That’s why I’m standing here in tears. Not because I’m scared, but because I am moved by Andra’s kind words reassuring me as an artist; I am overwhelmed by the love I feel from all the people who are here to support me tonight, including my husband; and I am truly honored to be presented with this award. Thank you.

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Why Art Sucks and Why I Want to Write

On Day 1 of my week-long, pre-Etsy Store Grand Opening/photo adventure/immerse-myself-in-art staycation, I visited the Denver Art Museum just before they closed for the day. With only 45 minutes to wander, I decided to stick to one temporary exhibit on Renaissance Art of Venice, Italy. Ugh. Religious art. Catholic religious art. I went there looking for inspiration and all I got were a bunch of saints, Virgin Mary’s and Jesus’s suffering on the cross. I did appreciate that they were 500 years old – that’s kind of amazing. Imagine what was happening in Denver 500 years ago – no one was adorning grandiose cathedrals with humongous canvases covered in gold. Also, I liked the colors (lots of vibrant yet natural colors and all that gold) and some of the minute details like animals in the background and the way folds of cloth were represented, but it wasn’t the art that made me enjoy the experience. I enjoyed being taken back in time, walking around, feeling like I did when I was younger, wandering around the museums of Europe. The volunteer even made me wear my backpack in my front so I didn’t knock down any art with it on my back – I had to roll my eyes because really that was pretty unlikely – but in the end it helped bring me back to my backpacking days, when I walked around a foreign city with my big backpack on my back and my day pack on my front. It’s the little things that make you nostalgic for those traveling days – like boring religious art and wearing a frontpack.

I’ve always found art kind of confusing. When I was 18, during that 2-month solo trip around Europe, I visited a ton of art museums: the Louvre in Paris, the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam, the Musée de Petit Palais – Museum of Modern Art in Geneva, the Joan Miro Museum and the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, the Museo del Prado and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid! I actually forgot I had visited so many – I had to go back and look at an old scrap book to look up that list. What I do remember is walking away from that trip thinking – I don’t really ‘get’ art. Which is ironic since I eventually went on to study art in college. Maybe I was trying to ‘get it.’ I don’t think I ever really learned to get art in college, but what I did learn is that I am fascinated with the lives of artists! When I started reading about the lives of Toulouse Lautrec, Georgia O’keefe, Robert Mapplethorpe, Jackson Pollock, Vermeer, Van Gogh, suddenly I felt I ‘got’ their art better – I gained a new appreciation for it.

On a side note, art school left me sort of pissed off with the art world. I did love art history, I mean I LOVED art history. All those boring religious paintings made a lot more sense when you got to know about the times in which they were made. But when it came to classes where I actually had to make art, I was taught that everything had to have meaning, or make a statement or be completely original – like a urinal being presented as art. I was being challenged to think like a modern artist and I did not like it. Curse you Marcel DuChamp! So after college, I stopped making art. And it took The Artist’s Way, ten years later to help me combat the voices of those inner critics and annoying professors. That book helped me understand why we make art, why we MUST make art. That making art is a spiritual venture.

SHARING MY WRITING
That whole intro was written to say, there isn’t much to ‘get’ about my art. I make world maps and I love doing it. I get a lot of inspiration from Pinterest and I copy a lot of what I see. I don’t consider what I do ‘fine art’ and my grand vision is to see my maps hanging as posters in thousands of college dorm rooms. I have a lot more to say about my process of making maps, about the things that inspire me and the reason I’m obsessed with world maps – but I’ll save that for future blogs. Suffice it to say, this year I want to push myself to SHARE my writing (remember that’s my word for 2017) so that you all can get to know me better and hopefully gain a better appreciation for my art. It’s like if Bellini, Giorgione and Titian had had blogs in 15th century Italy, I probably would have enjoyed my visit to the art museum tenfold.