Last fall a fantastic chef named Joel Serra out of Barcelona discovered my art through an Instagram post. (Those #hashtags actually work!) Joel’s company Papalosophy “combines food, art, technology and nature to create the new and unexpected.” Papalosophy also “launches chef brands and collaborates with food creatives to produce spectacular gourmet content and events.” The result was a unique and fun food/art collab that gave me the opportunity to paint an octopus, pomegranates, carrots and even sketch a portrait of Joel’s penchant for unique neckwear! I hope you’ll check out the recipe and accompanying illustrations currently featured here on his blog!
Oh hey Tusk… newish Middle Eastern foodie chic eatery. I shared a dinner with a friend at your uber-cool Miami Vice colored dining room one night a few months ago. It was really good. In fact, it was mind-glowingly good. I actually typed mind-blowingly, but the auto correct changed it appropriately. I walked out with a glow. I can honestly say it was the best hummus I’ve ever eaten. Creamy, rich…sublime. Every part of the dinner was beyond my expectations. Then my sister told me that Tusk does brunch on the weekends. WHAT??!! My lovely friend Jackie came into town a few weeks later and asked me to pick a good brunch spot. DONE.
I love drawing food for a variety of reasons. I love eating. I love the vast variety of delicious food that Portland has to offer. Food is incredibly interesting visually. It has unique shapes, textures and details that make it terribly fun to render. When I travel I find myself drawing large sweeping landscapes, but when I document food I get to delve into the close-up intricacies of a dish. This type of sketching is an amazing exercise in observation. I generally like to draw ‘plein air’ or live, but with food, I understandably want to eat it. So the iPhone comes out and I get to look like a Millennial as I snap a few shots of my food. The one factor, however, that makes all the difference for a food illustrator, is, of course, presentation.
So, when Tusk served us their Lamama Moroccan Breakfast in a bevy of gorgeous ceramic dishes, the illustrator in me did a happy dance. Not only was the food the perfect blend of savory and sweet, the presentation was pure artistry. And, by the way, the coffee was fantastic. ( I mean, hey, it’s Portland…it has to be.)
I know you might doubt that a Middle Eastern restaurant can satisfy your brunch cravings, but trust me… they can. You might have an hour wait on a evening to sample their dinner fare, but Portland foodies haven’t discovered this brunch yet. And yet is the operative word. So high-tail it over there, and if there isn’t a line out the door… do your own happy dance.
It’s been three weeks since my last blog and although I tend to post every two weeks, my head has been buried in the details of finishing my Iona book. The past few days brought forth the official title and I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to put a name to this work that I’ve been pouring into for the past five months. I want so much to share it with you, but I have yet to enter it into the official master system that catalogs ALL THE BOOKS IN THE WORLD, so I feel I should wait and reveal it to you when it is officially released. Just know that when I finally figured it out I did a little happy dance. Ok, a BIG one! It felt like the last puzzle piece snapped into its proper place forming the final image in my love letter to Iona.
The shape and style of the book will feel familiar to those who have read “The Art of Walking,” but the imagery, colors, and stories I share are quite different and, of course, unique to Iona. My main venue for selling the book will be through a store on the island itself, and hopefully some additional stores in Oban, which is the gateway to Iona from the mainland of Scotland. And yes, like “The Art of Walking,” the book will be available worldwide on Amazon.
One of my discoveries during my travels was a renewed love of poetry. Mary Oliver and Hafiz are my current favorites. Mary Oliver, one of the most celebrated American poets, is known for her incredible poems about nature. She inspired me during my time on Iona, and I couldn’t help but write descriptive prose that captured the scenes I was painting. The above image is of a beach called the Boundary Strand (Traigh na Criche) that is directly north of the hostel. To those of us living there, it felt like ‘our’ beach, and I will always feel a bit possessive towards it after my stay there. I wrote this in my journal next to the sketch and it is included in my book:
stack one upon another
still afternoons with shades of silver distilled to white where sky bleeds into sea
the horizon line is the palest thread out in the distance
other islands lost in heavy wet mist that blankets Iona this afternoon
I always marvel at the ivory sand on this, the north side of the island
somehow it sparkles, despite the lack of light and sun
the sea is calm as well
turquoise shallows moving to darker sapphire depths
I imagine this beach has always been this way
untouched and empty
only my silent feet to tread the sand
I hope that the glimpses I’ve given you of Iona have intrigued you; perhaps they have enticed you to travel there yourself one day. That would be the ultimate success for me… that my art and writing would inspire you to experience this magical place for yourself. I hope my next post about my book will be the official announcement of its release! Send good proofing thoughts my way!
Sometimes it’s really important to get a bird’s eye view of things. To climb up out of the place where the trees feel a bit thick in order to get some perspective on where you are, and where you want to go.
These past few months have been very challenging as I try to chart my next steps as an artist pursuing a creative life. This was not unexpected, but the knowing doesn’t make it any easier. I am trying to navigate through a space that, for me, is totally unmapped and many days I feel isolated and unsure of what to do next. I still struggle with my daily focus and how to spend my energy. When I do choose what I will spend time on, I can second guess myself which leads to feeling even more untethered and distracted; as if the first strong wind I encounter will carry me away.
Sometimes the work we do as creatives seems to be flowing into a giant black hole. We keep creating and making and moving even if our surroundings appear to indicate we’ve made little to no progress. This is when we need a fresh perspective; we need to be actually pulled up above the tree line. I had some objective voices speak into my art and my creative pursuits this week that were audible even through my self induced doubt-haze. They were words of imperative and essential encouragement:
Keep going! You’re on the right path! The work you’ve done up to this moment has been preparing you for what’s next!
This is especially meaningful when that voice is from a person farther down a similar path and has the experience to speak with authority. The most important thing I think an artist can hear in those moments is:
I believe in you.
I believe in the work you’re doing.
You have something important to share.
The painting above is from the book and is one of my favorite larger pieces. I was sitting on Cnoc Mor, which is a hill directly above the town, facing south toward Columba’s Bay. When you find yourself on a high point on Iona, the views are always incredible because Iona is a tiny island surrounded by the sea. The world is spread below you like a painting in a storybook, and you feel that you are part of, and separate from everything at the same time.
Perhaps this is how I need to be in my creative life. Immersed, yet maintaining a healthy distance. I do know that I crave those moments when I am able to perch above the path, finding reassurance in a new and welcome perspective. As I work on wrapping up my Iona Book (as yet to be named) and move towards finishing this project, I am so grateful for these heartening voices.
Some of you saw on Instagram that I was interviewed by Portland author Amy Maroney on her blog about the Camino, my art, and the artists who inspire me. Check it out and also make sure to check out her wonderful book The Girl from Oto!
It’s been two months since I arrived back in Portland. I seem to find myself always marking time. Not only in the realization of what time has passed, but in reflecting back to where I was a year ago. Prior to my trip, this would have been almost impossible because months would fly by (as these past 2 have) and I could barely remember how I had filled my days. The beauty of travel is that it usually brings the gift of vibrant intentionality; the desire to be purposeful with one’s every moment. This can sometimes bring with it a hectic need to ‘check things off’ one’s to do or see list. I was a lucky girl and had no return ticket or specific plans, so there was an lovely organic and spontaneous nature to my intentionality.
I was also very purposeful to take the time to record the passing of my days. I have 5 journals filled with writing and drawings, and completed 64 blog posts that document my entire journey. Yes, some days this documentation was easy, and the creativity flowed, sweet and effortless. Other days, however, it was challenging to put pen to paper at all. My writing is a way for me to process not only what I am seeing and doing, but my emotional journey as well. Some days, understandably, I wanted to escape this process and lose myself in the distraction of the moment. I do find myself trapped in my head frequently, so I learned to give myself grace in those moments and just LET GO. Except for the work I did surrounding my exhibitions, I had no external deadlines, so I was able to let my work ebb and flow in a comfortable and undemanding rhythm.
I’ll be honest. In the past two months I haven’t really done any significant creative work. Yes, I have done the occasional blog post and drawing, but nothing with any serious intentionality. This week is sort of momentous for me. I have literally scheduled 20 hours of creative work into my calendar. Yes, it’s only 20 hours, but it is 20 hours more than I did last week. Even with my new desire to curb my barrage of social activities, I have found these interactions filling up week after week. I would look back on a Sunday afternoon and realize that I had marched through 7 days without one moment focused on my art-making. One of the wonderful things about not being employed by anyone is the ability to make your own schedule AND to be spontaneous. I want to do both, but I have been seriously remiss in scheduling in the projects that need my attention if I am going to make any forward movement in the world of illustration.
I painted the above scene on my last full day on Iona. This beach, called the White Strand of the Monks, feels virtually untouched. (If you are interested in the gory back story on the beach’s name, feel free to read this.) I would always be startled to find the occasional tourist walking in amongst the striated rocks and piles of seaweed. Usually I was alone and the shore was pristine, allowing my feet to be the first to sink into the sparkling white sand. The waters directly off the beach are a deep rich turquoise, but on my last day, the sea was glinting completely silver in the afternoon sunshine. As the winter sun made its way towards the horizon, it turned the distant hills a rosy pink, their blush a deep contrast to the indigo of the Berg of Mull. As I sat on a large flat rock and sketched, I was very careful to write out what I was sensing and feeling as well as make the necessary pen marks to capture the landscape. I was very deliberatly marking this moment in time. It was the essence of intentionality.
This whole ‘I’m my own boss’ thing is very exciting and a bit terrifying. I work best when there are external deadlines, so I am pondering how to create that impetus in a situation where I don’t necessarily have other people providing that motivation. I absolutely need to make this shift in my thinking if I have a chance at living in this new and unfamiliar land of self-employment. I want to find a new ebb and flow that works for my new life here in Portland and I would welcome the wisdom from those of you that have been walking this road long before me. If any of you have any tips or tricks for me that have helped you during a similar transition, please do share. Yes, now. Share now. The comment window is easy to use. I will be intentional and write you a nice thank you back.
The last few weeks in Portland we have been besieged by winter storms. P-town is unaccustomed to long stretches of cold temperatures and the entire city shuts down when our usual rain turns to layers of snow and ice. I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed the gift of a winter wonderland. It is utterly magical to hike though the stillness of a forest, watching light reflect off the cloak of white weighing down trees with quiet. The morning after it snowed, I decided to walk from my home into downtown and back, which is about 9 miles round trip. People are different when it snows. Everyone moves slower; they are more careful where they place their feet and how they move through space. They stop often, and look around rather then staring down at their phones. The rote becomes wonderfully strange when everything is covered in white. If you are not having to anxiously grip your steering wheel while commuting to a job, then a snow day is just about the best thing out there.
It is just about the best thing until you lose your focus while walking into a parking lot and slip. It is the worst thing when you fall and slam your knee into a sheet of ice with all your weight behind it. I did this last Friday after a glorious two hour walk with my friend Tom. Luckily there was Uber to carry me back to my car, and ice and whisky to ease the pain. My knee, although bathed in a plethora of magenta and green shades, is doing much better now, and it gave me an iron-clad excuse to watch the entire first season of the Tudors on Netflix.
I have also been reading through all my journals from this past year in the last few weeks and it is so very interesting to revisit each one. It is fun to discover drawings such as the one above, which harken back to late summer days of brilliant sun and sparkling water. This sketch is from Mljet, an island that Lissa and I visited off the coast of Croatia. We stayed for 3 days in tiny Okuklje Bay at the beginning of September, and it was perfect. Well, except for Lissa’s flu, it was perfect. As Lissa slept and recovered in our apartment, I had all day to paint. I sat on the dock in the thick heat and watched sailboats anchor under the Mediterranean pines. The first drawing, which is shown below, went off the rails due to a misjudged angle and so I decided to draw the whole thing again. The drawing above is my second attempt. It felt more difficult the second time, but I’m glad I persisted.
One of the hardest things for me to do is to leave a drawing I don’t like in my journal. As a result, this is actually the first unfinished drawing that I have kept in 3 years. To be honest, if I don’t like a piece, I usually just sabotage it with too much water so the paper actually rips right out on its own. My Aunt Cheryl, a fellow journal artist and kindred spirit, has reminded me that every drawing is just a mirror of where we are in the moment, physically and emotionally, and that each piece has a purpose in reflecting our journey. The perfectionist in me grows distressed at this notion, and when I page through my journals, I can feel the resistance to these less than ideal pieces. It’s a symptom of something that I am working hard to excise in myself, but it is deeply planted. It will take some time to get to the roots.
What I am most intrigued by as I read through these journals are the patterns that emerge in my writing and my thoughts. I have realized that even though my travels just ended a month ago, I was already idealizing it in my mind. As I try to create and build the loose structure of my life here in Portland, my mind wants to flee and take my body with it. I say to myself – “I could go anywhere right now…” and the reality is that I actually could. I realize, however, that all the feelings I am experiencing are also documented in the pages of my journals. I have all the same anxiety, fear, and doubt; it’s just in a place I have known for thirty years, rather than a European city with a cathedral. The old adage that we take ourselves with us wherever we go is terribly and undeniably true.
I do see a difference, however. While I traveled, I learned how to address these feelings in myself and speak truth to them and over them, rather than just wallow in them. I have written many times of my process of learning how to exercise my ‘trust’ muscle as I began to practice surrender and letting go of expectations. Now, I must remember to use this ‘trust’ again and not let the old muscle memory take over. It is an understatement to say that this is hard. I have spent my entire adult life in Portland living in a different way. I like having control and I like the appearance of having it even more. I am mapping out a new way of being, and I have to constantly remind myself it is going to take some time.
This old picture of who I was is also deeply planted. Never a plant person, I find myself comically awash in gardening metaphors. I seem to find myself constantly digging around in the dirt of my heart and mind in regards to all areas of my life; art, faith, vocation – just the general act of being, really. Just everything.
But I will keep digging; fingernails blackened, the musty smell of rot and new life thick in the air. When I get to the roots, I know I will have created space to plant some new seeds. Spring is coming in a few months. Perhaps there are already seeds I have planted that will bloom unexpectedly. That would be the best thing. Perhaps even better than a snow day.
Sometimes there is a blank page inserted in novels before a new and prominent section starts. These past 15 months have been this page in my story. I needed this time for reflection, this space for exploration, before I could move to the next chapter. Now, with only 1 day before my flight home, I hold the paper in my hand, feeling its weight, edges crisp and sharp on my fingertips. It’s a bit surreal, to be honest. Friends and family continue to ask me if I’m ready. I think I am as ready as I can be. I gave myself 6 weeks on Iona to prepare for ‘the return.’
[Cue ominous music fading out to silence]
In truth, I have spent the last 6 weeks doing very little, but I have also spent the last 6 weeks doing enormously profound things. I have been sketching and painting and journaling and walking. I have ambled down Iona’s only road every other day to the village in order to buy the essentials for my island life (veggies and hobnobs). I have baked and I have cooked and I have brewed cups and cups and cups of tea. I have sat for hours on the sofa in the hostel living room staring out at the ocean. I have watched the landscape transform amidst constantly shifting clouds and sun, and I have marvelled at this endless theatre of color and light and shadow. I have read some radical life-changing books, and I have allowed myself to rest and relax and try to process the past year and a half. I have thought a lot about what I want my life to look like when I return to Portland. Even more importantly, I have thought a lot about the kind of person I want to be as I live this life.
When I first was the Artist in Residence at the hostel last February, I became enchanted with Iona. You can read more about that starting here. I came away with a body of work of about 25 paintings that had been created in just under four weeks. During my stay, I was encouraged by some of the locals to use this art for a second book. I loved the idea of returning and carried this idea with me when I headed off to Spain to exhibit my work in Santiago de Compostela. As the months passed, I realised that I did, indeed, need to return to Iona. At the beginning of July, I emailed John to let him know I wanted to head back to the island. I decided to give myself a bit longer this second time. I knew I would use these weeks not only to sketch and paint, but to prepare my heart and my mind for heading home.
Consequently, in late October, I found myself nestled amongst a hostel full of creatives from all over the world. The community John has fostered on this wee island in the inner Hebrides is quite unique; I would even venture to say it’s magical. These past 6 weeks I have been surrounded by beautiful, inspirational women who shared their art and their lives with me. We talked about fledgling projects and our hardest challenges, past and present. We peered into the future, sharing tentative hopes buoyed by encouraging words and kindness. Within this community, I started to flesh out the idea of a second book, but I still had no idea what the underlying story would be. The text in my book about the Camino de Santiago had been pulled directly from my journals and pieced together with a small amount of additional writing. I knew this book would be different, but I wasn’t sure where to start. There are a myriad of books written about the history of Iona and its famous Abbey, and I had no intention or desire to delve into something that had already been covered so thoroughly. I basically had a collection of drawings but no narrative. So I prayed for guidance.
If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you probably have noticed that I use a main painting to tell a story. I start with an image that speaks to me, and then I build from there, weaving my words around the metaphor of my painting. Traditional illustration tends to work the other way around, with art that is created to enhance the written word, but I always like start with the visual piece first. As I thought about my writing process, I realized that the imagery I had been painting on Iona could tell the story of my journey this year; not just where I had gone and what I had seen, but what had transformed and changed in me along the way.
This painting above is of a piece of the ancient Nunnery on the island. The wall I decided to draw is set sharply against the blue of the sky, with crumbling rock creating a vivid contrast to the stark angles jutting heavenward. I like these ruins a lot, perhaps even more than the abbey. They feel more approachable somehow. The ladies at the hostel would laugh and joke that we were all from the nunnery; all of us single, cloistered together on this holy isle. The outside surface of this building looks smooth and flat, but from my viewpoint one could see the vast amounts of rock that were used to construct each wall. It is hard to believe that when such varied stones are placed just so, they can be used to build a magnificent structure.
I hope that my stories will be like these stones; I think that I can use each one, stacking them just so, to create a narrative that will share my journey during this time of travel. We’ll see how things progress when I get back to Portland, but I am setting a goal to have the book finished by the spring of next year. It is a bit ambitious, I’ll admit. I have quite a lot of stone stacking to do.
Friday was my final day on Iona and although my mind was swimming with the excitement of heading home, I wanted to be wholly present. I wanted to breathe in the richness of the island one last time. The weather was unseasonably warm and so I decided to do the very best thing to ensure I would remember the fullness of the afternoon. I headed out to sketch on the beach.
Afterwards, I wrote the following in my journal:
Eucharisteo. The silver sea. Rose tinted hills in the far distance. The ache of my back as I perch on this rock. Waves gently settling onto white sand at the water’s edge. Clouds, great sculptures, wild and puffy stacks of cotton over Mull softening as they move out over the Atlantic. Mild air and virtually no wind. A November day spilling over with grace. My heart is full of gratitude. Iona, thank you for rest and respite before I return. Thank you for holding me.
So, it’s time to turn the page. As I hold the paper in my hand, feeling its weight, edges crisp and sharp on my fingertips, I hope that you’ll come with me. This next section is unwritten… I’ll need company along the way.
THIS JUST IN! I’m very excited to share that the article I wrote about Casa Lestón as well as my interview are now posted on the Delicooks site! Delicooks is a foodie website based out of Barcelona so I am hopeful for some much needed exposure for my food illustrations! If you are interested in reading the English versions of each of the articles – I have included them below!
Casa Lestón: the oldest restaurant in Galicia turns 100 next year
Morriña is a Gallego word that describes a very particular kind of homesickness. La morriña can be described as a deep longing for the land of one’s birth. When I first heard this word it was used to describe the sentiment that Gallegos immigrate, but after a time, they always want to return home. I don’t know if this is 100 percent true, but I have nary a drop of Gallego blood and Galicia continually draws me back to the Northwest corner of Spain. I have become enamoured of its history, its landscapes and of course, its food. Many people first discover the beauty of Galicia when they walk the Camino de Santiago.
I was one such person, as my sister and I completed our own Camino in 2013. I had lived in Sevilla for a year in college, but knew next to nothing of Galicia. As we drew closer to the end of our journey, I was continually surprised and delighted by my lush surroundings and the variety of the terrain we passed through. After reaching Santiago, many pilgrims continue walking to the coastal town of Finisterre. They celebrate reaching ‘the end of the world’ at the well known lighthouse overlooking the Atlantic ocean. If you ever have the chance to sit on these rocks and gaze out over the endless horizon and ever changing blue spread of ocean, you will understand what a magical place it is.
The last town on the Camino before reaching Finisterre is the tiny village of Sardiñiero. Only a few meters away from the shell marked path is the doorway to a restaurant called Casa Lestón. Most pilgrims walk right by it, their eyes fixed on reaching their intended destination. If they do, they miss experiencing something very special.
Casa Lestón is the oldest restaurant in Galicia. It is celebrating its 100 year anniversary in 2017 and preparations are already underway to mark such a noteworthy occasion. When Manuel Marcote Lestón decided to open a small supermarket and restaurant in his hometown in 1917, I wonder if he had any idea of the legacy he would leave. The restaurant has always been a family business, and four generations of his descendants have now been part of its extensive history. Although Manuel’s son Bautista silhouette is etched on the windows overlooking the street, Alberto, his great-grandson, is the current face of Casa Lestón. I had a chance to visit the restaurant for the first time with my friend Cheri after we walked the Camino to Finisterre last August. We enjoyed sitting in the spacious outdoor patio, sipping white wine as a cool breeze tempered the heat of the afternoon. I chatted with Alberto about his quintessential family restaurant and how it first began a century ago.
At the end of the 1800’s, Alberto’s great grandfather had immigrated to Argentina. He did well in business, but returned every four to five years to Galicia. Even though Manuel wanted his wife Maria to come with him to South America, she refused to leave Sardiñeiro. Manuel’s eventual decision to return home permanently in 1915 to build a home and a business might have been due to his wife’s stubbornness, but Alberto thinks it was la morriña. Galicia called him back.
In the year 1920, the main road along the coast was built directly in front of Casa Lestón, just as Manuel had predicted. His savvy location choice enabled the business to grow and after his death in 1940, Maria and Bautista, continued running the restaurant and market. When tourism began to arrive in the 60’s, Casa Lestón started to function exclusively as a restaurant and began operating much as it does today.
The interior of the building has a vintage feel, but with a fresh face lift from a recent renovation this past year. In the bar area light grey walls form the perfect backdrop for large arrangements of black and white photos all in matching crisp white frames. Sepia snapshots of the family and community provide a unique glimpse into the history of Sardiñeiro and its inhabitants. In the dining room large and small canvases of original art grace the walls. Alberto’s younger siblings, Julio and Palmira, are among the artists featured.
In the evening we had the chance to try some of the restaurant’s specialties. Casa Lestón is known for its unique tortilla. Classic Spanish tortilla is made with eggs and potatoes, but I had never eaten a tortilla made with eggs, onion, red pepper and razor clams before. No potatoes! It was delicious! Thinking of the combination of the sweetness of the red pepper and the briny texture of the fresh clams makes my mouth water.
Galica is well known for its array of tempting seafood and Casa Lestón does not disappoint. The second plate I was served was their famous Calamares in su tinta (squid in it’s own ink). I had never tried this dish before and Cheri was rather intimidated by the whole prospect. You can order the calamares served with potatoes or rice and we opted for rice. The rich dark sauce complimented the juicy squid perfectly and we finished off the plate in no time. We also sampled their succulent Pulpo á feria which is octopus tentacles boiled and then sliced into small round medallions, topped with smoked paprika. This traditional dish is very popular in Galicia and graces most restaurant menus.
I spoke to Alberto about the ingredients in his dishes and learned that 90 percent are from local providers, farms and fisherman. If the ingredient is not in season, the final dish does not go on the menu. I had the chance to peek behind the scenes in the kitchen and was able to see the fresh seafood being prepared for the night’s menu. The stunning octopus caught my eye and I decided to sketch it.
The kitchen also revealed a big crate of pimientos de Padrón. Padrón is a small town to the south of Santiago that has become famous for their tasty green peppers. These bite sized peppers are seared at a high heat in olive oil and served with coarse grain sea salt. They have become my favorite Spanish tapa. Every so often, you will realise mid-chew that you have stumbled upon the rare hot pepper in the batch and it can be a bit startling. The peppers at Casa Lestón were delectable; salty and perfectly cooked. We munched away with abandon and did not find a single spicy one in the mix. I drew them in their original state, so I could capture the vivid shades of green and smooth texture with my paint.
As we enjoyed our meal, I watched the locals eat and drink around the marble topped wood bar. There was an easy, intimate feel as wine was ordered and steaming plates of food were served. At Casa Lestón, guests are not just clients; they are treated as family. Alberto shared with me he feels he has “the most beautiful job in the world.” Watching him interact with staff and clients in the restaurant, it’s easy to believe. It’s clear Casa Lestón is an integral part of the life and community of Sardiñeiro. Alberto’s great-grandfather didn’t just leave his family a business; he left them a vibrant and thriving way of life.
As you make plans for travel in 2017, be sure to put Sardiñeiro on your list. At Casa Lestón you’ll get a chance to celebrate 100 years of history, eat some delectable food and probably make a few new friends. The only downside is that once you leave Galicia, you may encounter la morriña. I am confident it’s worth the risk.
How did you become an illustrator?
Art has always been a part of my life but until just a few years ago, it was something I only did very occasionally. After going through a difficult divorce, I decided to walk the Camino de Santiago in 2013. During my 800 kilometre journey, I documented each day in my journal with ink and paints. It was the first time I had been creative every day and it was a revelation to me. Through the process of publishing these drawings in my first book “The Art of Walking,” I realised that I wanted to leave my corporate job to travel and pursue illustration full time.
How do you define your style?
Whimsical is the word other people use when describing the style of my paintings. I love color and I adore crosshatching and both are used without restraint in my work. When I paint I want my shapes and textures to evoke the feel and energy of a place or an object rather than communicate the exact technical details of perspective or reality. I really enjoy drawing ‘plein aire’ and have cultivated a drawing process that allows me to capture the main elements of a scene very quickly. I can then finish the painting at a later time, which works well when I am in the midst of travel or hiking…or eating!
What things inspire your work?
Travel, food and being outdoors are the things that inspire my work the most. I love seeing new places and especially experiencing different cultures. I carry my pens and miniature watercolour kit everywhere I go so I can draw anywhere I am. I am interested in capturing small intricate details just as much as large sweeping cityscapes. I have been traveling and living in Spain, Portugal, France, England and Scotland for the past year and it has been an incredible, rich time of learning and evolving as an artist. I blog every week and have come to enjoy the process of writing just as much as illustration. I delight in telling stories and feel honoured when I get the chance to to share someone else’s story through word and image. My article on Delicooks this month on Casa Lestón is the perfect example of that.
How did the Camino de Santiago inspire you to create a book?
When I walked the Camino de Santiago, it was the first time I created art in a journal format. I found myself delighting in the process of creating rather than worrying about the end product. I couldn’t wait for the end of the day when I could sit down to draw. A year and a half after walking the Camino, I realised I wanted to share these drawings as a body of work and complete the journey that had started years prior in the midst of my divorce. When I began to share my book with family and friends, it was so inspiring to find that many people, even those that hadn’t walked the Camino, could relate to my story and found joy and encouragement in my drawings and journal excerpts.
Why is there so little illustration in the kitchen in general, in recipes or in books?
I think in the past, people wanted to see exactly how their recipe was supposed to turn out, and therefore, photography was the ideal vehicle to communicate the end result. In the past few years, we have began to embrace the maker culture more and more. ‘Handmade’ is back in vogue and as a result, art and illustration is also being appreciated in a fresh way. In the world of ‘the kitchen’ this creates a need for new ways to represent food and recipes. As illustrators we can be playful and fun, differentiating an article or a book with a unique point of view or stylistic representation.
What do enjoy most about your work?
When I slow down to draw, I find that every object, especially things that most people view as ordinary, become extraordinary. Drawing teaches me to be in the present moment and to notice and truly see the beauty that is around me. I think that is why I like drawing food so much. We rarely notice the intricacies of something as simple as a red pepper or an onion. Illustrating food gives me a deeper appreciation for these ‘ordinary things’ and that appreciation translates to gratitude, which I think is the key to experiencing joy in life.
Indispensable ingredients for your life:
Pen, paints and journal
Red lipstick and red wine
Walking shoes and passport
Open eyes and heart
Confidence and character
Grace and gratitude
The best moment of the day….
It depends on the day, but I am a huge fan of sitting down at a table with a dear friend enjoying a glass of wine and a delicious meal. Sharing good food and good conversation fuels my life.
I have been easing back into life here in Santiago. I have established a loose routine which always helps me feel a bit more settled. I am beginning to feel like I know the city and there’s something really wonderful about knowing a place, rather than just passing through. I have expressed this idea before on the blog, but after ten months of traveling, it feels even more true; more rooted.
A huge part of feeling settled is due to the fact that I moved to a new apartment when I returned from my trip at the end of June. It is on the north side of the old city and is only a 10 minute walk from the Parador where I have my exhibit. I have an actual window in my bedroom and the apartment even has a large terrazza. Yes, my OWN terrace! I like to sit outside and eat my breakfast porridge (a habit learned from my time in the UK) when the cool of the morning still feels crisp and fresh against my face and arms. I like that the piso is a tiny bit out of the city center, because the closest bars and restaurants in the neighbourhood are generally filled with locals rather than tourists. I met my American flatmate, Robyn, through the yoga classes I took last April. She has lived in Santiago since February, and is a yoga teacher and artist that has been traveling for the past few years. She also cooks delicious vegan food and has begun to teach me her magical ways. I actually made hummus last night from scratch. (Yes, I know this is not a complicated thing, but I never had to make it before because Trader Joe’s makes it so terribly good and cheap. I haven’t found a grocery store here in Santiago that actually sells hummus or even knows what it is.) It is really quite lovely, after so many months of travel, to be living with a friend. I got a taste of this during my time in Finisterre, and it makes a huge difference in my day to day life. I can’t tell you how happy I feel when I come home to delectable smells and laughter in the flat. It feels a bit like … a home.
I also have my places. You know. MY places. I have my grocery store and my drugstore. I have a place where I buy couscous and tahini and gorgeous plump wrinkled dates that I eat with yogurt for dessert. I know which bars in town serve the best free tapas with a glass of wine and which places will give me a discount on my gin and tonic because I am a regular. I actually have a hairdresser in Santiago, whom I have seen four times. I have my favourite outdoor patio and my favourite breakfast, which just happen to exist in exactly the same location. What serendipity!
Of course, I also have my favourite coffee shops in town, one of which is SCQ. SCQ (the airport code for Santiago de Compostela) feels a bit like home as well…mostly because it has the sweetest owners: Paula and Javi. Paula has become a dear friend, and was able to attend my inauguraciòn at the beginning of July. I spent most of the month of April ensconced in the comfy mid century modern red chairs at SCQ drinking coffee, my face illuminated by the glow of my computer screen. I’m not exaggerating. Some days I was there for 4 or 5 hours. In Spain, no one ever hurries you out of your seat so they can move another paying customer in to fill your spot. They actually expect you to linger for hours and hours over your café con leche or glass of vino chatting with friends. I love it. You never feel that hovering ‘when are you leaving?’ question like in the states. They also have a strong wifi signal and no television, which are both imperative when applying for a spot on my ‘Top Cafes’ list.
Part of my routine is spending every afternoon at the Parador from 4-7 pm signing books and selling prints. My first exhibit at the lighthouse definitely had more foot traffic, but it seems this show is going to more about networking. I have already made some really good connections with a handful of American pilgrims, and our conversations have planted some seeds for future Camino projects that could take place once I return to the states. This is überexciting to me as I begin to plan a bit for the future. I think I will return to Portland sometime in December, and it lightens my heart to explore ideas that will continue the work that I’ve started here. More on these ideas in the months to come…
The painting above is my view as I sit at my table at the exhibit. I look at this lovely fountain every day, but finally took the time to draw it just yesterday. The downside to feeling comfortable in a place is that sometimes you start to take the beauty in it for granted. As I take my daily walk to ‘work,’ winding my way through cobblestone streets past regal stone churches, I realise I have already begun to stop ‘seeing.’ I have begun to look through the things that, when seen for the first time, are awe inspiring. I think this is why it is important for me to draw. Drawing renews my appreciation for what is around me. It provides an appreciation ‘re-boot’ if you will.
I heartily encourage you to do whatever you can do in your own life to ‘re-boot.’ Vacations tend to be the common go-to prescription, but if you can’t get away, there are so many other possibilities. Walk a new route home. Cook something you’ve never cooked before. Color your hair a crazy shade. Listen to a new band or to the one you listened to when you were 15. Plant something in the ground and watch its brazen tiny green shoots push through the soil. What you do doesn’t actually matter. What is important is that this thing helps you remember to ‘see’ what is around you; it could be an ancient stone fountain, or it could be the way the light hits your kitchen counter first thing in the morning. When I state the following, it is as much to me as to you: Don’t miss the beauty. Please don’t miss it.
THIS JUST IN! I have exciting news! You can now purchase all the paintings featured in “The Art of Walking” Exhibitions on my Society6 page! Since I was only able to have a limited amount of posters available at my exhibit, I am thrilled to now have everything available to purchase as prints, framed prints, and canvases! I also have select pieces available as iPhone covers, including the very popular ‘pilgrim feet’ drawing! Society6 also ships internationally, so my prints can wing their way across the world!
My Indiegogo campaign “The Art of Walking” Camino de Santiago Exhibits ended last week on the 31st and I was overwhelmed by the response. I may sound like a broken record, but I want to say THANK YOU again! Your encouragement and support is truly invaluable.
My time in Finisterre was better than I could have imagined. The show was incredibly well received and it was such a honour to connect with so many pilgrims at the end of their Camino. I loved exchanging stories and memories with people from all over the world! Teary eyed pilgrims shared with me that my paintings took them back to simple but significant moments they experienced on their Camino and they were so grateful. This was the best compliment I could have been given. I love that my art is a catalyst for memories. I paint with my heart, which I am finding is the most essential piece of the process. Many people wanted to tell me they felt the joy I experienced while drawing; they sensed this in the colors, lines and movement in my work.
Wow. God is so good.
I could never have imagined this path a few years ago, but I am so thankful for everything that brought me to this place; that brought me to this joy. I am so thankful for the Camino that I am privileged to walk every day. I delight in what I am doing and then get to share this delight with those I meet.
I have spent the entire day in one of my favorite cafes in Santiago posting artwork, updating my website, working on the details for my July show and getting everything organised before I leave the city on Monday. I am planning a few weeks of travel, starting with some hiking along the coast of Portugal, after which I will head to Sevilla to connect with Spanish friends I knew 20 years ago. I haven’t visited Sevilla since I was there in college in June of 1996, and everyone there is still frozen in my mind in their early twenties! The gardens of Sevilla also have a special significance for me because they are where I very first experimented with watercolour and ‘plein air’ drawing. I can’t wait to visit these same gardens with my journal and paints! I then head up the coast to Barcelona where I am meeting with some contacts in the world of food illustration to discuss some possible projects I might undertake in August. I’ll head back to Santiago the last week in June to get ready for my exhibit in the Parador.
I did this drawing in Finisterre a few weeks ago. This small cove is right around the corner from the main beach, but I was alone as I sketched. The turquoise waters glittered and the rocks beneath my feet were warm with the afternoon sun. Colors. Lines. Delight. Eucharisteo.