Some changes are afoot at Forest and Fin! This site has transmogrified from first Lara’s blog, to her online shop and showcase, and now she’s asked me (Brian!) to write here regularly about Selah and her refit.
Last Friday, Lara had a show in Charleston celebrating her newest works (which are amazing….I see them happen pretty much start to finish and I’m still blown away by them). During the show, she had a slideshow of some random pictures from our travels on Illusion playing on the walls around her art to show the inspiration for her paintings. People had a lot of questions about boat living and our future – so in case any of those curious folks at her show are reading, you got us inspired to write about our new boat Selah - where she came from and where she’s going!
On my first trip up to Maine in August to check out Selah, two guys were sitting behind me on the plane talking about boat stuff and leaving for the Caribbean. My ears perked up instantly, and I eves-dropped long enough to infer that one of them was a real-deal sailor. Before the plane landed in Portland, I turned around and interrupted their conversation.
“Sorry guys, I couldn’t help but over hear you talking about leaving for the Caribbean from Maine — I’m actually looking at a boat up here tomorrow. When is latest I could expect to get a decent weather window for going south?”
Instead of a straight answer, the sailor did what sailors do best — he told me a sea story. He’d gone to the Caribbean every few years for the last 25 years, usually leaving in September. But one year, he got stuck with work and ended up pushing it back towards the end of October. It was 1991. He suggested that I may have read the book about it, or perhaps seen the movie – “The Perfect Storm.” He had been far enough away from the storm not to have endured the worst, but still 48+ hours of gale conditions had been enough for him to make a rule of thumb for heading south.
“If I’m not gone by October the 15th, I don’t go.”
I kept that thought in the back of my mind during the whole process of buying Selah. As the days on the calendar went by, I probably gave myself a few extra grey hairs trying to find a way to be comfortable with the purchase and be out of Maine in time for that deadline. My initial plan had been to make the trip in segments – the short first sail to New Jersey – head back to work in between, then come back a week or so later and sail her to the Chesapeake to do the refit in Gloucester, VA, at a boatyard we’d used with Illusion. I ended up getting too busy with work and the sale wasn’t final until the the 21st of October.
I loaded her on a flatbed 18 wheeler the night of the 23rd of October, and on the 24th, she started her trip south. Selah narrowly avoided Hurricane Sandy by scooting down I-95, instead of coming down under sail. It was a decision I had gone back and forth on for weeks. The money was a major concern but so was timing. We had wanted to get working on her as quickly as possible, and I had some general bad feelings about heading south from Maine that late in the year, so the decision was made to truck her south. On October 29th, Hurricane Sandy made landfall — in New Jersey. Thanks to a sea story, Selah survived her first brush with a storm the best way possible — by not being there at all!
More stories and pictures to come (the ones below were photos I took on my trips to Maine)….we’re well into the refit now. Selah has been pulled apart and is slowly going back together here in South Carolina.
After traveling to Oriental, NC; the Virgin Islands; Tampa, FL; Colon, Panama; and Belfast, Maine, not to mention looking at boats in South Carolina and South Florida last year, we finally found a cruising boat that fit everything on our “want” list including the price! It’s been a wild year and a half of ups and downs since we got back from the Bahamas in May 2011. First we stayed with Brian’s Dad in Hilton Head for a few weeks, then rented a house in Savannah, GA; then we moved back onto Illusion in Charleston, SC, where I rented studio space in an artist warehouse. But Charleston, didn’t fit for us this last time around (probably because we chose to live at a marina outside of downtown and were forced to drive – alot! – which is tricky when you share a car). Brian was driving down to Savannah for work every other week or two, and we had listed our boat Illusion, which meant showing the boat while we were still living on it (this is not so easy!). It was tough for a little while, so we decided to rent another house in Savannah while we figured things out.
Over the summer, there was a lot of back and forth between Brian and I as to whether or not, we still really wanted to live and travel on a sailboat. It definitely complicates some of our other life goals. But in the end, we had come so far with it that we weren’t ready to walk away. With that said, we still didn’t have a cruising boat, Illusion hadn’t sold yet, all of the cruising boats in our price range seemed to be complete project boats (in other words, they would need too much time and money to fix up) or sold faster than we could get to them. We decided due to the time of year, that if the boat in Panama didn’t pan out, we would just put a dodger on Illusion and take her back to the Bahamas for a few months this winter. In other words, stop looking for another boat.
We were both a little disappointed when we got home from Panama – we couldn’t seem to find the “right” boat for us despite the countless hours Brian scoured the internet for listings and leads. But a few days later, Brian decided to take one last look at the listings online and there she was: a Nantucket Island 38 Ketch. We looked at the pictures and looked up the layout (which is about the only info available for this boat on the Web); it seemed like a solid possibility. So Brian called up the owner, and soon enough was on his way up to Maine to see her. One trip turned into two with a survey, and now he is up there packing her up and prepping her for the trip down.
Selah will be on her way to South Carolina, next week by truck, since we don’t have the time or want to take the risk of sailing her down (and it’s almost November in Maine – brrrr!). She is also a bit of a project boat, although nowhere near the condition of the other fixer-uppers we looked at. She has good bones and a whole lot of potential, with flush decks; a large cockpit; two cabins(!); two heads; couches(!); a nice big galley with counter space; and she is a ketch rig with a cutter stay. Not to mention, she is a center cockpit, which will be more comfortable for us offshore. Even though we are only going from our 37′ sloop to a 38′ ketch, it’s safe to say that we are doubling our living space – not too shabby. But we have plenty of projects to dive into upon her arrival.
I haven’t seen her yet, so I am beyond excited to meet her next week! If all goes as planned, we will be moving onto her in a couple months and – fingers crossed! – sailing down to the islands in March!
Brian and I have been traveling back and forth between Charleston and Savannah about once a week for the past few weeks, and although we have done this drive many many times before, it never ceases to amaze me. The drive between the two cities is beautiful and largely untouched by civilization. Stretches of forest and swampland alternate between rivers, lily-pad ponds, and patches of marsh-grass landscapes along this stretch of the lowcountry. I have driven a good portion of this highway, which runs all the way up through my hometown in Virginia and farther north up the coast, but have yet to find a prettier stretch than this one.
For the first time ever, Brian and I decided to stop at every breath-taking view of water, marsh, swamp, and grassland we passed along the way. We even detoured to see the picturesque Old Sheldon Church outside of Beaufort, S.C. which photographers love so much. I treasure days like these, when the weather is beautiful enough to lure us to a quiet space we would normally only have time to glance at. With a few hours of light left in the day, Brian put on his flashers and pulled over on the grassy shoulder of the road. Carefully he made his way up onto the roof of the jeep to get a better view of the vast Lowcountry landscape. At times, I held the camera out of the window, clicking as the lush green landscape whizzed by. They were brief encounters, but worth an extra minute or two of our time.
A stop at the Old Sheldon Church reminded me of mortality; the lovely structure, a skeleton of it’s past glory, was lined with the graves of past residents: infants and small children, teenagers and twenty-year-olds. Few made it to a ripe old age even by the turn of the century. I’ve been so busy lately, that I’ve barely had time to catch my breath, but these photographs are a testament to the great big beautiful lush world that surrounds me. If there’s one thing I learned from sailing, it’s this: when the weather is nice, it’s important to stop and appreciate, you never know when the next storm will blow through – be it metaphorical or physical. Life is happening. Our time – to appreciate, enjoy, and participate in – is now. It’s important to breathe it all in and to relax a little.
Every adventure that I’ve had in my 20′s has been an exploration of myself and an evaluation of new possibilities. When I visit a new place, I like to picture what my life would be like if I lived there. I wonder, would I have a positive affect on the community, or would I spend my time focusing on more introspective issues, becoming a better artist or developing my self. Brian and I went to the Virgin Islands for many reasons: we went to visit friends, look at boats, briefly escape from winter, and contemplate what it would be like to live down there for a while – if say, we were to go on another, longer sailing trip through the Caribbean as we had originally planned.
Ever since Brian and I returned from our trip to the Bahamas, we have been talking at length about our options for the future and our immediate plans. Both of us are always looking for opportunities that fall into place at just the right time – decisions that make sense and feel right on an intuitive level. A friend of ours recently remarked that the decisions you make in your twenties greatly affect the person you become in your thirties, and I find that this statement rings true to me when I think back on the some of the defining decisions I made. Although I am not yet in my 30′s, I can see how my decisions in the last seven (almost eight) years might impact my next ten years. Joining an Americorps program at age 20 led me to Italy for a year-long study of art; finishing my creative writing degree drove me to pursue a job in editing; and my job in editing pushed me away from a desk job and into a pursuit of artistic interests and healthy living. With each action I took, I was able to gather more information to help me inform the next decision. At 25, I had already starting making decisions about the direction of my life, evaluating my options based on who I was and who I wanted to be.
Brian and I went on a two-week scouting mission in the Virgin Islands. Just as I’ve done in the past, we were gathering information for when we are ready to make the next big decision, so that we will have a little bit of extra information to guide us. Although we aren’t sure exactly how things will pan out just yet, we both know that we would like to finish our exploration of the Caribbean, and we are doubly sure of this after our trip. The Virgin Islands did not disappoint. The mountains were a welcome change from the Lowcountry scenery back in South Carolina, where you can barely see over the marsh grass at low tide, and I snapped so many photographs of the jungle foliage as we hiked across St. John – lush tropical inspiration to use in my studio. Inspiration was everywhere, it seemed to be the ideal environment for living on a sailboat, and because it is part of the United States, we could work there legally.
We also made a point of visiting as many art galleries as we could find – looking into studio space, what the local shops are selling, and thinking on the feasibility of creating and selling my art down there. From a the sailing perspective, it was a no-brainer, but we wondered how long we would really be able to stay on one island before we got itchy feet again. Luckily there are many islands to explore locally and each with it’s own unique feel. It was surprising to me to find that the answers to almost all of our questions was yes. Many people had told us to push on to the Virgin Islands last year, but with no money to use as start-up, we made the conservative decision to sail home. We will be hanging in Charleston through the fall and the next big decision will hinge on many factors. But if we do venture south again, we’ll be prepared, and a short (or long!) stopover in the Virgin Islands could play a key role in our planning.
I wanted to send you all a quick update about my new shirt designs. I am going to be running a one-week promotion as I release each of the new designs this month, starting with the Manatees tee. Beginning today and ending next Thursday, if you type in the coupon code: MANATEEPROMO you will receive 20% off your purchase.
I keep my favorite Micron drawing pens in an old cigar box along with some India ink and my watercolors. Screen-printed and stenciled, the larger of my two sketchbooks features a vintage snake-and-bird pattern that I glued to the cover, and wouldn’t you know, creatures big and small crowd the rumpled pages. When I start making sketches, I usually don’t have anything specific in mind and what happens is very much influenced by my mood and concentration on any given day. I keep a stockpile of photographs to pull from and usually sit down with the intent of creating something representational.
On a good day, I’m completely dialed into the photograph and my pen and paper (I never draw with a pencil); the lines that are created are deliberate and fluid. Usually a pattern will emerge. Other days my sketches are impatient; the lines are fickle, loose, and chaotic. I can tell immediately what kind of day it is, depending on my focus. However, even on those days when my focus wavers and my work is not up to my own standards, the information that I gather from the exercise is useful. So when I sit down to sketch out a new design or drawing, I have to grant myself the freedom to explore the idea or subject fully and without expectations. The biggest challenge is my own fear of failure – the failure to create something good or beautiful. I have to work through it.
Once I have a solid design or work of art, then it is time to work on the actual design. There are three things that I focus on to begin with: composition, color, and placement. Obviously many of these issues have already been dealt with on paper or canvas, but when designing for a shirt, there are certain additional restrictions to keep in mind, such as size of the design (it has to fit onto a screen), placement on the shirt (you can’t print over a seam!), and the number of colors (anywhere from one to four). Preserving the linework in my sketches can be a bit tricky, especially since I often use crosshatching techniques to create shadows and tonal range in my drawings. It takes time and adjustment to get it right.
Here are a couple side-by-side comparisons of new designs and the original sketch, watercolor drawing, or painting from which they are derived.
I hope these get you excited about my new designs for the spring. I can’t wait to burn these onto screens and print up some test shirts!
Upon Viewing the Forces of Nature Exhibition, Halsey Gallery, Charleston, SC October 2006
A white wall illuminates a centered slice of tree. Concentric rings coil out to infinite ranges; warping, with each, age and might. The heavy brown and knotted bark deepens to story. Thread winds freely, tracing the solid rings – it spirals out like the spider’s web, mapping the meat of the tree’s life. In dark bindings, a book with gaping holes of measured circles waits. The black print, missing in chunks, fades into the design. The knowledge peels away – layered. The words, their pressed meaning, hold no more truth for the tree. There is a projected picture, a c-sectioned tree, one with red marker, stepping stones of eroded plaster – white squares – more thread. My mind is like the thread. It twists delicate in a breeze but holds tight to the needle’s eye, driving into the fibers, griping and hemming – Or like sand, sifting & sinking as it conforms itself to the print. The weight of my body rolls heel to toe as I walk among these thoughts, each successive ring between my teeth, eating away at the bone.
The blog destroyed my formatting, but I think it’s actually easier to read this way. To expand on the thoughts of my last post, I felt I should include an example of a poem that I wrote about an art exhibition I found to be particularly compelling and insightful. This poem and the photograph pictured above (which is one of mine) have been instrumental in creating Forest and Fin and also inspired my wood panel painting series back in 2009. I think it gets to the heart of what I mentioned in my last post: the interaction of imagery included in this particular art exhibition paired with descriptive language generated a new idea or association (the thread being like my mind or me chewing on my thoughts as I try to get to the heart of my ideas) that I found inspirational. I found the photos pictured below of the actual exhibition on Flickr here to give you a little context. The Halsey Gallery has this to say about the exhibition: This unique exhibition was a grand collaboration between seven institutions in North and South Carolina and ten contemporary Japanese artists. The artists lived in the Carolinas for six-week residencies, creating work using natural materials or processes and were installed at their host institutions. You can read more here.
These three photographs from their Flickr gallery show some of the specific detail that I mention in my poem below:
*These three photographs are from the “Force of Nature: The Exhibition” Flickr group.
Nothing like a clean studio, freshly painted bare walls, and an empty canvas to release a burst of creative energy. I’ve been spending about six days a week in my new studio. Even though I feel like I am behind on everything, I am definitely getting a great deal accomplished in my new space and it feels wonderful to be painting on canvas again. I am like a kid at Christmas staring at a freshly stretched canvas; the possibilities are endless and exciting. I used my first painting to stretch my hand-eye coordination and put my skills to the test. I chose to work from a photograph that I took a few months ago at the Center for Birds of Prey in Awendaw, SC. A good friend of mine volunteers out there every weekend and took me inside some of the cages to get a closer look at the occupants. This baby owl is imprinted, meaning she is familiar with humans and cannot be released into the wild. She is a Savigny’s Eagle Owl (Bubo Ascalaphus), and I thought her fluffiness would be a great challenge for me. I am not quite finished with her (and this is an early photograph of the work), but sometimes it is good to let a painting sit for while and see what it tells you.
Another reason to let this painting sit a while is because I’ve been feeling a great need to use my work as a vehicle for expression, but I haven’t found my own personal style quite yet, at least not in regards to my works on canvas, and I am not even sure of what I want to say. Up to now, I’ve been working straight from photographs with little deviation, and while it is a completely acceptable way to work, I don’t think that it is particularly insightful or enlightening for me. I have always been drawn to works with elements of abstract or surrealists qualities, as long as there is some recognizable context for the work. I think this urge springs from my creative writing background: I have always loved to write poetry and feel that the process allows me to come to realizations that are both enriching and enlightening. Modern poetry is particularly appealing because it has become acceptable to combine words, ideas, and concepts that are seemingly different, but doing so in such a way that the contrast falls away and a new meaning is formed by subconscious associations within our brain. This new understanding may not even be explainable within the context of language. The best analogy that comes to mind is foreign language translations. We all know that there are phrases in all languages that do not translate well, but sometimes they can be conveyed when combined with a gesture or by associating several related phrases.
When I am writing a poem, I never know where it will take me or what phrase will bring me enlightenment; it is enough to know that, when I find it, I will know. This is what I hope to achieve through art. I want it to bring me closer to these unexpected realizations that are completely unpredictable. After discussing this concept at length with Brian, we both decided that it might be a good exercise for me to write some poetry about my new paintings as I create them, then perhaps I will find the enlightenment that I am looking for. It will also give me a context for my work and hopefully even more direction. Additionally, if I discover something worth sharing, I could consider including it in the actual piece in such a way that it alters the work in a positive manner, giving the viewer some idea of what I am thinking. We discussed screen-printing a phrase, line, or even several lines of poetry onto some of my future paintings or allowing myself a little more freedom with my imagery — a la my sketchbook. In my sketchbook, I often overlap images and draw seemingly unrelated subjects on the same page. In this way I am able to create new associations as I do within my poetry. Perhaps it is time to carry these experiments over to my larger paintings and see what happens.
Also, expect to see more birds! I am on a bird kick, because I have some great photos to work from (from both the Bahamas and from my visit to the Center for Birds of Prey)!
After reading some of my friends’ sailing blogs this morning, I am starting to get some serious wanderlust again. If only I could transport myself back into this photo! We are planning to sail down to Miami in December, and that is not far away, so I am reminding myself to be patient. I need to focus on setting up my art studio in Charleston and generating some new artwork, which I am equally excited about. Well, and moving back onto the boat! We found a wonderful marina to stay at for the fall complete with a pool and a little cafe. It is located on a river between two islands, with little creeks to kayak, a perfect view of the sunset, and outdoor seating; it really seems too good to be true. So why am I having so much trouble living in the moment right now?
I think it has something to do with the fact that Brian and I have been talking about boats again — alot. We keep going back and forth about Illusion: should we keep fixing her up? should we sell her? are we ready to get a more ideal cruiser/live-aboard? are we crazy?? The answer to that last one is probably YES. However, we can’t seem to keep ourselves from looking, and unfortunately — or fortunately — we’ve found a few boats that we just love. I say unfortunately because, well, they are expensive, and we are planning to move back aboard Illusion in one week. We have way too much to do already. With all that we have going on right now, it certainly seems crazy to even think about upgrading boats, but no one achieves the impossible that doesn’t just go for it, right? Hmm. I’m not sure that I should be applying that to a big financial endeavor.
My brain has been in overdrive lately, trying to make decisions that will help me meet my long-term goals. I know that I am not alone in this struggle and it will sort itself out sooner or later, but it’s still hard to know what the best decision is going to be. Should we continue to aim higher? Or work harder to enjoy all that we are quite lucky to have right now?
These photos were taken on Big Farmer’s Cay and Little Farmer’s Cay in the Exumas last February.
It’s usually not the easiest thing to do, even when it becomes obvious; there are time constraints, the necessary need for money, and societal standards to “live up to,” but when it comes down to it, you just have to take the plunge. It’s amazing how, when you follow your dreams, things seem to magically fall into place as they should. Life becomes more exciting and also more fulfilling. Suddenly you have more to contribute to the world around you; you meet the right people, or stumble upon the right opportunities at the right time. You may be poor (or not if you are lucky!), but for the most part happier and healthier. For the past few months I’ve been doing just that (what I love), but I’ve been working out of a room in our rented house. Although I have been meeting so many new wonderful people in Savannah, I’ve also been somewhat isolated. And not only that, but I’ve only been working on the half of it. I love screen-printing, but I am very much looking forward to partaking in an artistic community and working on my painting again. I feel the need to be in close proximity to other people who are doing what they love, whatever that may be.
So you can imagine how excited I was to finally see the Wooden Sheep Wood Shop in Savannah today. This space is amazing! You may have heard me mention Wooden Sheep on Facebook, because they also have a beautifully curated shop that promotes local artists and sustainable practices (and happen to be carrying my shirts). The “shop”, opened by two SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) grads with degrees in sustainable architecture, is a two-part operation. Eric makes beautifully crafted furniture out of recycled wood in a warehouse and Ben runs and curates the boutique/gallery on Liberty Street, which features Eric’s furniture along with a whole slew of other amazing artist-made objects — anything from jewelry to art to ceramics and of course clothing. Brian says that I am their target market, because if I had the money I would seriously buy one of everything in there. Anyway I mention them here because I find what these guys are doing quite inspirational (and at a time when I could use some extra inspiration!). Not only are they doing what they love, but they are also giving back to their community. They have developed a sustainable business that takes waste and creates beautiful useful items; they are supporting local artists and small businesses; and they are participating in community fundraisers such as a project to build doghouses out of recycled materials for animal shelters and rescued pups. Can we give them a high five?
Brian and I have been wanting to visit their wood shop since we first got to Savannah, but we’ve just been too darn busy! So today, as we are preparing to move to Charleston, we decided it was the perfect time to run by before it was too late. The space is huge and, as one might expect, filled nearly floor-to-ceiling with random scrapes of mismatched wood. However in addition to all that lovely wood, they found space for all sorts of cool tools and toys. For starters I saw a pool table; couch; part of a skate ramp; I got to experiment with a wood burner; and oh yeah, they share the space with a couple of commercial screen-printers. Of course. Eric tells us how there are some film-makers in the next building over, another wood shop, and a space that they are trying to turn into a garden. Plus they are also working on building more artist studios. Serendipitous? I think so.
This weekend I’ll be moving into a new art studio in Charleston — one with many similarities to what I just described above. Tivoli Studios and Gardens is located on Upper King Street and offers affordable studio space to a large number of emerging and working artists. They, too, have converted a large warehouse space into a functioning artist community centered around a communal space and a garden. Did I mention that they built a geodesic dome inside (I kid you not!)? It sounds like artist heaven to me, especially as I am trying to get out of my shell a little bit more these days — being shy doesn’t get you very far in the world of art and craft! So I am very excited about the prospect of surrounding myself with other artists that are working hard at what they love. I have much to learn about “making it” in this trade, but I know beyond a doubt that I am an artist — I have that need to create — and it is so inspirational to see other people who are doing it too. If there are other artists that can succeed in following their dreams, then so too can I.
So without further ado, I present you with some images of the Wooden Sheep Shop, but you should really check it out for yourself.