Signal Fire residency and 'Ground shots'

Pentax film photo from Signal Fire WOS, Bitterroots, MT.

Pentax film photo from Signal Fire WOS, Bitterroots, MT.

Olivia at Tamarack Lake, Bitterroots, Montana. Signal Fire 'Wide Open Studios' Summer Immersion trip. Pentax film.

Olivia at Tamarack Lake, Bitterroots, Montana. Signal Fire 'Wide Open Studios' Summer Immersion trip. Pentax film.

This past summer I spent over a month with Signal Fire's Wide Open Studios summer immersion program, a kind of activist / wilderness study / artist residency that ventures out onto wild lands backpacking or establishing a basecamp from which to work from. We traversed the Wallowas, Bitterroots and Pioneer Range spanning across Oregon, Idaho and Montana. Often, we had to change hiking routes and trip plans because of the many fires raging that those ranges. We were challenged with with daily creative projects, deep plays and reading assignments to inform our sense of place and art practice. We were encouraged to think outside of the box (hence the name wide open studios) and do our work, whatever it is in the world, using the materials or inspiration we find on the land. This is something I have been doing on my own for years now anyway. I felt like the container that Signal Fire provided helped to increase my focus and the quality of my process, as well as giving me a peer group for feedback, collaborations, and community.

I have been deepening my writing practice and illustration work. The experience helped to remind me to slow down and notice the essence of the things around me rather than just their scientific names or medicinal uses. If it isn't obvious already, I am kind of obsessed with plants, and ecology, and herbal medicine but this interest is multi-sided and is a small piece of a bigger puzzle that has been a part of my life for awhile now. I pushed myself to leave the camera and the field guide behind--usual go-to tools I turn to-- and watch and listen from an intuitive place over an intellectual one. This practice is an increasingly necessary skill as our society shifts and morphs towards details and digital. I gave myself parameters, like taking only water colors, a notebook and only a film camera once for a week, and see what happens when I don't have much to work with. I feel like since I've never had a studio to work with herbs or to make art, and have been living on the road for awhile, working with limited materials has been an ongoing life practice I have gotten used to. I was still surprised at what I did with the project prompts Kerri and Ryan gave us despite my adaptation to living with less tools. The conversations we had about the role of creatives in changing our cultural relationship to the land really reaffirmed my choices in my early 20's to seek simple farming and practical land based skills as priority, after a college education of theory and heavy thinking. We often dove into the heady and thoughtful- and often landed at ideas relating to practical response: bring the wild to the city, grow food, don't ignore the impact we have on the land. 

I did a special writing project that stretched over the whole trip in segments that I won't publish here. By the end of the Wide Open Studios experience, I decided to do something I've always wanted to do and have been collecting words for for awhile now but just haven't made the leap: I'm starting a small publication to feature my writing and art. I ultimately want the publication to feature themes that come together through different threads of relation: talk of herbal medicine, race, gender, the environment, plants, the land, self-sufficiency, trauma, memory, cultural darkness and lightness, the southern experience.


The project is called Ground Shots.

'Ground Shots' began as an idea around a practice I started of drawing the ground to take a 'snapshot' of a place.

'Snapshots' was a group project we did during Wide Open Studios that was our own version of capturing place and time to be gathered collectively at the end in a small book.  Snapshots made me start doing ground shots, and ground shots made me realize my writing, medicine making, prints and creative practice is all ground shots. Trying to capture something; whether it is a memory around a color or feeling, smell or landscape. Or seeing a plant friend thousands of miles away from home. The way the air reminds us of past lived experiences and people who are long gone. Much of my relating is gathered in a fine bundle around my experiences growing up in a small town in the south. The more the days pass, and our political situation worsens, the more that I realize there is no more time (and never was time) for being shy about speaking up about the social & environmental issues we currently face. Through the Wide Open Studios experience, I was reminded that these two things are not separate issues, but are inextricably linked. My Grounds Shots also weaves in the sepia gothic lands of my small town southern upbringing and how it has informed my thinking about people and the land. (See the Oil & Rust project page for work I have done relating to that theme)

Most of the publication will come from me with an occasional feature of another artist, naturalist or writer I meet along the way that adds another thread of relation and depth to the conversations I am having through the pages.

Shots of botanical drawing on the Signal Fire WOS trip, Pentax film.

Shots of botanical drawing on the Signal Fire WOS trip, Pentax film.

Since the trip, I have been working on a mini zine to help fund the bigger publication project. Calling it a 'zine' project might suffice, because a zine is little one section mini-books; which is usually what I'll make, but 'Ground Shots' could end up being more of a 'book' project that is bigger and more in depth if I can gather the resources and time to create. It also may turn into even more: a gathering of objects in relationship to the book that are all put together as a piece, to be released every now and then. Because, if you can't tell, I do a little bit of everything. 

Shots from the making of Ground Shots 1/2, Working in Resins, August 2017.

The mini-zine is done, and it is edition '1/2' with the theme of 'Working in Resins.' I created this with the roughest parameters in mind: copy/paste analog only and in black and white. Also using the local UPS copy/print store as the printing press, which was an interesting experience. I have worked in fancy letterpress print shops, and have dabbled in programs like Indesign and Illustrator for book-making, but this time during a spell of cabin-sitting off the grid for my friend Erin, I kept it simple. I had a typewriter, drawings, prints, old writings, glue and scissors.  

I plan to release mini zines in 1/2's and sell them for cheaper in order to fund making whole number editions in a nicer and bigger format. And eventually include 'objects' to go with them like prints, or medicine or handmade spoons; any number of things are possible. 

Very soon, I will be releasing a Patreon page to give folks an opportunity to gain access to the mini-zine with the addition of added benefits. You will also be able to support me in this ongoing project and the other creative projects I have been pursuing over the years. (Or purchase now, below) It will also give folks an opportunity to see into my inner world through releases of private writings and art not publicly published. Usually this is because I am feeling like the work is not ready for the world or is a bit vulnerable for me to put out there. Through this medium, others can help me keep doing this, if you feel it is valuable. And, it will give me another motivation to push myself to share things.

I am constantly trying to undo my southern polite upbringing of 'don't speak about the hard things' because it is easier to act like things are iced tea and Andy Griffin than to face the realities. In actuality, it is not easier to 'not' talk about it, it is actually harder. To not speak is not self-giving but self-destructive, and destructive to the progress of social justice and environmental ethics on the whole. I am thinking about how to best care for myself as a conduit for change, care for the small scale communities I am intertwined, and care for the bigger communities and the world that I live in. Also, many things are beautiful and wonderful and the stories that a place holds are paradoxically not all bad or all good. To write poems about how beautiful a flower is and leave it at that, is really not doing the flower or the place justice. There's so much more the flower has to say. There's so much more we all have to say that we don't. And, we can. 

In 'Ground Shots,' I weave in more of this hidden voice.

So look out for my Patreon and see how the project begins to unfold and open. Support me or give me feedback if you feel drawn. Check out Signal Fire to learn more about their work.



You can buy 'Ground Shots 1/2' here. Or get a copy when supporting me monthly on my Patreon page, now launched:

Donate to support the project
Pentax triple film exposure from Signal Fire WOS trip, Bitterroots.

Pentax triple film exposure from Signal Fire WOS trip, Bitterroots.

Excerpt from 'ground Shots 1/2, Working in Resins' :

insects burrow well designed mazes into dead wood.

bees chew up and spit out perfect geometry, mapped, ranked, ordered,

all together forming organic shapes collectively

if left on their own accord. (boxes)

Shells in layers of mineral,

spiraling out in a predictable pattern in time and space,

a pattern the trees follow,

roots & tubers burrow,

water carves,

storms spin.

the reaction towards miles of military bunkers, lit, gridded, guarded across an entire valley of no-thing,

a beaver builds his home to precision.