The last few weeks, driving through town in the evenings, I noticed that the shops had lights on long past closing time. I knew that this was because the shopkeepers were putting in extra-long days as they tried to capitalize on the holiday rush. For island businesses, a successful holiday season is mandatory in order to survive till the tourists arrive in late spring.
Driving through town and seeing all these shops alight was bittersweet. I am grateful for my fellow islanders who put in the time and energy to add their unique spark to the community (I am one of them!). But I also know how challenging it is to make ends meet. It’s so frustrating to see good people steadfastly working their tails off and yet still struggle to stay afloat. Shouldn't integrity, intention and hard work be enough? Frankly, it can be exhausting.
Mondays are my day off, and I often treat myself to a coffee and pastry from my favorite coffee shop in town. I chat with the barista, who graduated in the same class as my daughter. I check in with the owner, a dear friend deep in the challenge of running a business and raising young kids. We compare notes on the day's balance of hope and overwhelm. If the sun’s out, I’ll sit on the bench outside and see what serendipitous meeting with which acquaintance will unfold.
I’ve before mentioned the rising buoyancy in my chest that accompanies a good thing. I often get that feeling when I’m walking down the sidewalk of my town, wind scattering leaves across the curb, Monday coffee in hand. I just love this little town so much.
The painting I'd like to tell you about is my favorite corner at Orcas Island's Salish Sea Yarn Co., adjacent to Tidepool Coffee, where I’d get my Monday latte. (The coffeeshop, sadly, is no longer in business).
Here’s how this piece came together.
Back in August, my friend David asked if he could commission a painting of the yarn shop, owned and operated by his wife Katie. I'd gotten closer to this lovely family via teaching a few felting workshops there, and loved the opportunity to create something for Katie. When she had an afternoon away, I snuck over and took a bunch of photos.
I knew that I wanted this chair as a focal point, the yarn shelving as an ode to the shop, and also the window looking out to a pastoral view instead of just the parking and street. I took many photos for different elements of the shop to mix and match.
Working on the i-pad, I spent a lot of time drawing all those straight lines of shelving and the window frame. Once it was all drawn out, I realized I should just do away with most of them. Maybe the yarn shop could kind of organically melt into the pasture scene? I wasn't sure if this idea would work, but it seemed more feasible than trying to make all those hard edges happen!
I transferred the drawing to interfacing (using the window-as-lightboard trick) and stitched it to a piece of white flat felt. This keeps the interfacing from shifting around as I use it as a template. Starting with the chair, I sandwiched some wool between the flat felt and interfacing and needled along the drawing. Once I get the initial shape in place I can freehand the rest.
I ended up just needling dots through the interfacing and onto the flat felt for the shelves and window frame. The needle made discernible poke-marks in the felt that I could use as starting and ending points. From there, I just stretched a length of roving across to make the line.
Next step was to grab bits of all the different colors of wool we had and start filling the squares in (shout out to Kari Van Gelder for dyeing all the roving for Bossy's Feltworks and my paintings).
Once I had the shelves, chair and dress form in I didn't need the drawing anymore so I clipped the stitches and removed it. Then I got to focus my attention on filling in the background. The idea of blending the yarn shop into the meadow was going to be all about layering colors.
Wood floor becomes packed earth becomes meadow? Sure!
At this point I decided the shelves against the sky were too harsh and needed something to soften the lines. I added a tote, a box of knitting needles (which look like paintbrushes, but that still works in my world). and a teddy bear.
In this before and after detail you can see also how I fuss highlights and details. Needle-felting is so forgiving, I can try anything and then just pull off the bits I don't like.
Felting the little cloud of steam over the mug made me so happy! Working in the clouds and sheep also made me smile.
Thankfully, my idea of blending the inside of the shop into the pasture worked! Don't tell anyone that the idea was born from the laziness of not wanting to have to recreate a bunch of straight edges!
I think you can tell where my mind was as I was creating this piece. I am still pondering all the ways in which creativity and working with our hands gives us agency over our lives. For me and my vocation of farming, working with wool especially. I am also feeling such immense gratitude for people who create public spaces full of the materials and resources that foster creative action.
In the end, I was happy with this painting that stretched me past my landscape repertoire, Katie was thrilled to receive it, and David said he thought that he maybe "won Christmas".
With gratitude for all the artists who find ways for creativity, hospitality and intention to mingle to foster both community connection and a space to rest.
...and in contrast, here is the mess I made at my kitchen table. I prefer to work in the felting studio, but had to take drastic measures to get this piece done on time!