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It’s funny how totally different projects can converge into a single theme. This summer and fall I’ve found myself to be doing a whole bunch of similar commissions for completely different clients. The theme this time? Book covers.

First up is a how-to travel book by my friend Mary-Alice, author of the wildly popular blog, Dog Jaunt. M-A is the hands-down expert on how to bring your pup along on your adventures, and she’s written what I think is the Bible of pet-travel advice. This was a fun project for me because (for once!) I got to design something clean, spare, and simple—and indulge in some serious punnage. And as an added bonus, M-A let me redesign the look of the Dog Jaunt blog to match—woot! (I mean…woof!)

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Next is Erik Hanberg, who is not only the tech genius behind my new travel blog, but also Tacoma’s own Parks Commissioner and a fabulously talented writer. Erik has just finished his latest novel, The Lead Cloak—one of the best parts of being asked to illustrate the cover was that I got to be one of the very first to read the book. (It’s a page-turner!)

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This design was a departure for me again, because I got to mix a very graphic, slightly abstract sci-fi style with a more painterly background. It ended up being an uneasy combination, which we both loved—because it matches the tension and unease of the book. (If you want more details than that, you’ll have to pick up your copy at the book launch tomorrow!)

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Last, but never least, is the magazine cover I was asked to illustrate for Eastern Washington University. From beginning to end, this project was an absolute joy—because I was able to do exactly what I would do if I were standing at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge with a sketchbook in hand. My art director was inspired by the sketches I was posting on Drawn the Road Again, and asked me to replicate the style for the magazine.

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Now all that’s left for me to do is to visit the place in person—and start filling the ol’ sketchbook.

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They’re here! At long last, the Red Deck of the Tacoma Playing Cards is finished, printed and delivered.

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(You’ll have to excuse my cheesy phone photos—I was just too excited to dig out the fancy camera.)

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It’s so great to see the finished product, and how well everyone’s artwork reproduced at playing-card size. But you can also see the originals—if you’re local, stop by the big launch party this Friday, October 4 in downtown Tacoma. If not, you can find all the originals for sale on the Tacoma Makes website.

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I illustrated the Queens again—and in the process, saw some secret pockets of Tacoma I’d never visited before.

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I also got to revisit some old favorites,

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some beloved institutions,

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and even some hidden corners of old haunts.

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But best of all is the feeling of seeing both decks together. Maybe now I’ll finally learn how to play Bridge…

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This is a busy time of year—as the school year begins again and the pace of life quickens, the easy pace of summer has made way for a season of bustling, planning, and dreaming of times ahead. Yet worldwide, over and over again, the plans and dreams of so many women and girls are cut short by violence. In light of recent high-profile crimes halfway around the world, Jessica and I though it was high time we spoke up. This time we drew inspiration from the Nightingale of India:

What hope shall we gather, what dreams shall we sow?  — Sarojini Naidu

“Nightsong” honors the hopes and dreams of women and girls in every culture—in defiance of the world’s dangers. The illustration depicts a lush dream menagerie printed in bright, exotic hues. Tigers, peacocks, elephants and nightingales stand sentinel around our heroine, surrounded by detailed paisleys and florals drawn in the style of Indian mehndi designs.

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To make this print more dreamlike, we decided to throw a tricky technique called split-fountain printing into the mix—or “rainbow roll,” for short.

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A split fountain is extremely difficult to control (advanced Eagle Scout printing here, folks), but the results are so lovely that it’s absolutely worth the effort. As an added bonus, we were careful to keep our inks translucent—so when we registered the second color, that mixed the colors even further, giving us an entire rainbow spectrum with just two passes on press.

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I should add, though, that while we love printing with a rainbow roll, the process is completely unpredictable, and the finished prints are far from uniform. So rather than an edition of absolutely identical broadsides, we ended up with a beautiful range of yellows, oranges, pinks and even reds, that vary from print to print. So my scans here are representative of the edition in general, but no two prints are exactly alike (so if you order a print, please allow for some slight variations from what you see here).

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To help restore hope to victims and in honor of our dreams for the future, a portion of our proceeds will be donated to Take Back the Night. In order to create safe communities, Take Back the Night seeks to end sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual abuse and all other forms of sexual violence.

Nightsong: No. 18 in the Dead Feminists series
Edition size: 147
Poster size: 10 x 18 inches

Printed on an antique Vandercook Universal One press, on archival, 100% rag (cotton) paper. Each piece is numbered and signed by both artists.

Colophon reads:
Sarojini Chattopadhyay Naidu (1879 - 1949) — also known as “The Nightingale of India” — was born in Hyderabad, the eldest of eight children. She was a gifted student, proficient in five languages, and by age 16 left the country to attend King’s College to pursue her interest in poetry. Inspired by the suffragist movement in England, she joined the struggle for Indian independence, traveling the country to lecture on social welfare, women’s rights and nationalism. Naidu played a leading role during the Civil Disobedience Movement and was jailed along with Gandhi. Naidu wrote beautiful lyrical poetry, focused on Indian themes, to inspire the nation. She was the first woman to serve as president of the Indian National Congress, and the first woman to become the Governor of the state of Uttar Pradesh. Though Naidu humbly claimed, “I am only a woman, only a poet,” her birthday is celebrated as Women’s Day throughout India.

Illustrated by Chandler O’Leary and printed by Jessica Spring, calling for an end to violence against women all over the world.

Available now in the Dead Feminists shop!

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I moved to Washington five years ago today. In that time, I’ve enjoyed a whole lot of apples,

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beheld countless spectacular views,

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stared out to sea a zillion times,

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stood beside many lit (and unlit) beacons,

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memorized every crag of my favorite mountain,

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lost count of all the city sunsets (even in the rainy Northwest!),

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and numbered my lucky stars over and over again that I get to call this place home.

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If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you already know that I keep a sketchbook with me wherever I go. And I go a lot of places. Over the years, this has translated to literally hundreds of drawings. Basically, I had a whole, huge body of work that nobody had ever seen, because somehow it never quite fit within the little world I had created online.

Until now.

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I’m pleased to present Drawn the Road Again, a new kind of travel blog. You won’t find a single photograph on the site. Everything I post there is entirely illustrated—from scenic panoramas to urban gems to roadside attractions.

The blog isn’t in real time—nor does it follow any one trip from beginning to end. It jumps around from place to place, at different times, depending on the season, or the occasional running theme, or whatever happens to be on my mind. The result is a broad sampling of topics and places—I hope you’ll find it as much fun as I do.

Soon there will even be a little shop on the site, offering brand-new illustrations based on my travels. I’m still working out a few technical hiccups on the site, so look for the shop to go live in early August. I’ll make a quick announcement when it’s up and running.

This project has truly been a labor of love, and would not exist without the help of some very good friends. And I’m grateful to everyone who ever thumbed through one of my sketchbooks and said, “You should really put this online!” I finally listened.

So without further ado, let’s hit the road!

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Okay, folks, the countdown is ticking away. The Big Secret Project that I’ve been working on for months is almost ready to share, and it’s going live on Monday morning! (Can you guess what it is?) So check back here for all the details—thanks for sticking with me while I’ve been so secretive.

See you soon…

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More than a thousand towns and cities in the U.S. are lucky enough to have had a Carnegie Library under their belt, and Tacoma is no exception. Today, our Carnegie Library is a wing of the expanded main campus of the Tacoma Public Library—and the rotunda now houses the fabulous Northwest Room, the ultimate resource for Tacoma and Northwest history. It’s a gorgeous space, and beloved in these here parts. So I figured it would be a perfect addition to the Red Deck of the Tacoma Playing Cards.

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I didn’t think they’d take kindly to me breaking out the watercolors in a room full of rare books, but I was at least able to do the line drawing on-site. (’Scuse the wobbly iPhone photo.) And that’s always a tricky prospect for me—I always do as much drawing from life possible, but I’d much rather disappear into the woodwork while doing so. My drawings are always better when I can concentrate uninterrupted. The trouble is, the only place I can consistently sketch in public without anyone noticing me is New York. Here in Tacoma—where I run into someone I know at least once a day—it’s a different story.

In the Northwest Room there was a table right in front of me, which would have made me far less conspicuous while sketching. But in order to get the point of view I wanted, I had to stand dead-center in an aisle, right in the middle of the room. Yet not once in the hour-plus I stood there, sticking out like a sore thumb and obviously not doing what people normally do in there, did anyone bother me—or ask me what the heck I was doing, or make eye contact, or even register my existence.

I think I just found my new favorite sketching spot.

Reminder: the shop is getting rearranged on Monday, so this weekend is your last chance to snag letterpress prints at lower prices, and the last few bird prints before they’re discontinued!

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I’m working on something huge (and secret!) that I’ll be launching very soon. In the meantime, I’m going through the studio and doing some housekeeping (both literally and online). As happens with any big shift, it’s time to take a good hard look at anything that doesn’t quite fit the puzzle going forward.

So at noon PST on July 1, I’m going to be making some changes to the shop in preparation for the big thing to come. And while they’ve had a good run, I’ll be removing a few things permanently—including the last remaining hand-painted linocuts from the Flock series. (Don’t worry, the bird cards will still be around.)

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Most of the rest of my hand-printed artwork (like the Mt. Rainier and Horse prints) will still be available, but the prices will go up on July 1—some by quite a bit. So if there’s anything you’ve had your eye on for awhile, now might just be the time for you to snag it.

Take your pick over at the shop!

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I’m usually terrible about attending organized sketch crawls, but today I made an extra effort and joined the Urban Sketchers group up north in Edmonds, WA. My friend Gabi Campanario (who founded the group) was there, and while most of the rest of the group camped out to sketch around the downtown core, we set out for the shoreline. There, Gabi let me in on the best sketching secret ever: that the best place to be was under the ferry landing.

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You can only walk under there (without waders) when the tide is lower than normal; today we had a boatload of sheer dumb luck, as it happened to be an exceptionally extreme spring tide. Today was not only a full moon, but a so-called “supermoon,” where the moon is the closest to Earth that it will be for the next year. We arrived on the scene about an hour before low tide, and found the place absolutely teeming with marine life.

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I’ve seen tide pools before, but nothing like this. There were literally hundreds of sea stars, crabs, anemones and clams in lurid colors. And I got to make a few discoveries—like just how bizarre an anemone looks when it’s completely exposed and left hanging from a rock like a gob of soupy ABC gum. Or that if you stand in place long enough, sooner or later a clam will squirt a jet of water at you from two feet away, and hit you with uncanny accuracy.

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The place was also teeming with beachcombers, who provided a good exercise in speed-sketching an ever-changing crowd (as if the seriously challenging perspective of all those pilings weren’t enough…). Gabi, on the other hand, was super easy to draw: he plonked himself down on a rock to paint, and became almost as motionless as the sea stars clinging to his perch.

So thanks, Gabi, for a great sketch outing today. And a big shout-out to the moon, for providing the perfect opportunity!

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Okay. Now that Old Town Dock is officially open, I feel like I can finally give away some juicy details. Here are all 24 medallions (portholes?) in my new public art piece, Droplets. Since not everyone reading this post is local to Tacoma, I won’t go into great detail over every image. But to give you some context, Old Town Dock boasts one of the best vantage points in the South Sound, with beautiful views of land, city and sea in every direction. That’s what first drew me to the site: I wanted the chance to encourage people to look all around them, because there was something to see everywhere you look.

But when I started researching the history of the place, I was even more struck by how much had happened in Old Town over the years—and how much was still going on, every day. Because of its prominence in so many lives and livelihoods, Old Town Dock has stood witness to a staggering number of true stories since it was built in 1873. Family histories, booming industries, important events, Native traditions, beginnings, endings, drastic changes, slow growth, celebrations, tragedies, and a thousand everyday narratives—the stories we tell are as commonplace as raindrops, yet as precious as the water that defines and sustains Tacoma as a city.

Droplets references just a handful of these stories, yet hopefully hints at the diversity and richness inherent in our public spaces.

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Going from a painted picture to a tangible, finished object was nearly a two-year process, and I was only one small piece of the puzzle.

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And the 24 medallions barely hint at the number of drawings I did along the way. Back when I was a finalist for the commission, I needed to demonstrate my understanding of the space, and convey how I wanted the artwork to function to the selection committee. In this area, pictures really were worth a thousand words apiece; time after time, sketching out what I meant was infinitely more effective than trying to explain it in words.

As I was working on my presentation, all this drawing and imagining every angle gave me a little epiphany. I realized that while the view from the site was spectacular, the Dock itself was part of the view, too, depending on where you stood. Since Old Town Dock is a gateway between land and sea, I wanted to engage the folks who’d be arriving from the water, as well. So I presented this drawing—and while some other things have changed along the way, the reality of this particular piece is almost exactly as it appears in this sketch.

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Anyway, back to the nuts and bolts. As you’re well aware, I’m an illustrator—I work in paint and pixels, not industrial components. I didn’t have the skills or tools to make outdoor pieces out of durable materials (in public art, durable materials include metal, glass, tile, stone, brick, and other permanent industrial media; a mural, for instance, is not considered “durable”). So I turned my designs over to the good folks at Winsor Fireform, just down the road in Olympia, and they fabricated each Droplet as a small porcelain enamel disc.

Porcelain enamel is the most durable sign medium available. Each piece is made by reproducing the image in pigmented powdered glass onto a steel base. Then the piece is fired at kiln temperatures to fuse the glass to the steel, creating a permanent, totally nonreactive surface.

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Porcelain enamel won’t fade in UV light, won’t react to water or salt, and is resistant to dirt and graffiti. That makes it ideal for public art, and the perfect medium for the harsh marine conditions at Old Town Dock.

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Now all that was left was to install the rounds. I came armed with my scale drawing—and lots and lots of warm clothing for a long shift in the early morning rain.

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Basically, I stood and pointed, and Pat routered out 24 perfectly positioned circles.

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Then he inlaid each disc, affixing them to the wood with some seriously heavy-duty marine sealant, and Bob’s your uncle. Actually, it wasn’t always that easy; some of the rounds required some acrobatic feats to install. Just passing him tape measures and things gave me vertigo sometimes—but at least he didn’t have to drill while standing in a choppy rowboat (which was plan B, if hanging off the edge didn’t work).

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Twenty-four hours later, the adhesive was fully cured, and I could call it done.

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The day we installed, nothing on the Dock was completely finished—benches and planters were still piled up at random, and I wasn’t entirely certain that the final placement would match my scale drawing.

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But now it sort of feels like the artwork has always been there—

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and maybe you just never noticed it before.

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I love being there to witness whenever a Droplet catches someone’s eye, and they stop whatever they’re doing to look more closely.

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And just maybe that moment of noticing will lead to the words, “Let me tell you a story…”