Monday, September 15, 2014

Tree Girl

I'm going out of order with this Silhouette Girl; I'm skipping two pieces that are finished but I haven't written about. I'm sorry, I know that's absolutely horrible of me (sarcasm inserted). Forgive me?

I think it's interesting to think about where inspiration comes from. Through high school, my inspiration came largely from my friends and family. Last year, I found myself returning over and over again to a spot on my college campus called the circle, a round-ish concrete plaza of sorts between two of the three main buildings on campus.

Since coming back to school a few weeks ago, I've found a new place of inspiration. Yes, I still spend a lot of my time at the circle, and I still draw inspiration (see my pun?) from my family and friends, but lately I've found another source of inspiration. You see, the past three weeks were hot and very humid here in Cincinnati, and then on Friday, Autumn suddenly swept in. For the past three days the area experienced a dramatic drop in temperature, such that it actually feels chilly outside (as in it went from 95 degrees Fahrenheit to 65 degrees Fahrenheit). Because of the weather lately, I've spent a lot of time in the coffee shop on campus.

Like, a lot of time.

You see, I work there (or here, I should say, because guess where I'm sitting as I type this). I've been a barista there since February. No, I'm not even going to try to list all the stereotypes I fit under, being an artsy, poetry-writing Caucasian girl barista who loves cold espresso-y drinks. It's ridiculous. Don't judge me. All joking and stereotypes aside, I love my job a ridiculous amount.

Now, not only do I work in this beloved coffee shop, but for the past few weeks I also have spent all my free time there. I wake up, go to classes, go to the coffee shop and do homework-y or artsy things, clock in and do barista-y things, clock out, sit in the coffee shop and do more homework-y or artsy things, then go to my room and sleep. Rinse, repeat. That is my life.

In these few weeks of coffee shop life, I've reconfirmed that, believe it or not, I'm most productive and focused when I have things going on around me. If I try to do homework in my dorm or the school library, I get bored and fall asleep. But put me in a place with a little bit of noise and activity, and I get all kinds of things done. Don't get me wrong, I still require time alone in order to be a civil human being, and I also don't get anything done if I'm with people and they're trying to talk to me. Essentially, if I want to do something productive (homework, art, blogging, etc.), I do my best when I'm alone but surrounded by life and activity. Does that make sense? I hope so.

Anyway, I've used and been inspired by the social activity around me for art. For example, Friday night I got an idea for an art piece involving a very special tree, so I sat in the coffee shop and asked almost everyone I saw to answer this one question:

If you could plant a tree and have any material object grow as its fruit, what kind of tree would you plant?

I limited things by saying the answer could not be money, because let's be real, everyone would say that and I simply didn't want to draw a money tree.

Some of the answers I received?
  • guitars
  • wifi (material object?)
  • Pokemon
  • legos
  • books
  • yarn
  • blankets
  • football helmets
  • gold 
  • iPhones
  • jewelry
  • chocolate bars
  • puppies
  • perfectly fitting jeans
  • giant platinum swans (???)
  • ferraris
  • bikes
I appreciated all the answers. And the next day, I returned to the coffee shop with my watercolor pencils and created this:

Book and yarn tree silhouette girl
"Tree Girl"

No, books and yarn were not the most popular answers (gold  and legos were), but I liked them. I loved the idea of ready-to-read books coming from a tree, and I loved the idea of balls of yarn, mirroring the many round fruits like apples and oranges. The little dangling tear-drop shapes, however, are up to the viewer. Some people have said they're balloons (popped or not yet inflated, either way), others have said they're lights, or other things. I've also heard many different ideas about what the girl is doing and thinking. Is she crying, praying, inspiring it to grow?

Those questions are what I love most about Silhouette Girl. There are so many different ways to interpret her and the images she's in, and I love hearing the different ideas people come up with when they see one of the silhouette girl pieces.

My college coffee shop always has student art on the walls, and the artwork is changed every month or so. And as of last Monday, my own artwork has been featured. I chose to put the Silhouette Girl series on display, including a couple of new pieces, like Tree Girl, and another that has not been shared here before, (but will be soon!). Since hanging them Monday night, I have received a nearly constant stream of compliments, and it's been awesome. My ego is loving this (my quiet, behind-the-scenes personality is hating this). I've also received a nearly constant stream of questions, and I'm loving it. My answers are usually something to the effect of "I don't know, what do you think?" or "I didn't intend that when I first drew it, but possibly!" or "It's up to you, you decide."

You see, Silhouette Girl, beyond being a series exploring the dynamics of power, destruction, peace, and innocence, is also a series exploring the individual ideas and interpretations people come up with. More than anything else, I've realized this week that art is not really about the artist. If I want my artwork to be interpreted in one specific way, I'd better be ready to spell it out in words. Without a written explanation of every element of the piece, viewers will always come up with any number of interpretations. Art, my friends, is about giving the viewer something to visually explore and think about. The viewer is going to approach it with his or her own set of beliefs, cultural background, personality, education, and imagination, so why try to box the viewer in? Why not give the viewer something to think and wonder about? No, I'm not saying art is all only about the viewer and nothing else, but it's not all about me and my own stories and ideas, either. Art is not just a visual story, but also a visual conversation. 

What does this realization have to do with inspiration? After having my artwork on display for a wee, and with several more weeks to come before it's taken down for the next art show, I'm feeling very inspired by the many conversations I've been able to have with people as I sit in my coffee shop (or on the patio just outside). The questions and various interpretations I've heard have given me so many new ideas and thoughts about Silhouette Girl, my other artwork, and art in general.

In my head I'm playing with three more ideas for Silhouette Girl, all of which have come to me just in this week. I'm also playing around with a number of different ideas about my future and my own life, which is both scary and exciting, but I'll save all that for another time.

Today it warmed up to a perfect 75 degrees outside, and I spent several hours on the patio outside the coffee shop, doing homework and hanging out with friends. However, my mind keeps returning to the art inside, and the silhouette girl. Though I don't know much about her, I know she'd love today's warm sunshine and cool breezes, and I so badly want to draw her enjoying a day like today! Patience, Cailey, patience. Finish your blogging and your homework, and then you can draw.

What do you think? Is art about the artist, the viewer, or both? What are your thoughts on Tree Girl, and the Silhouette Girl series as a whole? What kind of tree would you plant? What inspires you to do more of what you love?


  1. I wish tree girl could come stay with me as a print. These pieces inspire me to be courageous, inquisitive, quiet & reflective. I admire the girl series. <3

  2. I wish tree girl could come stay with me as a print. These pieces inspire me to be courageous, inquisitive, quiet & reflective. I admire the girl series. <3