the discipline of artistry

i miss them


Two of my dear friends are traveling across the country and will likely be gone for another four or five months. I miss them.

I miss the rhythms of artist dates, wandering conversations, and comfortable silence.

They will return, but in the meantime,

I miss them.

excerpts from a southwest travel journal

This past August I found myself driving from Santa Fe New Mexico to Seattle Washington via the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana. One of my dear friends is a props artisan, upholsterer, and fine artist who works at operas around the country (if you need any upholstery, murals, or staging done, give her a call. She’s one of the best). After her third year at the world famous Santa Fe Opera, I flew out and we drove home together.

As there wasn’t much room in my pack after getting the tent, sleeping bag, and camp kitchen into it (we camped the whole way ), I decided to leave my camera at home and paint my way home instead. A revelatory experience. I highly recommend it. Here are excerpts from that journal.

guerrilla art (playground edition)

In late August, I sat down at the kitchen table and sketched out a mural. My goal was to transform my school’s preschool playground.

Three weeks later, myself and three other artists got to watch it appear layer after layer, becoming something even more beautiful than I could have hoped.

The space has always been a pass-through space as well as our playground. It has always been a drab, mossy, concrete block with peeling district-tan paint.

Now? Now it is filled with little moments of whimsy, local flora and fauna, and bits and pieces from the kindergarten social studies and science curriculum.

As the students enter, they can run their hands along the peaks and valleys of the cascade mountains as seen from Sunset on Mount Rainier. Each of the major peaks is labeled and I am so excited to become more familiar with their names.

The mountains wrap around the corner and lead into the little town filled with my own nostalgia for the past and nods to a bright future. Perhaps some of my students will never visit a post office, but I dream of them being able to buy the abundant local produce from their co-op and charge their cars with locally gathered electricity. And who knows. Maybe snail mail will make a come back.

Curving around the corner, they discover an underground maze of creatures and vegetable roots. The mole has become a favorite among the classes that pass in and out of this space on their way to recess, and they love finding the ant hill with its little procession.

One of my favorite details is that when you crouch down to about three feet tall (just about the size of a preschooler), you can line the vegetables up with their foliage on the back wall. Of course, they’re also carefully labeled with plant markers as well for the students who only walk up and down the stairs and can’t see the familiar vegetables.

Our tree, the only piece left to be finished off with hand-print foliage from school community members, pulls the garden and stream together and, on close inspection, is home to several little creatures.

The stream has been another favorite among the students who learn all about the salmon’s life cycle in their science classes.

Wrapping back around to under the cascades is a magical forest wonderland. I knew exactly what I wanted there the moment I saw it, and was so excited to set Hilary loose on it. She specializes in snails and mushrooms and other commonly maligned (and highly misunderstood) creatures and I knew she would craft exactly what I wanted. Even with the high expectations I had for this corner, she blew me away. That burrowing snail is everything.

Thus far this corner has been my students' favorite. “A happy green frog!” and “a snaaaaail!” are common refrains. One of my students hangs out here regularly to chat with the frog.

Next, a nurse log (a pacific northwest necessity) delineates forest from herb garden. On our last full day of painting, I chalked a couple lines that did not look like a log onto the wall and told Benjamin “I want a nurse log here. With saplings. And moss” and then went back to finish the mountains. Perhaps fifteen minutes later, I went to mix more paint and discovered this finished piece. I still can’t get over that.

The herb garden is laid out in color order which has proved very helpful as we teach our littles about the rainbow. Be sure to not miss Benjamin’s swallowtail caterpillar on the dill plant, its favorite food. And, of course, without bees there would be no herbs or flowers so I made sure to include a hive for them.


While I get to enjoy the playground space every day and soak up the excitement of the kids and adults who get to use it, there is something I’m taking away from this project that I value even more: I don’t want to be the most talented person in the room.

While I am rarely actually the most talented person in the room, I tend to pretend to others that I am. Now, having seen this project grow and bloom under the care of my friends and fellow artists into something I could never have done on my own, I can’t help but dwell on all I would have missed if I hadn’t asked them to join me and been willing to let go of the details. I had to struggle against my brain’s echo telling me that I had to get all the credit, that I had to be the one to add the most beauty, otherwise my contributions would mean nothing. A blatant lie of course, but a legitimate hurdle to get over.

But imagine. If I had stuck to that lie, I wouldn’t have let my Mom paint the mountains and we would have had to leave them out entirely. Benjamin’s creatures would never have come to life. Hilary’s forest wonderland wouldn’t be magical.

So here I stand, declaring that I am determined to find rooms where I am not the the one who knows the most, can make the most, or understands the most. I want to soak up the excitement and beauty of working with other people, even when it means I have to struggle with my own self worth. Because in the end it’s not what I can accomplish that matters anyway…it’s who I can support and grow with that will last.


Many many thanks to my fellow artists…
Melanie Ross
Hilary Bilbury (Website)
Benjamin Blackketter (Website)

before photos: Melanie Ross
after photos: Benjamin Blackketter

thirty before thirty

Upon the writing of this list, I was six months and a quarter of a century old. With so much life happening all at once and rushing by, I took a moment to pause and challenge myself to continued growth and write a thirty before thirty list…thirty things to complete before my thirtieth birthday.

thirty before thirty | seekthewelfare

Some of these goals will take a great deal of time and effort such as saving for and buying a house. Some of them are more or less out of my control such as being taken on a date (no judgement please). Some of them I've been putting off for years like reading all of the books I own. Some of them totally freak me out (any kind of performance in front of anyone ever). But each one is possible and that is extremely exciting.

thirty before thirty

begun: june 2017
last updated: october 2018
goal date: december 2021



live in a house -- preferably my own

create a vegetable and flower garden -- i've got all of my tools, now i just need the dirt.

care for a flock of chickens

procure beautiful dinner dishes and napkins. In March 2018 I took my first ceramics class and am now using the plates I threw.



start my own business. in 2016 I opened The Sick Box, a little shop filled with handmade and carefully curated goods to nurture and encourage self-care.

earn a teaching certificate

lead-teach for at least one full year

get paid to organize someone's home. the summer of 2017 saw me designing and creating a room for a dear friend. picking the design, cleaning and organizing, and creating a quiet crafting haven for knitting, weaving, tea, and conversations. 2018 saw me working with a client working towards a clean slate after years of grief.

✓ work with a photography client.



travel solo outside of the United States -- the more I think about this one the less I like the idea...but challenge is important so the goal stays.

wild camp — july 2018 included a dispersed camping experience by the Grand Canyon…so i’m getting closer.

drive from one coast of the United States to the other

live in a  foreign country for a month or more. lived in Paris for a month in 2017 with a week in London thrown in the middle for good measure.

skinny dip

take a multi-day cross-country train trip. in june 2017 i took my grandmother on an amtrak train from Seattle, WA to Saint Paul, MN for her birthday. it was magical.

bike from one major city to another -- anyone want to go from Seattle to Portland with me?

return to Scotland -- Tentatively scheduled for 2019 or 2020.

swim in warm ocean water -- Hawaii perhaps? Or Florida? Spain could work too...

go on an overnight boat voyage. june 2017 saw me boating the puget sound from case inlet to everett. summer 2018 included explorations of the boundary islands north of the San Juans.



go 30 days with a quart trash jar without filling it up -- because I haven't yet gotten this strict with myself though I have significantly reduced my trash

have my portrait taken or painted.

read every book I own -- still making progress on this one. I would be closer if I didn’t keep on finding amazing books to add to my collection. a pretty good problem to have, I say.



✓ throw pottery. i'm now using the plates and dishes I made every day (!) and will make more as soon as I have the time to return to the studio.

✓confidently play and sing at least three tunes on the ukulele with someone to witness them. fall 2018 launched me into a new position as a preschool teacher where I now play and sing to my students daily.

accomplish a difficult yoga pose -- preferably with a balancing element

✓ try oil painting. in summer 2017 I took a five week course for beginning oil painters. i dearly loved it but haven’t been able to continue because of space constraints. In 350 square feet, I would have to choose between painting and my roommate. I choose my roommate.

BONUS: display my art in a cafe. in may 2018 I hung eleven watercolors up on the walls of nuflours bakery on capitol hill and left them there, each labeled and priced and frighteningly public. (july 2018: a few of them have sold!)



write the life story of at least one relative

✓ be taken out on an official date. 2018.

buy work from a local artist — i’m keeping my eye on Seattle Art Source.

fix someone else's flat tire

✓ BONUS: design and paint a large mural. in september 2018 I put the last strokes of paint on a five-part mural I designed and then got to paint with three other amazing artists. it transformed my school’s preschool playground from a mossy, drab, and depressing concrete backlot into an educational and engaging playscape.

Do you have a goal list going? What's your favorite one? Comment below or share with us on the facebook page.