The Sonoma Coast



{Looking out the window of our rental onto Bodega Bay}

Part of the beauty of living in the Bay Area of California is that within a few hours in most any direction is a some unique location filled with natural wonders and pristine landscape. Last weekend, Clay and I ventured to the Sonoma Coast for the weekend. We stayed in Bodega Bay (right near the town of Bodega, where Hitchcock’s The Birds takes place & was filmed), and visited the Bodega Head, Freestone (home of the famous and crazy delicious bakery Wild Flour) and Occidental.


{Bodega Head, along the Sonoma Coast Beach, one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline I have ever visited.}


{Fantastic old signage in the town of Bodega}


{We are huge Hitchcock fans so it’s always a treat to visit St. Teresa’s Church in Bodega to see this site from The Birds, along with the schoolhouse, which sits behind it, below)


{The old schoolhouse site from Hitchcock’s The Birds}


{Inside the Bodega General Store, Hitchcock memorabilia all over the walls}


{More from Bodega Head. California’s rocky coastline never fails to take my breath away. What other beach in California has all five star reviews on Yelp?}


{Clay grabbing her own captures of the breathtaking views}


{Pastoral scene in Freestone.}


{I’ve always loved the pink and white stripes of Patrick’s!}


{Dusk on the beach off Highway 1 north of Bodega Bay. The weather last weekend was spectacular.}

We’re launching into another weekend here, and I hope you all have a wonderful one. I’ll be back Monday with the next Recontructionist.


My Nordic Adventure: Icelandic Wishes




Today I’m back with another installation in My Nordic Adventure — a series of drawings and illustrated photographs from a trip I took to Iceland, Sweden, Finland and Denmark in September of 2012.

The day I took this photograph is a day I will never forget. It was the day I really fell in love with Iceland. You can read more about that magical day on Iceland’s The Snaefellsnes Peninsula here.

Also, thank you for all your kind emails, FB & Twitter comments about yesterday’s post. You are kind people and I am very grateful for all your well wishes and support!

Happy Thursday.


Why DOMA Matters




I may be preaching to the choir here. But in case I’m not, in case I have any readers out there who are opposed to allowing gay people to marry, or even on the fence about it, I hope you’ll listen.

You all know I’m gay. If you don’t, you haven’t been reading very carefully here. Anyhow, you also know I’m a regular person with regular hopes and fears and dreams for my future. I write about those hopes and dreams and fears a lot on this blog. Some other things about me you may or may not know: I am 45 years old. I get up every day at 6:30 am and I work until 6:00. Some days I go back to work after dinner. I take a break on most days to swim laps at lunch. My partner’s name is Clay. We’ve been together for almost five years. She gets up at 6 am and works till 5. Sometimes she works after dinner too. I come from a family of five. My parents have been married for almost 50 years. I have an older brother and a younger sister. I am an aunt to three beautiful kids. We all love each other a lot. Before I became a full time artist, I worked in education. I taught elementary school for seven years and then worked for two different non profit organizations that served high poverty public schools. I have a dog and two cats. I love animals. I live in a small house with a big backyard. I shouldn’t eat gluten because it makes me feel terrible, but I love bread so I eat it anyway. Clay and I drive a 2006 Scion. I don’t keep up with the latest music. I spend too much time on Facebook. I want to travel the world. Every Sunday Clay and I plan our meals, make a list and go to the grocery store. That is generally my favorite activity of the week.

Being gay is all I’ve known since as long as I can remember, even when I dated guys in high school and college. Being gay is as regular to me as being straight is to other people. It’s not something I chose, but it’s also not something I would change. I wouldn’t change it because I cannot imagine anything else, or loving another gender. It’s not how I’m wired. I have memories of knowing I was gay as early as 13. I came out when I was 23. That 10 year period was tough. But now, most days, I don’t think about being gay. I just am.

In February of 2012, my partner Clay proposed to me. She took me away for the weekend to the wine country and asked me to marry her. She gave me a ring. It was amazing and romantic. I wrote about it here. We will be married June 1.

Sharing my regular life with Clay is the single greatest joy of my life. I want to be with her forever. I use the word “regular” here because I think it’s important. Gay people are just regular people. I know, news flash!!! Some gay people are exceptional or eccentric or weird, just like some straight people are. But mostly we are just regular. We are also, like the rest of humanity, mostly kind-hearted and well-intentioned. We work, take care of our families, and contribute to our communities. We have the same hopes and dreams and food allergies as everyone else.

DOMA matters because it discriminates against regular people. People like you. People like me. Not criminals, just regular people. The religious right will try to tell you we are not regular people. But we are. It’s a fact. If you knew more than 1 or 2 of us, you would know that already.

I am crossing my fingers tightly that the Supreme Court does the right thing. Not just for me, but for couples who have been waiting for 20 years to legally marry, for future gay children, for kids of gay couples, for kids in general, for all hopers and dreamers, for humanity.

On that note, I must go get my laundry out of the dryer.



Tender Buttons Release & Originals for Sale!



You may remember this post in which I introduced Tender Buttons: Objects, the book of poetry by Gertrude Stein that I illustrated last year. That book is released today and available for sale on Amazon, Chronicle’s website and other bookstores around the country! The book has over 40 illustrations of Stein’s fascinating wordplay. Here are some of my favorite spreads:





In celebration of the release of the book, I am offering nine of the original artworks from the book for sale. You view and can purchase them here. If you have a specific drawing from Tender Buttons you are interested in purchasing but don’t see it listed in my shop, feel free to email me (see contact link in my header above).

Last but not least, if you are intrigued by the book you might like this review and even more images from the book, posted by Maria at Brain Pickings! Thank you, Maria! And thank you to my publisher Chronicle Books (and specifically my designer Kristen Hewitt and my editor Bridget Watson Payne) for this once in a lifetime opportunity.

Happy Tuesday.



Tender Buttons Review


Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 7.30.53 AM


While most writers and illustrators dream of having their work reviewed in a well known public forum (magazine or blog), it’s also potentially an embarrassing nightmare if it all doesn’t go well. So that’s what makes it particularly exciting when a review comes out that is thoughtful and positive at the same time.

One such review came out recently in Print Magazine’s blog Imprint. The review, written by Buzz Poole and entitled “Long Live Illustrated Books” reviews Charles Dickens’ Pictures from Italy published by Tara Books and also Tender Buttons, which I illustrated. Poole argues, in response to the New Yorker article “Bring Back the Illustrated Book,” that illustrated books were never dead are currently a vital part of the publishing industry.

He goes on to laud a number of illustrated books, and more deeply reviews Tender Buttons and the significance of my illustrations in a book. Tender Buttons is a very bizarre piece of writing that can be difficult to read, much less even begin to comprehend (not that Gertrude Stein intended for us to understand it.) Poole argues that my illustrations serve “as a welcoming counterbalance to the warped geometry of Stein’s prose.”


{Two different Tender Buttons cover designs with my illustrations.}

He goes on to say, “It is hard to imagine ever growing tired of this book. The more time you spend with both Stein’s text and Congdon’s illustrations the deeper you want to dig, the more you want to think about the relationship between the words and imagery, or lack thereof. The experience of reading this book enriches your perspective as turns of phrase and glimpses of a fire releasing lettered smoke haunt your memory and project themselves on the everyday objects that surround us.”

Tender Buttons is released Tuesday. I will be offering some of the original artwork from the book for sale next week as part of the release, so stay tuned! You can learn more about Tender Buttons and see more of my illustrations in this post I wrote introducing the book back in January.

Happy Friday, friends. Have a great weekend.


Anne Siems



I go through periodic obsessions with the work of other artists. My current obsession is with the work of Anne Siems. Siems is originally from Berlin, and moved to Seattle in 1991. She has been making fantastic ethereal paintings and drawings on a variety of surfaces ever since. Her portfolio is vast, and I recommend looking at it from the beginning so you can witness the evolution of her work over the last decade.


Siems paints her portraits with rich and bold colors and often overlays many of them with ghostly, delicate, white details, giving many of her painting a distinct other-worldly feel. The delicate line work and fantastical imagery also makes her work brilliantly narrative and visually modern. I would love to be a fly on the wall in her studio as she works!



Siems writes about her work: “At present, I continue with my interest in the human figure and the attributes that surround it. These attributes reflect something about the being without giving a specific narrative. Ideas about life and death, sensuality, sexuality, nature, experiences in the realm of dreams, psyche and spirit are my ongoing topic. A lot of inspiration for these pieces stem from my ongoing love for the art of the European Masters, Early American Folk Art, as well as vintage and modern photography.”



I am chomping at the bit to see Siems work in person now and am follow her exhibition schedule eagerly to find out if there might be an opportunity.

Happy Thursday.

CATEGORIES: Inspiration

French Twist




Remember back in September when I said that travel is now a priority in my life? That there is no way I can not travel, like there is no way I could not make art? Well, the next adventure is just around the corner. On June 30, Clay and I leave for a two week trip to Paris. I have visited Paris three times, but the last time was in 1998. Even more special? Clay has never been to Paris! I love the idea of seeing this magical place through her eyes. This will be our first trip out of the country together. So we are, needless to say, feeling incredibly giddy.

What makes this trip different than my last adventure is that we will stay in one city for two weeks to relax and explore at a more leisurely pace (not that Paris isn’t huge with 10,000 things to see). Also, it will be our honeymoon (we are getting married June 1). We are staying in the apartment of an acquaintance of Clay’s who happens to be a famous American writer (très romantique!) right in the 6th arrondissement near the Luxembourg Gardens. The generosity of this gentleman is allowing us to stay for longer than we might be able to otherwise, and we are feeling very spoiled.

I am pretty familiar with all of the museums and better known historic and cultural sites. But what I am looking for in particular are recommendations for vegetarian restaurants (or those that cater to vegetarians), cool art galleries, and special boutiques (mostly unique, well-curated gift or housewares shops, vintage shops, special not-too-expensive but awesome clothing shops). If you have any ideas for places in these categories that we should check out and have been there recently (and feel inspired to write me an email), I’d love to hear from you (contact link above).

I am already beginning also to think about where I’d like to travel in 2014. I mustn’t get ahead of myself, but Morocco, Istanbul and Portugal are all on my mind. That’s another blog post, however.

Happy Wednesday.



My Nordic Adventure: Swedish Mittens




Those of you who follow along here know that last week I started a new project here on this blog called My Nordic Adventure. This week’s entry: Swedish mittens! I hope you like them.

BTW, I was pretty excited when my favorite travel magazine AFAR posted about My Nordic Adventure in their Reading List: 8 of Our Favorite Stories This Week. Thank you, AFAR!!



Sign Painters Documentary




Some of you may remember filmmaker Faythe Levine for her 2009 documentary, Handmade Nation (also a book, published by Princeton Architectural Press). Since 2010, Levine and her filmmaking partner Sam Macon have been researching, following, interviewing and filming sign painters for their latest film: Sign Painters. Faythe Levine (incidentally a close friend of mine!) is profoundly interested in the significance and endurance of craft in our culture. This film takes a deep look at one craft — its history, its people, its techniques & its future.

The film is nothing if it’s not timely. The world of hand sign painting began to wilt with the invention of vinyl letters in 1982. And now, with the birth of new technologies, the art is under an even greater chance of extinction with even more cheaper, quicker alternatives to hand painted techniques. And, yet, to many of us, there is nothing as beautiful as a bold and colorful hand painted sign, large or small.


{Levine and Macon}

It may be this attraction to the aesthetic that drew Levine and Macon to the subject matter in the first place, and sign painting’s uncertain future (along with its cast of characters) makes for what looks like a brilliant, compelling film. Here’s the trailer:

The film is now also a book (also published by Princeton). In addition, Levine and Macon are currently booking screenings (US and abroad) for 2013. You can find out when the film is coming to your town (or a town near you) by checking the event page on their website (they’ll be adding dates and locations as they book them), or to follow them on Twitter & Facebook. The film will be released in theaters later this month.

Happy Wednesday.


CATEGORIES: Inspiration

Downward Dog




Two weeks ago I started a beginning yoga program. Those of you who know me well might be thinking, “WHHHHHAAATT???” But, yes, it’s true. I did.

So here’s the story: I had to quiet my mind, and there is no way in hell (at least not yet) I’d be able to meditate. So I started with what they say is the preparation for meditation: yoga.

I’ve always been a yoga nay-sayer. Too touchy-feely (I think the current term is “woo woo”). Too slow moving. Not aerobic enough. Confusing. Too many words I don’t understand. Too many sequences I can’t remember.

But then I got desperate. I am working really hard on living in harmony with life’s challenges, and so many people in my life (people I trust) swear by yoga as a calming, centering influence — a way to put the stuff we stress out about in perspective. So when we moved to Oakland a month ago, I started looking to see if there were yoga studios in my neighborhood. And sure enough, there are. And I walked into one three weeks ago and asked if they had a beginners program. The woman at the front desk told me they just started one, and the first class was Tuesday. I took this as a sign.

So the following Tuesday I went. My teacher’s name is Avenelle, and from the minute I met her, I loved her. So that helped. She is a great teacher and explains everything (basic hatha poses and sequences and what they represent). She is so gentle and kind. And she has a great sense of humor. The class is tiny. I’m with other beginners and nay-sayers. And I don’t feel confused or lost.

And, so yah, I actually like it. Not only do I like it, but it seems to be working. I am learning not to hold my breath. And I am feeling more relaxed. I am worrying less about stuff over which I have no control. And I am sleeping better.

I think in a couple weeks I’ll be ready to graduate out of the beginner program to a regular yoga class, which I am a little nervous about (it’s like wanting to stay in kindergarten forever). But I’m also sort of excited. I found something that is helping to make me feel more grounded and less anxious. I have a long way to go (both in yoga and in developing a stronger sense of equanimity in my life in general), but I am glad to have taken this leap. It’s reminding me that I am often so judgmental about things I really know nothing about. And that keeping an open mind can change everything.

Happy Wednesday.



Introducing: My Nordic Adventure Series!



Friends, I’m very excited today to introduce my latest personal project: My Nordic Adventure. Remember last fall when I went to Iceland, Sweden, Denmark and Finland for three weeks? That trip (which you can read about in the Travel & Adventure category of this blog) was a dream come true. Through this ongoing project, I’ll share with you some of what I experienced & saw there. I collected and drew (and am still drawing) images of architecture, textiles, food, packaging, chairs, signage, and on and on. Every 1-2 weeks I’ll post an entry in the series: a collection of things (like the collection of doors, above) or just one image with some hand written reflections or a photograph montages with lettering and line drawings. I might throw in some hand drawn maps and I’ll even post some images of the actual travel journal I kept during the trip.

Today’s entry: doors! I love doors, and some of the doors I saw during this trip were exquisite. In Copenhagen and Stockholm I loved the hand lettering of door numbers. I have so many photographs of doors that I may even have to do a second installment of door paintings for the series.

Unlike previous and current personal projects (Collection a Day, 365 Days of Hand Lettering, The Reconstructionists), this project will not fall on a specific regular schedule or day of the week. However, I’ll be posting generally every 1-2 weeks here on this blog. Stay tuned for my next entry in the series later next week. Thank you for following along, and please share with others you know who love travel (or Nordic countries, in particular).

Happy Tuesday and welcome to My Nordic Adventure!



Sarajo Frieden




Over the past 8 years that I have been working as an artist, I have met and befriended some incredibly inspiring people. Near the top of my “I want to be like ____ when I grow up” list is artist Sarajo Frieden. Sarajo lives and works in Los Angeles, where she draws and paints and illustrates for a living. What first attracted me to Sarajo’s work is its depth: every painting or drawing or collage is layered and detailed exquisitely. Even her monochromatic line drawings are fantastically complex.





The style of our work is very different, but Sarajo and I have a few things in common: our work is generally very narrative (evokes a “story” even when there isn’t one written), we love to work with shape & pattern, and we are both inspired by folk culture and history. For these reasons, I developed a kinship with Sarajo early on, even before I met her in person for the first time.



I first met Sarajo in person in 2008 when she came to San Francisco to have a show in my gallery (I curated a space from 2007-2010). I was already enamored by Sarajo’s work, but I instantly fell in love with Sarajo the person. She is extremely kind and warm and wise, and I am so glad to know her. Like artist Helen Dardik (who I wrote about here), Sarajo and I are represented by the same illustration agency, so I get to see her at least once a year.



Recently Sarajo updated her website, and you can see a full range of all of the beautiful work she has done over the past few years.



Some of her hand lettering work is my favorite.





You can keep up with what Sarajo up to by signing up for her lovely and always engaging email list.

CATEGORIES: Inspiration

Chasing Ice




As many of you know, I am mildly obsessed with glaciers and icebergs. I’ve written about them here and here. I’ve been painting and drawing them for several years. This past year, I even visited the Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon in Iceland, which I wrote about here. So I was really excited when I found out last year that a new film was being made about glaciers featuring pioneering environmental photographer and global warming activist James Balog and his work to capture them on film. That film, Chasing Ice, premiered last year and is on a run around independent theaters right now. I had the privilege of seeing it last night in San Francisco.

Sure, the film is awe-inspiringly beautiful (a combination of the filmmakers’ shots and Balog’s photography grace the screen for 75 minutes). To me, glaciers and icebergs are some of the most stunning sights in the world (hence my obsession with them). But the film is also heart-breaking. With a team of young engineers and assistants, Balog sets out to conduct the The Extreme Ice Survey — deploying time-lapse cameras across the brutal Arctic (from Alaska to Greenland to Iceland) to capture a multi-year record of some of the world’s glaciers. And what makes the film sad are the results: Balog’s stunning time-lapse videos compress years into seconds and what were at one time enormous glaciers (which previously had stood at relatively the same size for thousands of years) recede (break apart and melt) at record speed over the course of a few years. Balog argues that most of this now-quick recession is a result of climate change, which he describes as simply as “changes in the air.”

What makes this film important and inspiring are two things: 1) the power of the individual to shine enormous light on an urgent global issue. Sure, Balog deployed a team and had tremendous support. But without him, this project never would have happened 2) the fact that through Balog’s photography we can see, with our own eyes, undeniable evidence of what is happening in the arctic. It’s no longer just a story we hear. It’s real. What the film doesn’t adequately explore is the impact of these changes in the arctic on the rest of the planet (though their website has some great information). I suppose that is another film.

As I mentioned, Chasing Ice is playing around the world in the next few weeks. You can see the current schedule here.  You can watch the trailer here.



I’m Speaking at Moxie!


Screen Shot 2013-03-05 at 1.57.11 PM


Midwest friends: I’m thrilled to announce that I am speaking this year at Moxie Conference, a one-day conference for creative professionals in Chicago.

Moxie was so popular last year that tickets sold out in 8 hours, so be prepared to snag them when they go sale on Tuesday, March 12th. They’ll announce the ticket release on Moxie’s Twitter (@moxiecon). Have questions in the meantime, email them.

You can learn more about the conference (a bit about it & other speakers) and register here.

Happy Wednesday.



Oh, Change.



{hand lettering on a photo taken Sunday in my new bedroom}

Two weeks ago, I moved to Oakland. I first wrote about my feelings here, and a little bit about the move right after it happened here.

I knew I would love my new house & neighborhood, and I really do. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the deep sense of disconnection I would feel once I got here. Moving into adorable house in cute neighborhood ≠ instant happiness.

In fact, it can be very confusing when on the outside everything looks perfect (new house! new furniture! new studio! beautiful new neighborhood!) and on the inside you are feeling depressed and lost. Maybe some of you have been there.

Friends in whom I confided about my anguish reminded me that moving (even a move in the positive direction toward more desirable circumstances) can feel extremely jarring, and that breaking up a life of routines and familiar sites and sounds can completely throw off one’s equilibrium.

I am happy to report that about two and a half weeks in, however, I seem to be emerging from my dark place. I am starting to build new routines and feel more familiar with my new spaces (home and studio and neighborhood). I am starting to wake up again feeling excited about my day and not feeling a sense of dread.

So needless to say, I’m relieved.

Today I am heading into San Francisco for the day to work. Every time I go there now, I feel something I never knew existed when I lived there. I know that someday I will feel a deep love for Oakland (it’s a pretty cool place), but that it’s just going to take time. Which brings me to the topic of patience. But that’s another blog post.

Have a great day, friends.