French Twist

03/20/13

paris_lisacongdon

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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.

 

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Chasing Ice

03/07/13

chasing-ice-poster-1

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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.

 

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Family Time

12/26/12

Portland, Oregon, has been my home away from home for the last 13 years. Around 1999, my younger sister moved here with her husband, and shortly thereafter my parents followed, so I’ve been coming here several times a year since then. Over the last two days, Clay and I drove up to spend the next week with my family, and I could not be happier to be here in this beautiful city with all the people I love so much.

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Meanwhile, I’m finishing up my 365 Days of Hand Lettering project on December 31! And I’m launching a new project (with another blogger) for 2013 on January 3 that I cannot wait to share with you! Stay tuned!

 

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Guest Blog Post on Scandinavian Shops on The Fox is Black!

10/22/12

I’m super excited to have a guest post today over on Bobby Solomon’s awesome design blog, The Fox is Black. It’s all about my favorite design shops in Stockholm, Helsinki and Copenhagen! Head on over to check it out. Thank you for having me, Bobby!

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Nordic Adventure :: Planning, Recap and Recommendations

10/19/12

{Icelandic horses on the roadside along the southern coast of Iceland}

I’ve been getting a lot of emails lately from folks want to know about my Nordic Adventure — how I planned it, what my recommendations are after taking it, etc. etc. So I thought I’d write a little post about that today.

The Itinerary
I decided to go to four countries: Iceland, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. I also decided not to go to Norway (although I would have loved to), both because I didn’t think I would have time, and because I didn’t think I could afford it (it’s incredibly expensive there). I also decided in Sweden, Finland and Denmark I would visit only capital cities, and in Iceland I’d spend more time and travel around the countryside.

I blocked out three weeks for my trip. I booked my ticket last April to fly in and out of Iceland. I chose to fly in and out of Iceland for a few reasons: a) it’s closest to North America (so was the shortest flight and least time difference) b) it was the cheapest (only $800 RT).

I decided that I would stay in Iceland for three days initially to adjust to the time difference (which is a 7 hour difference from San Francisco) and return for a longer period at the end of my trip. Beyond that, deciding the “order” in which I would visit all the places and how long I would stay in each place was the hard part! My strategy finally was to print out a calendar for September 2012 and begin playing around with blocking out dates in each place. This worked well.

The next step was flight reservations. There are other ways (trains and ferries) to travel between some Nordic countries, but flights are actually unbelievable cheap in Scandinavia (even cheaper than trains!) so I ended up doing a lot of flying (10 airplanes in all!). I decided first to fly from Reykjavik, Iceland to Stockholm, Sweden and stay there for four days. From Stockholm, I’d fly to Helsinki, Finland for three days, and then to Copenhagen for another 4 days. I then flew back to Iceland via Stockholm and stayed there for another 5 days. This may sound like a lot of back and forth, but (aside from my heavy bag), it was incredibly easy. For one thing, Scandinavian airports (including Reykjavik) are fantastically well-organized and easy to navigate. For another, the longest flight I took (aside from my flight from the US to Iceland) was 3 hours. That’s how long it takes to get from Iceland to Stockholm. All the other flights were about an hour!

{At the incredible Finnish apartment I stayed in Helsinki. It was decked out in Marimekko, much to my delight!}

Accommodations
I saved a lot of money for this trip, but I knew early on I wanted to spend my money on shopping and food and tours (in Iceland) and as little money as possibly on accommodations. Hotels in all of the places I visited were incredibly expensive, so I decided to try Airbnb. I had a totally, 100% positive experience. Booking online was easy, the hosts were all wonderful (look for listings with positive reviews), and the apartments were all fantastic. To boot, every place I stayed was $60-$100 a night, much cheaper than you could ever find a decent hotel in Scandinavia. You can cook your own food when you stay in an apartment too, which also helps to save money. I did spend a few nights upon initially arriving in Iceland at Kex Hostel, which was also lovely, though more pricey and a bit loud (lots of young people stay there).

Stockholm, Helsinki and Copenhagen
The bulk of my time was spent visiting these three cities, and I loved them all. I went on this trip specifically for art + design inspiration, and my goal in these three places was to take in as much visual inspiration in the form of art, architecture, pattern & furniture design and history as I could. So my days were pretty packed with walking in different neighborhoods, scoping out awesome design shops, museums and clothing stores and taking lots of pictures. If you are as crazy for the Scandinavian aesthetic as I am, spending time in each of these cities is a must. They are all beautiful in their own way (and also all very different).

Iceland
In Iceland I was more focused on seeing the countryside outside of Reykjavik, though I did spend a lot of time in Reykjavik as well (also a fantastic city, though much smaller than any of the others I visited). It was recommended to me to either a) rent a car to drive myself outside of Reykjavik into the countryside or b) take some of the many tours offered by companies in Iceland. Since I was traveling by myself, I opted for bus tours, though when I go back I think I will rent a car since I am more familiar with the island now. The tour companies in Iceland are fantastic. I took a total of four tours while I was there and used both Reykjavik Excursions and Iceland Excursions. While taking a tour bus as a form of site seeing might seem boring or “just for old folks”, it’s NOT that way in Iceland. The majority of people who travel in Iceland take organized tours, young and old. It’s one of the best ways to see the sites in comfort and learn from the tour guides about the geology and history of the country (which is super fascinating). One of my tours was 14 hours! That day I took a tour to the Glacial Lagoon. Yes, there was a lot of time on the bus going from site to site, but there is nothing ugly in Iceland, so staring out the window as we drove was an absolute treat. Tour companies in Iceland were so well organized and the drivers and guides so friendly. The tours are pricey, but so worth it, especially if you are going to Iceland for the first time. And typically you can book the day before, so planning ahead isn’t necessary. I also got lucky and got a private tour from the cousin of a friend around the South Coast. That was an entirely different and special experience. She even made me dinner at her apartment!

Traveling alone
I loved traveling alone. I got to do what I wanted, when I wanted, and for as long as I wanted. It felt really indulgent. I am used to spending a lot of time by myself, so while I missed my partner, friends and dog, being along wasn’t a shock to my system. I made sure to make plans with people I knew (or knew through the internet) in each city. I kept in touch with friends via Facebook and email and either Skyped and iChatted with my partner every day. The time change made that challenging (Helsinki, for example, is 10 hours different from San Francisco!), but we made it work. Traveling alone is not for everyone. Carrying bags alone and navigating buses and public transportation alone were often stressful for me. But overall, I loved it. Everyone in all the countries I visited spoke excellent English. And I learned to ask for help (which I am not very good at normally). Overall, the time for personal reflection (both on my life overall and on all the amazing stuff I was seeing) was life-changing. I am so glad I took this trip by myself. Now that I’ve got the travel bug, I can see alternating trips by myself with trips with others (my partner or friends).

Specific Recommendations
I am happy to give specific recommendations on specific tours (in Iceland) or shops/museums (in Scandinavian capital cities) if you happen to be traveling to any of these places. Just email me!

Have a lovely weekend, friends.

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Iceland & AFAR

10/12/12

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I am a huge fan of AFAR magazine and so I am so honored that a photo and short article about my Nordic Adventure are included in their What We’re Reading column this week! You can view the short article and photo here. Thank you, AFAR!

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Alvar Aalto Studio & House

10/08/12

One of the highlights of my visit to Helsinki, Finland, was the studio and home of renowned Finnish architect and furniture designer Alvar Aalto, which are now part of the Alvar Aalto Museum. And, as you may recall, I was pretty exhausted the day I visited these places and never posted photos of them… until now! I am so excited to share them with you. These two places were like magical time-capsules. The museum allows you to get up close and personal with the tools and some personal effects of Alvar Aalto and his family. I was particularly smitten with the studio, which had fantastic natural light and was filled with Alvar Aalto chairs and drafting tools, two of my favorite things. The natural light in the house (which is a few blocks away from the studio in the same neighborhood) wasn’t as great, and I didn’t get as many decent shots there. But I’ll share with you what I did get. I hope you enjoy!

The Studio:

The House:

If you have the great fortune to visit Helsinki, I highly recommend visiting the Alvar Aalto Studio and House. There is an admission fee to both, but it makes being able to see these places possible, and if you are as crazy about modern architecture and furniture as I am, it’s worth every penny.

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On Coming Home

10/02/12

{Above: piece in a new series I’m working on.}

I’ve been home from my Nordic adventure for five days now, almost six. And as you may suspect, I’ve been filled with a wide array of emotions since my return home. There have been moments of intense longing to go back immediately, especially to Iceland, who left me feeling like a love-struck school girl. In those moments, I search madly on the internet for residencies in Iceland or Sweden, or I think about how long it may be until I can save enough money to return. Conversely, though, there are moments when I feel total relief — relief that I’m back to my normal life, relief to be in familiar places, with familiar smells and food and sights. And then there are feelings of anxiety that come and go, mostly about getting back to work, about having to work at all (after three weeks of mellow introspection and relaxation). And then in the next moment, the anxiety is gone, and there is only excitement to be back in my studio, and to make work that is inspired by what I saw on my trip. All of these emotions have been exacerbated by crazy jet lag, which has just waned in the last day or so. But for the first four days I was back, I felt like no matter how much sleep I got my face was shrouded in gauze and my brain was mush.

Last night was the first night of sleep I’ve had where I wasn’t dreaming about getting lost in Copenhagen or hiking through mountain ranges in Iceland. My dreams since I’ve returned have been super crazy and sometimes disturbing. In all of them I am in one of the places I visited, except that everything is distorted in some bizarre way (as is the case in dreams). It’s weird to think that my connection to these places and my rich experiences in them have gone into the deep reaches of my unconscious.

One thing I know for sure is that the significance of this trip will stay with me forever — not just where I went and what I saw and who I met — but that it happened at all. That I somehow managed to go away by myself for three weeks to places that I’d always dreamed of going, and that the experience was actually just as fantastic as I hoped, and, in many ways, even better.

I’m off to the studio again today to make more new work. I’m working on taking a wall of my studio and creating a montage of things I collected while I was away. I’ll be sure to take a picture of it to show you when I’m done.

Happy Tuesday.

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Nordic Adventure // Day 21 // Reykjavik to San Francisco

09/26/12

There is no other way to describe the way I am feeling about my adventure coming to an end & going back home, except bittersweet. I have been feeling really emotional over the last few days — mostly about experiencing all of this stuff (sights, sounds, places, smells) that I’ve only dreamed about for so long. Yesterday I posted this bit of hand lettering — and I feel like I have done that this trip.

I am incredibly excited to get back to my partner Clay and my dog Wilfredo. I miss them both SO MUCH. And I miss my friends. I so looking forward to taking the insane amount of visual inspiration I’ve gotten on this adventure and pouring it into my art and illustration practice over the next few months. I am excited about having my routine back, to eat tofu and kale again, to put my head on my own pillow next to my small family, to breath familiar air, to swim and ride my bike again. I have a wedding to start planning, a book to write, jobs to do.

I am also admittedly feeling sad. Sad to leave such a beautiful, serene place as Iceland (and Scandinavia in general–I loved all of it). I cannot remember feeling as happy and alive as I have over the past three weeks. But, as my mother says, “All good things must come to an end.” And so now I go back to my regular life. I am hoping to take some of the magic of the last 21 days and bottle it up and keep it in my pocket as I go back into what is normal and everyday. I want to hold on to what I got here, how I’ve felt, also this amazing amount of time by myself, to think about everything my life means and everything I want my life to be.

One thing I do know is that travel is now a priority in my life. There is no way I can not do this now, like there is no way I could not make art. I feel like it’s been laying dormant in my bones, this travel bug. And now it’s come alive again. Clay and I are already planning our next trip (this time she’s coming with me — it will be our honeymoon!). We’ll be off to Paris for two weeks in July of 2013.

I’ll write more about this trip, how I planned it, how I got around, what it was like to travel alone, etc. Many of you have been writing and asking about this.

In the meantime, I’m heading out to take one last look at Reykjavik before taking the bus to the airport. Thank you for following along on this journey. It has made it so much more rewarding.

See you back in San Francisco tomorrow.

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365 Days of Hand Lettering: Day 269

09/26/12

Today I fly home. But the journey never ends!

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Nordic Adventure // Day 20 // Iceland’s South Coast and Jökulsárlón Lagoon

09/25/12

You may recall yesterday that I got to hang out with some Icelandic horses, which is on the list of things I want to do before I die. Today I did something else that is also on my “life list” (yes, I keep one of those) and that was go to see glaciers and icebergs (!!!). Part of the reason I came to Iceland was to see what I saw today (among other things, but this one was really important to me). It was as amazing and fantastic as I imagined. When we were on the bus (it was a 14 hour tour to get there and back) and the icebergs first came into sight, I literally squealed with delight (and I think I made some people laugh). I have been a bit obsessed with glaciers and icebergs for several years and have made several large paintings of them, though until today I’d never seen one in person.

On the way to Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon we stopped at Skogafoss waterfall, which was also pretty incredible. The first set of photos below is from there. Then a photo as we approached the Glacier (which is the largest ice cap in Europe), and then images of the icebergs in the lagoon. We took a boat out for almost an hour floating at the base of the glacier where the icebergs break off and live out their lives. They are between 1000 and 1500 years old!

Tomorrow is my last day here (my flight leaves at 5 pm) and the last day of this Nordic adventure. I cannot actually believe it’s coming to an end. It has been everything I’d hoped it would be and 1000 times more. I feel so lucky to have been here, and also to all of the amazing Scandinavian cities I visited. More on that sometime this week.

And below the Southern-most tip of Iceland on our drive home…

I will miss this place so much. ♥♥♥

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Nordic Adventure // Day 19 // Iceland’s South Coast and Alafoss

09/24/12

Today I got up close and personal with some Icelandic horses, which has been on the list of things I want to do before I die for some time (CHECK!). I spent the day with my friend Anna Lisa’s cousin (Anna Lisa is Icelandic, but has lived in the US for many years). She introduced me to her cousin, who lives here in Reykjavik. Her name is Thordis. We had dinner when I first arrived in Iceland three weeks ago, and today we spent the day together. It was amazing, and Thordis is beyond lovely, easy to talk to, and so wonderful to show me around. Today she drove me to Alafoss and then to some villages on the South Coast. On the way, we stopped to pet horses (they are everywhere on the road side, roaming free) and look at sheep (I wanted to pet them too but they won’t let you get very close). It was another beautiful day, completed by a stunning sunset. I’m now at my Thordis’ apartment, and she’s making me a delicious dinner. Sigh.

Here are some shots from our day:

Tomorrow I go to a GLACIAL LAGOON (I’m excited enough to put it in all caps, yes).

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Nordic Adventure // Day 18 // Iceland’s Golden Circle

09/23/12

{Fine day, hello, you look beautiful; hand made accordion book in progress. Keeping me busy on the long bus rides here in Iceland.}

Hello (again) from Iceland, friends! Today was another spectacular day. Today I saw parts of the Golden Circle, which includes the Gullfoss waterfall and the Geysirs. It was raining all day, so visibility was poor, but even a bad weather day is gorgeous in this country. (Also? COLD: 42 degrees with a wind chill factor that made it feel about 25!!)

I’m beat from another very long day and too pooped to edit Nikon shots, so below are some iPhone photos from my day! (Planning something special for my Nikon shots, so you’ll see them eventually!)

Enjoy.

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Nordic Adventure // Day 17 // Iceland’s Snæfellsnes Peninsula

09/22/12

{make a wish ::: take a leap}

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I’m cheating a little bit today. Aside from the two photos above, I’m going to post photos below taken with my iphone and not my Nikon. I went on a 12 hour tour of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula today and I’m exhausted (which means I don’t have the energy to even look at the 200 photos I took today with my Nikon). I’ve already posted most of these photos on Instagram earlier today, but I couldn’t go to bed before sharing them with you again.

Today was a completely awe-inspiring, dreams-do-come-true kind of day. Iceland is more beautiful than I ever imagined. It is also more beautiful than these photos can possibly show. Everywhere you go there are enormous cliffs overlooking oceans, waterfalls (hundreds of them), horses, sheep, rainbows, lava fields, pastures, mountains, rock formations, farms, beaches… It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Today was the day I pinched myself more than I have the entire adventure. Here’s just a little of what I saw.

Many of you have been asking about how I planned my trip here, how I’m getting around, etc. I promise when I return to write a post about my experience and recommendations. One thing I will say is that Iceland + its people make it very easy to travel here. More on that later, though! Time for me to rest up. Another big day of site seeing tomorrow!

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Nordic Adventure // Day 16 // Reykjavik

09/21/12

I’m back in Iceland for 5 more days before I head back to San Francisco. I’m really excited to be at this leg of my trip, because it involves heading out of city life and into the natural beauty of this magnificent country. I’ve been obsessed with the landscape of Iceland since I discovered it watching Heima several years ago, the documentary about Sigur Rós’ tour around their homeland. I found the imagery in the film so beautiful that I was moved to tears, and I decided at that moment I had to go to Iceland. And now I am here, and starting tomorrow I will be heading out into geysers, glaciers, volcanoes, waterfalls and coastline. Prepare yourself for some different kids of photos than I’ve been posting the last few weeks!

Today I stayed in Reykjavik to recover from a late night of travel. It’s really cold and wet here, so I’m enjoying taking a day of rest inside my cozy room. This morning I went to visit Hallgrímskirkja Church (drawn here), which is a short walk from the guest house where I am staying. I took an elevator to the top and shot some images of the rooftops, much like the photo taken by another photographer that I shared here before I left on the trip. Below are images from my walk, the church and the view from the top. Enjoy.

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