Alli Harvey Art

Writing my way into the unknown

In the beginning of the trek south, I imagined pieces of writing in outdoors-column sized blips.

“I want to write about learning to embrace a road trip as a means of being outside,” I announced to my husband, “even as someone who, apparently, doesn’t really like driving.”

“What do you think about ‘how to exercise while on the road?’” I asked him later. “Little hacks like bringing a jump rope, having flash cards, doing pushups while we’re dumping, jumping jacks. You know.”

I scribbled these ideas and more down in my journal. But I also wrote down other things, unrelated to “the outdoors” as a topic. Some fragments:

“5/4. Friday?! Friday. Who cares. On the road. How will hot hot summer feel w/o the pressure of artificial scheduling? Will it be a great, languid slow down, the inverse of AK winter? Active in the am and pm, slowly moving/reading/napping/drinking water in the slow mo shimmering heat of the day. Yesterday watching the fire I wondered if I could paint that shimmer.”

“I have to remind myself that this constant shift – good/bad/neutral/repeat – is trailer AND life-life. Modern conveniences slow everything, dull. It dulls ME. Here, I’m tired I’m elated I’m crushed I’m crabby I’m content I’m excited. I’m also now missing a chunk of my molar due to chomping on an errant olive pit while exultantly consuming leftover tagine, roadside w/campchairs as is now our v gourmet o’clock habit…so yea, I tried to file the particularly jagged edge where the tooth broke w/a metal nail file, in the Command-brand tiny mirror at the front of the trailer, while Wes asked me questions about where the stove top gets stored while towing, etc. Then we drove into greener forests + rising temps and visibly thawed water, and I tongued my tooth anxiously, and then I told myself I’d get used to it and it would feel normal. I told myself to sense the sunshine + view. I enjoyed listening to Devil Makes Three, old friends of songs.”

Painting is one way I create presence. Pictured: “Pioneer Sunrise”, 8″x10″, $250

“Could I just melt into experiences and sensory? Wouldn’t that, too, be a kind of death? Or would that be fully living? I’m getting better and better at simply being, noticing, enjoying. What is my impact on the world if it’s just moving thru me – what I do I bring, create, change? Do I need to? Is it ego?”

Now, today, May 24th is the first full “let’s do anything we want to today” day. We’ve driven almost all the way to our final (for now) destination. We’ve spent our time at the DMV, the bank, and on I added “write!” with a checkbox on my list, and when I sat down in a camp chair, in the sun, all I did for ten minutes was sip chai and ponder.

No one is assigning me to focus on the outdoors as the lens for my creative outlet anymore since I wrote my final column for the Anchorage Daily News earlier this month, after ten whole years of near-weekly pieces. I can keep writing this type of thing if I want to, and perhaps pitch around to different outlets, but I can also try something new.

That “something new” is brewing, somewhere in my journal entries, and somewhere in lived experiences and personal growth I haven’t yet experienced. It’s tempting to go hard on myself right now and push toward a next big idea; big project. 

It’s tempting to churn out a few pieces about how to exercise during van life, or learning to enjoy a road trip.

But in this new phase of life we’ve worked hard to bring about, I’ve been trying not to recreate what I know. I have a hard time with discipline, in that I have plenty of it to overcompensate for what I fear might otherwise be a slow, lovely slide into nothingness. Objectively, I know having observed myself for some years that that is ridiculous. So, today I’m going to let myself be in the murky, scary, openness of not exactly knowing yet. Instead, I’m just relating – in my journal and now here – those fragments of ideas and experiences that are coming up, so they can sit for a while before I make choices about where I’d like to train my focus from here. 

In free fall

I turned to Wes somewhere in southern British Columbia, as our truck bounced and pushed us along yet another stretch of highway along too many miles to count, valiantly hauling all 5,000 lbs of Mobile Art Studio in its wake.

“This trip has had an overarching feeling of unease.” 

He considered it, and said that he wouldn’t have come up with that description on his own. But it was true.

Over several years we have worked, scrapped, been supported in numerous ways, and decided our way toward this moment: escape velocity from Alaska, at least for a time, and toward geographic and economic mobility. In plain English, we wanted to create a phase in our lives where we could explore and have the cash on hand to do so. One way to do that – which we did – is to both build up and pare down our lives to the point where we don’t actually need all that much, and therefore can work (what is typically considered “work”, anyway) less, or differently.

And on May 2nd, at 4:30pm on a sunny early spring Alaska afternoon, we finally hitched up and hauled our earthly belongings (save those in a storage unit) away. Where, exactly? Ultimately, St. George, Utah. But even that’s temporary, just a seasonal gig for Wes’s first hitch as a backpacking guide.

It was late afternoon, after a long day of packing, dealing with banking and health insurance logistics, making one last trip to the dump and grocery store, and cleaning up our rental. Maybe it would have made the most sense to stay put one more night, but we were keen on hitting the road. We grabbed coffees to go on our way out.

Wes was pensive. I was excited. Already, that’s a marital recipe for a thunderstorm, and that happened over the course of the first couple days as we got into little spats about both normal trailer logistics, and our own dynamics.

Add to that, those first few nights the trailer was both incredibly comfortable and also not. It would be too cold to add water to it for some miles, which meant that we had a glorified sani-bucket for our daily constitutionals. If you’ve never shit in a bag, you haven’t lived. (Or something). We were also boondocking plenty right off the side of the road. In case we needed to move fast we would frequently not bother to unhitch – that meant no generator, which means no electricity, which means no heat. It was essentially very upscale, sheltered early spring (lows in the 20s) tent camping. We slept under a down sleeping bag and blanket and were quite cozy, until we had to get up.

This was all small potatoes though. We encountered our first real obstacle early on in the journey, about 100 km / 60 miles into our decided route, the Cassiar Highway. There are essentially two highways out of Alaska, and we chose the more remote, slightly slower but shorter in mileage, and more beautiful way – but were thwarted with a washout that had cut the highway off completely until TBD.

So, we backtracked and rerouted onto the more popular, and also more commercial, Alaska-Canada (Alcan) highway. No biggie, really, except that now we basically just had the one route out, and fingers crossed that nothing disrupted it.

We noticed the smoke faintly from the Cassiar Highway, but it got thicker as we pushed our way toward Canada’s interior on the Alcan. A roadside lodge owner at the foot of the Canadian Rockies bluntly told us “there are fires everywhere”. At first we chalked up his description as limited to his small, and incredibly cigarette-smoky lodge filled perspective, but as we pressed on the smoke only seemed to be getting denser. There wasn’t much to look at as we skirted usually breathtakingly scenic Muncho Lake. It was just that unnerving, wan, choked light, with faint outlines of mountains in the backdrop. Sometimes.

The smoke got even thicker and as we approached Fort Nelson, British Columbia fluffy white ash filled the air and wafted like apocalyptic snow across the barely-visible landscape. 

I stared at the trees flitting by and thought about the word “unmoored”. No real home, save for the trailer. There’s no one place to go “back” to. We’re at the whim of climate change events. For a second, I tried to console myself with the thought that we’d still likely put some money down on land and a cozy cabin in Alaska. But the thought that chased it was the adult reminder that even that is only a semblance of safety in a world that is constantly changing, and legitimately off kilter in ways that are unnerving for homeowners (also kind of a made up concept, in a human invented and adhered to legal framework) and official vagabonds alike. There are pros and cons to the decisions we make. Ours was to be more footloose.

Dimly, I knew that in southern British Columbia there was fire’s opposite happening: flooding was wreaking havoc in communities deluged by both water and snowmelt (which had caused the washout on the Cassiar). But the first obstacle presented to us was fire, and we had to figure out a way to safely navigate that first. Alarmingly, a western route toward Alberta had been shut down completely due to the fires, which left – literally – one way south for us.

At this point, Wes’s and my dynamic had settled – we were both on the same proverbial wavelength, and balancing each other out well. Read: as I was freaking out and catastrophizing that Alaska would never, in fact, allow us to leave its icy grip by working with its co-conspirator Canada to natural disaster-ify our entire journey to the point that we had no choice but to turn back, he was suggesting it might be nice to stop for the night, turn off our phones, take a shower, make dinner, and read. We could regroup in the morning.

I let my heart rate settle enough to agree.

Ultimately, we did make it through wildfire-choked northern British Columbia, and pilot-carred our way through flooded southern BC. We celebrated the clean air. We also drove longer than we wanted through those rainy, mountainous stretches to make it through what felt like sketchy terrain, especially as the sky continued to dump on us. Our truck’s faulty gas gauge spiced up the trip even further by falsely claiming “empty” at the tippity top of Jackass Mountain (you can’t make this up), which is when I finally started to cry. But just as quickly, Brian the F350 remembered he was fine, the gas gauge rose accordingly, and we pressed on, adding diesel to the tank at the earliest opportunity (just like always).

In early May, I started to think about the trip in terms of “freefall” because we’re in this strange, interstitial period in terms of both of our incomes where our last salaried paychecks have hit, we are spending whatever we need to spend as we (literally) fall our way down south, and at some point we’ll hit a landing spot where we regroup, pay off our credit cards, and “start” our new lives and budget. This is the phase that’s transitional, and in a lot – a lot! – of motion.

“Free fall” and “unmoored” have negative connotation, and there is truth to that/we experienced that side of the coin.

But there’s another side.

Our trip turned its first corner when we hit Osoyoos, British Columbia, which we selected exclusively for its weather forecast and proximity to U.S. Highway 97, which winds down through Central Washington. Little did we know that once there we’d find a glorious campsite on a sandy spit jutting into the middle of a provincial lake, discover a road cyclist’s mecca, find a lovely mechanic to do a once-over on the F350 and give that poor truck an oil change, and – AND! – discover we were smack in the middle of Canadian wine country. We cycled and sipped our way around a 25 mile radius one sunny, breezy day through high desert sage as the truck was worked on. That’s when the triumph started to set in.

We reconnected with some of my old friends, for the first time in nearly a decade (I’m old enough to have friends like that?!) in Wenatchee, and catching up felt both like a lot of time and experience had passed, but also like rediscovering them. The experience was meaningful in both getting to spend quality time and catch up, and remembering that even as we are far from our community in Alaska, we will recreate community, of a kind, woven with friends near(er) and far.

We went on an impromptu two-night “shake out” backpack, remembering our hiking legs and pack-hoofing skills, and dealing with the unexpected with grace and humor. The trip made me feel strong, warm, and happy.

So, yes, I and we are unmoored. We’re presently about two thirds of the way on the official journey to St. George. I’m wearing a crop top at every opportunity as the temps climb into the upper 80s and low 90s. I journal furiously, walk, run, make and eat delicious food, and think vaguely about landing somewhere, settling in, and finally getting to pull out the easel and start my new notion of work.

I think it will look something like a blend of what I’m experiencing now and a new routine of creating, whatever that is. I’m excited, but also content to simply, right now, feel content. I’m learning and enjoying what it is to be myself within so much change.

Art is work – and that’s great

For someone routinely engaged in challenging myself, I sure do like the easiest, laziest way. 

Take exercise. I prefer running to almost everything else because it requires the least amount of gear: it’s just me, my running shoes, and a few layers. Bicycling, on the other hand, easily frustrates me with all of its “inflating of tires” and “lubing of chains”.

Rock climbing? Absolutely not. Too much strategy and effort. I like my exercise to be straightforward to the point of monotony. I can lose myself in it. It’s my form of shutting down and actively meditating, while taking care of my physical self.

Along these same lines, painting is work. 

Career coaches advise me to think about that activity in which I lose myself. What is it that I do in my life that utterly engulfs me; where I’m so immersed that I forget about time?

Tell you what, that’s not art. 

I can lose myself in writing: the act of trailing my swirling thoughts around after they’ve been hovering and spinning for days,; of sitting down and committing descriptions to try to build a sense of what I want to share through relatively flimsy words that can (hopefully) build shared information and experience; then drafting; then re-reading, culling, culling, and culling – sometimes re-writing entirely, from a new perspective, if I didn’t quite convey what I need.

I lost myself a little bit in that last paragraph.

But painting? The way I paint is tethered to reference photographs. Meaning, unlike writing, I’m not creating from scratch from an image(s) I have only in my mind: I’m using a snippet that is very much of this world, that I’m learning from and with as I go. I have a fixed reference that I scrutinize against my work to see if I’m capturing what I see.

The art, in this case, is in the translation. I make decisions about what I commit to canvas and how. The difference between the photo reference and my completed piece is the accumulation of those decisions, collectively creating what I wish to communicate about the world. It’s something that I’ve witnessed that I want to share so badly with others that I’m willing to go through what it takes to painstakingly create a heightened experience of it through a painting.

It’s not a pure creation in that it doesn’t just pour out of me from nothingness into something, unlike writing.

Is art worth the effort it takes? Undoubtedly, yes, yes, and yes. It’s one of the hardest things I do, but the effort and work is commensurate with the amazing things I learn to see, experience, and share in the world. 

The only thing that motivates me to surmount my own intrinsic laziness is knowing that taking these steps makes my life richer and better; hopefully others’ too in small, fleeting windows into this sense of awe I have for what’s around us. Even when it’s work, what ultimately gets me to do hard things is the promise of a deeper experience of life.

Hell, if that’s what’s in it for me, I’ll even lube up a bike chain now and then.

Recently completed (and sold!) painting, “Sundown”, 8″x8″ acrylic on canvas. I guess I should come clean that SOME paintings require more work than others. This one? Less work; more pure fun. If anything, the work was in coaching myself that the sky is, in fact, that orange, that pink, that purple, that grey, and just to go for it and play with it. Glad I did.

On the edge of the world & saying goodbye to Alaska

I’ve done this before. In those final weeks and months before moving to Reno in 2011, I’d walk along Anchorage’s iconic coastal trail and gaze out at the massive and ever-changing waterscape of Cook Inlet. In the summer, the water shimmered blindingly under a lemon-hued midnight sun sky. During the winter, the Inlet glowed a fierce glacial green, churning and swirling with massive slabs of gray cake-like ice.

I thought a lot about the phrase “the edge of the world”. I knew intellectually that if I could somehow fly my line of sight farther than what I could see across the Inlet; if I kept going and going and saw my way far enough south, I’d eventually hit, say, Seattle. But what it felt like, gazing out at the Inlet in all of its seasons, was that the entire world dropped off right behind it, and then eventually picked back up in a place that was simply Other.

Alaska felt so ethereal, otherworldly to me; as though I were living life on another planet. The people who chose to inhabit this place alongside me “got it”. For some reason my relatives back east, many a taxi driver, and concerned Lower 48 friends frequently did not.

“I don’t think I could deal with the lack of light”, they’d marvel.

At the time, I was so enamored with Alaska that truly things like physical discomfort or mental health were fully eclipsed by my absolute, pure wonder for this place and who I was finding myself to be within it.

But then I moved to Reno. I boarded a plane, hurtled through the sky far above the long landscape that exists between Alaska and everywhere else that I had such a hard time comprehending, and was deposited in the high desert. You know the story: after living there (and loving it) for a few years, Wes and I married and moved back up to Alaska.

Now it’s ten years after my return, and I’m once again getting ready to leave.

I find myself mentally or physically connecting with places and people in Alaska that have defined this place for me. I drove to Valdez and remembered the first time I visited, so easily and wholly awestruck. I re-read old columns for Anchorage Daily News – because something exciting is in the works, stay tuned – and was struck by how many experiences this place has offered me over ten years. I see friends and acquaintances and we talk about the amazing and insidious qualities of Alaska.

I don’t feel sadness about these final weeks, exactly. Maybe I feel a little wistful, but mostly very lucky.

I can say two things without a doubt:

I am ready to leave Alaska. 

And, Alaska never quite leaves me, no matter where I go. I mean that: it’s impossible to un-know and un-experience all that this place is, how unique it is, and the absolutely amazing places and people that comprise it. It’s under my skin forever, so although I am pointing my Mobile Art Studio south for the foreseeable future, I know Alaska still plays a role in that future somehow.

I’m grateful for this edge of the world. And I’m excited to step beyond it into a vast unknown.

I hope you’ll join me on Friday, April 28th at Government Peak Recreation Area for a final farewell! Click on the image or comment on this blog to RSVP!

The big change is upon us

It may not look like it from outside appearances, but life has quieted down. It’s good. It feels like when I’m cross country skiing and find myself working overly hard to keep my skis parallel, so I scoot over to groomed tracks and click in. Forward, smooth motions combined with a little kick uphill here and there keep me gliding, and I can just enjoy that feeling of my body heating up and working while my eyes take in the view.

Given what’s happened, what’s underway, and what’s coming up I would think I would feel more scattered, stressed, anxious, pensive, or uncertain. But I don’t. I feel calm and content most of the time.

It’s March in Alaska, the sun is blazing warm in the afternoons before plunging back into a cool, blue cold overnight. 

So: what is it? What’s the big announcement?

Hello. It is me, as a child, with my first pair of Crocs thinking the glacial water is warm because of my burning, new puppy love for all things Alaska.

It likely won’t be a big surprise. But I’m going to recap of the inevitabilities that led here, as a reminder (for you and me) of context.

It started when Alaska captured my imagination as an east coast suburbia kid. After visiting three times, I moved.

Then, I met Wes at a conference. Wes lived in Reno, NV. All I knew about Nevada was that it was full of casinos, aliens, and nuclear waste but I gave it and him a shot anyway. I moved to Reno, after falling into a shocking and complete love with the desert (and him. And his daughter, Reesa, who quickly and efficiently wing-manned her Dad by informing me they had a real nice pool at the condo complex and that fall, my favorite season, was a fine time of year in northern NV).

Within a few years, due to a change in custody prompted by Reesa’s mom moving out of state, Wes and I decided to move to Alaska. 

Truly, we had amazing times here. And also truly: I don’t miss it.

We shared amazing, often extreme (because Alaska) times here with Reesa. We bought a beautiful log home in Palmer, with a stunning backdrop of Pioneer Peak and a cozy wood stove. My sister called our house Narnia. She wasn’t wrong.

I opened my first art studio and started focusing on painting more, officially spending a quarter of my “professional” hours (a standard 40-hour workweek) on art. 

We grew in our careers. We sustained our mortgage and bills, travel expenses, and the other costs associated with a comfortable life as it expands and entrenches.

Then, during the Covid 19 lockdown our lives suddenly ground to a halt. 

Fortunately, at that time I had plenty to throw myself into even as I was reeling. I spent the majority of my energy on consulting. Facilitating is meaningful and engaging in a different, complementary to art, way.

But in 2020, facilitation entailed staring at Zoom for hours on end. 

This extrovert went from organizing elaborate hike and cocktail hour Friday social gatherings and other events, to flatlining. Consulting offered purpose and meaning at a time when I sorely needed it, and I gladly gave it my all. When I wasn’t working, I felt exhausted, set back, frustrated, and powerless. Here I had been taking steps to build toward doing art more, and now I was trapped at home and shuttering my art studio.

(I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating that I also felt weirdly very fortunate, at that moment in the world, to have these problems.)

The major 2020 project was literally in our backyard. We installed and grew a ginormous, and beautiful, garden that we designed ourselves! I loved spending time here.

Oddly, though, I began to realize that I didn’t miss the constant organizing of social stuff that I’d so enjoyed. I had a whole lot of space and time now that I was unable to plan. I wondered what would happen if I retained some of that space, in the “after” – whenever, at that point pre-vaccines, that would be.

I became more keenly attuned to my energy levels, especially after spending a full day of listening to and supporting clients. When I felt drained after an activity or conversation, I noted it. I made it okay to focus on those things that filled me up: long solo walks or runs, reading and writing, gardening. I joked that I became an introvert, although my husband (actually an introvert) wasn’t having it.

At some point I realized that while I wouldn’t have wished for a pandemic to spur it, I also didn’t want to “go back” to what my life had been like before. (I say this like it was a decision I made, and although it sort of was, there is also never any “going back” in life, exactly. Maybe asserting this helped me resolve cognitive dissonance and feel some semblance of power in my life at a time when I felt little).

Then, Wes and I painstakingly planned and took a Covid-cation in late summer 2020. When I say “planned”, I mean we researched where we could pick up curbside ice and groceries for our cooler, campgrounds, and – in our most calculated gamble – outdoor access to and sanitation practices at the lodge we booked. Our level of caution may seem over the top or politically informed, but the only lingering remnant of my childhood asthma are my lungs that are eager to turn any common cold into a respiratory infection. I needed a novel virus targeting my lungs like the proverbial hole in my head.

Biking Resurrection Pass on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula in August, 2020.

Still, that August, we bike packed Resurrection Pass, enduring a terrifying and moving thunderstorm that power-washed our bikes as we were huddled in our tent. At the end, we stayed in Homer in dreamy, balmy, warm late summer sun over sparkling Kachemak Bay. On our porch in the evenings, we ate take out Fat Olives pizza, drank golden-hued wine, and dreamed and schemed about our future.

This “visioning” was an official part of our vacation. We’d waited until we were out of the confines of our home, whose contours we were overly familiar with at that point.

We asked ourselves big questions. What did we want? More outdoors, more flexibility. What did this mean? Fewer material possessions to uphold and maintain; less economic encumbrance. Put in simple terms: we envisioned a time with no mortgage. No debt. Far less or no Zoom.

We didn’t get any more specific than that, but we had officially started to shift our shared focus from what was right in front of us to what we wanted to create.

Back in Palmer, we were out hiking in the lush, late summer green of the Government Peak trails when we first talked about the concept of the Mobile Art Studio. I’d begun to move beyond grieving my closed-down gallery to considering alternatives. I told Wes I had been thinking about a studio and display setup that would enable social distancing, like an RV or a van, but not something with prayer-flag vibes. We chatted about it a little as we walked, then moved on to other topics.

Then, on a friend’s covered front porch, “socially distanced” drinking wine as it rained, I shared that I was researching Airstream trailers as the mode for my mobile studio concept. My friends’ enthusiastic response told me I was onto something. 

<3 <3 <3

But, then a big question: would Wes and I actually like living a mobile lifestyle? I’ve lived long enough to know that some ideas are better on paper than in practice. We soon had our opportunity to find out.

In 2021 as our first act post vaccines, we went to Reesa’s high school graduation in Las Vegas and organized a reconnaissance “van life” trip. I get chills thinking about getting to see my stepdaughter graduate: I am so so proud of her. I also get chills thinking about how readily Wes and I clicked into living from the van, and my deep reluctance even at that point to fly back home to my home.

Back in Alaska, I enjoyed the feel of my king sized bed and soft, smooth sheets. And I knew even in that moment that I would have immediately swapped that for the bulky, uncomfortable setup in the van if it meant rolling out the door into sunrises. We doubled down on the Mobile Studio concept. 

An early rendering of my to-be Mobile Art Studio during the design process with Wood+Locks and P&S Trailer Service.

What daunted me was the Mobile Studio price tag. This was the most expensive thing I’d ever tried to purchase, a house notwithstanding (after all, that mostly belongs to the bank). 

So, I started planning, telling everyone I knew about the idea by way of accountability to myself, and Wes and I started saving. Aggressively.

And, I fundraised. This means I asked for help and you kicked in. I was overwhelmed and moved by the many people who generously gave, affirming that yes, you were as enthusiastic and behind this idea as I was. I felt the votes of confidence viscerally as donations and messages came in, and with that steady support came the sobering and empowering responsibility to follow through.

We rented out our house on Airbnb for extra income, sleeping in the back of our leaky truck bed for much of late summer ‘21. We put ourselves on an aggressive savings plan, culling as much from our salaries as we could to throw at the Mobile Studio. As it dumped rain on us, as we felt particularly strained for cash, or when it was deep dark winter, we talked ourselves through it with the hope and belief that this was temporary tightening and discomfort in service of something greater.

Note the late-stage-Croc booties, I’ve really refined my look over the years.

When I felt stress, which was often, I’d think back to those big picture vision conversations during our Covid-cation in Homer, drenched in languid, late Alaska summer sunlight over shimmering Kachemak Bay, imagining a different life for ourselves. We were mired in the steps to get there. This time would ultimately collapse into memory when we actually had brought the change about. I knew this intellectually, but it didn’t make those periods feel shorter – just worth grinding through.

I painted, painted, and painted from my kitchen table; selling as much artwork and merchandise as I could reasonably create.

In 2022, I learned to drive a trailer. We bought a truck worthy of the journey. We locked in the final financing and set up one more summer of Airbnb-ing the house as backup extra income for whatever the final price tag of the Mobile Studio and the pickup journey ultimately cost. On April 25th, I pointed the truck south with my friend Bailey riding shotgun.

Oh my gosh, more Crocs…wow. Bailey and I were proud of our completed check list on departure day.

It wasn’t actually sunny the entire trip down, but that’s how I remember it journeying every day closer to Mobile Studio pickup.

In early May, I “met” the studio for the first time. I cried. How many times in life can you say what you imagined aligns with reality? It is a testament to the designer and fabricator team and both their communication and also implementation that it did.

I loved the look and feel of it. I loved how clean and spacious it felt; the shining silver walls and calming neutral tones of the built interior. I spent a lot of hours just staring, enjoying, and taking it in; experiencing a level of disbelief that I still get a little jolt of when I set foot in the studio. 

I still remember that first night in the studio. I pinch myself. I remember painting for the first time: I cried (again. There were a lot of good tears).

We took the Mobile Art Studio across the country, and over the course of a couple of months, back to Alaska.

But that’s not the end of the story. 

Wes and I originally envisioned spending more time outside, beholden to fewer economic constraints. 

Back in Alaska, we still had a mortgage to pay, and all of the associated bills that come with a home. And now we had an Airstream loan to boot.

So, first we got rid of our mortgage. Late last year we sold our house, making the most of the seller’s market at what may be the (an) end. We then paid off the Airstream, effectively losing the majority of our debt in one fell swoop.

We traveled, feeling light and free. We rented an adorable tiny home at the foot of Hatcher Pass. Life was good.

That brings us to now.

My art business is growing. I’ve made cautious steps to test how steady and reliable this income is: I still consult, but more and more energy is going toward art. I’m selling more paintings that I can currently create with my current schedule. It is an increasingly reliable trend that the more time and energy I invest, the more art and writing opportunities arise.

So, the big change:

In early May, Wes and I are packing up the Mobile Art Studio once again and pointing it south. This time, we’re leaving Alaska for the foreseeable future.

He has accepted a new position as a backpacking guide with a company that has national and international itineraries. We’ll start with his stint based out of St. George, Utah. This means he’s leaving his full time, secure and salaried position that has him doing meaningful work, but primarily from an office and behind a screen.

Similarly, I’ll be shifting to consulting on a project-by-project basis. This means much more flexibility for both consulting projects and art: instead of the routine that I currently have, allotting art to Mondays and Fridays, it will be woven throughout my weeks. Facilitation will still play a role in my life, but not on a fixed-hours-per-week basis. 

With this decision comes a release of stability that, again, in retrospect we’ve been building toward for a long time. But it is still the end of a huge era of our lives, leading to a new beginning.

It brings us full circle to our 2020 Covid-cation life conversation. What do we want? More time outside. How? Less economic responsibility; more freedom.

The questions that often come up: but, Alli and Wes, where will you live? The answer: at first, St. George. Then, who knows? We want a period of our life where we’re not settled down in any one place. If (likely when) we want to do that again, we can and will. But for now we want to explore.

Alli and Wes, are you permanently leaving Alaska? Maybe. Maybe not. Intellectually, I know this place well enough to know how deeply (insidiously?) it gets under my skin. There is truly no place like it. When it is beautiful, it is spectacular. And when it is brutal, it is punishing. That is, honestly, part of the appeal. But as the years have grinded on, and then pounded in by the Covid lockdown, the brutality has been harder and harder for me. I see less of the novelty, and more of the difficulty.

It’s not you, Alaska. It’s me. (Okay, it’s a little you.)

What does it take to change a life? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and I keep returning back to the concept of a lot of luck, and a lot of sweat equity. Wes and I have made enormous, foundational changes in our lives over the past few years, and it is culminating in what’s happening now. It has felt both discouraging and stressful in moments, and incredible and empowering others. Many stars aligned for us. We couldn’t have done any of it alone. And, we also worked to make it a reality.

That’s it, that’s the big change.

Amidst the inevitable mayhem that will come as we approach our departure date, I’m going to organize one last (for now) Alli Harvey Art in Alaska hurrah! I will keep you posted on a Farewell Mobile Art Studio event here in Palmer in late April or early May.

If you’ve read this far, thank you. My gratitude for all of the amazing people, moments, and places that have brought me and us here is profound. Even and especially through change, life is long and I look forward to the surprises, opportunities, and connections – familiar and new – ahead.

Pic by a kind stranger who took the time to not only take this photo of the Mobile Art Studio on the open road in southern Utah in June ’22, but used my social handle to send it to me. Little did we know it would be a small portent of things to come. Thank you!

I did a podcast!

Okay, you caught me: this is not actually a blog post.

But it’s LIKE a blog post – just an audio version!

Amidst the wilderness that is the Internet and especially the world of podcasts, there is now an hour+ of me gabbing. I talk about what originally got me into painting, the profound impact outgrowing my asthma at the same time as I happened to land at the Sudbury Valley School had on me, learning to love hiking up hills and being outdoors, the story behind/evolution of the Mobile Art Studio, and more.

You can stream this in full wherever you are from here.

A huge thank you to co-hosts Steve Dudrow and Linda Harris for the opportunity to share some background, stories, and debts of gratitude that I’ve wanted to talk about for a long time. It was a spacious and roaming conversation where I had time to breathe and think, deliberate in what I wanted to say without feeling any sense of pressure. I can’t wait to visit the Mesquite Fine Arts Center next time I’m in that other favorite corner of the world of mine, wild Nevada.

To a new life

Thinking about the patterns that form my now 37-year-old self, I can see that I’ve always enjoyed periods of big, bold change. I decided to leave my comfortable, low-lying suburban upbringing for chaotic, sky-scraping, and often (especially early on) brutally lonely NYC. I drove cross country and subleased a room in Seattle for a few months while saving for a quick trip up to Alaska, even though the plan required me to work three jobs. One summer in Alaska, I moved temporarily into a school bus to save some money gearing up to my self-imposed career demotion as I picked up my life to move to Reno for “true love” (and work a retail gig, combined with WWOOFing). I said “true love” tongue in cheek at the time; insurance in case it didn’t work out – but happily, sweetly, it did.

Marriage, and especially stepparent-dom, required me to stabilize some. The periods of major change became fewer. Ultimately, we bought a house. Career moves were something to be carefully negotiated and orchestrated because, the mortgage. There were many, many other considerations that play into orchestrating and nurturing family, especially across distance – the airfare, PTO, generally keeping the lights on and feeding our (discerning) faces.

Wes and I joke that our most bitter arguments are about how to load a dishwasher (spoiler: it’s not actually about that), whereas when it comes to life’s big stuff we navigate together with good, sometimes gallows humor and dance-like mutual support. This is true. 

But coordinating proactive life change between two people isn’t just doubly challenging as it is for one. Creating change together is first multiplied by the number of factors in both of our lives (family, personal, career, hobbies, commitments), and then magnified again by both of our desires and fears.

As my stepdaughter started college, I felt that urge rise in me pretty fiercely: all of our lives had and were changing, and it was time for my husband and me to follow suit. After ten years of being together and me taking my considerable, but also wild and and often intense, energy and sinking it in, down, in one place, I needed freedom and possibility.

I needed to no longer be tethered to a mortgage. I needed to take risks in order to explore and grow my ability to focus on art and writing, more.

My husband was there, too, in spirit. But he grew up in one place, and stayed there for a long time. His life experience wasn’t about fecklessly moving temporarily into a school bus for a summer. His adventures were many, but more local.

So I could see the steps where he couldn’t as easily believe in them. As we started taking these steps, he caught up quickly and often outpaced me. Example: I did the bulk of driving us in planning our month in New Mexico in January. But once there, I had a difficult time adapting to my new environment. I felt like I was catching up with myself as I took tentative walks through the neighborhood. Meanwhile, Wes found and ran up multiple mountains in the first week. (That’s not an exaggeration).

What does it take to change a life? The answer is a lot, and it’s incredibly complicated. There is no safe bet. But I can tell you, stepping into this new chapter as we are right now – mortgage-less, renting a tiny home at the foot of beautiful and world-class Hatcher Pass, continuing to grow Alli Harvey Art and I am painting/writing more and more – I feel an electric sense of possibility and excitement. I have this tell-tale chest expanding feeling that points at something big on the horizon.

It is. I have big plans for Alli Harvey Art, friends! Looking forward to sharing more soon.

Meanwhile, here are some photos from recent times:

It’s cool to be cringe?

My latest painting. I used every damn color, right up to magenta. Painting is one of my ways of calling attention to the world around us, to help myself and others more fully notice and inhabit it.

Two moments from the last 24 hours:

  • I felt the familiar build, build, build behind my eyes followed by tears. I turned my head to look out the truck window at the tan, mountainous landscape of the high desert rolling under a January cool blue sky. I was surprised and relieved by my involuntary reaction. I smiled at it even as I felt hot tears roll down from behind my sunglasses and hit the upturned corner of my mouth. I realized I’d only have a couple moments before Wes realized I was crying, if he didn’t already. My breathing had changed and I’d have to wipe off my face. (Why was I embarrassed about crying in front of my lawfully wedded?! Well…it was a strong reaction, and one that I wanted to experience for myself, more on that in a minute.)
  • I didn’t mean to lie down as long as I did on the bright orange little sofa in the (new, to us) cute, modern Airbnb living room in downtown Albuquerque. But I was tired from our day of driving, the edible was starting to kick in, and I got sucked into the little universe behind my phone screen and stayed there for a while. What really hit me? An article about embracing “cringe” in 2023. 

I thought, not for the first time: is what they are talking about earnestness? Also, is this me?! This seems like me. I think I have been cringe, enthusiastic, sincere, extra, earnest – whatever you want to call it – since the dawn of me, and if it’s becoming a Thing, well, great. This also relates back to the first moment: why I was crying in the car.

It started here:

“Everything in the natural world is so amazing, but because we’re used to seeing it in one way we take it for granted…The montage is about taking pieces of reality and rearranging them– creating new frames to make you have to stop and look at things in a fresh way. It’s basically taking pieces of everyday reality and rearranging them to show people the magic that is inherent in all of these things already.”

I turned to look at Wes, wide eyed. I said: “He’s talking about why I paint.”

We were on hour three of a 4-hour podcast unpacking the music and origin story of Neutral Milk Hotel, a band whose music is anthemic for me. In his book of short essays, “Songbook”, author Nick Hornby described songs that you listen to so many times over the course of your life that they transcend specific time periods or references. That, for me, is Neutral Milk Hotel.

The interview they were referencing was with the band’s fabled lead, Jeff Mangum. As obsessed as I’d been with the music when I was younger, and for as many times as I’d reverently re-listened to their two full albums (in order, in full) since and vaguely tracked the rumors swirling around the band, I’d never really learned about the main artist or the music until listening to this episode. 

It so easily could have felt gross, exploitative, or insincere. But the podcasters, and the fans they invited on at the very end of the episode to share why they love the band, were earnest and as articulate as one can be about something as ephemeral as music. Listening to them describe the music and the people behind it, I felt more connected to and understanding of it. They said things that I hadn’t thought of, but “fit”; and they shared awe and appreciation for fragments of songs or lyrics that also struck me. 

They were also respectful of Jeff Mangum as a person and an artist; vs the center of what became a cult phenomenon. They shared snippets of interviews with him but still underscored what he himself did: he is and was a human like any of us, changing and evolving, and part of what he had contributed to the world was this music. It had a space in time and his life for him, and then he kept living and growing however it is that people and artists grow – and that wasn’t toward any growing expectation or indebtedness that some of the fans clamored for or claimed he owed.

Hearing him describe, in an interview, an underlying reason for why he creates his art that is so similar to why I create mine? Eerie and beautiful. Younger me, connecting so deeply with the music, had no idea.

What finally pushed me to cry was when, at the very, very end of the podcast, they played Two-Headed Boy Part 2, the last song on In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Not only is it the perfect final song on an album and for the emotional ride that was absorbing all that was shared and resonated on the podcast, but getting back to Nick Hornby’s point – that song and all that precedes and builds to it has been in my life now for over twenty years. There are too many layers of memory to count. It has a life-ness quality to it that is moving; it is perfectly and deeply bittersweet. I wasn’t crying out of happiness or sadness. I was just feeling, so much that it wasn’t one thing. 

I was grateful for it; I felt so fully present. The desert landscape rolled by. Everything in me came up and spilled over.

Finally, to tie this back with “cringe”, because of course: the podcast host, Yasi Salek, pointed out multiple times that Jeff Mangum and Neutral Milk Hotel were creating their music and playing their early live shows at a time when what they were doing was simply not cool. Case in point: Jeff Mangum was scream-singing the lyrics, “I love you Jesus Christ” (if you know, you know) during Nirvana’s heyday. The earnestness and depth of the band, from their dream-like lyrics that at once cut and also did not form a cohesive narrative but instead formed a theme or a feeling of a song, and then the raw delivery, did not, at the time, have a place in irony and anti culture.

(Related: I remember when I was fully into Neutral Milk Hotel as a teenager I had to make an official declaration with my friend group that it was time to retire the word “pretentious” about me. I liked this music because I liked it. To their credit, they stopped, and my best friend even told me later on that she’d finally actually listened to the band on her own, and got it.)

For me, on this same day during this era of life where I feel myself coming into my own in an ever-fumbling but also clearer and sharper (even with all the cutting edges connoted by “sharper”, it’s true, it’s emotional!) way was both affirming and a huge relief. It felt like something pierced a balloon that had been stretching in me. It gave a part of me permission to come out, and out and out.

It was yet another nod to earnestness. Yet another push to keep living life, in all of its messy, cutting, beautiful glory in the light and darkness of it all. Another push to keep being and to keep creating. 

If you haven’t listened, I love and recommend the music of this band. I can’t and won’t critically engage with it. For me, it means something much bigger and deeper than that. Their albums are best listened to with attention, in full, in sequential order (the songs feed into each other), and multiple times.

We made it. Wherever “it” is.

Took this pic at the end of one final walk on our last night at the house. It’s been a wonderful five years here.

It just so happens that the selling of our home of five years neatly aligned with ringing in a new year. 

We had time to adjust to the idea, and plenty to do. Picture a time lapse video of December, the camera hovering a respectful distance away from my every move, Sims-like. You would see:

  • My husband and me shoveling nearly on the daily as more and more snow fell on Palmer, AK.
  • The two of us continuously pulling items from the corners of our home more and more into the middle, setting them in piles, moving them from pile to pile as we made our decisions about their fate, and ultimately ferrying them away day by day.
  • Wiping down windows, cleaning tubs, vacuuming, sweeping, scrubbing, fixing, installing and re-installing.
  • [The lights in the house turn brighter as it becomes less a place the place we live; more a fresh, blank slate for the next owner].
So strange but also perfect to see the house exactly as we found it when we moved in five years ago. My husband and I both noted that it smelled like “house” again, that blank, but particular log home, dry air, still scent we remembered.

  • Movers coming to take our core belongings over to a storage unit (which, in the time lapse version of things, is a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it moment that taught me I will now be a “hire movers they are worth every cent” person).
  • At that point, nearly everything is out of the house save for some cleaning supplies in the center of the kitchen floor. Lights are bright. Wood stove is off.
  • Loading up our little blue Prius with wood one subzero, alpenglow lit snowy late afternoon; locking the door behind us as we drove to our temporary abode at a friend’s empty, graciously loaned home.

The day of the official move-out wasn’t closing but when the movers came, because suddenly we didn’t have a bed to sleep in in the house anymore. 

We arrived at our friends’ lovely home in a flurry of Arctic cold air swept in the door behind us, bags of random goods from our kitchen cabinet (nutritional yeast? Sure, we’ll keep that), and random, meaningful items we’d decided to hang onto. We unloaded the wood into a new stack in their driveway so we could fire up the wood stove and, eventually, the sauna.

That first Friday night we realized: hey. Tomorrow, we could do whatever we want. Yes, there’s still a little left to do at the house to get it ready for the new owners, but it’s minimal. We could have an entire day of just…fun.

I curled up on my friends’ cozy couch under a blanket in the glow of a Christmas tree with a new book, and felt relief and airiness, lighter and warmer than I had been earlier in the day or at any time that month. If there’s a visceral moment where I could tell we’d finally turned the page on this last chapter of our life, it was then. 

The house we’d left was empty and in every sense except legally, not ours. Our belongings were 95% sorted. We were going to sleep in a new environment. We were less encumbered than ever before in our relationship: very little bound us, except those things we are personally committed to.

A view from one of many much-needed skis, this one in the alpenglow. It felt amazing to experience true Alaska winter free of the major project that was Sell The House And Downsize Our Stuff-gate.

This month we’re in New Mexico. That’s right: month! I brought my consulting “kit” down south with me – a laptop, notepad, pen, mouse, and headphones; honestly it’s pretty simple – and my tabletop painting setup. The Mobile Art Studio is still in Alaska, deep in its cold storage slumber for the winter and settled in under aforementioned piles of snow. Come spring, we’ll get to hitch it up again.

But until then, I’m easing into a new chapter of life. It feels like a descent, with a view ahead that’s beautiful and promising, but remote and still coming into focus. 

Still. It’s sunny where I am now. There is so much to see and explore. I’m thrilled that now that we’ve “arrived” in this new season of our lives, whatever “arrival” means in a life that just keeps on going moment by moment day by day, the overall feel and cadence of it is exactly what I wanted.

Don’t stare down the driveway

I was shoveling the driveway early this morning for the second time this week. The snow keeps coming down.

Far from complaining about it, I’m enjoying its silence and brightness settled in all over everything. I’m pulled into the core of our home, which as we prepare for closing in less than a week, is ever-shrinking. 

There’s nowhere to go when it snows like this. It relieves some of the pressure of doing, because we’re limited to what we can do in the house. The task list is shrinking quickly along with the volume of our stuff, so it’s a calm kind of puttering pace of getting ready to move.

The wood stove is blazing away in the living room. It’s cozy. 

It’s temporary.

I miss the CrossFit (!! I know) I was getting into in Reno. But…careful what you wish for?

As I was hoisting yet another eight inches of snow off to the side of our driveway, one shovel-full at a time in the bright white glow of my headlamp, I willed myself not to turn my head up to see how much was still left to shovel. We don’t have a giant driveway, but it’s big enough that the job takes one person about two hours. 

Longer if I stare too much at how far I have to go.

As I move through the house, I keep having intense flashes of memory, coupled with a feeling of longing, and then letting go. It happens room by room as I’m focusing on one. Bear in mind, that we’re not just moving all of our earthly belongings somewhere. We’re majorly downsizing. We are shrinking what we have to what we really want and need. 

(And discovering that the adage about filling up the space you have with stuff is very, very true. Five years turns out to be a lot of years of accumulation – and that’s having culled out quite a bit for Airbnb-ing!).

It is hard to actively dismantle objects which, cumulatively, have come to fit together in a representation of home. I say that very carefully, because this place has been home, but so many other places are too: friends’ dinner tables, my childhood home, the high desert, the Mobile Art Studio.

When those memories are really hitting me as I’m dismantling and dispersing our belongings, I don’t need the consolation that “home” is, for me, a multitude. But it’s a good reminder of the long term aim. Moment by moment, working on closing out the house is more like shoveling. I let myself feel. I focus on good form as I hoist snow. I am aware of but not daunted by the effort. I enjoy the ability to feel, at all.

I don’t look down the driveway. I don’t dwell on “what if’s”.

It’s all moments. We have been very lucky to have been afforded so many amazing moments in our time in this house. And, by making this decision, we’re opening ourselves up for many more. In the meantime, I’m truly enjoying these snowed in last days here.

On the edge of leaving home

For the longest time I felt confined to our house and neighborhood. But now that we’re getting ready to leave, I’m seeing things differently.

The snow swirls on the pure white street ahead of me. Mountains loom daunting and impressive. Light filters through trees. The homes, including mine, look magically warm and cozy against the austere, blue-toned beauty of an Alaska winter morning.

I woke up last night on the couch, disoriented from jet lag and confused about where I was. Then I remembered – I am in my home in Alaska, not in New York City, or Massachusetts, or on an airplane somewhere. I felt an immediate pang of regret. It’s so comfortable here, I thought. Why do we have to leave?

Maybe it’s just my own stubbornness of going with the choices I’ve made, combined with a fear of what it would be like to have regrets, but I am sure we are making the right decision by moving. Our house is, indeed, very comfortable.

But you know what’s not? What’s not comfortable is feeling tied to a particular income level to sustain it; meaning actually having to work a certain number of hours and at a certain level to follow through on mortgage payments, bills, and the many fun unknowns of homeownership.

On one level, “we’ve made it”, but on another level we have to make it every single day in order to sustain it. That to me is confining and limiting in that it eliminates an enormous element of choice in what we do with our time. Let me say that again: being beholden to what is essentially debt makes it so that I get less of a say in what I do with my own finite life.

That is terrifying enough to me to propel away from the comfort of this very beautiful home with its many wonderful memories.

I’m going through the strange exercise of walking through the house and taking pictures of furniture we either need to sell or store. I’m advocating for a big sell-off. Stuff comes with convenience and comfort, yes, but it’s also just more to maintain when we have to stick it in storage and pay on it every month. 

As I feel the waves of sadness and uncertainty about the fact that we’re actually doing it; we’re actually in the process of leaving this phase of our lives, I think about how this setting and these pieces of furniture weren’t ever really permanent. Even the memories here just leave feelings, relationships, moments, and overall the glowing and ephemeral haziness of an era characterized in part by these things, but mostly the experiences they assisted in curating. 

We were the ones, with friends and family, who brought those experiences to life.

And we’ll continue to do that.

I know the feeling of trying to hang onto something too tight. And that’s what I’m experiencing right now. That’s okay, it’s part of the hugging before letting go. It’s certainly laced with sadness, but another part of me is grateful to have these final weeks pining for the place in which I still live. It means I have experienced something important and valuable; something that’s worth missing even while I still have it. It’s a sign that the memories from here will be good, and both support and propel us into whatever this next phase in our lives will bring.

Mishaps and learning from mistakes: a commission story

There was a crappy misunderstanding about ten years ago with a commission I did for a friend. It was a gift for his girlfriend, featuring women strolling down a street (presumably her and a couple friends). 

It all started smoothly and routinely enough. He indicated interest, I asked for a photo reference, he sent one, we negotiated price and timeline. The one request: could I include another friend, who had taken the reference photo? He sent an additional photo of her for reference.

This was unusual. I paint from photo references, and am typically a stickler with the origination photo, not wanting to deviate too much. But I scrutinized the original photo and the addition and decided, sure, I can swap out one of those women with this new one without too much trouble.

Oops. I did the math on what would make it work for me artistically, but didn’t clarify with him what he wanted. Looking back, it’s super obvious: he wanted the additional woman added to the picture. But what I did was essentially erase one of the women from the painting in lieu of adding the new one in.

I wondered why, when he picked it up, he was less effusive than someone normally is upon seeing a commission. I figured it was maybe something he was going through, and as he darted out the door I moved on with my life.

Some time later, I found out what happened. OH, the sinking feeling!

But I learned from it, and changed.

Example of a recent commission outline and agreement.

Now, if you commission me, it’s still an easy but more formalized process. It starts the same: you send me a photo reference and a description of what you’d like, including size range and if you have a timeline in mind. We discuss as needed. Then, I fill out a form. This includes a written description of the commission, a process for checking on progress on the piece (so you can see if, somehow, something was miscommunicated and needs to be adapted), pricing and timeline, and payment methods. We both review, negotiate and clarify as needed, and sign. Then, voila, I’m off to the races.

A recent commission is an excellent example of this.

We went through the above process and arrived on timing and price. I printed the photo reference and picked up canvas, and got to work.

Oh, and in this case I also picked up neon green paint. This is my first aurora painting, but not my last!

I painted and sent periodic progress photos along the way. Then, I arrived at a decision point that I hadn’t thought of earlier in the process.

In this photo, there were smokestacks from the boat in the foreground (from where the person taking the original photo was standing). From a purely visual perspective, I was inclined not to include them. But they might mean something to the client.

To add or not to add?

I consulted him. After soliciting some opinions he decided, yes, go ahead and add the smokestacks! He also advised me that even though they appeared brown in the photo reference, in real life they’re grey.

I added them in and using his guidance, focused on cool, grey/blue and purple tones instead of the warmer yellows, reds, and browns as they appeared in the photo (likely a result of warm light cast against the darkness). 

In the end, he was absolutely right. It was the right move, and adding the smokestacks completed the painting to something original and immersive. From the viewer’s perspective, it was like being on the boat witnessing the scene.


He was as happy as I was!

I share this story both as a piece about lessons learned and growth, both in communications and art (several years ago I would have been uncomfortable changing the tone of the smokestack). But it’s also a call for commissions! I have two more I am slated to complete this fall, and then I have openings starting early December and into 2023.

If you’ve been thinking about commissioning a piece, now is a great time to hop on the dance card. For more information and to get the process started, check out details on my website and fill out the contact form.

Commissions are one of my favorite parts of sustaining myself via art, because I get to see new perspectives, connect with cool people, and learn. To everyone who has commissioned me in the past or thought about it for the future, thank you! I love getting to work with you to bring your vision and memories to life.

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