Alli Harvey Art

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.

Finished!

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.

One last sleep ’til home, and we are ready

Last night, I ran through lemon yellow, early evening woods with cool air on my cheeks and my heart beating steadily. It was hard uphill running, but not too hard on a nicely graded single track trail in Palmer’s beautiful Government Peak Recreation Area. 

A Thursday evening trail run at GPRA

Not one to normally run in the evenings because I prefer running in the morning, my husband and Aktive Soles, a local running shop, and Valley Mountain Bikers and Hikers Association conspired to get me out on the trails for a locally organized race that benefits VMBaH. 

I’m never sorry I went for a run, even though and especially because it’s work. Getting my heart going inevitably gives me a full body rush and sparks fleeting moments of elation. They fire up and die off just as quickly, like a fire spitting embers into the night.

I don’t want to say that we’re getting to the end of the hard part of Mobile Studio Pickup. I think we’re getting to the end of one, rather remarkably hard part. There will be more, because that’s life. But this phase pushed me to my max.

The concept with the Mobile Art Studio is to enable my husband and I to live a life that is more geographically mobile. In this life we will have significantly reduced financial commitments, thereby reducing the pressure on our incomes and freeing us up to be more choosy with how we spend our time on earth. For me, that means spending more time on art, writing, and being outdoors.

Right now, we are in transition. We are on our way to our vision with the Mobile Studio in hand, but we’re still firmly rooted in one way of being even as we try something new. 

This is it! The final sleep before we’re back in the house.

What Wes and I have done these past couple of months is inhabit multiple worlds simultaneously. These are worlds that are somewhat at odds with each other, and require intense communication and logisticizing for both of us individually and together.

On the one hand, we still have a home and a mortgage. But we put it up on Airbnb this summer to produce additional income to help offset the cost of the Mobile Art Studio and the pickup journey. So, while we “pay” on our mortgage every month, in reality it’s mostly covered by rental revenue.

Still, this is our house with its brick and mortar walls. While our home has been rented and unavailable to us, we’ve inhabited the Mobile Art Studio, because of course. But, the design of the Mobile Art Studio is to be mobile, when what we’ve really been is quite stationary in our own community, because:

Wes is working full time, and I’m consulting part time. We both need to be professionally and physically present, which tacks some boundary around use of the Airstream, like where we can take it and when. That means that the Airstream has temporarily not been an instrument of freedom, but instead been a moving home base as we continue to live our lives the way we always have. That wasn’t the design of the Mobile Art Studio in our vision, although it is functioning much better at this than the back of our truck did last year when we did our trial Airbnb run. 

Since we’re trying to make money on renting on the house and don’t want to negate this effort by shacking up at expensive RV parks, we’ve sourced various driveways of very, incredibly gracious friends who see what we’re trying to do here and are supporting us. My gratitude for this is profound. My level of “over” this – the constant looking ahead, moving around, backing in, monitoring tanks so we know when it’s time to move, being cognizant of and doing our best to not overstay our welcome, coordinating cars, pulling into various RV parks over the weekend so we can fill on water and dump our tanks – is also high. It’s time to stay put somewhere for a while.

Don’t worry! I’m pretty over this phase, but still grateful every day and in love with the Mobile Studio itself. Wes agrees. This is the life move, but it’s just a big transition to keep moving to where we want to be.

I’m not sorry we did this. We have a level of financial stability as a result of what we’ve done this summer that is, frankly, a relief. I also know it takes significant effort to make a change in life, particularly one of this magnitude that we’re implementing over a relatively short period of time. I am VERY proud of us for identifying where we want to go and taking bold and difficult steps to get there, asking for and accepting incredible support from our people, but also maxing ourselves on sweat equity in order to realize our dreams. We didn’t do this alone, but we did do it. I’ll take this over being bored, stagnant, or stuck.

But, I’ve hit my max. I’m sitting here thinking about what it means to be on this final day of living full time in the trailer (during this phase of life), and I’m in the middle of this extreme calm that feels sort of like being suspended in water. I hit peak stress sometime in the last couple of weeks, and it’s now spitting me out to a kind of flat-line, eerie placidity. I have heard about this crash after intense stress. I have cautioned others about it. But this is the first time I’ve experienced it myself, and I will say, it feels terrible. I can get to a relaxed state, but usually small triggers (an email, an indecipherable text, a missing item at the grocery store, an emotional tv show) spike an outsized physical response.

I need rest. I need a reset.

What I need to do right now is take really good care of myself. For me, that means being extremely careful about planning, erring on the side of not, so as to have enough recovery. It means focusing deeply on things I care about and am committed to, like some exciting upcoming client work through consulting, and commissions. I’m training for a speedy 10K in November, and it feels excellent to be back out on my feet running in a consistent, structured way.

It means finding ways to give back, big and small, so as to feel part of something bigger especially in this crazy and often heartbreaking world. I have to feel like I’m contributing.

This period of my life will reap amazing memories and insights. It’s already taught me exactly where my max is, which frankly I didn’t know before. I have no regret about it, but it is time for this to come to a close. I’m ready.

The big pivot and my summer of stunned

I can see the pattern in my life now. When a big change is underway, even a good change, I go deep. I’ve spent entire summers brooding and moody.

This late, raining, cool summer in Alaska is, apparently, no different. I just completed my annual Fall Mix playlist, and the tracks on this one go hard – some of them (including the kickoff song) upbeat and earnest; others achingly sad. That’s how I’m feeling right now: a lot.

What’s happening is that I’m selling paintings faster than I can create them. Commission work is steady. I’m honored (truly) to speak at various events and even a conference; I have a lineup of fun events this fall (I’ll update my website as those details are locked in!). I’m almost sold out of greeting cards and am currently printing a new round. The more connections I make, the more the business side of my art grows, which sustains my ability to financially support myself while doing something I love. To be blunt about it, soon I will be in a position to sustain myself on art revenue. It’s increasingly steady and I can’t and won’t ignore that trend, or chalk it up to fluke.

Is it work? Yes, of course. Do I feel incredibly lucky for it? Also, yes.

So, what – this whole write up is a version of me pinching myself out loud that my dreams and plans are steadily turning into reality. Shouldn’t I be out celebrating? Am I just here to brag; to say, look everyone I did it? I’m doing it?

Truth is, I’m stunned. I’m actually gobsmacked. Sincerely, really. And I’m realizing that change and growth necessitates more decision points. If what I really want to continue to do is art, and if art – by way of you, reading this, and everyone I am fortunate to connect with through painting – is increasingly supporting me as part of a positive feedback loop, I also need to make more time and energy for it. 

I’m learning that the more I put in, the more it grows.

Hence the broodiness, the looking around me and zooming out from my life and figuring out what levers need to be shifted where, to accomodate yet more change. Where to go from here? What are my immediate next steps, and what about longer term? What do I want – no, what do I really want?

I’m going deep so I can be bold and true. I’m asking myself hard questions, and getting on the phone with my besties. It’s one life. I’m lucky to have a whole hell of a lot that matters to me in this one, and a lot of worthy demands on my attention. I’m figuring out both how to balance those, but also where to shift.

It’s safe to say that this moment in time balloons in front of me, that lifting feeling in my chest when it feels so good I just let my mind wander around it until comprehension hits (and that feels good too); and I’m also trying on the different facets of next steps to take from here.

All from the Mobile Art Studio, as my husband and I live out of it while renting out our home this summer! 

Put in that context, it’s not surprising that I’m feeling big things.

P.S. – Here’s one thing I’m working on where I need help! Palmer-area people: I am looking for a good spot to park the Mobile Studio from October – April. Ideally, I’ll find an enclosed, heated (not toasty, but above freezing) open air storage spot where I can plug in for nominal electric use, so I can continue to paint from the Studio through the winter. The studio is 10′ tall and 19′ long. Will gladly pay either cash and/or in kind with art, and would love a means of being a value-add to a community need or ongoing project. Please comment on this post or message me any leads or ideas!

Learning the great unclench

Saying that I’m “self taught” as an artist feels obnoxious to me, and it’s only semi-true. 

Did I ever take any formal classes on technique and composition? No. I feel conflicted about that – I wish I had some shared language and knowledge about basic painting techniques so I could connect with other artists and understand the nuts and bolts a little better and more formally. But, I don’t wish it enough to take a painting class, at least not right now. 

“Self taught” invokes that kind of solo it alone, pull yourself up by the bootstraps, sickness is a state of mind type of very western mindset that I think has partial value in terms of personal responsibility but is also grossly incomplete. While I by and large learned painting technique through painstaking trial and error, my parents bought me my notebooks and pencils when I was a kid and encouraged my drawing. My friend and art mentor suggested I try my hand at painting since I seemed to like drawing so much. My school gave me supplies and time to focus on painting. Many peers, friends, and strangers took time to examine my art, give me feedback, and even buy my work. 

I’m always learning, both from the paintings themselves and from my community at large. Recently, I’ve been thinking about a friend’s practice of “unclenching”. Yep, think butt cheeks and fists: that squeezing, holding on tight, tense feeling that also seems to settle in my shoulders.

Deep in a painting, especially during that “murky middle”, I get tense easily. It’s the fear talking. The fear of not being able to complete this painting, or this part looking wrong. I’ll get exposed for the non-artist I really am: not schooled, no real skills.

(That’s the tension-causing clench voice in the back of my mind talking).

In these moments, I have to remind myself to relax. No, really: physically take a deep breath and bring my shoulders down from my ears. Feel my belly breathing in and out. Wiggle my legs and arms; roll my head. It all comes down to that breath; feeling it and breathing it slowly and relaxed.

It helps the process of painting feel better. And, I think it makes for better paintings: there is better flow when I relax. I trust myself to take the right steps, even if on canvas the brushstroke marks I’m leaving don’t look quite right yet. I can feel that there is a bigger picture and I just have to keep going along and trying to feel good moment to moment, versus stressing about what’s just happened or what’s next.

So, yes, in a way I’m self taught. But also, absolutely not. This “unclenching” comment, completely unrelated to painting and dropped casually by a friend, has stuck with me and helped make me a better (and happier) artist.

Nothing says “loosening up” like bright pink lipstick while painting, right? Also – you can see we were in New Mexico when this pic was taken! All up in Georgia O’Keefe’s old haunts; it was pretty spectacular and a good place to relax and take in amazing scenery.

Epiphany – the mobile studio is changing how I paint

You know how with an idea or plan that hasn’t happened yet, often there’s a snapshot somewhere in the back of your mind that represents it? Maybe you can articulate it, maybe you can’t. Often, I don’t know what I subconsciously envisioned until I see the real deal and say something along the lines of, “I pictured…”.

In retrospect, my snapshot summarizing the Mobile Art Studio concept was me, with the studio, down on the wide gravel bar by the Knik River in Palmer, mountains jutting in every direction.

This is a stone’s throw from my house, but also someplace I probably otherwise wouldn’t paint because with my setup it takes too much to schlep all the supplies out there – and then, for what? I’m not a plein air painter (yet).

But with the studio, all supplies would be on board. I could paint indoors or out. I could chat with people.

As I imagined this I was, of course, seated at the kitchen table in my very non-mobile home, with my table easel set up, maybe with a podcast going. I was imagining a different future and trying to paint my way into it.

What surprised me this morning is realizing that I won’t just bring my painting to the places I visit and pick up a brush exactly the same as I would anyplace else. These places will inform how I paint, and likely change my art.

The very idea of the mobile studio is that somedays are sunny; some are rainy. I might set up outside or in. Or, like this morning, the wind blew so persistently – as it does in the high desert – that by the time I arrived outside at a park picnic table where I’d set up to paint, my water had tipped over and (lidded) palette with all the paint colors had flipped. Red mixed with black mixed with yellow and pink.

I used to have a controlled environment that enabled me to create and recreate almost the same context for paintings every day. There was no breeze. The lighting was consistent. I controlled the temperature.

This was both reassuring for the part of me that loves reliability and organization, and soul killing for the part that needs challenge and change.

Well, a flipped palette to start a painting session is certainly challenge and change. I decided to roll with it and have fun with the painting, feeling a little looser – like the wind still roiling around as I held down my palette with my palm, painting with the other hand – than I usually would.

The paint flowed easily. I didn’t allow myself to stop and inspect as often as I otherwise might. I just kept it moving. Even at points where I wasn’t sure what I was doing was adding up, I just kept on fluidly working.

The painting itself isn’t done yet, as the epiphany isn’t. But it is dawning on me that alongside my life circumstances changing, my approach to painting itself and thus my art is changing and growing. I am down on that gravel bar now, but I can actually feel the breeze on my face and the light shifting as the clouds skid around. The dream is alive, and it – somehow shockingly – very much is real life in all of its sensations and challenges. I love it, but differently than I subconsciously imagined.

Now that it’s finally a reality…what’s it like?!

For someone who disdains core exercises – as in, situps – I’ve gotten pretty good at them. I remind myself when the burn is happening that I can endure it. By going deeper into the moment, instead of trying to distract myself from it, I seem to fare better.

Related to this is how proficient I have become at holding. Holding boredom, frustration, sameness. It reached a fever pitch during the pre-vaccination days of Covid when Alaska felt like a (very beautiful) snowglobe in which I was trapped; specifically the walls of my home and the (very beautiful) views from my neighborhood.

Even outrageous beauty kills me, if it’s too much of the same.

I’m learning that while I do have the capacity to hold, to be still, to stay the course, to endure, it’s also deadly to my spirit. I thrive in movement. I prefer running to ab exercises.

Do I still do the core work? Yes. It’s good for me. Do I still choose a path and stay the course when necessary? Of course. Not only is that part of getting to where I want to be in life sometimes, it’s also needed so I can be there for people/things I care about – from family and friends, to my colleagues and consulting/writing work. Following through on what I say I will do is a deeply embedded value of mine, related to responsibility and integrity.

I picked a course of bringing the Mobile Art Studio into being, starting in 2020 and solidified in 2021. This required me to be very, very still in one place for what felt like a very long time. I focused deeply, alongside my husband, on all that was required to bring this dream to life. It required an enormous amount of energy and discipline from us: to imagine, discuss, adapt, and plan together; and then to double down on money and logistics in the most profound way I think either of us have ever focused our attention and resources on one thing.

For a very long time, we pulled as hard as we could, from basically the same deep place, to source what we’d need to finance the studio. It was about my art business, but also, for the two of us, a pivot in the course of our lives enabled by having a trailer from which, ultimately, we could live and travel. 

The most extreme measure we took was Airbnb’ing our house and living in our truck for weeks at a time. I remember saying to Wes as we lay in the back of Fluffy the Dodge Ram’s slightly leaky truck bed as rain poured (poured!) down and we helplessly watched a trail of water snake down the side onto any already sodden clump of paper towels, this is in the name of a life change. This time next year it will be better. We’re doing this, for that.

The rain didn’t let up. It felt like it stayed that way for weeks last summer.

We held the course. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, to sleep in the truck for nights on end, to run the same sameness day after day, to skip travel plans, to say no to fun opportunities, to live by a strict budget, to transfer everything I could out of every paycheck toward the studio and focus on growing my art and painting my paintings. It required a kind of routine and focus that kills me. But I knew it was in service to this dream.

So I held. I held on even when it was so boring, so maddening, and so frustrating. My muscles shake sometimes when I’m near exhaustion, but I know I can make it through the rest of the plank even if it seems impossible. Moment by moment.

And now, I’m sitting here in the Mobile Art Studio itself, having picked it up in Ohio and learned to drive it, having completed my first commission and about to start another one this morning, with my sister getting ready for the day and Wes about to fly in. I made it to the desert. I get to see my stepdaughter in a couple short weeks. We’ll caravan around my (other) favorite part of the world; I’ll keep on painting, writing, and consulting.

When I saw the studio in its entirety for the first time, with my new logos emblazoned on both sides and website on the back; the truly beautiful and iconic silver Airstream silhouette, I cried and laughed as I walked toward it, sharing the moment with the designer and my new friend, and one of the many people at the shop who worked on it (Kelly teased Tommy: “you made her cry!”). I couldn’t comprehend that this thing, this idea, something I’d gazed at the mockups for for hours, and even masking-taped out the dimensions in my dad’s basement to get a sense of the space – it was real, it was done, it was right there in front of me.

The moment that I cut the check for it was terrifying, because it stretched the upper limits of everything that I’d saved – and I and we truly gave this everything – but at the same time, it was a relief, because it was done. There was no more unknown quantity. We’d come in close to our budget, and I had enough to pay for the overage. That was it, game over – the trailer was officially mine. Ours! No more wondering, no more throwing everything I have toward it and holding my breath that it would be enough.

Now that I have it in hand and am doing the things I said I would do from it, there is no chafe. There is no nagging, oh, but I wish we’d designed it this way; no, oh, but the reality of this thing is not as good as the dream. I really thought there might be. After all, life has taught me repeatedly that the grass isn’t greener. Now that I’m here, it should look an awful lot like the rest of my life, but just superimposed on a new setting.

But it’s not like that. It is better than the dream. It is everything I hoped for and more. I feel happier and more fulfilled than I have in a very long time.

The biggest thing is that I once again have the fire in me of movement; of dynamism. I have enough knowns and unknowns to make life feel at once secure and safe, but also exciting and immersive. On the one hand, this isn’t about a thing, which – glorious though it is – is what the Alli Harvey Mobile Art Studio is. But on the other hand, this – gorgeous, functional, amazing – thing is the catalyst for a new phase in my and our lives. It’s very much about the thing, and what it enables me and us to do.

I am both proud of my ability to hold for so long, and also hopeful and optimistic that that’s the last time I’ll have to do that in a long time. I’m ready, again, for freedom and movement. And that’s how this feels. 

I am so profoundly grateful for every single one of you who has been part of this with me, helping me both imagine and bring this into reality. Now that I’m here, I can say in full, wholehearted truth that it is everything I dreamed of, and so much more. Better than getting to inhabit this new reality is knowing that I did zero parts of it alone, and I get to share this feeling of wonder and awe in all that we did with so many amazing people. Thank you all. Thank you all.

I will try to keep unburying these little blips and thoughts and reflections from the back of my brain to share back as they come. It’s my way of trying to continue to invite you all to experience this growing reality. It’s so exciting and profound for me. And, you know me, the spirit of my art and writing is all about creating connection. I love being in this adventure for my own experience and life, but it’s so much better shared.

I’ll keep updating from the road!

Pics below 🙂

Excited in Ohio, ready for Mobile Studio pickup

This week is Mobile Art Studio pickup week.

Of course, this is to the best of the very capable P&S Trailer team’s ability. They’re pretty great at what they do, but they’re not in charge of supply chain or any other monkey wrenches thrown in best laid plans. My biggest lesson learned from this whole process so far is cultivating a sense of trust and fluidity, trying to roll with whatever happens and understanding that there’s a bigger picture that I likely don’t understand. This is all some semblance of the mantra “it’s all okay” or “it’ll all work out”, two phrases I’ve been humming in the back of my mind that give me instant calm. 

Maybe that all sounds woo-woo, but I have a choice here: I can fixate on dates and details and wring my hands when I perceive things as “off track”. Then, I can follow the first wrinkle in my plan, and pursue the legion of “what if’s”, tracing the domino effect as far back as it will go. This keeps me awake at night. Or, I can take a breath, let myself feel momentary frustration or fear about what might happen and how, and then distract myself with the wonderful trappings of life in all of its continuous, sensory, surprising and exquisite moments.

Which would you choose?

Before I left on this trip, I had a nice sit down talking to with myself. I’d realized I was becoming hooked on stress when one stressor departed and I caught myself feeling brief respite and relief, and then immediately rooting around in the corner of my brain for the next thing to worry about. 

I coached myself to be present for this trip and time in my life. After all, I have it in my ability to inhabit it, or ruin it. Worry and fear is a stain that grows and infects. Presence and trust soothes, heals, and grows.

Phase one was, of course, “simply” getting the truck down to the Lower 48. My friend Bailey from Reno, NV flew up to Alaska to join me for the adventure. I couldn’t have asked for a better friend and road trip pal, in general and also specifically at this phase in my life. We shared excitement and complementary competencies and approaches to car camping and life on the road. We shared similar taste in music and food. We shared inhabiting these major pivot points in both of our lives with a sense of anticipation, yes, but also openness, joy, and optimism. For Bailey, she started a new job the Monday after she flew home. For me, I moved on from this first phase to where I am now, which is heading to meet the designer and builders of this trailer and, ultimately, driving off into many sunsets to come.

I am writing this blog post from a friend’s beautiful backyard in sunny, 75 degree Cincinnati. “Whirlydads” from that eye-popping, near-fluorescent green foliage color that occurs in early spring are spinning their way down all around me. I went on a 5.5 mile run alongside my friend’s husband, who I am meeting and getting to know for the first time after years of friendship with her. These two are taking good care of me – dinners are planned out, laundry and showers provided, and a glass of local bourbon handed to me at the end of my long drive day to get there. The conversation rolls naturally; I get to sip my coffee while catching up with my friend.

This is the high life, no? Tomorrow we’ll go to a nearby coworking space, where we’ll both spend the day focused on consulting. First, of course, I’ll run. After, we’ll go to dinner.

I feel profoundly grateful. I could not do this alone, and I’m not. From contributions to gas, places to stay, road trip songs on the collaborative playlist and other music to listen to on the road, recommendations of must-see stops, friends and family joining for legs of the journey, our incredible mechanics, people commissioning paintings and buying art/swag, and of course, Wes, and friends and family who are constantly cheering us forward, this is a BIG EFFORT that is happening with and for so many people beyond just me. I am so happy to share this feeling, and stunned that so many people want in. 

And I do, I feel so very present, happy to be here and taking this exact moment in. Part of that presence is also enjoying the little jolting feeling of excitement about what’s next, whatever that may be.

Snapshots from Mobile Studio Pickup Part I!

A bigger picture for the coming months

I always start with the very background of a new painting. The goal of the first paint is simply to cover the canvas: the deepest colors; the broadest shapes. This is a fun session because it’s fast, and about fluidity and big picture. I’m not focused on finite details, but setting myself up so that when I get there those will simply be finishing touches on layers of layers of the slow build to clarity.

Some memories as a point of reference to help guide me into Mobile Art Studio pickup and launch:

  • It was 75 degrees and warming under a bright blue desert sky as I alternated walking and jogging a trail that wound gently upward and promised rock features. I took in prickly pear and barrel cactus on either side of the trail with both appreciation and wariness – no false steps here. At first, the feature ahead looked tiny and unimpressive: a large gray boulder surrounded by smatterings of red rock with bleached green plant life lumps in between. But I got closer and slowed, my face sheened with sweat and my calves covered in a light dusty film. Split, cavernous red rocks glowed under the sun with lime green, early spring desert plant life filling the cracks. Bright light from a clear sky contrast the deep blue with fiery sandstone, all radiating steady warmth from the surface and cool from the shadows. I started crying. It had been a long time since I’d visited the desert from Alaska and I felt lucky to be there. I wished I could beam in everyone I knew and loved to share that moment and feeling with me.
  • I was painting a 12”x12” rendering of sun and snow filled winter woods on my table easel at home in Alaska. I noticed the photo reference was all pattern and color: branches fanning out and locking, with cool blue and purple snow lining and punctuating every available upward-facing surface. On the outer edges of the painting, a warm red sky attempted to push through the tightly woven trees. Toward the middle, a glowing orange and finally a piercing yellow-white punched through the center. I decided to focus on the patterns and colors over the subject: literally looking at the forest through the trees as I painted versus focusing on finite detail and patiently waiting for it to add up to a whole. I had such joy painting that painting, because I was playing. As I dotted the final bits of snow on the surface, I took a step back and felt finished at the same time as the painting. I smiled. I signed my name.
  • We waited for weeks to finally get the title for our truck, Fluffy. As we discovered when we were getting set up to sell, we’d never received the title from the bank when we paid off the vehicle in 2019. And, as I discovered when I went to the Alaska DMV for what I thought would be a simple, if annoying, process to get the title, it wasn’t actually in Alaska. We had purchased Fluffy in Nevada, therefore we’d have to get on the horn with their DMV to finally get our title in hand. Wes did. Then he did again. Then he did probably eight more times, with hold times as long as two hours before he finally reached someone (on days when they didn’t simply throw up a busy signal and basically say “we’re too busy, better luck next time”). We had a buyer lined up who was, thankfully, patient. All things said and done: Wes initially got misinformation from the DMV about sending in our expedite forms, which resulted in an agent seeing the situation and expediting us even more than we initially would have been. We got the title and officially sold the vehicle with days to spare before I hit the road. It worked out.

Experience and enjoy the moments. Be present.

See the forest through the trees. Have fun and keep perspective.

Worry is a fool’s errand. Keep moving forward and trust the bigger picture. It will work out.

I don’t know what the details are yet, but this piece serves as those bigger picture brush strokes on which I can begin to layer my upcoming journey. I’m so thrilled and grateful for this phase of life and whatever and wherever it brings me, including and especially the many people and places that sustain me. I’m feeling very full, open, and ready.

%d bloggers like this: