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The Birth and Evolution of the Artist Portfolio

Every year, I like to make a solo pilgrimage to Portland, Oregon.  I think it somehow reconnects me to the freedom I felt before I had kids and greater responsibilities.  I get to choose what I do with my time, whether it is lollygagging at Powell's, a slow jog through Forest Park, or a pint at one of the ever increasing number of breweries in town.  Often, a highlight is hanging out with some really special family friends we got to know and love while we were living there. Their home and lifestyle are inspiring, and I always leave feeling like I've taken some nugget home for living my life better.  And one of those times, it was drawing practice. 

At their cozy dining room table, the kids took turns showing me sketchbooks of detailed ink drawings that were carefully colored in with colored pencil.  "Prismacolors are the best," they assured me.  They made some drawings from creative memory, and others were taken from books like "20 Ways to Draw Everything" by Lisa Congdon.  I was delighted.  They were so much fun to look at.  And success seemed so attainable.  If your brain felt empty, you could just open up to a page full of inspiration.  That afternoon we were out for a stroll in St. John's, and I bought my first sketchbook, saying, "Maybe I can fill this up by the time you visit us!".  My kind friend sent me home armed with a fistful of Prismacolors to get started.



Once home, I got on the library website to put a hold on a variety of "20 Ways to Draw..." books, and as soon as they arrived, we were off and drawing.  It became a favorite daily practice to sit side by side with the sketchbook in front of us and the drawing book open up above.  The boys and I would take turns drawing and either color our own drawing or each other's.  I started seeing inspiration in other places: on wine labels, the plant on the table, the front of a book.  I realized that so much of drawing is really just about seeing, and about practice. 




As we did more of this, I wanted a way to take it with us.  Our family has a near-weekly ritual of meeting our neighbors at the local pizza pub.  Mostly it's a night off from cooking and clean-up, and we can be in and out in 30 minutes if the kids are squirrley.  Thus: the birth of the portfolio.  I needed something with space for our sketchbook, the pens, the colored pencils and a sharpener.  And it had to be durable and stay closed in transport.  The first time I brought it, the kids were busy with something else, so the other mom and I sat side by side drawing colorful beetles.  It was lovely.



So that got me thinking, "Maybe this is something a 'real' artist could use".  Coincidentally, I had just shipped a bag to a painter in Kansas, Michelle Wooderson, and we had exchanged a few friendly messages in the process.  I started following her instagram feed that is full of her beautiful watercolor paintings, and decided I needed to pick her artist's brain.  She graciously responded to my inquiries about how to make a portfolio most useful for painters, and offered suggestions on size and features.  Through that exchange, I discovered the Jeanne Oliver Network , where Michelle teaches an online watercolor class.  I've been taking the class (albeit slowly), and am excited about the new skills I am gaining and the new creative outlet!  She has a blog and a shop, and has excellent tools and advice for artists of all levels.  

Photo: Michelle Wooderson

The Artist Portfolio is currently available in 2 sizes (set up with drawing in mind), and will soon be available with the 'painters' option, the major difference being the orientation of the tool pockets (longer on the 'painters' to accommodate brushes).  I'd love to hear from you if you have suggestions for what you would use this for and how to make it even better!  


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