Artist in Residence: Poinsett State Park

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Earlier this month, I was honored to have the chance to be the Artist in Residence at Poinsett State Park. I spent a week in the woods, soaking up inspiration and creating art inspired by it. This was my first time doing anything like this and it was such a good experience.

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I stayed in Cabin #2, which was built in 1937 and had been updated with modern conveniences, but still felt rustic. Each morning I’d wake up to the sound of birds, eat breakfast on the sun porch, and hit the trails for a few hours.

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There’s miles and miles of trails in the park, and my favorite ones were the Cowasee, Scout Loop, and of course the trail alongside Mill Pond, which is just about as scenic as it gets. I'm not originally from the south so the sight of Spanish moss is still a bit surreal to me. It looks like a movie set!

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After a few hours in the woods, I’d come back to the cabin and spend the hottest hours of the day painting, needle felting, and sketching. There was no shortage of inspiration in the park. Ideas would come to me while sitting by the fire pit after sunset or canoeing through the lily pads listening to choir of frogs on the shore.

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I definitely lost track of time, and had no idea what day it was for most of the week. I can’t tell you the last time I disconnected like that, and really focused on my work without any interruption. It was so good for my soul!

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I created nearly 20 pieces during my residency and have another 20 in the works that will be ready for my upcoming exhibit “Art in the Wild” which runs June 14-16th at Art & Light Gallery in Greenville, SC.

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A big thank you to the South Carolina Parks Department for this amazing opportunity! If you’re interested in applying for next year, check the SC Parks website in the fall for more info: https://southcarolinaparks.com/

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Check out this short video documentary that shows my week as Artist in Residence in a nutshell. Hard to believe 6 nights, several miles of hiking, hours of working, and a lot of fun in between, can be condensed into 3 1/2 minutes, but here it is! 

Writing Changes Taste in Music

When I began writing Two Brothers, One Redhead, and a Stolen Giraffe, I had a hard time finding appropriate background music to listen to while I worked. The story takes place on a run-down farm in the middle of nowhere Nebraska, and the setting has a certain worn-in honest vibe to it, so when I went to choose some quiet heartfelt background music to inspire me while I typed, I came up almost empty handed.

Ever since I was old enough to buy my own tunes, I’ve been dedicated to just about every kind of rock music there is: hard rock, indie rock, alternative, punk rock, metal, classic rock, you name it. The problem was, none of that music really fit with the story I was working on, and that was important to me.

At the time, back in 2010 when I wrote the novel, there were exactly two bands in my entire music library that worked with the story, and they were Iron & Wine and Doug Burr. They were the oddballs in my music library that didn’t quite fit with the rest. I wrote the entire first draft of Two Brothers, One Redhead, and a Stolen Giraffe listening to nothing but Doug Burr, one album after the other, and then back around again all the way through, over and over. His music inspired me so much it even made its way into the story in Chapter two:

Excerpt from Two Brothers, One Redhead, and a Stolen Giraffe:

When she turned to catch him staring at her, Daniel quickly found something to talk about. Picking up the blue plastic gadget that was haphazardly wired to her tape deck, he asked, “What is this thing. Is this like…an iPod or something?”

“It’s my music box,” Jo said with a grin. “Yes, it’s like an iPod, if by that you mean an MP3 player. It’s not the fancy kind you probably have back home.”

Daniel wished he had an iPod. He wished he had a cell phone too, and a newer watch that actually kept time, and maybe a warmer winter coat for those cold days in January up north. There were a lot of material things Daniel wished he had, but he didn’t dwell on that too much, like Dylan was prone to do and even beg for from time to time. “What kind of music do you listen to?” he asked, trying to operate the gadget that was the size and heft of a block of cheese. This music box of hers was ancient in technology years, and it probably belonged in a museum. He could only guess what kind of computer it would hook up too. No flat screens around here, no high speed Internet. In this year, 2007 A.D., it seemed the Larsen’s were not the type to save up their pennies for silly things such as these.

“Little bit of everything,” she replied. “I really like Doug Burr. He has the most soulful voice I’ve ever heard.”

“Don’t know him.”

Jo took the music box and punched a few buttons so Daniel could hear this soulful voice for himself. “This one’s called ‘Always Travel Light’.”

What an appropriate selection. Daniel always traveled light, from foster home to foster home, and now to Josephine’s farm in the Heartland of America. It was so easy to leave his last home, just days ago. There was nothing in that spacious brick Colonial other than a few drawers full of clothes, a couple of overdue books from the library, and an alarm clock on the shared nightstand that his brother could sleep through despite its obnoxious volume. He wouldn’t miss any of it.

Throughout the editing process, and the long & drawn out publishing process, I started picking up new bands that had similarities to Doug Burr and Iron & Wine, and now my entire taste in music has changed. There are still plenty of days when I break out the old favorites (and play them loud), but now I crave the heartfelt words and emotional music of Noah Gunderson, Damien Jurado, Ben Howard, and Josh Ritter. I never would have guessed writing a story could change my whole taste in music.  

 

This is the playlist I put together for Two Brothers, One Redhead, and a Stolen Giraffe. The collection of songs was a few years in the making - I made additions as I discovered new artists, and each song goes with the story in a special way. For those who’ve read the story, you’ll notice they’re in chronological order!

Spotify playlist

Hope you enjoy the book and all the music that goes with it!

When Making & Writing Collide

In May of this year, my second novel was published, titled Two Brothers, One Redhead, and a Stolen Giraffe. It’s a quirky coming-of-age story that takes place on a farm in Nebraska, where a pair of well-meaning but impulsive brothers and their sixteen-foot stowaway spend several weeks falling in love with their newfound freedom, the wide open land, and the book-smart redhead who lives there.

It’s no surprise both sides of my creative mind have influenced each other recently, and that the process of writing & publishing Two Brothers, One Redhead, and a Stolen Giraffe has lead me to create a special collection of work inspired by the story. Here’s a sneak peek at some of the new pieces I’ve been working on lately, all inspired by the book. These are available for purchase in my Etsy Shop.

My favorite series features needle felted paintings, jewelry, and laser etched wood blocks that contrast an aerial view of farmland in Nebraska with the patterned hide of a giraffe. I loved that contrast in the story - an exotic African creature living on a rural farm.

To celebrate these two new things, my book release and new handmade collection, I’m hosting a giveaway on Instagram this week. The winner will receive a signed copy of Two Brothers, One Redhead, and a Stolen Giraffe, a $10 Amazon.com gift card, plus their choice of handmade pendant (shown below).

To enter the contest, simply follow both of my Instagram accounts @sarahmandellauthor & @onceagainsam and comment on the giveaway image (on either account) letting me know which pendant you’d choose if you’re the winner. Contest is open worldwide now through July 10. Good luck to all!

Travel in the Springtime

This spring, my husband and I embarked on the longest road trip either of us had ever been on. We drove from Greenville, SC to Austin, TX to attend SXSW and exhibit at Renegade Craft Fair. The events that brought us 1,100 miles each way were exciting all on their own, but I have to be honest, the drive and all of the pitstops were quite memorable as well. 

Every time we travel long distances like this, it does good things for my brain. After the playlists get old, and the scenery gets monotonous, that's when my mind starts working. During our long drive west (and back), I developed about 5 new jewelry product concepts, fleshed out 2 new novel ideas, and decided on some major business changes I wanted to implement for my craft biz, Once Again Sam. I owe so much of my inspiration to being utterly bored! 

Seeing new things is also quite inspirational for me. We stopped in New Orleans, made a run out to San Antonio for a day trip, and saw as much of Austin as we could manage in the better part of a week we were there. Here's a little glimpse of some of the sights that have stuck with me long after our return home. 

< Click photo below to view album >

 

If I Were A Hitchhiker

If I ever found myself on the side of a highway with my thumb in the air, I’d like to think I wouldn’t have a destination in mind. I’d like to think I’d go anywhere by way of any route, and that the freedom of the road and whomever was at the wheel would take me somewhere beautiful.

I have never hitched a ride in my life, and thanks to my mom’s words of warning, I’ve never gotten into a car with a stranger. Maybe that’s why the idea of hitchhiking is so interesting to me! I do, however, regularly get into the car with my husband and set off on a drive to nowhere in particular, camera at the ready. We drive aimlessly through the countryside, just for the pleasure of it. When we do these random drives, we always always always find beautiful things in unexpected places, and it’s a joy to photograph these sights because I know it’s my only chance to capture them, we’d never be able to find our way back even if we tried. Dilapidated farm houses, unusual wildlife, amazing cloud formations, abandoned towns...these are all things you can’t plan on discovering, you can’t set out looking for them, you have to come upon them purely by chance.

I experienced a cross country roadtrip vicariously through Nick and Celia’s journey. Although my main characters had no specific route planned for their trip, I got to spend a lot of time looking at maps and deciding where to have their story unfold. I was able to tie in some of my own travel experiences with the story early on in the book, but as Nick and Celia drove on, I got to write about places I’ve never been before, and that was an enjoyable challenge.

Now that the novel is complete and published, I daydream about doing a Nick and Celia road trip and following along with the book to visit all the places they passed through, though I’d prefer not to have to beg, borrow, or steal along the way.