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Let’s go sketching together

In-progress photo of Craneway Pavilion sketch by Chandler O'Leary

If you’re looking to bring a little sketching into your life, or you attended last month’s sketch outing and want a little training, you can learn the basics with me in July!

School of Visual Concepts photo by Chandler O'Leary

I’ll be teaching my one-day urban sketching workshop again at Seattle’s School of Visual Concepts on July 16—I only teach this workshop at most once a year, so if you’ve been wanting to get some drawing skills under your belt, this is your chance!

Materials for urban sketching workshop with Chandler O'Leary

In the class you’ll get a crash course in everything you need to get you on your feet and sketching. We’ll cover travel-friendly materials, tricks for setting the scene, finding inspiration on-the-go, and all kinds of drawing, watercolor, perspective and composition techniques.

In-progress photo of Chambers Bay Golf Course sketch by Chandler O'Leary

And of course, you’ll get plenty of hands-on experience with the chance to get out there and draw in the wild.

Students sketching in Seattle during urban sketching workshop with Chandler O'Leary

My favorite thing about teaching sketching workshops is seeing my students learn from each other. We’re all basically drawing the same thing, but since everyone has a different style, point of view and level of experience, the finished results are wildly varied.

Students sketching in Seattle during urban sketching workshop with Chandler O'Leary

Last year we all walked to South Lake Union Park, and I loved seeing what everyone chose to focus on in their sketchbooks.

Student sketching in Seattle during urban sketching workshop with Chandler O'Leary

We had both beginners and veterans among us that day, and everyone completed at least one full-color sketch (several went to town and came back with a whole handful of drawings!).

Student sketchbook drawings from urban sketching workshop with Chandler O'Leary

The really fun part is the end of class, where we all got together and shared our drawings. No two were even remotely alike, but all were completely gorgeous!

In-progress photo of San Francisco sketch by Chandler O'Leary

So if you want a fun kickstart to your new life as an urban sketcher, join us! Here are the details:

Urban Sketching: Learning on Foot
Saturday, July 16, 2016
School of Visual Concepts
2300 7th Avenue, Suite B, Seattle, WA
BYO sketching materials (a list of suggested materials will be sent when you sign up)
More info and registration here!
(Use the code GIVE_SMALL at checkout for a $25 discount!)

Note: unless it’s pouring rain, we’ll be sketching outdoors. Please dress accordingly, and plan to be on your feet! Bring lots of drinking water (and snacks if you need them), layered clothing, sunscreen, a protective hat, and good walking shoes. Last year it was 100°F outside, but thanks to everyone being prepared and smart about the heat, we still had a great time!


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Jaunt + Jot

"Jaunt + Jot" exhibition featuring sketchbook drawings by Chandler O'Leary. Photo by Shawn H. Nichols, taken at the Artist Trust on Tour: Tacoma event.

Photo by Shawn H. Nichols, taken at Artist Trust on Tour: Tacoma

If you happen to be in or passing through Tacoma soon, I’ve got a new show of sketchbook drawings up right now, at the brand new Feast Arts Center on Hilltop.

Installation of "Jaunt + Jot" exhibition featuring sketchbook drawings by Chandler O'Leary

Like the way I do it on my travel blog, the images in the exhibit are arranged thematically rather than chronologically—this made curating the show something of a challenge, since I have frillions of drawings to choose from. So I did a practice run on my living room floor, with a notebook in hand to jot everything down (seems fitting!).

Installation of "Jaunt + Jot" exhibition featuring sketchbook drawings by Chandler O'Leary

That ended up being a really good idea, because pre-arranging everything beforehand made the installation of the show much, much easier. All I had to do was measure and level everything, rather than try to make any aesthetic decisions on the fly. Still, you can see from the above photo that hanging a show is always a big, big mess—no matter how prepared I am ahead of time. Everything is total chaos until the last possible moment!

Installation of "Jaunt + Jot" exhibition featuring sketchbook drawings by Chandler O'Leary

The show consists of ten original sketchbooks, paired with reproduction prints hung on the walls of the gallery. Displaying original sketchbooks is always another challenge, since it’s only possible to show one page at a time, and the books are delicate enough that they can’t stand up to constant handling during the show. But the folks who run Feast, Todd Jannausch and Chandler Woodfin (yes, there are two Chandlers involved here!), had the great idea of displaying the books in unobtrusive, handmade glass tabletop cases.

Installation of "Jaunt + Jot" exhibition featuring sketchbook drawings by Chandler O'Leary

Here’s Todd putting one of them together—

"Jaunt + Jot" exhibition featuring sketchbook drawings by Chandler O'Leary. Photo by Shawn H. Nichols, taken at the Artist Trust on Tour: Tacoma event.

the end result is sleek and professional, and it made it easy for me to come in and turn the pages of each sketchbook once a week or so, to change things up during the show’s run and give folks the chance to see multiple pages over time.

"Jaunt + Jot" exhibition featuring sketchbook drawings by Chandler O'Leary

These little map cards tie everything together, providing a little context behind the drawings and explaining my rationale for the themes I chose for the prints.

"Jaunt + Jot" exhibition featuring sketchbook drawings by Chandler O'Leary

I’m so pleased with how the show came together—this has quickly become my very favorite solo show. So major thanks to Todd and Chandler for making it happen and handling the logistics!

"Jaunt + Jot" exhibition featuring sketchbook drawings by Chandler O'Leary. Photo by Shawn H. Nichols, taken at the Artist Trust on Tour: Tacoma event.

Photo by Shawn H. Nichols, taken at Artist Trust on Tour: Tacoma

As an added bonus, the folks at Artist Trust, a statewide arts organization, hosted an event to tie in with my exhibit opening. Since Artist Trust recently funded me with an artist grant to continue my sketchbook work, they asked me to speak about my process at the opening. I brought my very first travel sketchbook with me, and it was great to talk shop with the crowd that showed up that night!

"Jaunt + Jot" exhibition featuring sketchbook drawings by Chandler O'Leary. Photo by Shawn H. Nichols, taken at the Artist Trust on Tour: Tacoma event.

Photo by Shawn H. Nichols, taken at Artist Trust on Tour: Tacoma

The show closes on Sunday, June 12—here are all the details, if you’re looking to visit:

Jaunt + Jot: a solo sketchbook exhibition by Chandler O’Leary
May 19 through June 12, 2016
Feast Arts Center, 1402 S. 11th St., Tacoma, WA
Open Saturdays 12 to 4, Sundays 9 to 1, or by appointment

"Jaunt + Jot" exhibition featuring sketchbook drawings by Chandler O'Leary. Photo by Shawn H. Nichols, taken at the Artist Trust on Tour: Tacoma event.

Photo by Shawn H. Nichols, taken at Artist Trust on Tour: Tacoma

Or if you’d like to try your hand sketching yourself, Feast, Urban Sketchers-Tacoma and I are hosting a special ad-hoc sketch outing this Sunday, June 5, as part of Feast’s Sunday Coffee series! The event is free and open to anyone who would like to try their hand at urban sketching—no prior experience is necessary, and all you need to bring are your own sketch materials (paper or sketchbook, pen or pencil, watercolors, or whatever you like to use).

Here’s how it works: Feast Arts Center will open at 9 am on Sunday, so visitors can see the exhibit. Anyone interested in sketching will gather at 10 am at Feast for a quick meet-and-greet. We will then split up and sketch around the Hilltop neighborhood; you can choose to stick around Feast, or wander farther afield and sketch whatever strikes your fancy. Some people sketch in groups, others go off by themselves. Then we’ll all meet back at Feast at 12:30 for an informal show-and-tell of our sketches. This part is completely optional (so if you’re nervous about showing your drawings, you don’t have to!), but it’s always fun to see everybody’s different styles, materials and points of view. Feast will remain open until 1 pm. Here are those details again, in digest version:

Ad-hoc Sketch Outing, sponsored by Urban Sketchers-Tacoma
Sunday, June 5, 2016
Feast Arts Center (open 9 to 1)
1402 S. 11th St. Tacoma, WA
1. Meet at Feast by 10 am
2. Sketch in and around Hilltop
3. Show & tell at Feast at 12:30

Please note that this is not a class or workshop, so neither I nor any Urban Sketchers members will be offering instruction. But this is a great opportunity to meet other sketch artists and find inspiration. People tell me all the time that they’d love to try sketching, but aren’t sure where to start. This is a great way to get your feet wet amongst friends—so don’t be shy! Grab your pencils, and we’ll see you this Sunday!

Creation of this work was made possible in part by Artist Trust Grants for Artist Projects. Special thanks to Artist Trust, Feast Arts Center, School of Visual Concepts, and Urban Sketchers-Tacoma.

"Jaunt + Jot" exhibition featuring sketchbook drawings by Chandler O'Leary. Photo by Mary Holste.

Photo by Mary Holste.

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Seven for seven

Orcas Island sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I can hardly believe it, but I’ve now lived in the Pacific Northwest for seven years.

Mt. Rainier sketch by Chandler O'Leary

In that time I’ve done my very best to see as much of the region as possible, and document it all in my sketchbook.

Yakima apples sketch by Chandler O'Leary

So in honor of seven years, here are seven sketchbook drawings—

Seattle houseboat sketch by Chandler O'Leary

—presented in no particular order—

Columbia River sketch by Chandler O'Leary

—of some of my very favorte places

Panama Hotel sketch by Chandler O'Leary

and moments

Tacoma sketch by Chandler O'Leary

in the place I now call home.

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On the green

Chambers Bay golf course sketch by Chandler O'Leary

There’s a very big sporting event coming to my town next week—and even though I’m not a ticketholder (or even all that interested in the sport itself), the spectacle is already proving to be a big source of inspiration.

Process photo of "Title IX Iron" Dead Feminist broadside by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

So here’s another piece of what Jessica and I are working on—look for more next week!

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Souvenirs of 35 years

Ash from Mt. St. Helens

I have my tiny souvenir bottle of Mount Saint Helens ash sitting on my desk right now, as a reminder that it was thirty-five years ago today that the mountain erupted.

Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier over Portland; illustration by Chandler O'Leary

The event happened a year before I was born, so it’s not like I have personal memories of it—but Mt. St. Helens still crops up in my work now and again. It also shows up on the horizon from time to time—

Mt. St. Helens sketchbook drawing by Chandler O'Leary

—but not as frequently as you might think. It’s often in its own bank of clouds, so it’s not visible much, even when Mt. Rainier and the other volcanoes are out. In fact, I had never seen Mt. St. Helens up close (despite a few attempts) until ten days ago. With the anniversary of the eruption looming, I figured it was high time I remedied the situation. It just didn’t seem right that so far the only thing I’d seen in any detail was the gift shop.

Speaking of which… Normally I’d say that my sketchbook drawings are my best souvenirs, but I think in this case, there might be an exception:

Mt. St. Helens souvenirs

Our “before and after” salt and pepper shakers, given to us by a geologist friend. I’m not gonna lie: there’s no way I could ever top these (er, no pun intended).

As another “souvenir” of today’s anniversary, I’ve got sketches of Mt. St. Helens from the past few years over on Drawn the Road Again. So go take a look—but head for high ground if you hear any rumbling!

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Picture pages

Books featuring illustrations by Chandler O'Leary

Speaking of new books, my work has appeared in a few other recent titles, and I finally had a chance to share some photos with you.

"Nonstop Color Garden" book, featuring illustrations by Chandler O'Leary

First up is another garden book, which I hinted at some months ago: The Nonstop Color Garden, published by Cool Springs Press, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group.

"Nonstop Color Garden" book, featuring illustrations by Chandler O'Leary

This is the second garden book I’ve illustrated with Quarto, though while the first one was about centering a garden around edible plants, this one is about creating a year-round display of color.

"Nonstop Color Garden" book, featuring illustrations by Chandler O'Leary

I contributed a dozen illustrations to the book—each showing a garden plan throughout the year, with the color evolving and changing with the seasons.

"Nonstop Color Garden" book, featuring illustrations by Chandler O'Leary

The book couldn’t have arrived with more perfect timing for me—now that the Tailor and I are in the new house, we have all sorts of ideas for how we’d like build and shape a future garden. One of the things I always admire in Pacific Northwest gardens is how they’re bursting with color in nearly every month of the year. Just researching the illustrations for The Nonstop Color Garden gave me lots of new knowledge and ideas (and the book doesn’t just deal with one region, either!), and you can bet I’ll be reading the finished book carefully for even more inspiration. Big thanks to Quarto and my fantastic art director, Brad Springer, for helping turn my thumb just a shade greener!

"Urban Sketching Handbook," featuring sketchbook drawing by Chandler O'Leary

The other two books are centered around my favorite thing ever: sketching. One is the latest book written and edited by my friend Gabi Campanario, founder of the Urban Sketching movement. His newest, published by Quarry Books, is a handbook on urban sketching, focused on drawing architecture. The book includes tips and examples from artists all over the world, in a wide variety of techniques and styles. I was asked to contribute a sketch I did in Philadelphia a few years ago—it feels great to be in such good company in the book. Thanks, Gabi!

"A World of Artist Journal Pages" book, featuring sketchbook drawings by Chandler O'Leary

Finally, the newest book is called A World of Artist Journal Pages, by Dawn DeVries Sokol and published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang. This book is different in scope from Gabi’s sketching handbook—instead, it’s more of an anthology of journaling. There are over 1000 artworks represented in the book, and they present a broad range of journal work—everything from personal diaries to collage books to handwritten calendars to idea sketchbooks to figure studies to travel journals. Much of the work reminds me of the personal diaries of artists like Frida Kahlo, and the book is a fascinating glimpse into how the creative process works differently for everybody. If you’ve ever wanted to keep a visual journal, but didn’t know where to start, this might be a good reference book to have on hand.

Many thanks to the authors and publishers who included my work! It feels so good to have these babies on my bookshelf.


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Providence and Boston paintings by Chandler O'Leary

I don’t normally do the whole “Throwback Thursday” (#tbt) thing on social media, but I stumbled across a good one today. While digging through a still-unpacked moving box for something else, I came across these oldies. These hearken back to circa 2001, back when I went through a phase of doing my urban sketching in oil paints, in large hand-bound sketchbooks I made myself. I switched back to watercolor and pocket-sized sketchbooks for practical reasons, but it was fun to see my old stomping grounds in Boston and Providence again, through the eyes of a painter.

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Weekend revels

Skagit Valley tulips photo and sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I took a rare day off on Friday, to get out of the studio and gather some inspiration in the…um..field.

Skagit Valley tulips photo by Chandler O'LearySkagit Valley tulips photo by Chandler O'LearySkagit Valley tulips photo by Chandler O'LearySkagit Valley tulips photo by Chandler O'LearyWhidbey Island photo by Chandler O'Leary

My trip turned into a mini-adventure,

Whidbey Island photo by Chandler O'Leary

full of Washington wonders.

Admiralty Head Lighthouse photo by Chandler O'LearyAdmiralty Head Lighthouse photo by Chandler O'LearyWhidbey Island photo by Chandler O'LearyFull moon photo by Chandler O'Leary

Catching the moonrise on my way home was an extra-special bonus, because it reminded me to set an alarm—

Lunar eclipse photos by Chandler O'Leary

—so that I could catch a nice postscript to the day’s excitement.

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Empire Builder

"Empire Builder" artist book by Chandler O'Leary and Carol Inderieden

It’s been more than four years since my last artist book (which, incidentally, I’m still working on)—I guess it’s been that long since I had something to say that warranted a multi-page art format. I suppose when it rains, it pours, though—because with this new project, there’s so much to say that an artist book can’t quite contain it all. This project has got words and images spilling out of me every which way. So fair warning: this is going to be a long post. There’s a lot to show you, and a lot to explain; there’s really no way to tell you this story without telling you all of it.

Before I get too far into it, though, I’ll give you the short version. Pictured above is my new artist book, entitled Empire Builder. It’s a collaboration with my friend Carol Inderieden, who is also a writer and illustrator. The book is about oil—that controversial new hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process, to be precise.

(If you want to stop reading now, I’ll understand. But if you’re stouthearted enough for a lot of backstory, let’s dive in.)

Bakken oil fields sketch by Chandler O'Leary

For me, it all started with this sketch.

The Tailor and I were in the middle of a cross-country road trip in 2011. One of our planned stops was Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota. That part of the state was an old haunt of mine (I lived in North Dakota for several years), and I was excited to show my spouse a place I knew so well—or at least, I once knew. When we got there, I was utterly unprepared for how quickly and drastically the place had changed. I knew the oil boom had begun there, but I had no idea I’d find the landscape almost unrecognizable.

The once desolate highway was nearly at a standstill with traffic. Every hillside was occupied with RV camps and oil platforms, all built around the process of extracting crude from the Bakken Shale below ground. It was the end of the work day, so there were people everywhere—and we felt conspicuous with our out-of-state plates and tree-hugger-model car. Needless to say, I didn’t feel comfortable taking photos with my giant (and not at all discreet) camera. So instead I pulled out my sketchbook and jotted down the scene, right there in the moving vehicle, while the Tailor drove. It’s the only image I captured of the oil fields, but I still look at this and remember every detail of that afternoon.

Wisconsin Driftless Region photo by Carol Inderieden

A little later I was relating the story to Carol, and she knew all too well what that day felt like for me. Carol lives in western Wisconsin, in an area called the Driftless Region—so named because unlike the lands surrounding it, the area was never glaciated during the last ice age. So Carol’s neck of the woods has a dramatic beauty to it, with deep valleys, swift rivers and sheer cliffs—a landscape very different from the rest of the state (this is her photo, by the way). The Driftless Region is also unique in that the bedrock there is rich in silica—something that has suddenly become extremely valuable to the new oil industry. Carol explained to me that in the past few years, oil companies have been buying up farmland in her area for strip mining, and excavating huge quantities of silica-rich sand for use in the frac drilling process in the Bakken oil fields. What I glimpsed in one afternoon in North Dakota, my friend has watched unfold on a daily basis, right in her back yard.

Watford City, ND plat map from 1930

Her story, and what I saw in North Dakota, reminded me of what I’d read about the pioneer days—of dramatic land grabs, of politicians carving up maps of regions they’d never see in person, of arbitrary grids imposed on wild landscapes.

Anyway, fast forward a few months more, and I start seeing local newspaper stories about Bakken crude oil trains arriving in Seattle and Tacoma in huge numbers, and how devastating a derailment, spill or explosion here could be. All of a sudden, the fracking industry was in my back yard as well—not just some faraway place I happened to have personal memories about.

So I did what I always do: I started thinking about how I might turn my thoughts into an art piece. I called Carol and asked her if she might want to collaborate on a project about all of this. It wasn’t long before we decided on an artist book—which would end up taking us on a two-year odyssey before it was finished.

Empire Builder vintage train brochure

We wanted to link these three regions (the Driftless Area, the Bakken Shale, and the Pacific Northwest) together somehow for our book, and we had a perfect, ready-made means by which to do so: the railroad. Not only was there a train that stopped in all three places (and both Carol and I have traveled on that train), but we soon learned that the entire supply chain for the frac industry followed the path of the Empire Builder railroad line, from Chicago to Seattle. We couldn’t believe how perfect it was.

Process sketch for "Empire Builder" artist book by Chandler O'Leary and Carol Inderieden

The railroad ended up becoming the backbone of every part of our book: concept, historical framework, even physical structure.

Process sketch for "Empire Builder" artist book by Chandler O'Leary and Carol Inderieden

Whenever we weren’t sure what to do, the railroad brought us back to center, and kept our sequence in order.

Illustration from "Empire Builder" artist book by Chandler O'Leary and Carol Inderieden

What proved to be more difficult was just which story to tell within the pages. As you can see by this already out-of-hand blog post, we had a lot to say, and we couldn’t possibly say everything. We didn’t just want the book to be a 20-page rant on our feelings about the environment, nor a didactic explanation of how the frac process works. We wanted to show, rather than tell. We wanted to make our readers fall in love with these landscapes as we have. We wanted to provide evidence of the consequences of the oil boom. And we wanted to create a tangible link to history, because all of this has happened before. But our text and images were coming up short; we needed something extra to tie everything together.

Carol came to the rescue, by finding a short quote that embodied the mood we wanted to get across. It added an air of foreboding to the piece, and it worked perfectly with all the allegorical images we were throwing around. And here’s the wacky thing: the quote is from the New York Times. In 1861. And it fits so well with what’s happening now that it easily could have been written yesterday. Here’s the quote:

We have all our little troubles in this life, and for those who are not too proud, to use a popular phrase, it may be added that we have all our elephants to see. It is narrated of a certain farmer that his life’s desire was to behold this largest of quadrupeds, until the yearning became well nigh a mania. He finally met one of the largest size traveling in the van of a menagerie. His horse was frightened, his wagon smashed, his eggs and poultry ruined. But he rose from the wreck radiant and in triumph. “A fig for the damage,” quoth he, “for I have seen the elephant!”

Illustration from "Empire Builder" artist book by Chandler O'Leary and Carol Inderieden

In the end, we ran the quote in pieces throughout the length of the book—and paired it with illustrations chock full of historical allegory (as well as allusions to old train advertisements, wartime propaganda, and current events). Explaining it all would make this even longer a post than the novel it already is, so I’ll just present our essay at the end of the book to give you the full context behind the quote.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

The preceding quote, from an 1861 New York Times editorial, highlights a phrase popular in America during the latter half of the nineteenth century. “Seeing the Elephant” was a figure of speech that came to embody the pioneer experience during the era of westward expansion. To see the elephant was to embark on a quest for riches and prosperity. It alluded to the danger and excitement associated with seeking one’s fortune in an unknown land. The elephant is an illusion, an impossible promise like a desert mirage that disappears as one moves closer. “Seeing the Elephant” later became synonymous with the bitterness and disappointment settlers experienced as they watched their dreams turn to ashes. During this time, the idea of Manifest Destiny — the 19th century notion that Americans possessed the divine right to claim all of North America, by virtue of their moral superiority — was also born and sometimes depicted as the mythical goddess Columbia, leading brave settlers westward.

“Seeing the Elephant” gradually fell out of the vernacular, yet the sentiment endured as the double-edged sword of the American Dream. Evidence of this can still be found in every corner of the West. Prairie homesteaders planted tree claims as a winning bet against Uncle Sam and lost. Tenement families in the East sold everything to migrate westward and buy into the myth of dry-land farming. Wildcat prospectors gambled their lives for oil, silver and gold. Families in the roaring twenties bought on credit, stacking the deck with status symbols before losing it all in the Great Depression. Suburban subdivisions, once symbols of postwar prosperity, have now become outposts of the working poor. The cycle of boom and bust has been resurrected so many times that the Elephant has grown in size from a distant vision to an omnipresent burden, stretching from sea to shining sea.

If the American map were the Elephant writ large, it is the railroad that breathes life into the creature. Throughout the last century of rail development, the anatomical structure of a complex organism has evolved. Today spurs and trunk lines follow a vascular system that carries a lifeblood of raw materials across the nation in a never-ending stream of freight. While the Elephant’s lungs fill with natural gas, its veins run gold with domestic oil and its heart beats ever faster in the Bakken Formation of western North Dakota.

Even in today’s age of dwindling resources and dire environmental warnings,  Americans still see the land as a bottomless well to be tapped. In the Bakken, a new frontier  has opened and is flooded once again with a new generation of fortune-seekers. “Man camps” dot once-empty hillsides and roughnecks push the region’s infrastructure to the breaking point. Remote rural highways and railroad lines are now choked with traffic. Flames from gas flares and oil slicks bathe the grassland in an eerie, unnatural glow. Yet while the land flows with modern milk and honey, only a few actually taste its richness. Companies grow fat while laborers vie for just a few drops. Communities swell to accommodate the boom, yet risk collapsing as soon as the inevitable bust occurs. All the while, the Elephant still waits beyond the next horizon and Columbia still beckons, just out of reach.

The backbone of the modern Elephant is the railroad line from Chicago to Seattle — incidentally, the same line that carries the Empire Builder passenger train. This train is aptly named for the exploits of James J. Hill, the railroad lumber baron who grew rich transporting timber and other raw materials from the Pacific Northwest to the cities and industries of the Midwest. Today one can ride the Empire Builder from one end of Hill’s domain to the other, and witness every element of the fracking process along the way. In the early 20th century, the Empire Builder encouraged travelers to “See America First” and marvel at the wonders of the natural world speeding past their windows. Today’s rail passengers watch the new Industrial Revolution rolling by.

This book is an attempt to articulate our dismay at the rapid transformation of a West we know and remember. We live and work at opposite ends of the Empire Builder railroad line: Carol in the Driftless Region of Wisconsin, where the bluffs and hillsides are being strip mined for frac sand; and Chandler in the Puget Sound area of western Washington, where Bakken oil is refined and shipped to other ports by tanker vessel. We both have personal ties to the northern Plains, though recent events render the region unrecognizable when compared to our memories. Still, the railroad connects us to each other and the landscapes we love. For the pioneers of the new era, the rhythm of the railroad is the marching song of progress — but for us, it is a lament.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Process sketch for "Empire Builder" artist book by Chandler O'Leary and Carol Inderieden

One of the best things about working with Carol on this project is that we both draw—and our aesthetics are not dissimilar. So we could match each other’s style to keep the book consistent throughout—without it being obvious who did which illustration. But that wasn’t the problem.

Process sketch for "Empire Builder" artist book by Chandler O'Leary and Carol Inderieden

The problem was that we were originally thinking this book would be letterpress-printed. That would have meant our final illustrations would have to be extremely flat and graphic in style, to accommodate the limitations of hand-printing. This is a mockup I did at an early stage of our “Manifest Destiny” image. I hated it, and I didn’t know why at first. But then Carol and I figured out that what we really responded to was the loose, quick style of the sketch I did in North Dakota four years ago—which mirrored all our process pencil sketches for the book. The letterpress mockup I did above felt too slick, too…”set in stone.” It felt like the wrong medium to convey a phenomenon that is happening so rapidly that even the news media can’t keep up with it.

Illustration from "Empire Builder" artist book by Chandler O'Leary and Carol Inderieden

Sketching felt like the right medium—so we changed tack, and made our book a sort of Sketch Storybook instead. We let go of letterpress printing, and decided to digitally print the book—which freed us from all limitations when it came to the imagery.

Process sketch for "Empire Builder" artist book by Chandler O'Leary and Carol Inderieden

This way, we could preserve the immediacy of our sketch drawings—

Illustration from "Empire Builder" artist book by Chandler O'Leary and Carol Inderieden

and we could paint in watercolor right on top of our sketches, and reproduce each image in full color (another thing letterpress printing doesn’t allow).

"Empire Builder" artist book by Chandler O'Leary and Carol Inderieden

The finished product is an accordion-bound book that reads like a map—tracing both the route of the Empire Builder train and the path of industry and destruction, in one long, unbroken line. When fully open, the book is fifteen feet long.

"Empire Builder" artist book by Chandler O'Leary and Carol Inderieden

We printed a limited edition of just 50 books; each one is digitally printed on archival, 100% cotton paper, and hand-bound in hardcover with a paper slip case. Price is $600, plus shipping; we’re taking pre-orders on a first-come, first-served basis, and we’ll begin shipping finished books in April.

If you’d like to reserve a copy, drop me a line at chandler [at] anagram-press [dot] com .

"Empire Builder" artist book by Chandler O'Leary and Carol Inderieden

And if you’d like to see the book in person, it’s already making its way around the country to various shows, including a groundbreaking national exhibition on the Bakken oil boom at the Plains Art Museum in North Dakota. Here’s the scoop on where it’s been and where it’s going, so far:

Fifth CODEX International Bookfair
February 8-11, 2015
Craneway Pavilion, Richmond, CA

Bakken Boom: Artists Respond to the North Dakota Oil Rush
Group Exhibition
On display through August 15, 2015
Plains Art Museum, Fargo, ND

Group Exhibition
March 24 – April 25, 2015
23Sandy Gallery, Portland, OR

Carpe Librum
Group Exhibition
April 3-26, 2015
Bainbridge Arts & Crafts Gallery, Bainbridge Island, WA

2015 New York Antiquarian Book Fair
Empire Builder represented by the Kelmscott Bookshop
April 9-12, 2015
Park Avenue Armory, New York, NY

5th Annual Puget Sound Book Artists Member Exhibition
Group Exhibition
June 4 through July 31, 2015
Opening reception: Thursday, June 4, 2015, 5:30 to 7:30 pm
Collins Memorial Library, University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, WA

EDITED TO ADD: more shows featuring Empire Builder:

Beyond Brand
Group exhibition
July 30 through September 5, 2015
Opening reception: Saturday, August 1, 2015, 7 to 9 pm
Form + Content Gallery, Minneapolis, MN

The Art of the Book
Group exhibition
June 17 through July 27, 2016
Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Sebastopol, CA

Bridging the Waters
Group exhibition
July 1 through August 21, 2016
Center for Fine Print Research
University of West England, Bristol, United Kingdom

Heavy Metal
Group exhibition
August 31 through October 1, 2016
Berkeley Art Works
Martinsburg, WV

Empire Builder is also now housed in several permanent public collections, including:

– Library of Congress (Rare Book & Special Collections Division), Washington, DC
– Miami University Library (Havighurst Special Collections), Oxford, OH
– Minnesota Historical Society Library (Special Collections), Saint Paul, MN
– Newberry Library (Americana Collection), Chicago, IL
– Scripps College (Ella Strong Denison Library), Claremont, CA
– Stanford University (Green Library American History Collection), Palo Alto, CA
– University of Connecticut (Dodd Research Center), Storrs, CT
– University of Puget Sound (Collins Memorial Library), Tacoma, WA
– University of Utah (Marriott Library), Salt Lake City, UT
– University of Vermont (Bailey/Howe Library), Burlington, VT
– University of Washington Libraries (Book Arts Collection), Seattle, WA




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Their favorite time of year

Christmas photo by Chandler O'Leary

Christmas photo by Chandler O'LearyChristmas photo by Chandler O'LearyChristmas photo by Chandler O'LearySnowy trees photo by Chandler O'LearyChristmas photo by Chandler O'LearyChristmas photo by Chandler O'LearyChristmas photo by Chandler O'LearyPhoto by Chandler O'LearyTacoma photo by Chandler O'LearyChickadee Christmas ornament by Chandler O'LearyPhoto by Chandler O'LearyChristmas photo by Chandler O'LearyChristmas in Ashland sketch by Chandler O'LearyPhoto by Chandler O'LearyChristmas photo by Chandler O'LearyPhoto by Chandler O'LearyPhoto by Chandler O'LearyChristmas photo by Chandler O'LearyChristmas photo by Chandler O'LearyChristmas photo by Chandler O'LearyChristmas photo by Chandler O'Leary

To me this season is not about a certain day, or even a series of holidays—it’s a collection of moments. It’s those moments that I cherish above anything else—especially when they happen with the people I love best, in this part of the world I call home. I hope your season, however you might celebrate or mark it, is filled with the moments you’ll want to remember always.

Merry Christmas, and happy holidays, from our home to yours.