#onewayticket #traveltheworld #makeart #makefilms
Let’s get real for a minute. Winter in Michigan sucks. Maybe you are of that rare breed that thrives in bitter cold, high winds, and little sunlight but I am not. So in an effort to fight the doldrums, this month’s post is a spotlight on two GR native artists currently traveling in the slightly warmer southern hemisphere; Loralee Grace and Philip Carrel who are currently spending a year in New Zealand exploring the country in a camper-van and making artwork as they go. If you follow Philip or Loralee on social media you’ll see images of gorgeous vistas and ultra-hip hangout sessions with other traveler-friends they’ve met along the way. But life on the road isn’t always that fabulous. Here the couple describes what it’s really like to live a mobile creative life style in a foreign land; a little sunny real-talk to brighten up your January.
Philip and Loralee have lived their whole lives in Michigan. They went to school here, got married here, their families are here, they have a life here. But since 2013 they’ve been living this creatively driven nomadic lifestyle across 15 countries on 4 continents and for far less money than you’d think, motivated by their desire to seek out new cultures and new landscapes.
I first met Philip and Loralee after they’d returned from a year in Europe and the Middle East. It was winter 2014/2015 and my gallery-mate Brandon mentioned one day that “Phil and Loralee were back,” as simply as if they’d just been out for day-hike. Over the following year I slowly got to know these two kind, whole-hearted people and learned a bit about their story. They had been restless in Michigan and so began some travel research. Eventually, through a mix of couchsurfing, work-for-trade accommodations, cheap flights, and the kindness of strangers/new friends they wandered from a live/work cafe in Iceland through Denmark, Croatia, more than a handful of Mediterranean countries, Jordan, Israel, the Czech Republic, Germany and more before returning home, all the while painting, drawing, recording and photographing. Philip is a filmmaker and Loralee is a painter.
I was curious about their dedication to this lifestyle, graciously they found time to answer my questions via email. Philip describes it this way, “Traveling is a great way to stretch yourself. You find you’re talking to someone you wouldn’t normally ever interact with, and sometimes you’re even living with them. You discover what is normal for other people which gives you a new perspective on what you have and take for granted.” Loralee adds, “It's invigorating and inspiring. The wide variety of experiences open the mind to the many ways one can make art, live, work, eat. The various landscapes and cultures are a direct inspiration to my artwork.”
Loralee’s most recent paintings, completed while living in Michigan, are large scale oil paintings of landscapes and patterns sourced from her travels. They’re really very large and bright and vivid with lots of tiny detail. It’s difficult to picture her packing up all her brushes and paints into a backpack and making due with a small sketchbook for a whole year, but somehow she makes it happen. ”It is tricky, for sure!” She tells me, “Tenacity goes a long way. We also have to try to be patient with and kind to ourselves, and remind ourselves that the traveling itself--new sights and experiences--is an important part of our process. I do a lot of en plein air paintings and sketches to keep practicing my art and studying the landscapes I'll later paint again with more detail.”
Philip faces similar challenges as a filmmaker and photographer, “[Creating while traveling] has been pretty difficult for me. I am able to film and photograph quite a bit, which is a big part of my process, it’s the editing that gets pushed to the side. As Loralee mentioned, a big part of the process is gathering experiences and references and to learn about new cultures so we can put that back into our work. So in a sense we are really laying the foundation for future work.”
Here’s a little taste of Loralee’s paintings based on their European travels...
“So why New Zealand?” I asked them, “New Zealand has a lot of geological forces interacting in the midst of the Pacific ocean and a temperate climate that makes for some incredible forests or “bush". There are numerous birds you can only find here, like the only alpine parrot in the world, the Kea. It is also a fantastic starting point for more travel into Australia and Asia,” Philip explains. Looking through his photographs, the New Zealand landscape looks like something out of a fantasy novel; low lying mists, turquoise alpine lakes, white capped mountains above lush green hills. I’m starting to understand the draw. Loralee elaborates on the economic appeal of the country, “We don't have the budget to travel somewhere for a few weeks and then come back all the time, it's much more expensive that way--affording airfare and accommodations while still paying your rent and bills at home--which is why we decided to become nomadic for a little while. Not forever ;) We heard there was a film incentive in NZ (which was cut in Michigan) so it seemed like a good time to make another leap into the unknown.”
How do two foreigners in New Zealand make all this happen within just a few months? That “at home” feeling didn’t happen overnight. First, they slept, “We had a hostel arranged for the first few nights... we didn't want to inflict our immediate jetlag on anyone,” Loralee explains. Once rested and recharged, they reached out to the local arts community in Christchruch, a city on the east coast of New Zealand’s Southern Island. “I researched prior to leaving GR and found a film lecture event happening at an Art Studio / Cafe called the XCHC (Exchange Christchurch). It was cool to get a taste of the art community and do a little networking our 2nd night in the country,” Philip told me, he adds, “New Zealand is supportive enough of the arts that a lot of the major art museums or city galleries have free admission. This is a great way to tap into the history and culture of the country and also see what modern work is on display. You can get quite a feel for the struggles or vibe of a nation just by checking out the art.”
Then couchsurfing gave a kickstart to building their Kiwi network, “It's easier to make friends in a new country when you're suddenly staying with them in their home as opposed to staying by yourself and trying to meet people out and about--it's difficult to approach strangers and we both can be a bit shy,” Loralee says. Through these new connections and lots of online research they finally found and purchased a camper-van, now affectionately named Sophie. Sophie doubles as their home, combining transit and accommodation costs into one, although they will be, for the next 1-3 months, house/dog sitting in Wellington to give themselves a break from the inevitable exhaustion of constant travel.
In Sophie they’ve traveled much of the South island, Loralee points to Milford Sound and Lake Pukaki as highlights. Of course eating, sleeping, and working out of a van can be challenging. My favorite part of our email exchange were these wise words from Loralee, “I think sometimes the carefully curated images we post make it seem like everyday is a dream, but we have plenty of difficult times and struggles as well. Staying home in Michigan would have been much easier and more productive in many ways, but we appreciate the growth that comes out of throwing ourselves into new, unfamiliar places, even if we are terrified or uncertain much of the time.”
Philip provides these parting thoughts; advice for creative travelers, “There is no guarantee that you will ever see a place again. If something tugs at you in the moment, (like for me it’s usually to document something, snap a photo, film a scene, write [down] a thought/idea that comes to mind. Do that thing in the moment. The lighting or weather can easily change, the idea is forgotten, the place is literally changed forever by an earthquake, or you yourself are no longer around. Everything is so fragile yet we take it all for granted. Follow your dreams now, there is no guarantee of tomorrow. [That’s a] somewhat somber take away, but as artists in today’s world, it’s easy to become complacent and sit back and consume rather than create. The time is now.”