Drawing in the Outer Aisle

Paintings of eggplant
Asian eggplant sketches
Graphite and watercolor in Stillman & Birn Delta Series sketchbook

A freelance illustrator often has to scramble to find source material for illustration gigs that fall from the sky. My last task—drawing three kinds of garlic growing at the end of their life cycles—had me calling a friend on Nantucket and pleading with her to take photos of a winter-retarded stand of late-blooming hardneck garlic in her gardens.

The photos were helpful, but there’s nothing like drawing from life for accuracy and understanding. As I struggled to make visual sense from the distortion of photography, I realized that I need to create a library of plants drawn from life that I can use as guides for future jobs. But how? I don’t have room (or water) for a garden of my own, plus our little yard is a crossroads for every animal that lives in these mountains. (I haven’t seen any bears yet. But you know if I did, I’d  be frantically drawing them while they chased me down the hill.)

I realized I’d have to find a garden or a farm at which to draw.

And fortunately, I discovered a small one-day-a-week farmstand of ultra-local vegetables called the Outer Aisle Farmstand. The produce is so local that most of it is grown less then 5 miles away from the store on a small 2-acre farm in the mountains.

A few days later, I was sitting cross-legged in the loamy soil of Taylor Mountain Gardens, sketching a light purple Asian eggplant. Owners Christine and Eric Taylor had just given me a tour of their lovely slice of organic paradise, and introduced me to at least 4 kinds of eggplant growing in lush, thick rows.  Eggplant heaven.

A farm of this kind—small, intimate, and worked by humans who love the land—is a sort of a sacred space. The earth is so lovingly cared for, the plants grown so well, and everything is managed with respect and foresight, that the farm seems almost radiant. It’s an honor to be allowed to make portraits of their plants. Stay tuned.

Christine and Eric, along with partner/chef Jimmy own Outer Aisle Farm to Table Restaurant in Murphys, California. Try their summer barbecue on Thursday nights, or enjoy fine dining Friday and Saturday. They source everything themselves and feature only what’s in season. If you live too far away, you can try their eggplant recipes at home.

Paintings of eggplant
Asian eggplant sketches
Graphite and watercolor in Stillman & Birn Delta Series sketchbook