Perhaps not surprisingly, Bliss grew up on a farm in northern California and now lives in the creative mecca of Portland, Oregon. This forested, near-the-coast stretch of Pacific Northwest bioregion is sweetly represented by her hand. She told me that when she lived in San Francisco, she once spent a month teaching herself about native plant species. This obsession comes across as a recurring theme in her art, as does her responsibility to the wild, support of local grassroots projects, and desire to create a useful product, often from reclaimed materials. Bliss was kind enough to set down her paper and pen to respond to this brief email interview. Really, what’s not to love?
You grew up on a family farm in Northern California. What are your early memories of being outdoors and interacting with the plant world there?
Because we had orchards and no one told me any better, some of my best friends were trees.
I don’t see a great difference between
humans, plants and animals!
But apparently other people make
huge distinctions between the three.
Drawing an object, especially something as tiny and intricate as a flower or sea anemone, offers a unique quality of attention and respectful observation. Have you found you’ve been able to understand parts of the natural world better through your work?
Yes, it’s all very meditative. I can only faithfully depict something I’ve interacted with, I can’t faithfully depict something drawn
from photos alone.
Do you have a favorite plant to draw, or a favorite ecosystem?
I have a deep appreciation for anything from the West Coast, as those are things I’ve interacted with my whole life. That being said, there’s plenty of species overlap in other bio-regions!
I was so happy years ago to buy a journal with hummingbird sage drawn on the pages. My favorite! Your work has such a bioregional influence, from California native plants to tidepools. Do you want to stick with this sort of allegiance to place, to the Pacific Northwest? Do you feel able to introduce people to your home habitat through your art?
My own bio-region is how I begin to understand and interact with the world, but the more I travel, the more I encounter similar lifeforms in other regions!
And going further, do you use your work to try to inspire empathy with the natural world, too?
Of course! Growing up as I did, I don’t see a great difference between humans, plants and animals! But apparently other people make huge distinctions between the three.
Yes, this is what makes my drawing habit so fun, and so meditative. I don’t have a favorite pattern, but it is fun to look at an object and figure out what repeated shapes and patterns make up that object.
Wherever you are,
go for daily walks and make daily drawings or writings
related to what you see.
Who are the people – mentors, authors, musicians, other visual artists – who’ve influenced your combination of art and the natural world?
Unfortunately I’m working remotely this week and unable to peek at my bookshelf to answer this question properly (I’m terrible at remembering names!). Although I can tell you about a book I brought with me that has totally rocked my world this week: The Practice of the Wild by Gary Snyder.
Do you have any advice for people who want to start drawing plants, or just aspects of nature in general?
Wherever you are, go for daily walks and make daily drawings or writings related to what you see. This will help you begin to notice the [changing] details around you and become better grounded in your own community.