The Way to Here with Alanna Cartier

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It had been two years since Alanna’s intimate wedding at the George Restaurant in Toronto’s east end. Amanda spent two full days in transit. The first she spent travelling from her remote island home to the suburbs of Vancouver. The second was spent flying to Pearson Airport, protectively holding her bridesmaid dress. That was the last time we saw each other. We were overdue for a best-friend adventure.

When Alanna proposed a trip to Cortes Island, we immediately started planning our days together. It was a bumper crop year for wild berries, so we decided to visit Nanagumps Berry Farm. We could pick our own berries, bring back local jam, bake homemade scones (in Amanda’s recently gluten-freed kitchen), and enjoy afternoon tea together. We could paint the tableau: berries, jam and scones. And then photograph everything, painting and baking. We spent hours, hunched over our scones, the jar of raspberry jelly we got a Nanagumps, and our paintings, curating the perfect shot. Collaborating.

But the story of how we got to this moment wasn’t as simple as Alanna catching a flight to Comox so we could spend time together (although that was a big part of it too). How we got here to Cortes Island is a much bigger story. A story that begins with frustration.


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Alanna: Halfway through 2017, I started work on a website for my dinner party club. Yes I’m the kind of weirdo that has a dinner party club. I was spending long weekends honing the branding and designing little characters to make the website come to life. I was stagnating at my day job, and the creative outlet of working on the website made me feel engaged and passionate. It was in that moment that I started to consider building a career from that passion. I started painting, but I lacked motivation. The tedium of my day job was wearing on me even more.


Amanda: I was frustrated too. When I finally answered my call to the mountains, I left behind a budding freelance photography business. But, truth be told, I wasn’t really in love with photography anymore. As Simon Sinek would say, I knew the “what” and “how” of my business, but I was completely disconnected from my “why.” So, out west, I let my camera sit untouched for months at a time. I debated selling it. Eventually I fessed up my feelings to Alanna, and admitted out loud that I had artist’s block. Alanna suggested we start painting together.


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Alanna: From the very first night I could feel the magic when we painted together. We were both clumsy, frequently smudging our paint, but these paint nights gave us time to reconnect and fed our creative spirits. We started off painting every two weeks. Each time, we’d choose a subject, and both interpret it how we saw fit. Because we’d spend the whole time talking, the art wasn’t the focus, which let me to relax. The painting was just something to do with my hands while we talked. A way to fill silences. I became less precious with my work, somehow making a little headway against my own perfectionism.


Amanda: Compared to Alanna, my paintings were awful (they still are). I loved that they were awful. For me, photography demanded perfection, but watercolour offered the freedom to be bad. I couldn’t wait for our paint nights. I would pin dozens of inspiration photos to the Paint Night Pinterest board Alanna and I had. It was the spark I needed. I realized that it was my pursuit of perfection that had sucked all the fun out of photography. My artist’s block, that resistance to create, was protecting me from failing, from not being perfect. If I was going to pursue photography, and find my “why” I needed to give myself the space to be bad. Space to grow.


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Alanna: And that’s how we got here. A photographer in the midst of a massive re-brand, and a budding illustrator, just starting to feel like I’m allowed to call myself that, together picking raspberries, baking gluten-free scones, painting, photographing, and creating a life we love. Side-by-side, despite living on opposites ends of the country.


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Sure, we are going to make mistakes. We’ll spill the milk, over-bake the scones, and smear the paint as we add that final touch (every single time!). But that’s the creative process. It’s inspired. It’s messy. We’ll mess up. We’ll try again. But, the best part isn’t the finished product (the scone, the painting, the picture), it’s the time we’ve spent laughing together, crying together, sharing our stories, our hopes, our wishes, our fears, holding up the light bounce so that we can get that imperfect shot, sprinkling the crumbs to add a little something more. Creating together.


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Images by Amanda Mary and Alanna Cartier. Illustrations by Alanna Cartier.